01.08.2006 | Maria Zadornova

“And this one was taking photographs”


As already reported, Ukrainian journalist Maxim Butkevych was recently arrested during a protest action against the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. Mariya Zadornova, from Ukrainska Pravda, met Butkevych at the station upon his return and found out about his arrest, about how alter-globalism differs from anti-globalism, why he and dozens of Ukrainians and people from other countries went to St. Petersburg to the G8 Summit, about the Russian judiciary and many other interesting things.

What was the protest action that you were detained at?

In the morning of 16 July a group of people protested against the G8, blocked Nevsky Prospekt opposite the Radisson Hotel where the participants in the events that are always part of the G8 Summits were staying. This was at 8.35 when the participants were expected to be emerging from the hotel, and the aim of the direct protest action was to show the G8 that they wouldn’t succeed in hiding from protesters.

Across Nevsky they also unfurled a banner reading “There are 8 of you – there are 6 billion of us. It is for us to make the decisions!”, and a picture of the Bronze Horseman[1] falling off his horse. Most of those involved in the protest – over 30 people – were detained by Russian enforcement bodies. Among them were citizens of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Britain, Holland and Germany.

-  Who detained you?

-  OMON (the riot police) and patrol police officers. When the protest action began, media journalists grabbed for their cameras, the riot police for their batons, and I began taking photos on my modest little digital camera so as to post the images on as evidence of the actions of both law enforcement officers and the activists.
In less than a minute I heard a voice from behind me calling out “He’s got a camera, he’s taking pictures!”, and they grabbed me by the arm and the collar.

I asked “what’s the matter?” and received from the policeman the response: “We’ll f*** well tell you, you c***”  I didn’t resist in any way, just surreptitiously took a few shots from the waist while they were taking me away. The police officer handed me over to a riot police officer with the words: “And this one was taking photographs”, so that I understood that this was why they’d detained me.

I said to the riot police officer “And so what (that I was taking photos)?” and heard in reply “We’ll f*** tell you right now, c***, so what!”  It was like a password. Then he saw that I was holding the camera.  “F*** well hide it, you c***, or I’ll ***!”

They put me in a van with the others who’d been detained. Fortunately I managed to pass the card with the photos taken to someone who got them out of the area cordoned off by the enforcement units and kept them intact. In the van, they made us sit on the floor, after which they again took us out, made us stand facing the back of the van with arms and legs stretched out and searched us all over.

In short, they detained everybody, even the cameraman from “Associated Press” who had a professional camera, a “Press” badge, and accreditation. In fact, though, after the head of the St. Petersburg AP bureau intervened, he was released.

You work for TV Channel “1+1”.  Does your contract stipulate no participation in political events?

No. However at that moment I was on holiday, and didn’t even have my identity card from “1+1”.  I was simply taking photographs: my journalist role involves collecting and passing on information. Nonetheless that obviously affected the coverage of the events in our mass media – they’d detained a journalist who actually works as a journalist.

- Were you beaten?

No, but our “fellow detainees” gave accounts of other activists having been beaten. In my presence people were pushed about and hit around the head after being detained. Then they roughed up, for example, the Belarusians who were in the same van as us on the way to the police department and the court. They didn’t touch the Ukrainians.

A riot police officer asked: “Where have you come from?” “From Brest”.  “Ah, from Brest?  So why, c***, did you come here?”, accompanied by several pretty hard blows. Then it was my turn:  “Where have you come from?”– "From Kyiv" – "Yeah?  And how is your struggle for gas there?”  -  “OK”  - “You’re really so energetic, are you?”

Amazingly, none of the Ukrainians had even a finger laid on them, they just kept repeating pretty monotonous jokes about “orange ones” and “gas”.

That was how we reached the court where some TV camera was already waiting. One of the riot police said to the other: “What do you think, time to get out and *** the cameras?  I couldn’t restrain myself and said: “Do you know, it’s now impossible in Ukraine to do that sort of thing?”  He looked at me, went silent, and then said: “One at a time, out”.

After being detained, the police held us in the department until evening, took fingerprints, tried to force us to write explanations, threatened us with long imprisonment and that we’d end up in the worst cell.

When I asked whom I should speak to about contacting the consulate, or who I could complain to about the unlawful detention (after all I hadn’t taken part in the protest action and hadn’t broken any law), I was advised to approach “the Hague”.  Presumably they meant Strasbourg.

They were much more surprised that I had a civic defence lawyer – in fact the protesters had their own legal support service!  Although they only let him see me after the Consul intervened.

How did the Ukrainian Consul respond?

- The Consul in St. Petersburg, Viktor Lavrynenko, kept in constant contact with us after being informed from Kyiv that we’d been detained. He came to our police station, and it was thanks to him that they allowed the defence lawyer in to see me, and handed over parcels.

After his visit, the attitude of the enforcement officers to the Ukrainians improved significantly. Later he went to the court, and then to Vasilyev Island where, during the next protest action another Ukrainian national had been detained.

As far as I know, people from the consulates of Germany and the UK also worked to help their citizens.

The actions of a representative of the Belarusian consulate were interesting – according to the Belarusians, he turned up, wrote down all the information about his detained fellow citizens and with a clear conscience disappeared.

How did the Russian court behave?

At first it seemed that all the actions of the Justice of the Peace of No. 205 district, T.M. Dolinskaya, were in keeping with legal norms. She asked me all the necessary questions in accordance with procedural legislation. However, then the farce began. She didn’t listen to the evidence of witnesses who confirmed that I had not taken part in the action, and whose testimony contradicted the protocols. She didn’t listen to the defence lawyer’s appeal to the end, and finally jailed me for three days.

It is possible that it was precisely for that reason that all those detained had a charge of resisting the police pinned on them, instead of being charged with taking part in an unsanctioned protest action, since the Article on resisting a police officer demands administrative imprisonment, whereas other articles restrict themselves to fines. And then on the second day they released us from the temporary holding facility and put in our passport a stamp requiring us to leave Russian territory within 3 days.

Why did you go to St. Petersburg to protest actions against the G8?

In July 2005 the G8 Summit took place in Scotland, in Gleneagles. The protestors at Gleneagles were coordinated by the network “Dissent”, and were specifically fighting against the G8 as an illegitimate institution which nobody empowered and which implements a neo-liberal policy.

Say, for example, the IMF is also not much loved, however it is at least an official international organization with a number of written rules, while the G8 is simply 8 people whom nobody authorized to decide the fate of the 6 billion people on this Earth. It is impossible to either control their activities or have any influence on them.

I was studying last year in the English city of Brighton at Sussex University, where I joined a local group “Dissent!". Among other things, I took part in a media group, and then in protest actions in Gleneagles.

Since it was clear that the problems experienced with the police in Scotland didn’t bear any comparison with those in St. Petersburg, as well as the visa regime, a lot of activists from the West couldn’t get to St. Petersburg. Russian alter-globalists asked for help, and Ukrainians helped as they could, since in East Europe there aren’t that many with experience of protest actions. I was among those who wanted to help.

What were you protesting against?  What is the neo-liberal policy of the G8?

In very simplistic terms, neo-liberalism is a trend in economic thinking which was dominant in the 1980s and which claims that the basis of economic success is to remove as quickly as possible any restrictions on private initiative in the economy.

Their claim is that a maximum level of denationalization is needed and of privatization in all spheres of the economy  - and then the economy will become more healthy.

And what’s so bad about that?

- Neo-liberalism takes macroeconomic rather than social indicators as its basis. This is what Margaret Thatcher, a committed neo-liberalist, tried to achieve in the UK.

She didn’t achieve it to the end because the British fought hard against privatization of the citizen of health care, however she developed a network of private medical institution, saving at the same time on financing state institutions.  Services became better quality, but only for those who could pay for them.  State-funded medical services became worse.

The Canadian journalist Klein researched the history of how corporations changed throughout the XX century from small factories to massive corporations whose main aim is to make production as cheap as possible.

Nowadays they don’t make anything themselves, except maybe adding labels, they just coordinate production, i.e. move it to where there aren’t any trade unions or where the law prohibits such unions. That’s the reason for the Chinese economic “miracle” – you can’t have strikes there, which is why the West are transferring their businesses there.
Hence the term “globalization”?

Yes, and here we have the main switch in concepts. The media en masse use the vague stamp “anti-globalist”, as though activists are protesting against everything global. Yet the movement against neo-liberalism is not isolationist.

The opponents of neo-liberalism do not want to close themselves off behind regional borders, and are not speaking out against global processes. They are protesting against economic globalization (open borders for the free movement of big capital, goods, money and production), and are standing up for “globalization from below” (free movement of people and information).

Therefore the activists of the movement against neo-liberalism call themselves “ALTER-globalists”, that is, “other globalists”.

On television they show anti-globalists as some kind of hardened oddballs, who break boutique shop windows and burn cars …

That is yet another media stereotype. Both in Scotland in 2005 and in St. Petersburg in 2005 there were people who would have carried out “violence against corporative property”, however they were in the minority.

Alter-globalists are involved in various types of activities, including boring paperwork – from lobbying at the state and inter-state level to campaigns to force multinational corporations to stop lowering wages and using child labour. However the boring paperwork isn’t as exciting on the TV screen as some oddball in a black band who throws a brick into the window of a fast-food outlet.

You mentioned that in Eastern Europe few have experience of protest actions. Does that mean that those who went to St. Petersburg had such experience.

To a large extent the events of autumn 2004 helped in this. Ukrainians then did the same things as people do during protest campaigns in the West, and on a much wider scale at that. When people in the West asked me about the “Orange Revolution”, I quite often cited as an analogy the actions of the alter-globalists – people THEMSELVES try to change their lives, to have impact on decision-making. Direct democracy in its way.

Having had activist experience of work with the mass media back in Scotland, in St. Petersburg again worked in a media group. The task of the group was to organize cooperation and pass on information between activists and journalists, help them to overcome their mutual stereotypes, make sure that the media was present at protest actions given the conditions of total control by enforcement agencies, etc.

Long before July 2006 material began being collected for training activists, and here a lot of help was provided by non-party activists who had good experience of protest over the last four years of Kuchma’s regime, including the “Orange” events.

Specially for the G8 Summit these people prepared method guidelines for Russians and foreign nationals on how different groups should coordinate their actions both before and during the protest actions, how to

Did many Ukrainians go to St. Petersburg?

I don’t know exactly, - mainly, there wasn’t a single centre where they monitored how many people there were, and where they were from. Secondly, we travelled separately so as to avoid a situation where we were all removed from the train. Each person had their own different purpose.

For example, I had no intention of being arrested – I wasn’t taking part in the protests, but worked in a media group. Some couldn’t take the risk and stayed in Ukraine to carry out protests, campaigns in support, to write and translate material. Some decided to take the risk and went there to take part directly in the protest actions.

In St. Petersburg I met Ukrainians – mainly anarchists from Kyiv and Lviv. There were also members of Marxist-Leninist organizations – we virtually had no contact with them, so I can’t give any more detail. I didn’t see one extreme right-wring person – they like to call themselves anti-globalist, and not alter-globalist, from Ukraine.

People from Kyiv took part in the media group, in street actions, carrying them out in Kyiv also, while the Lviv people were involved in preparing groups to give medical aid.  If the enforcement bodies used batons, bullets and gas, and the ambulances couldn’t get through, then the “street medics” would have provided the necessary help.

You went to the G8 Summit in the thick of the political events in your country.  Does that mean that the issues of alterglobalism are more important for you than Ukrainian problems?

The protests in St. Petersburg were protests in the first instance about defending ordinary individuals, and not specific political parties. What is called “alter-globalism” is a movement which speaks out for a better life for ordinary people. A better life for individuals is a better life for the whole world, and for whole countries. And that includes my country.

See also:  (and earlier reports)

[1]  The Bronze Horseman is a statue of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg.  It is also a major poetic work by Pushkin in which the role of Peter the Great, and in general the role of the state, is seen not only in its “glory”, but in the way it crushes ordinary individuals.  (translator’s note)

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