08/05/2022, 18.37
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St Petersburg: Liberals challenge the fake unanimity of Putin's consensus

by Vladimir Rozanskij

City Duma member Aleksandr Shishlov, from the Yabloko party, has been arrested, allegedly for discrediting Russia’s military currently fighting in Ukraine. Many scholars have taken his side. He is an example of those who are still fighting for freedom of expression in Russia.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The opinions of those who are against Russia’s war in Ukraine and its ideological motivations cannot be swept under the carpet by arresting and punishing anyone who disagrees with the Kremlin's line on charges of "discrediting the Armed Forces”.

One of the latest cases involves Alexander Shishlov, a member of the St Petersburg City Duma (Municipal Council), as well as a university professor and member of the liberal Yabloko party, who was indicted for his posts on VKontakte, a social messaging service.

His case is causing a stir since Shishlov is a well-known public figure. A physicist and mathematician, he got into politics in 1990 as a reformist member of the Leningrad Council of People’s Deputies (Lensovet) before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

He headed the Strategiya Centre, a political thinktank, and was a member of the post-Soviet St Petersburg Duma several times, as well as of a number of government commissions on education and scientific research.

A diplomat and human rights activist, he recently urged the Council to honour the soldiers who have fallen in the war in Ukraine with a minute of silence rather show respect to ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who for a long time has pushed Russia to wage war.

Upon his arrest and indictment, Shishlov told journalists that anyone who takes a different view than the five ruling parties is a victim of persecution. “Since I am the leader of the opposition, all those who care about democracy and freedom of expression are affected.”

Not only has he been charged of insulting the dead warmonger, he also stands accused, among other things, of criticising the Ribbon of St George, a traditional symbol of the Russian military, now used for anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

“Putting Putin’s Z swastika on this ribbon is an offence to a symbol of our people,” Shishlov wrote in a post. “This is truly disgraceful.”

An academic commission of experts and jurists has been established, chaired by Veronika Abakanova, an associate professor of law, to vet the charges against such an eminent public figure as Shishlov,

“It is sad to see how the crudest emotions can reduce even esteemed institutions and scholars to such low levels, instigating police terror and persecution of those who think differently,” Shishlov noted.

Many members of the academic world are standing by the scholar-cum-politician. One of them is historian Irina Levinskaya, who has slammed the Commission of Experts for their narrow-mindedness and incompetence, as they are called to decide on the historical value of a symbolic object.

Shishlov's indictment was also motivated by the use of the term "so-called" in reference to the special military operation. Deemed “ironic and insulting”, it sparked a reaction among literary scholars and philologists who speak of “ideological use of linguistics”.

Natalia Evdokimova, executive secretary of the Human Rights Council of St Petersburg, also spoke out in Shislov’s defence. In her view, “when such a qualified representative of political and social life intervenes on such issues, it is important to listen without prejudice.”

In recent years, Evdokimova and Shishlov worked together on several initiatives in defence of democracy and constitutional rights, as well as in support of  Alexei Navalny’s movement, opposing on several occasions police violence against protesters.

For Boris Vishnevsky, another member of the St Petersburg City Duma, the charges against his colleague are “completely absurd;” in fact, he “has always expressed his views with respect and consistency, without ever discrediting anyone.”

According to Vishnevsky, "these accusations and these ridiculous trials are designed to create the illusion of unanimity in our country, and to this end, repressive methods must be used to prevent the free expression of any opinion other than the official one.”

By punishing a prominent figure, ordinary citizens are intimidated so that “they can only be silent and stick their heads in the sand.”

The date of Shislov’s trial has not yet been decided, but Shishlov himself plans to make it as public as possible, to unmask the inconsistency of propaganda and spurious accusations.

His lawyer, Leonid Krikun, has already begun disseminating all the papers related to the proceedings on Facebook, despite bans and restrictions, not to mention threats of prosecution.

Perhaps a glimpse of truth and free expression will lift the lid from Putin’s purges.

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