It seems to be two completely different things: reading the constitution to masked riot police officers or drawing bare breasts and sharing a gay couple on Instagram. In Russia, you can end up in prison for both of these “offenses” for years.
And that is exactly what awaits 19-year-old Olga Misik and 27-year-old Yulia Tsvetkova. A speech by Misik went viral this week; next week she will hear her sentence.
In 2019, as a 17-year-old girl, the activist read the constitution to the riot police during demonstrations. The picture of “the girl with the constitution”, on which she reads to the article on the right to peaceful protest in a tailor-made manner with a bulletproof vest, was all over the world.
Last summer, she was arrested after smeared a public prosecutors office building with paint. Since then, shes been under house arrest and shes not allowed to use the Internet.
The feminist artist Tsvetkova has been tied to home for two years, without communication with the outside world. She shared on social media drawings of naked women and a gay couple with a baby. Some drawings showed genitals. “Dissemination of pornographic materials “is the charge.
Misik is over two years in prison, Tsvetkova two to six years. Young women belong to a growing group of Russian young activists who, according to human rights organisations, are persecuted for political reasons.
“ From the moment I took the constitution into my hands, my future was a foregone. And I accept that with courage,” Misik said last week in her closing plea in court. Next Tuesday, the judge will decide how long she will actually go to jail. Her speech went viral on social media.
Russia is very similar to Nazi Germany
In her plea, Misik quotes the German resistance fighter Sophie Scholl. He was convicted of high treason during World War II and decapitated at the age of 22. “She was prosecuted for pamphlets and graffiti, I for posters and paints,” Misik said in court. “In reality, we are both on trial for our political thoughts. My case is very similar to Sophies, and todays Russia is very similar to Nazi Germany.”
Misik is widely praised on social media for her words of resistance. “Heroine! Do not give up,” is a much-read reaction. But also: “Olgas text will be read later in the textbooks” and “with such a brave youth, Russia still has hope for a future!”.
Similar comments can be read under a Facebook post of Tsvetkova, posted through her mothers account. In the message Tsvetkova announced Wednesday to go on hunger strike. Because although Misiks case occurred last week, Tsvetkova has been waiting for the criminal investigation for two years.
“ Two years of my life, stolen, for a post on social media. Even before I have to serve my actual prison sentence. Its hell.” With her hunger strike, she wants to draw attention to all political prisoners who are waiting for their imprisonment in Russia for years in house arrest. “My demand is simple: I ask the government to man up. You want to judge me? – Fine. Im ready for my punishment. I demand not release, but a quick and fair trial,” writes Tsvetkova.
“ Yulia, youre a heroine!” , can be read in the comments. And: “This is modern Russia; a young girl has more honor and dignity than the state and its security forces.”
The words of the two young women differ in a Russia in which there is less and less room for a different opinion. In view of the parliamentary elections in September this year, repression is increasing in Russia. For example, the organisation of opposition leader Navalny has recently been disbanded. Critical media have also been silenced and many new laws have been adopted this week to facilitate persecution of people who sympathize with the opposition.
Still broad support for Putin
More than three hundred thousand people signed online petitions for both Misiks and Tsvetkovs release. But it doesnt seem like this kind of individual protest actions really bring about anything. According to Levada research centre, many young people are dissatisfied with Putin and recent developments, but the majority – about 65% – still support their president.
Many hope that their protest actually changes something have Misik and Tsvetkova therefore do not. “Am I afraid to die? I think so,” writes Tsvetkova. “But I have nothing left to lose. I have already lost my work, my friends and my life, and I have only my dignity left.”