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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sale temps en Russie pour les militants sociaux

by Damien Roustel

Hard Times in Russia for Social Activists

Translated Thursday 18 December 2008, by Colyn Wohlmut

Moscow. Stabbed with a syringe, the sociologist and l’Humanité correspondent Carine Clément reflects on the attack.

On the thirteenth of November, four social activists, including a Russian journalist, were attacked (see our November 17 edition). Among them was Carine Clément, French sociologist and correspondent for l’Humanité in Moscow, where she has been since 1994. She was a founder of the Collective Action Institute in 2004. Her work on "information and coordination of social activist movements in Russia" can be seen on www.ikd.ru, "a unique site within the genre: nonpartisan and objective regarding social initiatives"; this upset many, in particular "the real estate mafia". From Moscow, in this telephone interview, she reflects on her attack.

How are you?

Carine Clément. (Her voice tired.) OK…Physically, I’m great. They’re doing a blood test. I should have the results today or early next week. I’m waiting for the results of the test which the police did on the contents of the syringe to see if it contained anything toxic. There’s still a question of the presence of viruses which have a long incubation period. Anyway, I’m taking a preventative anti-HIV treatment for a month. Mentally, there are highs and lows. I believe that my version, which states that this is an act of intimidation, will be borne out.

How is the investigation going?

Carine Clément. Taking into account the media coverage of my case in France and the personality of the detective in Moscow, someone who seems competent and ready to go all the way, there’s been some progress. Despite this, the three complaints I filed after surviving three attacks haven’t been connected. Each is treated separately. The others have different characteristics. For example, the attacker who went after the union organizer at Ford with an iron bar was captured and delivered to the police but has already been released and no investigation is pending.

In France, we have the tendency to see the hand of the Kremlin behind every case of "troublemakers". What do you think?

Carine Clément. The Kremlin, it’s easy to say. It’s true they have the responsibility to secure the rule of law within their territories, something which is not done today. It’s very obvious. It’s up to the investigation to determine the degree of independence given by the central power to local political actors. But evidently it’s not Putin who ordered these attacks. I think that if these attacks had occurred on the same day, it would probably be coincidence. However, these attacks bring to light a common and real tendency: the use of force. The return of intimidation, extortion, to resolve social conflicts is the consequence of the incontrollable disequilibrium of the system. It’s too centralized. There is no control of the lower echelons. Corruption is massive. Anyone who has a little bit of power feels above the law.

Has there been a reaction from the Russian authorities?

Carine Clément. We went in front of the presidential administration in Moscow. We carried a petition that denounces all acts of violence. We didn’t meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, but an aide received our three delegates. The meeting didn’t mean anything special.

What are your demands?

Carine Clément. Our main message is that we want real investigations carried out on the attacks. We also want the attackers and those who ordered the attacks convicted. We ask for the creation of a special section of the Ministry of the Interior to deal with these cases under Medvedev’s direct control.

Are you going to quit activism?

Carine Clément. No. I’m going to continue, but I’ll take more precautions. I won’t go out anymore without an escort.

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