- Sidney Davis
Russian Forces Threaten Violence, Retaliation against Anti-War Activism
On September 25, 2022, 31-year-old Russian activist Artyom Kamardin gained massive public support as he recited his anti-war poem at Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow, Russia. Kamardin’s poem protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and denounced forced mobilization for the military draft. He was later arrested for this action (Amnesty International). This created a spotlight on Russia’s extensive history of human rights abuses and prompted further dialogue within human rights communities on Russian police brutality against the unarmed during peaceful assemblies and protests.
Named after progressive Soviet poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), the "Mayakovsky Readings” was a formerly held Russian tradition that took place in Triumfalnaya Square, a widely popular historic area in Moscow, Russia, the former capital of the Soviet Union. Mayakovsky was a progressive figure and leader of the Russian Futurist Movement (1911-1916). This artistic movement was a highly influential celebration of youth, modernism, and the destruction of academia in an industrial society (Sundaram).
On July 3, 1956, the Executive Committee of the Moscow City Society approved the construction of a monument for Vladimir Mayakovsky in Triumfalnaya Square. It was unveiled on July 29, 1958, and many of those in attendance – including artists, writers, scientists, and workers – began reciting their inspired poems and songs in the late poet’s honor (Moscow News). Throughout the latter half of the century, Mayakovsky’s statue became a haven for free speech and attracted people from all walks of life who wished to express their beliefs (Moscow News). However, as years progressed, so did the Soviet Union and Russia’s restrictions on speech. Modernly, Russians who dare to publicly scrutinize controversial subjects are met with zero remorse by their government.
The following day after Kamardin’s public ritual, on September 26, 2022, Russian police raided the activist’s apartment; Kamardin was charged with inciting hatred over the presentation of the poem. Within the same residence were Kamardin’s girlfriend, Anna Popova, and his roommate, Aleksandr Menyukov (Human Rights Watch). Police forces allegedly tortured, sodomized, and arrested everyone in the apartment and forced a battered Kamardin to film a videotaped confession during their detention (Jozwiak & Ardeshir et. al). Although Popova had no connection to her significant other’s actions, she was beaten, threatened with rape, and had stickers super-glued to her face (Amnesty International). The victims were abused so badly that Popova and Menyukov had to receive medical attention as they suffered minor fractures and concussions.
Moscow police have not commented on these allegations, nor have they attempted to hide the evidence of their transgressions. The video of Kamardin’s forced apology for criticizing Russia’s war effort and pleading for forgiveness has widely circulated around Russian social media and serves as a warning to any other potential citizens that challenge Putin’s war effort, along with any other of his decisions.
Kamardin’s participation in this anti-war demonstration was, amongst several others, made by Russian activists. Fellow activists Nikolai Daineko and Yegor Shtovba were also detained for participating in the Mayakovsky Readings. Since Putin’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there has been an increase in non-violent, peaceful protests led by Russians that want their government to stay out of Ukraine (The Economist). These protests exemplify the unpopularity of Russian aggression against its people, Ukrainians, and other neighboring countries such as Belarus and likely represent the silent majority of Russians who fear violent disciplinary retaliation for participating or speaking out against the Russo-Ukrainian War.
In March 2022, amongst Russia’s lifted COVID-19 restrictions, there were several weeks of protests across 37 Russian provinces which led to an extraordinary number of arrests. Since October 2022, an estimated total of 15,000 Russians have been arrested and brutally tortured by Russian police for public protesting (The Economist). The Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocates for sustainable human rights legislation, also denounced the Russian government’s excessive force used against its protesters (Lokhmutov).
The charges that protesters face fall under violation of the Russian Federal Code of Administrative Offenses. This includes, but isn’t limited to: participation of the illegal action, organization of an uncoordinated illegal action, disobedience to the lawful demand of a police officer, and discrediting the armed forces (World Trade Organization). Despite these local laws that are intentionally manipulated by the Russian government to silence its citizens, the excessive force displayed by the Russian police and ill-treatment of activists violates several articles in the Universial Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (United Nations). The following articles reaffirm individuals’ unalienable rights, freedoms, and protections against abuse of power:
No one should be subject to torture, or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5); No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19); Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (Article 20); Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community and to
enjoy the arts (Article 27).
Currently, Kamardin and other Russian activists remain detained and are awaiting trial. If convicted of all charges, they may face up to six years in prison. This is especially horrifying because prison and correctional systems in Russia operate under harsher means than those in the free world, as Russian convicts live with much fewer desirable circumstances. In an open jail population, as many as thirty inmates are locked in the same cell, and any serious offense – as deemed by the Russian government – is given a minimum of five years imprisonment (The Economist).
As Americans, the First Amendment of the Constitution protects our freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. The freedom to assemble and protest is encouraged, especially within a public center or in the United States’ capital, Washington, DC. The United States’ history of peaceful, non-violent demonstrations starkly contrasts the unjust human rights violations perpetuated by Russia’s police and military forces, which truly speaks to how little freedoms Russians have.
Anti-war activists like Kamardin are modern-day martyrs for Russian restorative justice and defiance against an authoritarian administration. But their stories also serve as a warning: support the acquisition of Ukraine and the Crimea region and enlist in armies to protect your Russian statehood, or there’ll be violence inflicted on you and your family – by Putin’s orders.
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“I sing for my Fatherland”: Unveiling of Vladimir Mayakovsky's monument / News / Moscow City Web Site.” mos.ru, 30 July 2020, https://www.mos.ru/en/news/item/77612073/. Accessed 1 November 2022.
Jozwiak, Rikard, and Ardeshir Tayebi. “Russian Poet Hospitalized, Charged After Reciting Verses Critical Of Ukraine Invasion.” Radio Free Europe, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-poet-arrested-beaten-ukraine-war/32054624.html. Accessed 1 November 2022.
Lokhmutov, Aleks. “Russian Police are Torturing Anti-War Activists.” Human Rights Watch, 20 October 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/20/russian-police-are-torturing-anti-war-activists. Accessed 1 November 2022.
“More than 15000 Russians have been arrested in anti-war protests.” The Economist, 22 March 2022, https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/03/22/more-than-15000-russians-have-been-arrested-in-anti-war-protests. Accessed 1 November 2022.
Palmer, Isobel. “Mayakovsky’s voices.” International Yearbook of Futurism Studies, vol. 9, 2019. Accessed 1 November 2022.
“Russia: Activist allegedly beaten and raped for reciting anti-war poem online.” Amnesty International, 27 September 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/09/russia-activist-allegedly-beaten-and-raped-for-reciting-anti-war-poem-online/. Accessed 1 November 2022.
Sundaram, Chantal. Toronto Slavic Quarterly: Mayakovsky, Dissent and Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, http://sites.utoronto.ca/tsq/16/sundaram16.shtml. Accessed 1 November 2022.
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