miércoles, 11 de septiembre de 2019

The Fearless Generation

The Fearless GenerationRussian Youth Stand Up to the State

University student Yegor Zhukov was arrested for participating in a Moscow protest
 and thousands of young Russians threw their support behind him. A new generation
 of youth in Russia is standing up to Kremlin oppression.
A protester holds up a sign reading "Free Yegor Zhukov!"
Yuri Kadobnov/ AFP

A protester holds up a sign reading "Free Yegor Zhukov!"

On a recent, pleasantly warm Tuesday evening in Moscow, a group of people was standing in front of the Basmanny District Court, and the young faces were smiling happily. The day had turned out to be a good one after all, at least for the friends of Yegor Zhukov.
Just a short time before, the political science student had been sitting inside a cage in the courtroom. He was just coming off a month of pretrial detention and was facing the possibility of an eight-year prison sentence due to alleged participation in "mass unrest." The term "mass unrest" is a formula used by the Russian judiciary to describe the Moscow protests held to demand free and fair elections on September 8 for the Moscow city parliament. Zhukov had taken part in those protests.
On that Tuesday evening, though, the judge issued a surprise ruling releasing Zhukov from pretrial detention in favor of house arrest, while investigators announced that he was only being charged with "extremism," a violation that carried a maximum sentence of just five years instead of eight. It was a perfect illustration of where Russia finds itself in late summer 2019: It has become a place where opposition activists breathe a sigh of relief when one absurd accusation is replaced by another.
Since the recent protests in Moscow, Russia's criminal justice system has been busy. On the same day that Zhukov was released into house arrest, several draconian sentences were handed down by courts in Moscow: Five years for a tweet; three years for a demonstrator who used pepper spray; and two years for someone who pulled a policeman's hand.
But no recent case has been as prominent as that of Zhukov. The university student has become a symbol of a naively intrepid Russian youth that is being chewed up by a repressive state apparatus. Zhukov is a "present-day hero," in the words of the author Dmitry Bykov, one who embodies the "most important characteristics of his generation." His arrest, Bykov wrote, was a "colossal mistake" by the Kremlin.
1,400 Arrests
Zhukov's case also stands for a new kind of solidarity. Students and university professors rallying behind him. Oxxxymiron, one of the country's best-known rappers, offered to post 2 million rubles in bail for the student. Two editors-in-chief have vouched for him. Even the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages published an open letter in support of Zhukov.
The drama surrounding Zhukov began in the summer break between semesters, when thousands of Muscovites gathered in front of city hall in late July to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from the city parliament elections. The peaceful demonstration had not been authorized and the police broke it up, arresting 1,400 people in the process. The mayor and other officials spoke of "mass unrest."
A short time later, a television broadcaster blamed Zhukov for being one of the organizers, accusing him of having instructed the masses to break through a police line. The clip was a quickly assembled bit of propaganda and it would later emerge that the person depicted wasn't Zhukov at all. But the machinery of the judiciary had already been fired up. On August 2, Zhukov was arrested.
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