On the morning of February 6th, Russian journalist Gennady Shulga was at home. 14 days prior he’d been protesting for Alexei Navalny’s release in Vladivostok, implicating himself in the recent tide against Vladimir Putin’s presidentship; so, as he later alluded to, it was lucky that his daughter was out when the police decided to break in. Once they’d quickly searched the house, they subjected him to a humiliation, which involved forcing Gennady down against a pair of dog food bowls, filming him squirm and then posting the footage online.
When I say squirm, I am likely doing Gennady a disservice. The 10 second clip, posted by fellow journalist Keith Rothrock on Twitter, shows him relatively composed, his face pushed against the bowls of dog food as he answers a few generic questions. Further to this, Gennady welcomed the BBC around his house after the incident to describe exactly what had happened: “They broke in and ran down the corridor. They grabbed me by the neck and threw me to the floor. They also probably jabbed me with something because my leg started hurting later. I hit my head on these dog bowls.” He later explained that his wife Natasha was instructed to lie on the floor.
And then came the interrogation:
“What’s your full name?”
“Gennady Borisovich Shulga.”
“Do you understand why you’ve been detained?”
“I think I can more or less guess.”
At this point, the video is cut short. In an interview with the BBC, Gennady gave an insight into his ideas about the motives of the police: “The main aim of the show of force was to exert pressure on me and my wife. To try and scare us. Because this has nothing to do with maintaining law and order. I’m no criminal.” He does run NewsBox24, though, which has 315,000 followers on Instagram, and blogs about his pro-Communist ideas. He used the NewsBox24 Youtube channel to report some extra details about the home invasion, estimating that the encounter lasted about two hours, starting at 7AM. He said he was taken in for questioning and eventually released at one o’clock in the afternoon. According to Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, at least three other ‘political militants’ were arrested on the same day.
That Gennady live-streamed the protests in Vladivostok, suggests this might have been the police’s way of exacting revenge. He told the BBC that he believes that “The video was leaked to scare people, to show people what [the authorities] can do, what will happen to people who tell the truth about what’s happening in the country. Before this, [President Vladimir] Putin’s regime at least wore a mask of democracy. It tried to show the world we have some kind of democratic institutions. Now, after what happened, the masks are off.”
To target specific individuals who speak up against Vladimir Putin, in such a way, sends a clear, direct message. Whether this will deter people from going out in the streets to protest remains to be seen. In a world of globalization, where it is easier than ever to access cultures and political developments from different parts of the world, it is increasingly likely that Russian people will compare their state of democracy to other countries’. While this kind of behaviour from the police might intimidate a tentative Navalny protester or a potential Putin critic, it may also put wind in the sails of those who have already been outspoken. A Kremilin spokesman, commenting on the recent outbreak of protests, moved to promote Russia’s authoritarian atmosphere, escalating the tension: “Holding unauthorised rallies causes concern, and shows that harsh police steps are justified.”
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