The Fight for Freedom and Persecution for Love

In mid-May, human rights defenders again came out “in support of the new generation” of young people subjected to repressions for their political activism. The anti-fascists in the Network Case and the young people from New Greatness being prosecuted are approximately 20 years of age, and here we have adults, many of them elderly, picketing “for our children.”

This is not the case for two very young boys (18 years of age)—the “Navalnyites” Vladimir Kazachenko (who is also an activist in the Spring democratic movement) and Vadim Tishkin, who are sitting in a pretrial detention facility in Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately, few are coming out in support of them. Only their comrades in arms have recorded a video in Kazachenko’s defense.

Vladimir Kazachenko was arrested on his way to court and accused that time of violating public order in connection with an action to support Anastasia Shevchenko, an Open Russia participant who was arrested in Rostov. During this action, Petersburg activists managed to block Nevsky Prospekt for several minutes with a banner reading “Open Russia instead of Putin” and Kazachenko shouted into a bullhorn and was then arrested and beaten (as seen in photographs published by Spring). After leaving the police precinct, traces of a beating were recorded, and Kazachenko announced plans to file a complaint…

What were they thinking, these children, when they fearlessly spoke out against torture, censorship, and political repressions, when they unfurled banners wishing the president “long years in prison” or hung these banners from a bridge on the day of the World Cup championship?

Here is their convoy coming out onto Nevsky Prospekt in quilted jackets embroidered with camp numbers, their arms and legs in shackles, with signs hanging on their chests. The first in line is 17-year-old Vladimir Kazachenko, whose sign reads “To elect a president, we lock people up.” This statement was a reaction to information about a prepared list of political activists subject to detention and arrest in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election. Other young participants in the action follow behind Kazachenko, including Ilya Gantvarg, who was wearing a sign bearing his own name, which was on the list of people marked for preventive arrest. Ilya says: “Even if all of us walking here are locked up, I am convinced that other good kids will come along…”

Shortly thereafter, Ilya was detained for 10 days. After leaving the detention center, he gave an interview to Fontanka in which he partially responded to the question of how people like him view the obvious risks of their battle with the regime and the possibility of serious repressions, actual prison sentences, and torture. “We know about how the FSB tortured the anti-fascists. I just don’t understand how that’s possible. It’s abhorrent, it’s barbarity. But, still, they do try to follow some rules of the game in relation to democracy activists.” Then he went on to give a touching explanation of his motives for participating in unauthorized meetings and demonstrations: “In 50 years, I will be able to open a history book and tell my granddaughter: you know, on March 26, 2017, I stood on that monument and chanted, and we were not afraid.”

That is probably what each of these young people felt—pride for not being afraid and certainty that nothing worse could happen to them. But misfortune has been nipping at their heels. I think Vladimir Kazachenko has already accumulated a critical mass of these detentions—at meetings (against falsification of election results, against corruption, and against pension reforms), during pickets (in defense of political prisoners and in memory of the victims of Soviet terror), while preparing actions (for lack of a better charge, he was once written up “for unauthorized exit from his home”), for having the inscription “Navalny” on his raincoat (in this case the administrative violation received the elegant name of “arbitrary behavior”)…

Frequently found next to him during these pickets are his friends—his girlfriend Zhenya and his friend Vadim Tishkin and his young girlfriend. His mother said that Vladimir and Zhenya are planning to marry. The father of Tishkin’s girlfriend also knows about their relationship and approves of his daughter’s boyfriend. Everything would probably have turned out well for everyone if not for the surveillance that they failed to consider as they lived recklessly in their own world. After Kazachenko and Tishkin were arrested “for lewd acts,” the yellow press let slip that “These kids have ruined their lives by protesting.” Specifically by protesting and not because of their relationships with girls, which, of course, no one would have cared about had the political police not had the task of “finding an article.” And look eagerly they did. As the same media outlet admitted, citing its sources in law enforcement, drugs or any other reason would have been just as good: when conducting their search, officers “looked for anything that could be of interest to law enforcement bodies. They did not find any banned substances, but they did find piles of leaflets and items with symbols of the opposition and the protest movement.”

But they did not bother to lock the young men up for these piles of leaflets. Instead, they were able to uncover a very different kind of damaging material—photos and videos from the phone of Tishkin’s girlfriend. This young woman was stopped on the street and forced to reveal the contents of her phone. The photos and videos showed the “targeted” activists with their girlfriends, and they were all naked. The young men were already adults, although just barely, but the girls weren’t and the youngest was not even 16 yet. As the young men explained, they made these photos and videos “for kicks” and they each had a serious relationship with their respective girlfriends. The “victim” explained to journalists, who had no qualms about publishing these photos, that she was only “simulating” sex: “‘We didn’t have anything like that just the two of us would do,’ she said.”

The cynicism of the people who wanted to “protect” this young woman from her love was vividly manifested in the fact that the naked photographs of the “victim” turned up online immediately after the police gained access to the phone and were soon appearing widely in online media and even on billboards on the streets of Saint Petersburg!

So what will cause harm to a child? Love for a young man, albeit a young man of age, or publications of this nature? The laws of European countries have different definitions of the “age of consent,” and many countries allow voluntary sex at the age of 14. Even in places where the law requires minors to wait until they are 15 or 16, it is basically universally acknowledged that this restriction does not apply to adolescents, that is people close in age (after all, the word “teenager” covers people up to the age of 19!). In addition to this, in its General Comment No. 20, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2016) noted that “States should avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.” Taking European courts and the factor of being in love into account, relationships of young people in love are rarely deemed criminal, even when one of them is very young. I think this is extremely important. The threatening Criminal Code article on “lewd acts by previous concert” ( from seven to 10 years in a camp!) was not written about people like Tishkin and Kazachenko, but about actual adult philanderers who choose young victims. But in this situation, which one of these young men and women was psychologically older? Love, a common battle, and a few naked photos taken on a whim….

On May 14, Tishkin was again left in custody, even though both the “victim” and her legal representative asked for his release. Tishkin and Kazachenko are currently being checked by forensic psychiatrists at a hospital. This brings to mind their action in defense of Yury Dmitriev and their banner “Who needs a psychiatric expert opinion?”

Poor children!

Stephania Kulaeva, expert of the Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial

First published in Russian on the blog of Radio Svoboda

Photo of the action to support Anastasia Shevchenko – George Markov