Add another category to the long list of people deemed a security threat to the Russian state: feminists.
Early this morning, a group of men broke into a tiny cottage near Dzhubga, a village in Russia’s southern Black Sea region of Krasnodar. The cottage was rented by five women who had traveled to the region for a feminist gathering.
One of the men identified himself as a police officer and told the women they were being brought to the Dzhubga police station for questioning about an alleged breach of public order. At the precinct, the women were forced to turn off their phones, searched, and required to file written statements explaining the purpose of their trip. When releasing the women without charge four hours later, officers wanted them to sign documents warning them against carrying out any “extremist activity.” The women refused.
The women – Lolita Agamalova, Lada Garina, Elena Ivanova, Taisia Simonova, and Oksana Vasyakina – had planned to spend a week in a small camp by the Black Sea to learn more about feminism and exchange best practices in a friendly environment free of “sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any sort of xenophobia.” But a few days before the camp’s launch, Simonova and several others received hate messages on social networks from supposed Cossacks threatening to attack the camp because allegedly feminism runs contrary to “traditional values.” On August 12, another “Cossack” threatened Simonova, one of the organizers, on her cellphone. The organizers decided to cancel the camp for security reasons, but by that time, some of the participants were already on their way.
Cossacks, who identify themselves as a separate ethnic group in Russia, are known to maintain militia groups, especially in the south of the country, allegedly to help protect public order. They often harass and even physically attack civil society activists, at times appearing to act in collusion with local police authorities.
Once released from the Dzhubga police station, four of the women headed for a camping site near the town of Gelendzhik, where other feminist friends were staying. In the afternoon, a group of Cossacks confronted them and demanded to see their documents. Eventually, police showed up and suggested the women come with them. Fearing for their safety, the activists agreed. But once they arrived at the Divnomorskoe police station, the officers began treating them as suspects, asking intrusive questions about their trip and even trying to have them fingerprinted. Then, police brought in some of the women’s friends from the camping site and questioned them in turn. Instead of protecting the women from the Cossacks, the police played alongside them, seemingly also hoping to prevent feminists from gathering. The women and their friends were released well after dark. Each of them had to sign a paper saying she had been warned not to engage in “extremist activities.”