In Part I, a deadlock in the Electoral College and claims of voting fraud has sent the U.S. presidential election into chaos. A legal battle between lawyers for Donald Trump and Joe Biden has begun in a federal court in Los Angeles. Joe Biden has had a startling mental lapse on national TV. In Part II, the battle for the White House enters the Congress, where a showdown unfolds on the floor of the House of Representatives.

By Dan Lawton

Part II 

On December 8, 2020, the first contingent election of a U.S. president of the modern era got underway right after the 117th Congress was sworn in on the floor of the House of Representatives. All the lawmakers were haggard, exhausted. Some of the younger freshman representatives showed the telltale signs of having slept in their offices the night before. A lot of them couldn’t afford a second mortgage or rent payment in the capital. In the mornings they rose from their couches and showered and shaved in the House gym locker rooms.

The chaplain today was Fr. Dan Tumulty, a Catholic priest from San Diego. A little flushed and quite pleased with himself, perfectly-coiffed and resplendent in his custom-tailored black suit and Roman collar, he made his way up the aisle. Today he was standing in as honorary chaplain, at the invitation of his Congressman, Juan Vargas, a Democrat from San Diego. Back home, Tumulty was friendly with a real estate tycoon, Doug Manchester, who saw to it the dapper churchman had a full membership at a posh country club in Del Mar and a new luxury sedan every couple of years. A few years earlier, Tumulty had discreetly nudged along a Vatican-approved annulment of Manchester’s long marriage to the mother of his five children, clearing the way for the randy old magnate to marry a Russian mail-order bride who was much younger than himself. Behind Tumulty's back, some of his flock in San Diego called him Father Hollywood.

“Let us bow our heads and pray,” said Tumulty, in his smooth, Bing Crosby voice.

Tumulty offered a rambling invocation, fervently imploring the Lord to guide the women and men there assembled to do right as God gave them to see the right and put bickering and personal differences aside in the interest of protecting and preserving and so forth. It went on for a while.

After it stopped, a partial, half-hearted “Amen” rose from the floor. Tumulty stood down, yielding to the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker looked almost regal in her own custom-made, royal blue Akris jumpsuit. She called the House to order. By rule, each state’s delegation was going to get five minutes at the microphone. They would go in alphabetical order, starting with Alabama.

Like Carl Albert, Tip O’Neill, and Newt Gingrich before her, Nancy Pelosi had mastered the most important skill of any Speaker. That was knowing how to count. Like an auditor peering at a balance sheet through green eye shades, she eyed the spreadsheet laid out in front of her. It listed each state, the names of its representatives, and the votes which Pelosi’s operatives and allies had told her were expected that morning.

It would be close, she knew. But the arithmetic was inexorable. There was no way Trump could get to 26. Biden had the numbers, by a small margin.

Alabama and Alaska went for Trump. That was OK.

Then Raúl Grijalva, the beefy senior member of Arizona’s delegation, came to the lectern and adjusted the mic. He seemed to be huffing and puffing, and his bolo tie, which featured a chunk of polished jade cut in the shape of his home state, looked a notch a mite tight around his ample neck.

“Madame Speaker,” Grijalva said, looking ruefully into the C-SPAN camera lens a few feet in front of him. “The State of Arizona must regretfully announce it must abstain from voting in this matter.”

A swell of gasps and whispers washed through the chamber like surf and echoed back, then reverberated.

Pelosi banged her massive gavel, bam! bam! bam! bam! bam! She kept banging it until the din subsided.

“Abstain?” said Pelosi. She arched her black eyebrows, which seemed like they sat halfway up her forehead, in disbelief.

Grijalva apologized. His colleagues, he said, had not shown up, and all of them were uncontactable. There was a report a crew of Antifa people were holding three of them hostage underground in a copper mine near Bisbee, Arizona.

Grijalva was a Democrat. But he felt duty-bound not to presume what his colleagues would have voted today, he said.

OK, a hiccup, Pelosi thought. It’s just one vote.

On went the roll call.

Biden was racking up the votes -- Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota -- just as the spreadsheet predicted.

But when New Jersey’s representative, Frank Pallone, took his turn, Pelosi noted the look in his eye as he walked up to the lectern. It’s bad news, she thought. The Speaker felt a sudden wave of nausea surge through her body. Pallone had just told her last night New Jersey was a sure Biden vote.

Pallone had some bad news all right.

A couple of New Jersey’s twelve representatives had experienced travel difficulties of their own, he said. One of them, he said, had last been seen at the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, after cutting the ribbon at the opening of a new park ranger station there. He had glad-handed everyone and posed for photos before disappearing with a couple of men into a black sedan, which sped off, supposedly for the Newark airport, but never arrived.

Chris Smith, the sole Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation, was pro-Trump. But he and Frank Pallone, a Democrat who loved Joe Biden, were the only ones there from New Jersey.

“In good conscience, Madame Speaker,” Pallone said -- Pelosi rolled her eyes and stopped listening.

New Jersey was abstaining too.

Pelosi wondered what might be in store.

Things returned to normal. Pelosi checked each box as she went down her spreadsheet -- New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island. Getting there -- almost there.

“Vermont,” said Pelosi.

But the state’s sole representative, Peter Welch, a tall, genial lawyer, was nowhere to be seen.

Welch had been there for Tumulty’s prayer, during which he had been seen laughing and chatting with another congressman at his desk. But just after Pelosi had started calling the roll, Welch had ducked out, headed for the cloakroom. He hadn’t come back.

Pelosi’s voice rose.

“The State of Vermont, please,” she said.

It was right then when everyone in the chamber heard the muffled sound of a woman screaming. A couple of burly Capitol police officers in the back hustled in the direction of the scream, toward the cloakroom.

What the fuck is it now? Pelosi thought, exasperated. Her family and friends knew she never cursed out loud. They didn’t know she cursed silently all the time.

When the officers burst into the cloakroom they found the body of Rep. Peter Welch, age 73. Welch lay on the heavy carpet alongside one of the heavy dark brown leather chairs. His skin was blue. His sightless eyes stared at the ceiling. His jaws were completely agape, his lips drawn tightly around what looked like a big round glass object wedged in his mouth.

One of the officers bent over Welch and pulled it out. The foreign object was a glass jar of pure Vermont maple syrup. Welch, age 73, was dead, asphyxiated.

Back in the chamber, when order was restored, congressman Juan Vargas, the former Jesuit seminarian and Harvard-trained lawyer, rose from his seat.

“Point of order, Madame Speaker,” said Vargas. “This entire proceeding has been sabotaged, by what appears to be a cynical and carefully-orchestrated series of criminal acts perpetrated by rogue elements acting at the behest of Donald J. Trump!”

The shouting and cries arose in a storm, No! Madame Speaker! Madame Speaker!

It was pandemonium.

Out of sight, paramedics were steering a gurney bearing the lifeless body of Peter Welch to an ambulance outside.

Pelosi resumed the vote.

“My fellow Americans,” she said. Her voice quivered. The steely Speaker was ever graceful and strong in the storms of the crises that had come one after another in the last four years. Now she looked on the verge of tears.

“It is my duty to inform you,” she said before pausing and looking down.

Everybody else could count too.

Between the three abstentions and another three states whose congressional races were still tied up in the House Oversight Committee over disputes about voter fraud, six states were missing in action.

Biden had 24 votes, two shy of a winning majority.

Trump had 20.

It was a deadlock.

On TV, Toobin, Dershowitz, Pirro, and the rest of them were all dumbstruck. It had never happened before, except on “Veep,” an HBO sitcom.

No one really understood the twelfth amendment very well in the first place. President James Madison had announced its ratification in 1804. It said that, in the event of a deadlock in the House, the Senate would convene, to choose a new vice president. The vote of a majority of senators would then decide who the new vice president would be, as between the two highest Electoral College vote-getters, Joe Biden and Donald Trump. One would become vice-president, then be sworn in as president on January 20, 2021.

In the White House Trump raged to his inner circle. It was crazy, he said. He paced around and around the Oval Office, his orange spray-on tan sliding slowly off his sweaty cheeks. There was no way he could lose in the Senate, he said. There were some other things he would rather do than give up the White House. He started listing them. One of them, he said, was squatting pantsless over a flaming hibachi grill with a handful of M-80s inserted into his lower gastrointestinal tract, or words to that effect.

In the wee hours of the morning of December 11, news websites and TV screens seemed to explode like a crazy pyrotechnic display. From his den in Long Beach, Joe Ducey watched, scarcely believing what the talking heads were saying now.

Kamala Harris delivered an astonishing bit of news in a press conference at the grand front entrance of San Francisco’s city hall. Citing “mental exhaustion,” Joe Biden had withdrawn from the presidential race and been admitted to a hospital at an undisclosed location. There he was resting and receiving unspecified treatment. Jill and the rest of his family were with him. Harris asked that everyone keep Joe Biden in their prayers. He was a great American, she said, whose long record of service and love of country were unequaled by anyone alive. The anguished cries and shouts of the assembled reporters drowned out the rest of her statement.

“What about the election?” asked a reporter from Fox News.

Harris gave the young man her sternest prosecutorial glare.

“The electors of most of the states are free to cast their votes for a replacement candidate that is nominated by the Democratic Party,” she said. “Mr. Biden has asked the party to nominate me as his replacement. If that were to happen, as I hope it would, then I would ask the electors to honor his wishes and cast their electoral votes for myself.”

“Didn’t the Supreme Court outlaw that last year?”

The shouted question came from a young, geeky-looking print reporter from the Fresno Bee. He looked like he might still be in high school. But he had done his homework. Electors were duty-bound not to vote contrary to the will of the voters in their states, the court had ruled, in a case called Chiafolo v. Washington. If those states had gone for Biden, they couldn’t throw their votes to Kamala Harris any more than they could vote for Donald Trump.

“Wouldn’t they be faithless electors? Chiafolo v. Washington? Right?”

Harris thanked them all for coming and disappeared inside amid a mass of overcoat-clad security men with earpieces and aviator sunglasses.

Trump learned of the extraordinary turn of events in his private indoor golf tee box on the second floor of the White House. Right away he summoned Brian Panish, Mike Meadows, and Jared Kushner.

The men entered just as the president finished a big swing, an image of the ball sailing toward the flag and high above the fairway on the big screen. It looked like a 250-yard drive, maybe longer, or so the screen said. Meadows wondered whether Trump had had a tech support guy tinker with the equipment, to make his synthetic drives look straighter and longer than they really were.

The men found the president clad in a white track suit and a pair of red golf shoes. A red number 45 emblazoned the left vest of the suit. His hair, part burnt-orange, part straw-blonde, was every which way this morning.

“I know you’re not supposed to be happy when someone else crashes and burns,” Trump exulted. “There’s a German word for it, right, Jared? Schnaudenfest? Something.”

“Schadenfreude,” his son-in-law replied, evenly. “Maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating yet. Don’t you think Kamala Harris could be a problem? What about the Senate?”

“We’ve got the numbers in the Senate, dummy,” Trump said. He laid down his driver and walked off to get showered and exfoliated and then hit the tanning bed.

In every state which had gone to Biden on November 3 -- Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington -- the electors did as they were told. They announced their intent to deliver their votes to Kamala Harris when the time came before a joint session of Congress, in a ceremony that was usually a formality, on January 5, 2021.

It wouldn’t be enough to get Harris to 270 any more than it had been for Joe Biden.

But it was something.

All she had to do now was win in the Senate.

On December 18, 2020, a week before Christmas, John Ducey and millions of other Americans tuned in to watch the first-ever contingent election of the vice-president as it began in the Senate chamber. The clerk called the roll as Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Mike Pence, the sitting vice president, gazed down from their perches. Every one of the hundred senators was present and accounted for. After the fiasco in the House, McConnell and the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, had seen to that.

On paper, the GOP had the numbers, of course – 53 to 47. But Mitt Romney, the junior senator from Utah, despised Trump with a white-hot righteous Mormon passion. For company, Romney had three GOP colleagues – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse. All four of them had backbones. And all were sick to death of Trump's river of misspelled horseshit tweets and general abuse which the president ladled out to them and any other Republican who dared not pledge him their undying toadying fealty.

All four cast their votes for Kamala Harris.

Lindsey Graham and some other Bible Belt senators raised hell, a slew of objections under the Senate's byzantine rules of procedure. But McConnell, who knew more about the rules than anybody, gaveled them down into sullen silence.

It was all over in ninety minutes.

Looking mournful, the majority leader announced the result, in a voice that sounded like a bereaved mortician's.

It was Harris 51, Trump 49.

On CNN, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, and the rest of the CNN political team could barely contain their euphoria.

Kamala Harris would be the new vice president and then ascend to the presidency. There were thirteen days to go before the inauguration.

Brian Panish had the new lawsuit challenging the result all ready to go, of course. It accused McConnell of having violated Senate rules in overruling Lindsey Graham's objections. Panish filed the complaint, entitled Trump v. Harris, within minutes after Mike Pence, white as a sheet, left his seat, seemingly in a daze, and vanished out the back door of the chamber.

With January 20 creeping closer by the day, the courts expedited their rulings in the case of Trump v. Harris.

On January 4, 2021, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Senate had correctly followed its own rules. Kamala Harris was veep-ascendant. There was no president-elect. But it didn’t matter. Unless the Supreme Court stepped in, Kamala Harris could start preparing for her inauguration on January 20.

In Part III, the legal battle between Trump and his opponent winds up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

➽ Dan Lawton is a lawyer and writer in California.

Unprecedented (II)






A Morning Thought @ 839

Enda Craig asks Where Will The International Brexit Line Be Placed On Lough Foyle - Donegal Side Or The Northern Ireland Side?

With Brexit fast approaching and the UK govt threatening a no-deal crash out the international boundary line between the European Union and the United Kingdom along the shoreline of Lough Foyle is taking on a whole new meaning for the people of Donegal and especially for those living in East Inishowen between Muff and Greencastle.


The long running saga of this past one hundred years, whereby the UK and Ireland governments have made claim and counterclaim to ownership of Lough Foyle will now have to be resolved so that the boundary line can be clearly determined. 

To get some historical perspective as to where the line will probably be located we need to examine some pertinent details. 

There are three main players involved here.

The UK and Irish governments and additionally the Crown Estates who also claim to own the sea bed.

Crown Estate ... " The Crown Estate is a collection of lands and holdings in the territories of England, Wales and Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch as a corporation."

In an email from Mr Gary Thompson, Coastal Manager for the Crown Estates dated the 21st Aug 2015 he quotes the following in response to a query from the CFCE group in Carnagarve, Moville, Co Donegal as to the ownership of the foreshore and sea bed of Lough Foyle.

Mr Thompson on behalf of the Crown Estate states ..... "The Crown owns the majority of the foreshore and sea bed of the River and Lough Foyle".

This is followed by a statement on the 2nd of November 2016 from Mr James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shortly after the UK govt announced they were leaving the EU and heading for Brexit. Asked specifically about Lough Foyle he added: "The UK Government's position remains that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK."

This in turn prompts an immediate response from the Dublin Govt: "Ireland has never accepted the UK's claim to the whole of Lough Foyle." 

This claim and counterclaim has been played like a game of tennis by both sides for this past one hundred years. 

The following are some of the historical facts that will come into play in deciding this issue of ownership of the foreshore and sea-bed of Lough Foyle.

They will decide the exact international border line between the EU and the UK.

The history books tell us that in 1169 the English invaded Ireland and subsequently ruled over this island and its people until Irish Independence in 1922. After the Irish/English Treaty was agreed and signed in 1922 the English retained the six counties of Northern Ireland and both Lough Foyle and Lough Carlingford. In 1662 Charles II (the then King of England) granted the waters, the fisheries and the sea-bed of Lough Foyle to The Irish Society by way of Royal Charter.

This was in part payment for the substantial role The Irish Society played in building the Walls of Derry between 1613 and 1619.

The Irish Society was a consortium of companies from the City of London set up in 1613 to colonise County Londonderry during the Plantation of Ulster.

Lough Foyle remained in the ownership of the Irish Society from 1662 until 1952 when it sold the Lough's fishery to the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Fishery Board for the sum of one hundred thousand pounds.In the same year (1952) the Irish Society gave back ownership of the sea-bed of Lough Foyle to the monarchy (The Crown Estates).And it remains so until the present day.

Since 2007 both the Irish and English Governments have been attempting to negotiate a ' management agreement ' ( long term lease ) for aquaculture with the Crown Estates but without any success to date.

It seems quite clear from the available evidence that the Crown Estates call the shots as to what happens on the sea-bed of Lough Foyle at this time.

If the Irish government had a valid claim then the question must be asked why did they not pursue it over this past one hundred years,

The fundamental problem remains - you cannot exercise jurisdiction of someone else's property without their agreement. 

Calls by various politicians to the Irish Government to 'sort out' the jurisdictional difficulties have resulted in the standard disingenuous reply: "it is a complicated process and negotiations are ongoing".

This often repeated mantra rings hollow after such a long time.

Any attempt to resolve the issue of where the dividing line lies without firstly taking into account the ownership claim to Lough Foyle by the Crown Estates is putting the cart before the horse and is doomed to failure.

Just shouting that you own something is not a credible claim unless you are prepared to put your money where your mouth is and make a viable challenge.

In the end it will come down to whether the Irish authorities accept the legal standing of the Royal Charter issued by the Crown in 1662.

If not they will have to make a legal challenge.

It must not be forgotten that the Irish Government voluntarily paid the Rt Hon the Irish Society half the cost of the Salmon fishery on Lough Foyle in 1952 (50,000 pounds) and thereby gave credence to the legality of the said mentioned charter.

It would make one wonder what was actually agreed to in the Treaty of 1922 when a country that gained its Independence and Republic status is still bound by a Royal Charter that is four hundred years old. 

If the legality of the Charter is accepted then logically the UK claim to the ownership of the sea bed to the high water mark on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle will be vindicated.

What will be the consequences for the fishing and aquaculture industry for Donegal/European citizens should they attempt to cross the new International Brexit line between Muff and Greencastle.

What will the position of people in Inishowen should they feel the need of a paddle below the high water mark in the waters of Lough Foyle.

Soon both sides will have to show their hands.

It's time the truth was spoken.

➽ Enda Craig is spokesperson for Lough Foyle group, Community For A Clean Estuary.

Picking A Side

The Canary reports on a hunger strike by republican prisoners. 
   
As reported by The Canary, in August police arrested alleged members of the New IRA in the north of Ireland as part of ‘Operation Arbacia’. Police also arrested GP and Palestinian activist Dr Issam Hijjawi-Bassalat as part of that operation. Hijjawi-Bassalat is currently on remand in Maghaberry Prison near Belfast.


Prison authorities placed the GP in isolation in Foyle House following his return from hospital. Meanwhile, the prison service detains Irish republican prisoners in Roe House. Republican prisoners told The Canary they’ve been on hunger strike since 8pm on 16 September. They demand prison authorities move Dr Hijjawi-Bassalat to Roe House.

“In solidarity”

The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) told The Canary

‌‌The current hunger strike undertaken by current republican prisoners is in solidarity with our Palestinian comrade Dr Issam Hijjawi who is also on hunger strike… in isolation in Foyle House.

The conditions in Foyle House are not fit for human purpose. As we have stated in previous statements, an ODC [ordinary decent criminal] has recently contracted Covid-19 and is situated in Foyle House. Conditions are disgusting and unhygienic.

Continue reading @ The Canary.

Irish Republican Prisoners In Belfast Go On Hunger Strike In Solidarity With Palestinian Activist

Keith Kahn-Harris discusses Left Out: The Inside Story Of Labour Under Corbyn
 
Ever since its publication, snapshots of sections of Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn have been gleefully shared on Twitter amongst detractors of the Corbyn project. 

Turns out everyone's favourite millionaire communist hobbyist Andrew Murray was such a fierce opponent of the Tories, he wanted to go into coalition with them to deliver Brexit. Amazing the brass neck of Corbynites calling others Tory lite #LeftOut
 
It’s the revelations about antisemitism or general incompetence that seem to have attracted the most attention. For me though, it’s the following passage that jumped out:

Witnesses still dispute the cause of the conflagration, and the precise language Alvarez used to deliver her coup de grâce. One attendee recalled Alvarez ‘having a pop’ that Thompson, as a long-standing friend of the couple, found particularly wounding. ‘Marsha finally blew and gave it right back to her.’ The previous evening she herself had rowed with Corbyn, whose lax approach to timekeeping and failure to keep to diary commitments had at points threatened to derail LOTO’s delicate plans for conference. That he was suffocated by his countless admirers did not help. On the night of Laura’s clash with Thompson, the hotel in which they had dined shut down its bar and kitchen temporarily so 120 of its staff could have their picture taken with Corbyn. One aide likened him to a ‘stroppy teenager’. When Thompson confronted Corbyn for an explanation of his behaviour, he accused her of siding with Murphy.

The confrontation took place at the 2019 party conference, at a time when Karie Murphy, executive director of the leader’s office, was losing Corbyn’s trust and under severe factional pressure from within the ‘project’. Marsha-Jane Thompson was Corbyn’s head of campaigns. Laura Alvarez is Corbyn’s wife. At the same time as this tight-knit inner circle was becoming dysfunctional, the leader was the focus of public celebration and adoration to the point that the business of leadership was imperilled. Behind closed doors, Corbyn was squabbled over; in public, he was venerated.

The details of this particular spat are not really important, although it’s a tribute to the authors that they have revealed a steady stream of similar anecdotes. But the story seems to encapsulate a wider duality that explains much about what happened to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

On the one hand of this duality lay brutal conflict; on the other, joyful love. From 2015 to 2019, the Labour Party was engulfed in waves of vicious in-fighting and almost ecstatic hope and celebration. And we cannot understand one without understanding the other; the queasy dialectic they produced eventually leading to ignominious defeat.

Jeremy Corbyn was the propulsive force at the heart of this dialectic. He was the object of love, hate and struggle. Yet at the same time, as Left Out shows, he was often curiously disengaged. He loathed confrontation of any kind. He spoke in generalities. He avoided detail and the messy business of party management.

Usually, I am suspicious of historical accounts that centre on particular individuals. Social and political movements are rarely reducible to one person. Yet Jeremy Corbyn’s role within the Labour Party might be an exception. While the social and political forces that propelled him to the top and that resulted in electoral semi-success in 2017 and total defeat in 2019, are multiple and complex, in the end we cannot understand what happened without a clear focus on Jeremy Corbyn himself.

Or, rather, on ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ himself. There were multiple constructions of who he is and what he represents and it was these constructions that were the object of struggle. The movement that elected him and adored him usually constructed him as a man of unimpeachable integrity, of unflappable plain-speaking kindness, of idealism and as the embodiment of the hope of change. Amongst his detractors, Jeremy Corbyn was, according to taste, a crank, an antisemite, a lover of tyranny, a naive fool and an empowerer of bullies.

The hate and the conflict that scarred the party from 2015 and 2019 was, largely but by no means completely, the result of the clash of these irreconcilable ‘Jeremy Corbyns’.

The antisemitism issue is the most devastating example of this. Antisemitism on the left is not new, and the expansion in the scope and seriousness of the problem would have been an inevitable result of the election of any left anti-imperialist Labour leader. But what shifted the problem from ‘difficult but possibly solvable’ to ‘impossible and unsolvable’ was the use to which antisemitism was put in defending Corbyn from perceived and real threats. The 2016 coup against him from his critics in the PLP triggered an outraged response from those for whom Jeremy Corbyn was the repository of their hopes and dreams. Antisemitism was one weapon in the arsenal to defend the leader against those who threatened the golden future that Corbyn embodied. Those Jewish MPs who took part in the coup (Luciana Berger being one of the most prominent) became a symbol of the treachery of the Labour right and centre.

Love can make people do terrible things in defence of the loved object. Love led members of Corbyn’s staff to tear each other apart in their rival attempts to defend the leader. Love led people who had rarely thought about Jews, Israel and the Palestinians, to retweet memes about ‘The Rothschilds’. Love led Corbynite Jews to let themselves be chosen as the ideal Jew, to be a beautiful reflection of the leader himself, to abandon any kind of solidarity with other Jews. Love led Corbyn’s inner circle to fight amongst themselves over how best to protect the man, when it was really he himself who should have had the strength to protect them from their worst selves. And Corbyn’s own love for the people he could relate to, was accompanied by an inability to relate to those he could not love.

The Corbynite who comes across best in Left Out is John McDonnell. While he was, for many years, Corbyn’s only real friend in the House of Commons, the events of 2015-2019 show him to have been motivated by a love greater than love for one man. McDonnell loved the project to build socialism first and foremost. Sometimes that meant steadfast defence of Corbynism and all that it entailed (including, on occasions, colluding in dismissing antisemitism), but from 2017 to 2019 his greater desire for socialism began to win out as he pushed back against what he saw as the increasingly disastrous job that Corbyn’s acolytes were doing. In fact, the closer one got to the Corbynite inner circle, so it became easier to express frustration with the man himself and to voice (privately) the criticisms that would, if voiced publicly, have led to vicious abuse from the Corbynite grassroots. What is depressing is how far the movement’s ‘outriders’ and grassroots activists chose to make Corbyn untouchable. Paul Mason is one of the only prominent fellow travellers who refused to bet all their desires for social and political change on the political survival of one individual.

It is only by understanding the warped effects that love can have that we can truly understand what happened to the Labour Party under Corbyn. There’s a lot of loose talk amongst critics of Corbyn that the party became a ‘cult’. To a degree, there’s something to this: It’s hard to view memes celebrating Corbyn’s ‘Nobel prize’ and crediting him for the Good Friday Agreement, without seeing something culty. But the problem with this perspective is that it assumes that Corbyn was not just fundamentally unlovable, he was positively and deviously malign. The point about a cult leaders like Jim Jones is that, while followers love them, they are actually evil charlatans.

I don’t think Corbyn is an evil charlatan. In fact, the mistake that many anti-antisemitism campaigners often make is to see the hate that undoubtedly mushroomed under Corbyn as a reflection of the man himself. In other words, they accuse Corbynites of loving a man with nothing to love about him.

One of the great strengths of Left Out is that, however devastating a picture the authors paint of Corbyn, they also detail his good qualities: He is clearly devoted to his constituency, is capable of great kindness to friends and strangers and has endless empathy for the poor and marginal. These are prosaic and relatable good qualities: not those of a hero but of an everyday decent person.

Corbyn’s worst qualities are similar: mundane and a bit pathetic rather than evil. He is peevish, has gigantic blindspots in his worldview, is not particularly bright, is often passive aggressive, is sometimes indolent, is largely incapable of dealing with people who don’t already agree with him, and is incapable of managing a team let alone a party.

Corbyn may have shared platforms with appalling haters, antisemites and friends of dictators, but he rarely joined in with and repeated their hatred; most of the time he simply stood by, deluding himself that the hate was a little bit of unfortunate excess. Even at one of the few times he explicitly repeated an antisemitic trope – the now-notorious comment that two particular Jews didn’t understand irony despite living here all their lives – seems to have been as much as anything, a way of honouring the urbanity of his Palestinian co-panelists, rather than a vicious attack. To accuse him of hating Jews (or, at least, Zionist Jews), as some have done, is to misunderstand how he works: I don’t think he hates anyone particularly, it’s just that he has no idea how to relate to those he cannot understand and that leaves the door open to tacitly colluding with those who have much more hateful feelings towards them.

It is extraordinary that a man of such regular and ’normal’ good and bad points should be the focus of such extreme love and hate. It is bizarre that this was the man over whom so many people fought, hurt and abused; the man who twisted so many decent people on both the left and right of the party, and on the inside and the outside of the Jewish community, into becoming obsessive haters.

Corbynite readers of Left Out will take comfort in the stories of shoddy behaviour of Tom Watson and the Labour right. Certainly, there is a culture of factionalism and mutual abusiveness that dates back to long before 2015. But whereas in previous eras, this tendency was held in check to the extent that it did not permeate across the party, in the Corbyn years people across the Labour spectrum into performing their worst selves. It is to Labour’s and Corbyn’s shame that so many people fell into the abyss.

Perhaps the story of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately a cautionary tale of what happens when the image of a person becomes completely disconnected from the actual person. Corbyn could never square accusations of tolerance for antisemitism with his self-image as a lifelong anti-racism. He made the mistake in thinking that good intentions are enough; that if you understand yourself as working for good, if bad things follow then it is not your responsibility.

Pogrund and Maguire argue at the end of Left Out, that ‘on no subject was he more stubborn than his own sense of identity’. As they conclude:

When it came to Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community, the failure was his. The empathy that defined him as a man and politician escaped him. In the face of accusations of racism, he too often empathised with himself. It might reasonably be argued that here was a leader whose preference was to split his own party, rather than apologise.

All of us have sometimes faced a situation when someone accuses us of being something other than who we feel we are. It’s disorienting, hurtful and even scary. Sometimes facing up to such accusations, when they are made in good faith, can allow us to grow as people, to incorporate new elements into one’s self-identity. Sometimes such accusations are purely malign gaslighting. But you can never know which is which without at least allowing for the possibility that who you think you are is not all that you are.

Years ago, when he was a marginal MP, and in the right private circumstances, perhaps Jeremy Corbyn might have been able to open himself up to a serious dialogue about the blindspots in his identity. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he would always have been someone who would countenance no discussion of his self-identity, regardless of whom he had become in life. We will never know. But as head of the Labour Party, as someone the continual eye of the political storm, there was never any prospect that he could have seriously engaged with the limitations of his anti-racist identity and the unintended consequences of his good intentions. When there are people who have constructed you as a uniquely loveable figure, would any of us listen to those who say we are uniquely hateful? That’s not narcissism so much as simple human weakness – it’s nicer to be validated than challenged.

So love was always the problem. Unloveable – but not unhateable – politicians may be healthiest for democracy. In Keir Starmer we have an unloveable Labour leader. While my politics are further to the left than Starmer’s, I am more content with a leader of the opposition that sparks only tepid emotion. When the book is written on the Labour Party under Starmer, I hope that it will be intensely dreary. That Left Out is a page-turner isn’t a good thing. 

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College, runs the European Jewish Research Archive at the IJPR and is an Honorary Fellow of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College. His most recent book is Strange Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity (Repeater 2019). This article was originally published at JewTh!nk

The Problem Of Love In Corbyn’s Labour Party: Reflections On Left Out







A Morning Thought @ 838

People And Nature ➨ On 22 July the city court in Petrozavodsk, north-west Russia, sentenced Yuri Dmitriev, a historian of Stalin-era repression, to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

Dmitriev was cleared of charges of creating pornographic material, possession of weapons and indecent acts, but found guilty of forced sexual activity with his underage adopted daughter. Taking into account time served, Dmitriev is expected to be freed in November.

Dmitriev has denied all the charges against him, and has been supported as a victim of political persecution by a broad international campaign.

The article below by Nikita Girin, published in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 13 July, provides detail on the charges. It reflects the view of Russian human rights defenders and free speech advocates – that these charges were contrived, with a view to silencing Dmitriev’s authoritative, determined voice on Stalinist repression.

Dmitriev is a community historian and regional president of Memorial, the Russian association devoted to remembering the victims of Stalinism, in Karelia, the north-western province that borders Finland. He has for many years organised expeditions to uncover the sites of mass executions by Stalin’s security forces.

Thanks to the friend who has translated this text for readers of English. It shines light on the brutal and cynical methods used by the state to protect its Stalinist predecessors from Russians determined to understand their own history. Gabriel Levy - 24 July 2020.

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[Novaya Gazeta’s introduction to the article.] The second case against Yuri Dmitriev, an investigator of Stalin-era repressions, has concluded in Petrozavodsk. In April 2018 the court had already found him not guilty of charges of making pornographic images of his underage daughter and indecent activity with her. But two months later the Supreme Court of Karelia annulled this verdict, and shortly afterwards Dmitriev was rearrested on a new charge – forced sexual activity with the same girl. The circumstances of his arrest (the historian had allegedly breached a bail condition of not leaving the city), and the more serious charges, might have put off many people who had previously sympathised with Dmitriev. However, as Novaya Gazeta has found out, behind the terrifying formulation of the new charges lie commonplace realities – just like three years earlier. Here Nikita Girin sets out how the second case against Dmitriev was put together, exactly what the historian is being accused of, and what his own explanation is.


Note from the editor: A disclaimer (specifically for Roskomnadzor [the Russian media regulator])

The law on Mass Media forbids disclosure of personal information of underage victims of illegal activity (Article 4). Therefore no personal data of Yuri Dmitriev’s adopted daughter will be disclosed here: neither her name, nor her date of birth, place of residence of place of study – out of consideration for the girl’s own safety.

However, the law forbids us from disclosing not only this data, but any “other information” that could lead to the child being indirectly identified. We understand that if the relevant authorities so choose, absolutely anything could be considered such “other information”. At the same time the law permits the publication of such information for the purposes of investigating a crime and uncovering the persons involved in committing a crime (Article 41).

We consider this to be just such a case. In our view the real crime against a child was committed by the instigators of the prosecution case, not by the accused.

We are certain that this publication will support close civic oversight of this case.

[Note. Roskomnadzor is the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media.]

This investigation in brief

The historian Yuri Dmitriev is being accused of, on several occasions, touching his adopted daughter’s genital area
At the age of eight the girl suffered episodes of incontinence (enuresis)

  • Dmitriev touched the child’s genital area to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, after which he took his daughter to have a wash
  • The diagnosis of enuresis is proven by hospital release notes
  • Three commission investigations have concluded that Dmitriev displays no sexually deviant behaviour
  • Linguistics experts from the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who have analysed the texts of the girl’s questioning, attest to communicative pressure applied by the investigator. A professor at Moscow State University, who has analysed the texts of the girl’s conversations with a psychologist, believes that the nature of the girl’s statements concerning Dmitriev’s actions do not correspond to typical criteria of recollections of a traumatic experience
  • The success of prosecutions in the Dmitriev case corresponds to career moves by the former head of the Karelian Federal Security Service (FSB), Anatoly Seryshev.

I am writing up this text in Yuri Dmitriev’s flat, in the room that used to be his adopted daughter’s. The shelves still hold her books, several toys and exercise books. From the window you can see her school, sleepless seagulls shouting above it. Passing night trains seem to hoot back in reply.

Dmitriev himself is locked up in the former prison castle in the very centre of Petrozavodsk. The jail is surrounded by good restaurants and pleasant views. But the jail itself offers different forms entertainment. In mid-April 2019 two cellmates spent several days pressuring the historian to make a confession to his prosecutors. They threatened to “drop” him – i.e., to rape him. Dmitriev had to turn to the management. He explained that if he is targeted by violence, he will defend himself and will not be held accountable for the consequences. He was transferred to a different cell.

This incident says something about the quality of evidence in this case.

Dmitriev partly contributed to his own second arrest. After the not guilty verdict was annulled in June 2018, the Supreme Court of Karelia set a bail condition forbidding Dmitriev from leaving Petrozavodsk. However on 27 June the historian, together with his neighbour, wanted to the grave of an acquaintance in the village of New Vilga (a couple of kilometres outside the city boundary), and then to pray at the Alexandro-Svirsky monastery (in Leningrad region, 160 kilometres away).

The historian consulted his lawyer, who strictly forbade him to travel without the court’s permission. In May, the court had already allowed Dmitriev to travel to Moscow, to collect the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for a contribution by a historian to the defence of human rights and to the human rights movement. But Dmitriev is a stubborn and self-reliant man. He nodded and went anyway. He thought that a half-day trip out of town was no big deal, since had has already travelled to the capital for a few days.

The historian packed a clean set of clothes to get changed after tidying up at the cemetery, and to visit the monastery. Of course he was under observation, and got stopped on the way. State propaganda journalists from [the state-controlled national TV channel] NTV, who were the first to report Dmitriev’s arrest, decided that the change of clothes directly demonstrated that he intended to escape. According to them, for some reason he meant to escape to Poland. Never mind the fact that the historian has no passport for overseas travel, and Poland is more than 1500 km away – while it’s only 300km to Finland, which he knows well.

Yuri Dmitriev. Photo: Tomasz Kizny, Memorial

If only Dmitriev had stayed at home, his arrest might have been different, and he might be travelling to court now in a minibus. [Note. When the article was written, towards the end of Dmitriev’s second trial, he was in custody and travelling to court under guard.] But he still would not have avoided the second case: preparations for it were set in motion the day he was acquitted in the first.

How it all started

In order the better to assess the circumstances of the new case, you have to bear in mind some infamous details of the first, “pornography” case, and the whole context of Yuri Dmitriev’s presecution. Here they are.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Dmitriev, working alone and with colleagues, found the sites of mass executions of the Great Terror era: Sandarmokh (more than 7000 executions); Krasny Bor (1193 people executed by gunshot); the cemetery at the 8th lock of Belomorcanal (the exact number buried there is unknown, the area is around 10 hectares); the graves of the execution victims at Solovki; and others. He set up memorials at every site. He succeeded in making 5 August – the day Great Terror started – a [Karelian] republic-wide day of mourning.

The Sandarmokh killing field. Photo: Anna Artemyeva/Novaya Gazeta

In 2008, Dmitriev, who already had two grown-up children, and his wife Lyudmila, registered as guardians to a three-year-old girl. Dmitriev himself grew up in a children’s home. He calls the day he was taken in by a foster family the best day of his life.

In 2012, Yuri and Lyudmila divorced, and the girl stayed with her foster father. In all the years since, social services reported that the foster parent had created the necessary conditions for the child’s upbringing, welfare and education, and that the girl was comfortable in his care.

“You can only teach a child something through love. You can’t teach them by punishing and lecturing,” Dmitriev told Anna Yarovaya in a detailed interview about raising his daughter.

Dmitriev’s flat was always filled with guests: journalists, filmmakers, human rights activists — and they attest to the guardian’s equal and respectful treatment of the girl.

For the past ten years the historian has been working on a book about 126,000 specially resettled people, sent to Karelia to build socialism. [Note. In total there were at least 3 million specially resettled people in the Soviet Union. They were regarded by the Stalinist regime as “kulaks” (i.e. rich peasants), or social undesirables, and forced in the 1930s to move to “special settlements” in remote, inhospitable areas.]

Dmitriev is direct and doesn’t mince his words. He had some choice ones about the security services, and about the war in Ukraine. And he probably said too much.

July 2016. Petrozavodsk-based historian Yuri Kilin suggested that Sandarmokh could be the burial place of Soviet prisoners of war interred in Finnish POW camps. Shortly afterwards, this theory was voiced by another historian from Petrozavodsk, Sergei Verigin. He, like Dmitriev, was then a member of the regional commission on restoring the rights of rehabilitated victims of political repressions; Verigin is still a member.

5 August 2016. For the first time in 19 years, Karelian republic officials did not visit Sandarmokh on Memorial Day [for the victims of repression].

September 2016. At a meeting of the commission on restoring the rights of victims of repression, Dmitriev made a presentation about his future book about specially resettled people.

From Dmitriev’s Statement In Court In The First Case

A question arose about my field trips to Sandarmokh. I was told [at the meeting] that we will no longer go there, and that, as it turns out, the people buried there were 20,000 captured Red Army soldiers. I asked them to give me at least one surname of one Red Army soldier, although these days you can find where one died or was presumed missing, and from which regiment. They could not name a single one.
Then I suggested we invite Yuri Kilin to tell the commission out of what fear or from what sources he obtained his evidence. My own father had fought on the front lines.
I can’t believe that in the past 70 years, our state did not once remember 20,000 dead soldiers. I start to feel [after this] that I have become the focus of some heightened attention…

We shouldn’t overestimate the role of Kilin and Verigin in the Dmitriev’s case. The attempt to subvert the history of Sandarmokh is perfectly in keeping with the logic of the recent fight against memorials to the executed. This fight, as Anna Yarovaya noted in her report “Rewriting Sandarmokh”, began back in the Soviet era in Katyn in Smolensk region. And now, as philologist Nikolai Epple notes, the same fuss as around Sandarmokh is happening around the Mednoye memorial complex in Tver region.

Most likely, the state would destroy any guardian of Sandarmokh who, like Dmitriev, protested against this trend. But Kilin and Verigin undoubtedly contributed to the injustice committed against Dmitriev and his daughter.

29 November 2016. Dmitriev was visited at home by the local police officer Igor Markevich, who asked him to come to the station the following day.

From Dmitriev’s Statement In Court In The First Case

I never asked for them, I never called them. Usually when you need the police they never turn up. But here he came, under his own steam. Irina (the woman Dmitriev lived with at the time – Novaya Gazeta) was in bed in the adjacent room as she was on bed rest. And either Irina said something, or I mentioned that there was a lady in the house. The policeman went to meet her. He found out that she was on the waiting list for an operation, and started saying that he would definitely help us.
Do you understand what that means, a senior police lieutenant who is barely 25? I’ve lived in Karelia most of my life, I know all sorts of people, from a homeless man to a minister, and somehow these medical issues I can resolve at the highest level. I explained that we are simply waiting, on the waiting list.
He left, having left a summons [for 30 November]. Literally 20-30 minutes later, Irina gets a call from the manager of the clinic who invites her to come for an assessment. On that same day, at that exact same time. It becomes clear that they are trying to get us both out of the house. Irina and I discussed this matter and decided: if they asked us to go, we should go. But I had my own clever checks that allow me to determine if anyone had been in the house, opened a cupboard door or rifled through my papers. I taught Irina to do the same, and asked her to remember what things of hers she put where…

30 November 2016. Dmitriev went to the police station. On entry, his documents and phone were confiscated because “some training was in progress” at the police station.

From Dmitriev’s Statement In Court In The First Case

For an hour or an hour and a half I just sat in the precinct’s office. Then they talked to me about things that didn’t particularly concern me. Then they kept me there a bit longer with some conversations. In short, I got back home about 1.0 pm.
[My adoptive daughter] was still at school, and the first thing that caught my eye was that our front door was locked with four turns of the key. I checked my markers and noticed that someone had been in my cabinet. Half an hour later Irina came home. She said she had left her notebook on the table — now it was on her bed.
I asked her how many turns of the key it took her to lock the door, she said two. I see…

In the courtroom, [the police officer] Igor Markevich falsely testified that he had never visited Dmitriev that autumn. Novaya Gazeta has tried to get in touch with Markevich, but he ignored the questions sent to him via social media and hid his social media profile.

3 December 2016. Police received an anonymous letter: “I have discovered that Yuri Dmitriev photographs his daughter naked in his flat. I am not giving my name, as I fear that Yuri could, via his acquaintances, cause me harm”.

13 December 2016. Police arrested Dmitriev in his flat. They asked to access his computer.

From Yuri Dmitriev’s Court Statement In The First Case

Literally 20-30 seconds later someone exclaims: ‘Witnesses, come here!’ I turn my head, and the screen shows a picture of [adopted daughter], one of the welfare check photos. I rush to this chap, ask what he is doing, tell him these images are not for them, but for the medics.

Later, in court, this “chap” – a court expert named Dubkin – openly admitted that he found the photos so quickly because his colleague, the operative, who had taken part in examining Dmitriev’s computer, told him where to look. It looks like this directly shows who carried out the “operation” of luring Dmitriev and his girlfriend out of this flat on 30 November, in order to find material for the “anonymous” statement.

Dmitriev was accused of having taken nine photos of this adopted daughter naked, at the age of three, five and six. These photos were found on his computer among two hundred other protocol photos of his daughter undressed: from the front, the back and both sides. The prosecution has nothing against those.

Why did Dmitriev take them? To the historian the explanation seems straightforward. In the first place, this was to track the physical development of an ex-care home child with several illnesses. Secondly, so that social services would not remove the child on made up grounds, or wouldn’t blackmail him for money with threats to remove her. He knew of cases like this. And this was his means of protecting them both from known “social services’ fraud”.

From Yuri Dmitriev’s Statement, 13 December 2016

On one of the sites or training manuals that I had to read, I read that you have to have photographs that would track the child’s physical development. These photos would show the lack of or presence of any physical injuries….
At first I tried to take the photos once a month. In one sitting I would take several photos: front, from the side, from all sides, at least four. I regularly took photos of my adopted daughter without clothes for about a year and six months, after that I started to take photos of her her less frequently, because I realised that nobody had asked me for them. The last time I photographed her was about a year ago… In case of health problems, or if there were claims of physical violence or injuries to my adopted child, I could provide photos.

The nine “criminal” photos are not part of the “health diary”. In them, the girl sits in an armchair or lies on the sofa in a pose that shows her genitals.

This is how Yuri Dmitriev, used to taking many photographs on his field trips, explains these particular photos.

Four of the photos were taken when the family came back from a holiday in the south: the girl (she was three at the time) asked him to take pictures of her tan.

Dmitriev told the judge, Marina Nosova:

While Lyudmila was running her a bath [my daughter] came running to me, I am sitting, tired, and downloading our seaside photos from the camera. [The daughter] climbed into an armchair and started asking me: ‘Dad, do I look tanned?’ And she asks me to take a picture of how tanned she is. What’s it to me? The flash drive is freed up, so I took three of four shots of her.
Dmitriev took another four photos when the girl, then four, told him about pain in her genital area.

“[The daughter] was having a wash, while I was sitting and working. Suddenly there was a cry of pain. I ran over, asking her what’s hurting, did she hit herself or bump into something? She says she didn’t hit or bump into anything, but it hurts. I carried her into the room. Touched around her appendix, no pain there. She stretched out and straightened her leg, that doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t tell me anything, is just sobbing and crying.

Yuri Dmitriev after acquittal at his first trial. Photo: Anna Artemyeva/ Novaya Gazeta

The historian explained.

Naturally I am in shock. My wife wasn’t home. What was I supposed to do? It was already nine in the evening. Should I call a doctor? For what? There was no sharp pain in the abdomen, so discharge of any sort that would be worrying either. So I decided not to rush.
And so that the doctors wouldn’t say to me that I’d missed something, I took four photos like that. In the morning, when it’s time to go to the nursery [the daughter] tells us that she slipped in the bath, and her legs got pulled both ways…

He took the last “criminal” photo in similar circumstances: during the New Year holidays his daughter had been riding a pony and later once again felt a discomfort in her genital area. Dmitriev “snapped” her again, but when she was asleep, so that she wouldn’t be embarrassed, because by that time she was six.

The historian said:

[The daughter] and Lyudmila went to visit the in-laws, and on the way back they went horse-riding. She came to me and complained that something was hurting there. I had a look again: nothing was red, there was no discharge. Maybe she hit herself or maybe strained a leg muscle. Nothing critical or dangerous. And that’s exactly how this photo came about.
“If [the following day] something had hurt, we would have definitely gone to the doctor and [if] the doctor said that we had missed something, that there is a chronic illness developing, I would have told them to look at the photographs.

The well known Moscow-based paediatrician Fedor Katasonov confirmed in court that this has been a practice among parents for a long time, although officially the law in Russia about remote medical diagnosis was adopted only in 2018.

Those photos are my ‘insurance policy’ to show that the child is not beaten, that there are no cuts or bruises. I have had three or four episodes in my life where I had to photograph [my daughter] specifically because she was complaining about some pain I could not understand specifically in the lower abdomen area. She is a girl. With a boy everything is clear. With a girl, everything is harder because everything is inside. That’s all I can say about these pictures.

Only a person who has never changed a single nappy can see any pornography in this.

“To see some indecent act here is beyond any understanding,” Dmitriev told the judge.

“Dmitriev photographs everything. I mean every single thing,” Dmitry Bogush, a friend who has been helping Dmitriev with his IT, told Novaya Gazeta about the historian’s professional habits. “He takes pictures along the way, he snaps his family, relatives, friends. He takes, generally speaking, tens of photos every day. So in total he has tens of thousands of photos.”

26 December 2017. The second expert analysis of the photographs (carried out by an organisation proposed by the prosecutors) found no pornographic content in them. The experts stated that the accused did indeed use the photographs to track the child’s health. A month later, Dmitriev left prison on bail, on condition that he did not leave the city.

5 April 2018. Petrozavodsk city court judge Marina Nosova acquitted Yuri Dmitriev. And at that point the local authorities, that have been quiet for a year and a half, suddenly got worried about the welfare of his adopted daughter.

After the verdict was announced, I got the impression that the court had listened to the side that shouted about the breach of its rights louder than anyone. But the voice of the child – the real victim in this whole story – was not heard by anyone. 

This was the “expert” opinion of the speaker of the Petrozavodsk city council Gennady Bondarchuk, which he expressed on the very evening of 5 April.

Bondarchuk’s comments were published not somewhere on Facebook, but on the city council website, among the website’s more traditional announcements of an accelerated programme of replacing city elevators and the anniversaty of Petrozavodsk being declared a “City of Military Pride”.

Hard on Bondarchuk’s heels, Karelia’s children’s rights ombudsman Gennady Sarayev rushed to state his opinion: “Unfortunately, I did not see the human rights organisations’ position regarding safeguarding the rights of the child to privacy, the unlawful threat to their honour and reputation, or the representation of the child in the court process”, the ombudsman complained.

The acquittal made the head of the Petrozavodsk city council Irina Miroshnik surprised “just as a human being”. “Because of the special concern for all issues related to children and to safeguarding childhood”, she explained.

All these ladies and gentlemen, had they really been worried about the child’s health and safety, should have asked the psychiatrists who examined her during the investigation, about her living conditions at Dmitriev’s home, and in what circumstances she was placed after being separated from her guardian.

Not one of the officials worried that she was due to have regular medical appointments in Petrozavodsk, but that she was sent 600 km away to a remote village, to her natural grandmother who had sent her to the children’s home in the first place.

The child’s voice failed to be heard only by the speaker of the city council, Bondarchuk – but the court heard the girl’s statement about how she loved her adoptive father.

As for unlawful threats to privacy, ombudsman Sarayev did not, for some reason, try to sue [the state-controlled] Russia TV or REN TV channels for broadcasting the photos from the “health diary” to the entire country.

In short, officials voiced their request for continued persecution of Dmitriev. After that, nothing stood in the way of executing the readymade scenario.

What the victim says

The allegations of crime were written by the grandmother. During questioning, she explained how, after Dmitriev’s acquittal, she had read in the TVR-Panorama newspaper that the historian wanted the child back in his care. There was indeed such a report in TVR-Panorama. There is no quote from Dmitriev about the girl, but there is the author’s commentary: “As Dmitriev’s family says, this case will only end when the historian gets his adopted daughter back.”

The grandmother gave the article to her granddaughter to read, and claims that the girl said: “I want to write a statement about Dmitriev. If I tell all about him, they’ll jail him for 30 years!”

Important point: literally a week earlier, friends from the Moscow international film school exchange were in touch with Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, as usual. The film students are the historian’s old friends, they were the first to make a noise when he was arrested, they found him a lawyer and launched a campaign in his support. And it was through Dmitriev that his adopted daughter had made friends with students at the film school. One of them, Sasha Kononova, said that on that occasion too, the girl was warm and friendly. But in early April, straight after the acquittal, she sharply cut off contact.

According to the grandmother’s statement, the granddaughter allegedly confided in her that “Dmitriev touched her genitals with his hand” and that this “happened several times”.

“I asked [the granddaughter] why she didn’t say so earlier, during the criminal investigation into Dmitriev. [The granddaughter] said ‘but I loved him, I was protecting him, I hadn’t understood what he was doing’, the grandmother said at a preliminary interview.

The grandmother also said that her granddaughter has expressed suicidal thoughts. This is why she “found on the internet the work landline of the [Karelia] children’s ombudsman G.A. Sarayev”, “called the number and he picked up”. (The ombudsman’s number is indeed easy to find online, but this is the number of his reception. And the reception told Novaya Gazeta that Gennady Sarayev never picks up the phone himself).

The ombudsman sent a child psychologist, Yelena Rudenkova, director of the Karelia republic Diagnostics and Consultation Centre (incidentally, the place where Dmitriev did his fostering course, in preparation for becoming a guardian in 2007).

18 April 2018. The “initial consultation” took place. During the discussion, Rudenkova did not find the girl expressing any suicidal thoughts. What else she discussed with the child is unknown, but judging by what happened next, the psychologist didn’t waste her trip.

10 May 2018. Gennady Sarayev asked the then head of Karelia Investigative Committee [a police force for investigating crime], Yuri Boboido, to carry out an examination and a psychological-educational assessment of the girl.

15 May 2018. Boboido’s deputy Vladimir Ignatenkov turns for help to the very same Yelena Rudenkova. The Diagnostics and Consultation Centre is not an accredited expert institution, so Rudenkova only agrees to carry out a psychological assessment. At the Investigative Committee’s request, the interview is recorded on video. Here is an approximate, but representative fragment of the conversation between the psychologist and the teenage girl, faced with an impossible choice in the adults’ game.

— How long was this happening?

— I can’t remember.

— Tell me, did he touch you a long time?

— Well yes.

— He touched you for a long time, yes…

Here we need to recount the incident that Yuri Dmitriev relayed to the court in the first case. Once his ex-wife Lyudmila treated their adopted daughter with mustard plasters in the old fashioned way — applying them through a sheet of newspaper, to avoid skin burns. The next morning, Dmitriev recalled, Lyudmila got so busy she forgot to wash the girl’s back and sent her to the nursery as she was.

From Dmitriev’s Evidence To Court In The First Case

Around lunchtime I get a call from the nursery, and they tell me that a nursery nurse was getting the child for their afternoon nap, and saw large bruises on her back. They started shouting at me: what are you doing, how dare you, why are we beating this child?
I jumped into the car, drive there, tell them that I watched the child have a shower yesterday and there were no bruises on her… They already start to show me a pile of papers, reports and referral statements. … A paper, where a teacher, in the presence of the deputy head of someone, asks the child:

— What are these bruises?

— I don’t have any bruises.

— Do you have bruises on your back?

— Yes, I do.

— Who hit you?

— Nobody hit me.

— Did your daddy hit you?

— Yes, daddy did.

— What did he hit you with?

— Daddy didn’t hit me with anything.

— Did daddy hit you with a belt?

— Yes, daddy hit me with a belt.
Do you see, the child is four-and-a-half. She doesn’t know what a belt is. Imagine: here is this important paper that says the child admits that mummy or daddy hit them with a belt. All my hair stood on end. And I realise what this can lead to. They’ll take away your child, and you won’t be able to prove anything.

I told them that they should refer us for a check-up, to whomever and wherever they want. … The doctor said, let me check this, He takes a cotton ball dipped in surgical spirit and runs it across the “bruise” — the “bruise” is gone. He wrote out a note for me saying this is newsprint ink. But I had been so terrified. …

That case persuaded the historian even more that he needs to photograph his daughter as evidence of her physical health: “If anyone says again that, for example, half a year earlier I had beaten my child and the child was covered in bruises, how could I, without photos, show that here is the child: clear skin, happy in herself”, he asked during a hearing in the first case.

30 May 2018. Investigative Committee deputy chief Ignatenkov sent the evidence to the deputy head of process control, Gennady Verigin (the son of Verigin the historian, one of the authors of the hypothesis that Sandarmokh holds the remains of Soviet POWs). He, in turn, sent the evidence to the head of the city department of the Investigative Committee Dmitry Komissarov, and Komissarov sent it to inspector Maksim Zavatsky with a request to question the grandmother and her granddaughter.

6 June 2018. Zavatsky questioned the grandmother (the same day she makes the crime report) and takes a statement from the child. The psychologist Rudenkova took part in the interview. The statement was once again recorded.

The texts of these interviews show that the girl’s behaviour and speech (like actions of any child from a care home) are dictated by circumstances – by trauma witnessed long before she was taken into the Dmitriev family, just by a poor quality of life.

This is how, for example, the child described her relationship and communications with Dmitriev to the inspector and the psychologist in her grandmother’s presence:

— Did he take an interest in your schoolwork?

— No.

— And do you know what he was working on?

— He was writing a book about some burial site.

— Did you often communicate?

— No.

— When you came home from school, did you tell him about your studies?

— No.

But this is what the girl tells medical experts a month later, while her grandma waits outside the door:

She liked to spend time together, recalls how she went on the field trips, expeditions, and visited different towns in Russia. She describes Y.A. Dmitriev as constrained in his emotions, restrained (‘he’ll never give hugs first’), strict, erudite ‘he told me lots of interesting things’).

Also interesting to note is the transformation in the child’s evidence, between her statement to the inspector and the official interview.

Unlike the statement, the interview was not recorded on video (allegedly on grandmother’s request). And the girl’s speech noticeably changed. If talking to the inspector she could not remember either when the adopted father first touched her genital area, nor the number of such occasions (“no less than two, probably”), nor their duration (“it was quick”), not her emotions, not Dmitriev’s reactions, then during the official interrogation, the multiple instances of “can’t remember” and “don’t know” were turned into fully-formed sentences with subjunctive clauses.

“A few times” turns into “many times”. “Quick” turns into “no less than a minute, but no more than five minutes”.

During the initial interview, asked why she decide to tell all now, the girl said “I don’t know”. A month later, at the official interview, the child already said that she wants to give evidence against her former guardian because she hates him.

Meanwhile, the doctors of the Karelia republic Psychoneurological Clinic, just like two years earlier, did not find that the girl has any psychological abnormalities, or any symptoms of depression or neurosis. So the child has not suffered from Dmitriev’s alleged actions. But the experts stated that the girl is indecisive and has a tendency to conform.

Dmitry was assessed (for a third time) at the St Petersburg Psychiatric Hospital No. 6, and once again no signs of psychosexual deviancy or any abnormal sexual preferences are found, including no signs of paedophilia.


What Dmitriev says

From Dmitriev’s Statement To The Investigators In The Second Case

The child was very thin, we [my wife and I] tried to move her onto normal food, which caused vomiting and enuresis. … I also kept a health diary and inputted all the data into it: her height, weight, etc. When she started school, she weighed 18 kilos, this was extremely underweight. Also, at the age of six, she had an ultrasound scan of her hip area, and we were told that there were some anomalies there. 
Sometime after second grade, the child started to wet herself. During the holidays I decided to have a proper investigation at the [Karelian] republic hospital. The child was admitted to the hospital and had a full assessment and treatment, which helped, and after that the child only wet herself a few times a year.
As for the charges against me, I would like to explain, that I could have touched her clothes, and I could have touched under her clothes, if the clothes were wet – that is, then the child wet herself.
We had a tradition almost from day one; Before bed the child would come to us, and my wife and I will say goodnight to her, she used to run into my room, climb into my lap and we would discuss how the day went. She would tell me everything, who her new friends were, who she talked do, and I would tell her how my day went. We told each other we loved each other, and I would put her to bed.
After my wife left me, my interaction with my daughter continued in the same spirit. One of the days when [my daughter] came to me and as usual sat in my lap, I smelled urine, and realised that she had wet herself. Naturally, I felt her knickers at the front and the back in the genital area and could see that the child had wet herself, and I took her to have a wash. This happened several times a week until she was admitted to hospital for night-time enuresis.

Dmitriev asked to request evidence from hospital about his adopted daughter’s treatment. This information somewhat spoiled inspector Zavatsky’s almost readymade case.

The hospital release papers had to be requested, and — bother! — the papers turned up.

In the summer of 2013 the girl was indeed diagnosed with a number for illnesses including enuresis. However the hospital at the time did not have a neuro-urologist, so the investigation of bladder function was not carried out and the cause of the illness was not diagnosed.

Now the investigators needed to somehow, via suggestion if necessary, to turn the hospital documents in their favour. If enuresis could have been caused only by physiological but also by psychosomatic causes, why not employ a primitive manipulation and conclude that it was caused by Dmitriev’s actions? There is, of course, no proof, but, let an expert make this supposition, and the judge can figure out the rest.

Yuri Dmitriev with students from the Moscow international film school

In the role of this expert, inspector Zavatsky employed the regional Psychoneurological Clinic teenage psychiatrist Tatyana Multykova. Having discussed enuresis with her in general, along with psychological trauma, and how the understanding of gender differences is formed, the inspector asked: could sexual activity cause enuresis? Of course they could, as could any psychological trauma, the psychiatrist rightly replied. This concludes the evidence gathering stage of the second case.

Inspector Zavatsky must have been very pleased with this conclusion, as he attached these final pages to the case.

And so for the second time the prosecutors presented parental care – yes, maybe unceremonious and coarse – as a crime. And the closed nature of the court case, intended to protect the child, in this case protected the security services from scrutiny.

What the experts say

You don’t need to be a top psychologist to understand that it is very easy to manipulate a vulnerable teenager who has lived in a children’s home, who is prevented from keeping in touch with past friends, who has been isolated for three years under the control of her grandmother, and who has also almost certainly been terrorised by the authorities.

For the past year the defence, with the help of independent expert psychologists and linguists, have worked to prove that Dmitriev’s adopted daughter gave her evidence under pressure.

For example, linguistics experts Anna Dybo (fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Philology), Irina Levontina (senior researcher at the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Aleksandr Moldovan (academician at the Russian Academy of Sciences, head of research at the Russian Language Institute) and Dr Alexei Shmelev (senior researcher at the Russian Language Institute), having studied the texts of the interview, concluded:

Most of the questions posed by the inspector and the psychologist already contain the information necessary for the answer.

Some of the questions are composed so that it would be impossible to answer “yes” or “no”. More than that, the inspector and the psychologist frequently complete the girl’s answers, adding substantial meaning that was not originally there, and that gives the statements “additional weight”.

“The underage child, in a dialogue with two adults, who clearly and insistently demonstrate what answers they expect, finds herself in a situation of communicative pressure.

If the answer does not match the expectation, the inspector asks the question again and again,

so that the girl ends up choosing the most neutral answer that would not be her own answer”, the experts conclude.

In a separate expert statement, Moscow State University professor Veronika Nurkova, a doctor of psychology, notes that, judging by the texts of the psychologist Yelena Rudenkova’s interviews with Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, Rudenkova “started with a presumption of reliability of the information communicated [by the child]” which “represents a case of a falsely assumed purpose by the psychologist to gather evidence in proof of an existing hypothesis”.

Nurkova also concluded that the girl’s evidence did not correspond to the typical criteria of recollecting a traumatic experience, i.e. these are not the child’s own recollections, but were introduced artificially and externally.

What the lawyer says (spoiler: nothing!)

Defence lawyer Viktor Anufriev’s work on this case deserves a separate story or at least a couple of paragraphs. From a journalist’s viewpoint Anufriev has been all these years an insufferable lawyer: reserved; noncommittal; excessively, as it seemed, cautious. And also in denial of political motives for Dmitriev’s case.

But from Yuri Dmitriev’s perspective, Anufriev is certainly an outstanding lawyer. How many political cases do we know that resulted in acquittal? Yes, the verdict in the first case was reached against the background of a wide-reaching civil campaign in support of the historian. But

In Russia you can write a guilty verdict without any evidence, but an acquittal requires a legally flawless case.

In this sense Viktor Anufriev, who (not without help from organised supporters) sought the best experts and medics in Moscow to back up every word he said in court – and who persuaded them to travel, more the once, to Petrozavodsk – in this sense, Anufriev did everything with cut-diamond precision.

But even now, the defence lawyer categorically refuses to comment on the case, citing “the final aim of the defence” – “to hear a just and fair verdict”. Anufriev has let it be known that he is certain not only that the historian is innocent, but also that the Russian legal system is capable of reaching such a verdict.

The unknown

Really only one thing is unknown: who needed to persecute Yuri Dmitriev for so long, and despite all the reputational cost for the investigators, the prosecutors, the judges and in general for the republic’s authorities? And why?

Before 2016 only enthusiasts had heard of Sandarmokh [the main burial site studied by Dmitriev], let alone Dmitriev. Today even Vladimir Putin is getting pestered with questions about this upstart historian. The case is being discussed at the Council of Europe. Nobel laureates speak up to defend the historian. In September 2019, twenty foreign ambassadors visited Sandarmokh: never had the place seen so many diplomats before.

Yuri Dmitriev in 2004, working on excavations on Sekirnaya hill, the site
of penal detention sector of the Solovetsky special security camp.

From the outset, Yuri Dmitriev’s supporters had a suspicion, of which for the past three years they had never received direct documentary proof. But it’s worth talking about it directly.

On 6 December 2016, a week after the break-in at Dmitriev’s flat, and three days after the police received the anonymous report, a new head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Karelia was appointed. Major-general Anatoly Seryshev, who had been head of Karelia FSB departments from 2011, was transferred to Moscow and appointed deputy head of the federal customs service.

Seryshev’s five-year tenure in Karelia was marked by politically-motovated cases against businessmen who had “run” the region before his appointment, and against opposition politicians from the Yabloko party.

In October 2014 the newswire Capital on the Onego published a letter by one of the persecuted members of the [Karelian] republican Assembly, Devlet Alikhanov. At the time, he was known as the eminence grise of Petrozavodsk, and was suspected of fraud involving municipal property. Alikhanov’s friends and partners had already spent a year under arrest. But in this case what matters is not his case but the way that he, addressing Seryshev, described the mechanisms the latter had built for controlling the judiciary. (I’ve kept the orthography of the original).

From Karelia Assembly Deputy Devled Alikhanov To The Head Of Karelia Fsb Department Anatoly Seryshev (2014)

The level of your co-operation with the judiciary became obvious only recently. Perhaps you can be proud of such all-encompassing power of the structure under your control, but I, as deputy, do not consider it normal that your colleagues announce the contents of a court’s verdict two or three days before it is reached. That they say with certainty what prison time this accused or another will be sentenced to serve. That they use every means to stop the accused from obtaining evidence proving their innocence, and that they hold “discussions” with every institution that could in one way or another assist the accused in their defence.
…What is your goal? Perhaps you need something from me personally? I cannot understand what your desired outcome is? Why would you ruin not only people’ lives, but also functioning enterprises and investment projects, especially such a difficult time for the country?

Six months after writing this letter, Alikhanov himself was arrested, and in 2017 he was sentenced to six years in jail. In December 2018 the judges of the Supreme Court completely cleared Alikhanov of all charges and granted him the right to rehabilitation, but, less than a month later, the impossible happened. The Supreme Court, with the same presiding judges, annulled its own decision, and the businessman was once again detained.

Read this again: the same judges, who a month earlier had cleared a man of all charges, for some reason had a change of heart, and decided that he is guilty as charged.

Anatoly Seryshev meanwhile soared even higher. In the summer of 2018 he joined a number of presidential commissions and even headed some of them – specifically, the commission on state awards, on citizenship, and on the staffing of the Ministry of the Interior.

By early autumn of 2018, Petrozavodsk prosecutor Yelena Askerova, who had worked on the first Dmitriev case and who gave the go-ahead to the prosecution in the second, had unexpectedly stepped down. Askerova told journalists that she wanted to completely change her life, and hadn’t expected this herself. (I spoke with Yelena Askerova a year after her dismissal, and she insisted that she was genuinely convinced that the historian was guilty).

And in November, the presidential commission for preliminary selection of federal judge candidacies (Seryshev is not officially a member) refused the application by judge Maria Nosov, who had acquitted Dmitriev, for a transfer from Petrozavodsk city court to the Supreme Court of Karelia. The regional qualification collegiate had already approved her candidacy, but Nosova did not get the approval at the Kremlin commission level. The Vesti Karelii internet portal reported that this might have happened because her daughter was living in France.

A Memorial Day demonstration for Stalin’s victims on
5 August (an event initiated by Yuri Dmitriev)

According to one of Novaya Gazeta’s sources, familiar with the candidate selection procedure, formally, the commission is only guided by the law On the Status of Judges. However the text of this law makes no mention of such a barrier to a candidate for a judge’s post as an adult child’s residency abroad. The law only precludes the spouses and underage children of Russian judges from having accounts in overseas banks.

Bullets from a Browning revolver in Yuri Dmitriev’s hands, which were found in
the remains of 26 people executed at Sekirny hill (Solovki). Photo: Anna Artemyeva/Novaya Gazeta

A second Novaya Gazeta source reported that the candidates’ details are sent to the commission members several weeks in advance, they study them, make their decision and only vote at the commission meeting. The source said that he never saw Anatoly Seryshev at any of the commission meetings. Another matter however is how the candidate’s “reference card” is formulated, what becomes the deciding factor, and who can influence this. No judge is appointed without the FSB’s approval.

Seryshev’s career moves peculiarly correlate to developments in the Dmitriev case. The case began on Seryshev’s watch. While he focused on his job at federal customs and lost his direct influence in Karelia, Yuri Dmitriev was acquitted. As soon as Seryshev made it into the upper echelons of power, the prosecutor resigned, the judge was refused a promotion, and a new case was launched against the historian himself.

The situation looks schizophrenic, just like the first time.

2017. Yuri Dmitriev is kept in jail on absurd charges, while Vladimir Putin opens the “Wall of Sorrow” in Moscow, in memory of the victims of political repression.

2020. Yuri Dmitriev is back in jail on equally absurd charges. The Russian military history society, at the request of Karelia’s Ministry of Culture, has dug over Sandarmokh in order to deny that the people buried there were political prisoners, claiming that this fact “cements in citizens’ minds an unjustified sense of guilt in relation to alleged [!!! – Novaya] foreign victims of repressions”. Dmitriev is being intimidated in the Petrozavodsk jail. Meanwhile the president appoints [the federal archive authority] Rosarkhiv, the FSB, the Ministry of the Interior and the State Penal Service to conduct research into creating a single database of the victims of political repressions – the very job that Yuri Dmitriev had been performing for the previous 30 years, within the scope of the Karelian republic. And if such a database were to be created, it would contain the evidence he uncovered.

Looks like Karelia doesn’t quite share the president’s position that “the terrible past can not be erased from the national memory” and that “our duty is not to allow the past to be forgotten”.

***

This may be a stylistic excess, but like dozens of other journalists and activists, I have been working on Dmitriev’s case for three years, and I would like to allow myself to look at this story from another angle that is important to me.

Everyday, commonplace violence against women and girls, including what is not even considered violence in many countries, including ours, is called by the UN the most large-scale human rights problem of our times. An absolute majority of men perceive women to be an object, from childhood. She can be touched, with no regard for how she feels, while she herself always has to mind the feelings of the men around her.

This is also probably fair to say about Dmitriev, a simple and elderly man from another era. But it is important to notice how it is the security services, not Dmitriev himself, that perpetuate this situation with this fabricated case. Just think how crazy we must have become, how used to seeing the female body as solely a sexualized object, if a photo of an unclothed three year old girl, taken by her own father, is already considered pornography. And if touching her private parts to wash them is a sexual act.

We can think again: would this even be a case, if the girl was being brought up by an adoptive mother, not an adoptive father? What then are single fathers to do? Are they all, in the eyes of the Investigative Committee, potential perverts?

Or are perverts only those who oppose the current regime?

Karelia’s “law enforcement” used this stereotypical attitude to destroy a historian’s reputation.

Did Dmitriev touch his adopted daughter’s genital area? Yes. Did he do it because of a paedophile tendency, or out of some criminal motive? No, he did it to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, as is proved by three expert analyses of Dmitriev himself, and the hospital discharge notes on the girl’s enuresis. Should Dmitriev have checked the dryness of her underwear in some other way, rather than this crude method? He probably should have, especially since at the age of eight a child could already feel discomfort at having their personal boundaries crossed. But was there anything criminal in Dmitriev’s motives or actions? In my opinion, evidently not. (Incidentally, in the second prosecution case the whole issue of a motive was dropped altogether. Maybe, in inspector Zavatsky’s view, Yuri Dmitriev just touched his daughter for fun.)

At the 7 July sitting, the prosecution requested a 15-year jail sentence for Dmitriev, considering him to be guilty on all charges: making pornography, indecent acts, forced sexual activity and weapons possession. (Among all his junk. Dmitriev did indeed have a sawn-off section of a rifle barrel that can’t be used for shooting. He had taken it off some boys who were playing with the metal bit in the yard.)

The defence attorney has once again asked for the historian to be acquitted on all the vile charges, and to be freed from detention in the courtroom.

The verdict and the sentence will be announced on 22 July.

No matter what they are, on 5 August there will be a Memorial Day at Sandarmokh.

More about the Dmitriev case:

The Dmitriev affair web site and the “Free Yuri Dmitriev” facebook page (in English)

About Yuri Dmitriev on the Russian Reader

The historian who dug too deep, on Open Democracy. And an interview with Yuri Dmitriev

Human Rights Watch statement


The Russian State’s Case Against Yuri Dmitriev, Excavated