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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Extremist for Every Occasion

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Andrei Polyakov, the leader of the Union of Communist Youth of Karelia, was surprised to learn that his name had been included on a list of extremists drawn up by local law enforcement agencies. After all, the union is an officially registered organization that never interested the authorities before. The group had never held any unauthorized meetings and hadn't even participated in the Dissenters' March in St. Petersburg in April.

Karelia authorities now spend most of their time making lists of extremists. Olga Ivanova, a young journalist from Krasnodar, has long been accustomed to receiving unwanted attention from the authorities. Representatives from the security services occasionally call her in for "friendly chats" wanting to know where she has traveled lately, and with whom she has met.

Ivanova recently graduated from the university. She received a 'B' on her graduation paper, but one of her professors confessed to her, saying, "Of course that paper deserved an 'A,' but since you are known as a dissenter, it would not have been a good idea to give you anything more than a 'B.' But don't worry, the authorities also had it out for me during Soviet times, but nothing came out of it," he said.

Ivanova can probably consider herself lucky. Things haven't worked gone as well for Sergei Vilkov of Saratov. On the evening of July 5, two riot police jumped him without warning. Then, six members of the organized crime division of the police joined in. The officers then handcuffed Vilkov and shoved him to the asphalt, holding him face down. He remained in that position for 20 minutes. After that, in the presence of witnesses, the police "discovered" a loaded pistol in Vilkov's possession. He was released on bail only after giving assurances that he would not leave the region.

A lawyer accompanied Vilkov at the interrogation. The investigator, who didn't want any defense lawyers poking around in his investigation, decided to postpone the questioning to a later date on the grounds that he had additional work to do on the case. Later, the authorities added another charges against Vilkov -- causing bodily harm to a local Nazi sympathizer during a brawl. Although the police admit that Sergei did not participate in the fight, they plan to implicate him for "inciting" the violence.

I became somewhat disturbed after reading about these events because I know these individuals personally. And it's frightening to realize that they are actually extremists! Maybe they read my articles, drew the wrong conclusions, and decided to undermine the Establishment as a result. One fine day, I might be charged for inciting others as well.

Ever since the State Duma began its battle against extremism, it has stepped up both the quantity and the severity of legislation designed to combat it. At the same time, the understanding of what constitutes "extremism" remains deliberately vague, giving repressive local law enforcement agencies sufficient latitude to interpret and enforce the laws as they see fit. In a typical fashion, the laws are written in such a way so as to blur any distinction between the ultra right and the radical left. Moreover, the authorities use the violence committed by the ultra-right as a justification for repressing the left -- and not only the radical left, but also the more moderate wing. Any criticism of the authorities or the government can be interpreted as incitement to insurrection.

Law enforcement agencies, in turn, take the new legislative initiatives as a clear signal to act decisively. They see it as their duty to identify and apprehend all the extremists within their jurisdictions. And if they don't find a single extremist, their city ends up looking like some sort of backward village.

The fight against extremism is gaining momentum. However, we can still hope that the current campaign will fizzle out like so many have in Russia's past, leaving behind nothing but unpleasant memories.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.