Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Keeping up a united front

In the good old USSR, dissidents were usually dealt with by declaring them insane and locking them up in "asylums." Today, it seems that pre-trial detention, conviction, and prison are preferred.

Russian Mayor Irks Security Agency, and Suffers
LISTVYANKA, Russia — On the edge of this Siberian village is a resort with a veiled guest list and armed guards at the front gate. When local officials have expressed unease about what goes on inside, the reply has always been the same: do not interfere.

Two and half years ago, the village’s mayor, Tatyana Kazakova… filed a lawsuit against the resort, and asked the regional prosecutor to open a criminal inquiry.

A criminal inquiry was indeed opened — against Ms. Kazakova.

The resort belongs to the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., and the F.S.B. arrested her and had her prosecuted.
She is now on trial in a case that has already become a disquieting example of the power of the security agency in today’s Russia…

The judge is expected to issue a verdict in Ms. Kazakova’s trial within the next few weeks. Her lawyers say, based on how the trial was conducted, that the judge does not seem open to the possibility that Ms. Kazakova is not guilty. She could face several years in prison.

Russia is a freer society than its Soviet predecessor, and the F.S.B. is smaller and less intrusive than the K.G.B. But the agency still functions mostly in secret, with an intimidating reputation and almost no oversight from other branches of government.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, the country’s paramount leader, is a former director of the F.S.B. and a former K.G.B. officer, and since his rise to power a decade ago, the agency has wielded tremendous influence in government and industry. Mr. Putin has appointed many former agency officers to senior positions. They are known as the siloviki, from the Russian word for “force.”…

And now, the Kremlin seems bent on making the F.S.B. even stronger. Parliament, controlled by Mr. Putin’s party, is in the process of approving legislation that would allow F.S.B. agents to warn people that their activities were “unacceptable” and leading toward a crime. The K.G.B. once employed a similar practice against Soviet dissidents…

The issue of pretrial punishment has drawn widespread attention in Russia in recent months after scandals surrounding two defendants who died in custody in Moscow…

What You Need to Know

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