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Solidarity is fragile – thoughts on the “Network” case from ABC Dresden (Germany / Russia)

From ABC Dresden:

Around a month ago before the whole Europe was locked down by the national states, anarchist movement in different parts of the world was shaken by the news from Russia around “Network Case”. Liberal news portal “Meduza” published information that some of the defendants from Penza were involved in murder of two people while they were on the run. This information brought back the topic of how we organize our solidarity and what are the limits of our solidarity. Although we are not located in the region, we have a connection to our comrades in Russia. We organized many solidarity events for those prosecuted under “Network” case in the city of Dresden. For example, an evening at the end of December, where we encouraged people to write to Russian Anarchists and Antifascists in prison.

This text is not an attack on the solidarity campaign or the anarchist movement in Russia. We are writing it to proceed with further discussion – only that way we can learn and avoid repeating the same mistakes as before.

“Network” creation

We think most of the people who are going to read this text already know the history of the case. But we will repeat a short version of it so everybody is on the same page here.

In January 2018 anarchist and antifascist movement in Russia and around the world was shocked by arrests and tortures of several anarchists and antifascists in Petersburg. People were detained, brought to the forest, tortured in the detention facilities, all while their relatives didn’t know what was happening with them. Those who were in prison admitted their participation in the so-called “Network”, however later those testimonies were taken back by everyone but one person, who denied being tortured by FSB. Human Rights commission visited arrestees in prison and recorded multiply traces of torture.

Unfortunately only after FSB actions in Petersburg people in other regions found out that the same situation happened in Penza several months before. There 6 people were arrested and tortured to form up first sections of the “Network” – anarchist organization that was planning terrorist acts during president elections and football championship in Russia. This was the version of the secret police. Testimonies beaten out of people have little connection with reality.

After several month of the solidarity campaign it appeared that originally police managed to hook themselves on the activists because some of them were involved in drug business – 3 were detained during creation of drug drops [1] in Penza already in Spring 2017. At least one person from the detainees was recruited by the police at that point. Later on FSB decided to move on with creation of “Network”. Around the same time in Russia FSB started the case against right-wing group that was planning the same events as the “Network”. Both cases seemed to be a campaign to scare the public about the threat of armed groups from anarchists and the right.

Solidarity campaign

Almost from the beginning case got a huge resonance not only in anarchist circles but among liberals as well. Soon the narrative of innocent social activists who were not involved in anything illegal was formed up. Just to make it clear this is not something new. Quite often political ideas of prosecuted anarchists and antifascists are softened to get support from liberal opposition to Putin. In case of network it worked very well with famous politicians, actors and singers voicing their support of those tortured.

However this comes for sure with a price. To gain such a wide support prosecuted activists were supposed to be presented as good people with strong moral core. They were playing airsoft and doing some social projects. Every information that would make things look a bit different was obfuscated in the name of consolidated political campaign. The goal of this campaign was focused around getting people out of prison or at least making the prison terms as small as possible. We believe nobody was expecting harsh prison terms from 6 to 18 years of camps.

It’s hard to be perfect

So with this ideal picture in mind not only general public but also those organizing solidarity were pushed to support ideal image of activists who were fighting Putin and doing everything right.

Taking that in account the first information that was hidden by solidarity campaign for some time was the cooperation of Igor Shishkin with the police. For several month the solidarity campaign was denying this allegation, even though at that time Shiskin was already sitting in a “special” cell and one of Putin’s puppets offered him a TV in the prison.

Several months later, the story about the drugs in Penza appeared, but didn’t go public at all. We in Dresden knew about the fact that the drugs were the beginning of the first case, but it is unclear who else among the solidarity groups was aware about it.

It seemed that internal problems in the case were over, Shishkins support was withdrawn and the rest of the arrestees were presented further as targets of the state terror with notion that they are good people.

In Autumn 2019 information appeared first in Russian, then in English that one of the Penza activists, Arman Sagynbaev was involved in multiply cases of sexual violence against women. Those included rape as well as forcing women into unprotected sex, although he was tested HIV positive. The last straw that broke the camel’s back appeared to be attempts of Sagynbaev to manipulate one of the women that was supporting him in prison into marriage and unprotected sexual relationships. Some of the women decided to publish their stories to protect other women from being assaulted, raped and infected by HIV. Some of their stories are online in English – http://arman.people.ru.net/en/ (Attention – some stories contain detailed description of violence.)

People from the solidarity campaign in Russia knew about Sagynbaev behavior for very long. In fact Arman was excluded from several anarchist “scenes” in different cities, but could migrate to another and continue his predatory behavior. Later on some people around solidarity campaign were saying that from their point of view he couldn’t pose any threat to the people outside.

However inside the campaign it was important to keep a consolidated solidarity campaign instead of making transparent his previous behavior. After the publication, rupression had to take another position that was forced from outside – they were not going to support Sagynbaev anymore. [2]

The last twist in the story came when in February 2020 after the sentencing in Penza liberal media reported that some of the defendants in Penza “Network” are suspected of murdering two of their friends connected with drug business. For over a year they were missing and only in Autumn 2019 a decayed body was found in swamps between Penza and Moscow.

The core for this allegation was a testimony of one of the people who is still searched by FSB in connection to the “Network”. Outside of Russia in relative safety he admitted murdering the person who was already found. He told journalists that the other person was killed by Maxim Ivankin and pointed where the second body was (the body was found several weeks later by police around 100 meters away from the first one). Authors were also saying that at least several people from Penza knew about executions. In the chat logs they were mentioned as problems that should be dealt with (lawyers of defendants state that those logs were forged by FSB). Later on a second article mostly written by the person on the run appeared at the same portal with more details of murder and how it came to it. This article implicated that everyone from Penza except Vasiliy Kuksov knew about the execution. The testimony article was translated into English and available here – https://meduza.io/en/feature/2020/03/10/i-said-sorry-before-i-fired.

At the first day of publication it appeared that solidarity campaign knew about the connection to the murder for almost a year, but kept this information private. First there was some internal investigation that brought them to the same conclusion about the murder, but information was not enough to make anything clear. The Information was also passed to journalists. It started spreading inside the gossip “scene”, but it seems like it didn’t reach any organized anarchist groups in eastern or western Europe.

Rupression started talking about the bad time of publication. Authors of the article were also attacked for pursuing their own agenda. Some of the people believed that the information leak was an operation of police or some other enemies of the anarchist movement. Some liberal groups that invested a lot of time and resources in defense of “Network” started to defend Penza activists even with more energy.

Till now it is still unclear if some people from Penza are indeed involved in the murder. None apart from the person outside of Russia took responsibility for the situation.

How did we end up here?

For a lot of people, the scandal with Sagynbaev raised questions about which information do solidarity groups have a right to keep to themselves. After all, their decision did endanger people who were there to show solidarity with the repressed.

Certain information should not be open to the public as it can help prosecution and compromise other people . But in this case all the dirt that came to the movement through open sources was actually known to the police long before. So the arguments, that the information would affect the sentences are not standing any critic. Instead Rupression could have written about the critical moments and justify their decision to keep on supporting people. This could have engaged discussion instead of shock that was brought by the liberal media. After all it felt as a betrayal that such important information came from third parties and not the comrades we trust.

Calls for solidarity are heavily based on trust. I trust group A, B or C in their decision to support a person in any given case. I trust that the group won’t put me in a situation where i will be in danger because of some horrible behavior of the person I am supporting. Attempts of a solidarity group to withhold the information are actually affecting other solidarity collectives. Next time solidarity calls from Russia will be approached with bigger skepticism than before. The unconditional trust between comrades is broken because of the decisions that are made in this solidarity collective.

We believe that, only if Rupression would have made their decision transparent, why they support the people even though they had information about the drugs, the snitching, the sexual predator and the murder, only then supporters could have had the chance to make up their own minds. For us as a collective it would have been important in our decision of support to know as well what the arrestees thought about the matter themselves and if they reflected on what they have done.

You make a certain decision based on information that you have, but this decisions influences others. Make sure that you clarify your decision and not keep it all together till the next curious person looks into the story.

Some of the anarchists to address the anger and frustration are actually saying that you shouldn’t expect activists to be perfect. We all have contradictions. However the campaign itself was trying to present activists as perfect people. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to hide some inconvenient part of their activist story. Also they wanted to protect the image of the other accused as they were afraid that support for them will stop.

Some of you might think that this story can happen only in Russia with its “wild” antifa movement and tough anarchists fighting Putins iron hand. Make no mistake the problems in Russia are no different than in many other parts of the anarchist movement. And it shows how fucked up the society actually is if people behave like that. Sexual violence is present in the movement no matter where we look. Lack of coordinated approach makes it incredibly hard to help the survivors heal and the perpetrators deal with their sexist issues.

Here in Dresden, right now, we also have cases of violence and sexual assault, which are being ignored by huge parts of the political sphere. In at least one case this led to the point, where the person, who was the subject of violence had to leave the city, while the man is accepted in certain political circles without any changes. It seems that for most people here it is OK to behave like this as long as you have enough skills to support the movement.

The weakness of the anarchist and leftist movement makes contribution to it a main value without figuring out motivation of those people and who they are.

Policies of the movement where we don’t call the police and stick 100% to ACAB, without developing our own concepts in face of personalized violence and serious social problems, made it nearly impossible to deal with such. The state provides prisons and punishment and anarchists can’t provide any reasonable alternative to it. No wonder that people subjected to violence, sexual assault or discriminating behavior decide to drift or leave the movement leaving the space to people like Sagynbaev.

The cult of the cool revolutionary guy exists not only in Russia but everywhere, without consideration what revolutionary movement is. Some of us are getting obsessed with violence and weapons as if it is a goal of its own. Understanding revolutionary goals and being critical is abandoned in favor of action. Revolutionary movement should be strong not because of Rambo mentality but because of our ideas and our community.

Lack of organization inside the anarchist movement is making certain types of predatory behavior possible. It is quite easy to switch from one small scene to the other as those are badly connected and in many cases have existing problems with each other.

As for the drugs inside the case. It is not the first time police finds entrance to a more organized part of the movement through drugs. Here in Dresden 10 years ago police started investigation into antifascist movement (and smashed some parts of it quite successfully) through a drug dealer. And we have no idea how many more cases have been started in the same way. So do check out your risks and decide what is important in current moment of your political activism. Maybe giving up on drugs is a small compromise making your own security and security of those around you a bit harder to penetrate.

To sum up, the story around “Network” case brought a lot of problems that exists in the movement. Our attempt to present ourselves better than we are in reality. Lack of organized approach towards sexualised violence inside the movement. Stupid cult of power and masculinity that produces rather the mentality of the school yard than values like mutual aid, respect and cooperation.

There are no easy solutions for complex situations. People who are now in prison are there for political reason, not for their social behavior.

Either way we do not want people to get imprisoned and tortured. We are against the whole prison system, which is reproducing violence. Prison doesn´t make “better people”. But we also don´t want to support rapists if we don’t see that they are willing to change. People inside the prison are not going to think about patriarchy, moral questions and others boundaries if we don´t address these topics. If we want to change the society and the approach of punishment towards unwanted behavior then we should give people the chance to reflect their behavior and not portray them as heroes or leave them for torture. No matter what our support for perpetrators may look like, we should also focus on the support of those people facing such violence.

1: In many cities in Russia due to repressions drugs are not sold directly to the buyers. Instead of that sellers are making secret drops in the city and than sell drug via internet. Buyers afterwards get coordinates of the drop where they can pick up the drugs.

2: Form of withdrawal of solidarity seems quite weird for us

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2020 at 10:14 pm and is filed under Prison Struggle.