On Friday evening, the editors of Slon.ru, an independent internet news portal, received notice from the Russian state prosecutor’s office that it had 24 hours to remove an article about a Novosibirsk performance artist hosting a demonstration demanding Siberian self-determination and federalization. “We give up all our resources [to Moscow] and in return we get a raft of idiotic laws,” announced the performance mastermind, Artem Loskutov, a well-known performance artist and provocateur.
The article has been removed, but the site, part of the same holding as the beleaguered independent television channel Dozhd, still faces closure.
File this one under irony:
All these months, Russia has been supporting Russian separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, trumpeting the principle of self-determination. "The right to self-determination is formalised as one of the most important goals of the UN Charter," said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov before the Russian parliament. "As to Crimea, as you know, its autonomy was restricted several times in the past against the will of the Crimeans. After the armed coup by persons, who seized power in Kiev, actions were undertaken, which even more aggravated the possibilities of the Crimeans to exercise their right to self-determination within the Ukrainian state."
But, in the Kremlin's understanding, self-determination begins where Russia ends. It’s a sensitive subject in Russia: The Russian Federation is a country cobbled together out of many different nationalities and regions, and it fought two wars with the Chechens to keep them from self-determining their way out of the Federation. Siberian separatism has always simmered under the surface, with the locals resentful of paying for the lavish life of a capital whose wealth depends on Siberia’s subterranean riches.
So, just before Russia took up the cause of Russian speakers in Crimea and Donetsk, Moscow decided to firm up the ties that bind its federation together. In December, Putin signed into law a measure that would punish propagating separatist views with up to five years in jail. And now, one of the last independent news sites in Russia—as in, ones that don’t parrot the Kremlin’s increasingly phantasmagorical line—faces closure for merely mentioning a performance piece that, as of yet, has no set time or place. The charge, according to Slon.ru’s editor Andre Gorianov, is “extremism.”
That’s rich. And, at this point, the performance doesn’t even have to happen. Loskutov has certainly proved his point.