Russia is already used to the idea that anti-war protests and even critical comments on social media can land you in jail. Now, it seems that official pressure on opponents of the war is getting even more demonstrative — and sinister. This weekend, police raided two fashionable bars, hitting customers and forcing them to sing patriotic songs. They also raided a book launch for an artist imprisoned for anti-war protests.
- Balaclava-clad security officers burst into bars Underdog and La Virgen on Friday night armed with sledgehammers and stun guns. Between 40 and 50 customers at the bars, which are owned by the same people, were detained. Some were forced to the floor and beaten. The officers also dragged one customer onto the street and made him write the letter “Z” (a pro-war symbol) and the words “For Russia” on the door of the bar. Several drinkers at Underdog were threatened with electric shocks and forced to sing patriotic songs — a video of the incident was later circulated on social media. Several detainees were questioned, but they were all released.
- State-run media outlets reported the raids were carried out by the police and the Federal Security Service (FSB). The punitive action was apparently the result of reports that the bar owners “sponsored the Ukrainian Armed Forces.” This refers to an incident in July when La Virgen’s Instagram account announced a charity evening to raise funds for Kyiv Angels, a charity that delivers food and medicine to people in Ukraine. This caused a scandal in ultra-patriotic circles, with demands that “traitors to the motherland” be punished.
- The following day, after those detained had been released, one of the co-owners of the bars announced his departure from both projects. But pro-Kremlin Telegram channels were not satisfied — demanding his arrest.
- The show of strength continued Sunday. This time, police went to a club called Open Space, which was due to host the launch of a comic book by artist Sasha Skochilenko (currently in jail for a protest in which she replaced price tickets in supermarkets with anti-war slogans). Skochilenko is on trial and faces up to 10 years behind bars if found guilty. The police forced everyone present at the book launch to clean the room. Anyone who refused was laid face down on the floor. Several people were detained, and one was reportedly beaten for refusing to show his passport.
Why the world should care
Since the start of the war, the authorities have managed to maintain an atmosphere of fear through carefully-selected criminal cases. However, we are seeing more and more instances like the raid on the Underdog — demonstrably illegal actions by law enforcement officers that are obviously intended to humiliate and intimidate critics of the war.