May 18, 2007

Russians Suppressing Dissent

I could probably run that headline every day, but in this case it has implications for European politics as well as internal Russian politics. Russia hosts the EU-Russia Summit this year in Samara, and critics of the Vladimir Putin regime had planned to demonstrate outside the meeting to show their dissatisfaction with Putin's increasingly authoritarian style. When the Russians refused permission for the demonstration, Germany's Angela Merkel objected -- and Putin appeared to back down. Appearances can be deceiving:

Russian opposition leaders, including Garry Kasparov, were arrested Friday morning on their way to Samara to protest an EU-Russia summit. The Kremlin doesn't want images of police beating up protestors to be beamed around the world. But Angela Merkel has lodged a protest of her own with Vladimir Putin. ...

The march was given official approval late last week, following pressure from Germany, the current rotating president of the EU. But despite the fact that the city authorities have given the green light for the protest, the repression of Other Russia is in full swing. Over the past 10 days, 15 members of the opposition have been arrested; and on Friday morning another 13, including the coalition's leader, chess champion Garry Kasparov, were arrested and prevented from traveling to Samara. Human rights activists are describing this as a deliberate campaign against the organizers of the march.

Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiye, spokeswoman for The Other Russia, was arrested last Sunday. The petite 19-year-old was accused of carrying grenades and a knife in her small black handbag. "I showed them the permit from the mayor, which allows our demonstration," she said. Rubbish, the police told her -- the signature must have been forged.

The mayor had to interrupt his holiday to clear up the matter. But that didn't stop the security forces from forging ahead with other arrests. On Monday Yuri Chervinchuk was arrested, supposedly as part of an anti-terror operation, while Michail Merkushin was taken into custody because he looked like a wanted criminal.

The Russians do not appear to have taken Merkel's warning to heart. They achieved their purpose through other means, allowing the EU contingent to arrive under the false pretense that Putin tolerates dissent. Now the organizers of the protest are in jail, and the EU diplomats are in luxury accommodations in Samara.

Will the EU stand for this? If they value freedom of speech and democracy, they should register their protest by leaving Samara. Otherwise, their presence acts as an endorsement of the Putin regime and its oppressive tactics in stamping down any kind of dissent against the policies of its government. Merkel has made a statement expressing her concern, but thus far no other movement has been forthcoming from the EU.

Europeans know better than anyone the price of appeasing dictators and authoritarians. Left unchallenged, they continue to expand their power and eliminate dissenters. If the EU allows the Samara summit to continue and to conduct business as usual, they will send the message to democrats that freedom has a lower priority than commerce.


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Comments (3)

Posted by Sue | May 18, 2007 9:13 AM

Europeans did much appeasing in the 20-40's of the last century, but learned anything from that? NO!!

Posted by North Shore | May 18, 2007 10:20 AM

Will the EU stand for this?

In a word...Yes.

Posted by burt | May 18, 2007 12:31 PM

I am hoping but not expecting that the first order of business will be to walk out in protest for the arrests.