Russia’s Growing Intolerance for Dissent

Moscow, Russia (HRW) – Today, at Moscow’s eminent House of Cinematography, aggressive individuals among pro-Kremlin protestors attacked the award ceremony of an annual student competition, “Man in History. Russia – XX Century.” The attackers threw eggs and green antiseptic solution at the teenage winners of the competition, their teachers, and other participants at the gathering. Ludmilla Ulitskaya, a prominent Russian novelist and chair of the competition’s jury, was among those splashed with the bright green liquid.

Memorial, a leading civil society group, holds this competition annually for students, aged 14 to 18. The competition aims to “motivate young people to carry out independent research into the history of the past century and awaken their interest in the fates and lives of ordinary people, which make the founding blocs of the country’s history.”

Many of the protestors were those who wore black and orange ribbons – symbolism particularly popular among supporters of Russia’s actions in Crimea. They waved red flags, roared patriotic songs, called the participants “national traitors” and other degrading and offensive names, and shouted, “We won’t let [you] re-write [our] history.” Police at the scene did little to tackle those amongst them who engaged in physical violence.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Just a few weeks earlier, on March 21, Russian nationwide television ran a malicious storyabout  the exhibition “Different Wars” co-organized and hosted by Memorial. “Different Wars” is an international project that examines how schoolbooks from various countries interpret World War II history. It features quotes and photographs from books used in Russian, Polish, Czech, German, Italian, and Lithuanian schools. While the organizers of the exhibition specifically aimed to promote tolerance and mutual understanding in different societies that had lived through the war, the state television news program accused Memorial activists of being “foreign agents” and defiling Russia by “re-writing” its history in the interests of their foreign funders.

In contemporary Russia, more and more, no public dissent from the “official line” on Russia’s contemporary history is tolerated by the authorities, and those who publicly express divergent viewpoints are increasingly subject to attacks, ranging from defamation to physical violence. Even children are apparently not exempt. Today’s attack at the Moscow House of Cinematography and other similar incidents send a chilling, and non-subtle signal to the public at large: unless you’re looking for trouble, keep quiet, don’t engage in any activism, stay away from civil society groups, and don’t look for interpretations and ideas that aren’t approved by the government. Over the past few years, this message, alarmingly reminiscent of the Soviet past, has been getting stronger and stronger.

This report prepared by Tanya Lokshina for Human Rights Watch.