A new stage of repression: Sergey Bondarenko on the Kremlin’s changing approach to silencing dissent [Meduza]

On July 15, a judge in Komsomolsk-on-Amur acquitted artist and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova after three years of legal proceedings. Tsvetkova was accused of “distributing pornography” after she published drawings of vulvas on a social media page called the “Vagina Monologues.” Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, the number of absurd cases like Tsvetkova’s has only grown; Russians can now be charged for as little as putting quotation marks around the phrase “special [military] operation.” For insight into how the authorities’ censorship methods are evolving, Meduza asked historian Sergey Bondarenko who formerly worked with Memorial about the purpose of cases like Tsvetkova’s.

Source: Meduza. Reprinted by kind permission. An extract from ‘A new stage of repression Three experts weigh in on the Kremlin’s changing approach to silencing dissent.’ Interviews by Alexey Slavin; abridged transltaion by Sam Breazeale.


Sergey Bondarenko conducts an excursion of an exhibition by Memorial. Photo by Renato Serrano for RFE/RL

There’s no doubt that the case against Yulia Tsvetkova was politically motivated. The Soviet political repressions of 1960-1980 were largely individual; they didn’t affect an entire social group or class like those of 30 years early, in the late 1930s. The scale changed, but people were persecuted in various ways for their views. The issue isn’t that Tsvetkova committed some kind of crime; it’s that there’s a certain belief system that’s currently considered unacceptable. They [security officials] extracted this belief system from her work, and then she effectively began facing punishment for a political crime.

Another important difference [from the Soviet-era repressions] is how arbitrary current persecution methods are. My impression is that the work against [Soviet] dissidents was quite methodical. There were entire divisions working specifically on dissident circles. Now, they grab people one at a time — and not necessarily the most well-known people, just those unlucky enough to cross paths with a certain cop or Center E [Russia’s Anti-Extremism Center] agent. Some of the victims, of course, are just meant to serve as examples.

The connection between state terror and fear is fairly direct: it’s clear that violent methods are effective. But it’s vital to remember that just as systems of terror are passed down, systems of resistance and the belief that it’s important to fight back are passed down. In that sense, Yulia Tsvetkova is in many ways continuing in the tradition of those who suffered for their beliefs before her.

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