On April 14, 2021, the offices of the Russian student-run journal DOXA were raided by the Russian police. Its four now-former editors—Natalia (Natasha) Tyshkevich, Vladimir (Volodya) Metyolkin, Armen Aramyan, and Alla Gutnikova—were charged with “involving minors in committing actions that pose a threat to their life.” Their crime was posting a three-minute video expressing support for students threatened with expulsion for participating in anti-government protests. After the police finished searching DOXA’s office, they moved to the then-editors’ apartments, confiscating their family members’ phones and laptops. The question “why so many books?,” which a policeman asked while suspiciously looking through Armen’s library, instantly became a popular meme reproduced on stickers and social media stories as a motto of the war that Vladimir Putin’s government is waging against Russian youth and education.
Natasha, Alla, Volodya, and Armen were put on pretrial house arrest. For almost a year now, they have only been able to leave their houses between the hours of 8 AM and 10 AM. They have also been prohibited from using the internet. These measures have not only disrupted their lives and caused serious psychological strain, but also effectively put an end to their studies and research. Before their arrest, Natasha was working as an archivist at the largest textile factory in Moscow; she is a historian of the Soviet period and is a specialist in the digital humanities. Armen is a student of philosophy, sociology, and anthropology; he is also the Russian translator of David Graeber, whom Armen names as his biggest influence. Alla was planning to defend her thesis on Walter Benjamin at the time of her arrest; she is also a poet, a dancer, and a model. Volodya is a student of history and pedagogy.
The final hearings for their case will conclude by April 12. All four of them face up to three years in prison.
Founded in 2017 as the student journal of the Moscow campus of the Higher School of Economics, DOXA quickly outgrew its original mission to become the voice of Russian youth and then one of the most important oppositional outlets. (Because students have been the main and the most active presence in the anti-governmental and anti-war protests since 2017, “youth” and “opposition” have become synonymous in Russia.) DOXA’s first brush with censorship came in 2019 when it was deprived of the status of a student-run organization. Since then, it has been independent, operating on private donations.
Over the past three years, DOXA has become the central media platform speaking to and for this generation of highly politically active young people. DOXA collects information about the harassment (in all its forms—political, sexual, social) of high school and university students nationwide, gathers data about arrest statistics, provides legal advice, and collects and distributes legal funds.
Since February 24, 2022 DOXA has emerged as one of the most active, reliable, and popular sources of information about the war in Ukraine. Like all independent Russian media outlets, it was banned by Roskomnadzor (the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) shortly after the beginning of the full-scale war, yet it continues to invent ingenious methods to reach its audience. Right now, DOXA subscribers can access their newsfeed by using a VPN, via Telegram1, or by subscribing to a daily newsletter2.
What follows is a translation of the speech Natasha Tyshkevich gave in court on April 1, 2022. Later that day she was arrested and sentenced to fifteen days in jail for a post that contained the Ukrainian coat of arms.
Today is April 1 and I am standing in the Dorogomilovsky courtroom, looking at Judge Tatarulya, prosecutor Tryakin, at my colleagues Armen [Aramyan], Alla [Gutnikova], Volodya [Vladimir Metyolkin], at the backlit plastic eagle. I’m in a small courtroom with fake wood paneling, luckily not in the “aquarium”3, but at this podium. This court building used to be a school, a typical Soviet school with its wide staircase and hallways.
It’s important that I describe all of this, record the material circumstances in which my fate is being decided.
In this speech I am addressing not the honorable court here, but another court—the jury of public opinion, that superior court; I know that this speech will be heard beyond this space and make its way through many different channels. I can feel the presence and support of a great many people.
I invite our readers and listeners to give in to the pleasure of blurring and blending borders. You seem to be at home, but you’re also with me here at the trial. Maybe you’ve left Russia, but you’re reading or listening to this; imagining you standing next to me is an unbelievable support. In order to bring like-minded people along with us into the courts, we got married to our partners, and so I have alongside me Kilo Miaw, who has endlessly supported me in joy and sorrow, of which there has been a lot over the past year.
The state has forcibly placed me in the space of my house and family, has tried to infantilize me, but I have reclaimed these spaces and recalled all the practices of resisting the system that I came up with back in school. Writing my own texts instead of their compositions, wriggling out from under supervision, dreaming of other worlds and, of course, uniting with others despite prohibitions and borders.
Media crosses borders, media functions as a point of contact between disjointed groups. DOXA is just such a point of contact, a mediator. Between different social groups and segments of society.
Adults have Ekaterina Shulman4 to help soothe them. But who can address the youth and dispel its fear with normal, human words?
Institutions are designed to make people experience constant pressure and stress. That way it’s harder to express one’s opinion and unite with others. Frightened people are easier to control: it’s easier to force them to go out to [pro-Kremlin] demonstrations and participate in [pro-war] flashmobs, easier to subject them to sexual violence. For many, expulsion [from university] entails the threat of being drafted, which is especially terrifying right now. It just so happens that our audience of twentysomethings intersects with the police audience. We showed these twentysomethings a way out, showed them various possibilities: working in volunteer organizations or something else. And the point isn’t even these actions, it’s about expanding the field of possibilities. We’re standing against the people who would like to keep this generation in a state of fear, so that they’ll just obediently march off to their deaths.
In the hundreds of volumes of muddy evidence against us that we had to read, there is not a single mention of DOXA. But they contain records of absolutely everything about contemporary protests: from what motivates teenagers to go to protests, to adding up the funds spent on truncheons to break up these protests. My experience working in the archives gave me the skills for quickly digitizing any documents, and the investigators used me as an example for the other prisoners, as if we were in a speed-reading contest at school.
But we’re not in school, we’re in the archives of Putin’s Russia, and for now the KGB archives are not even open for historians, and the SSU [Security Service of Ukraine] archives are being bombed to bits. We, historians from the future, have been given a unique chance to study from within how in the 2020s the state squandered enormous resources on suppressing the truly powerful resistance of minors: through the family (screenshots of parents’ chats), teachers (reams of reports from classes), repeated interrogations (12-year-olds being questioned about Navalny’s economic program). And the deeper I dig into materials from [various Russian] regions, the greater my faith in the words from the YouTube video where four guys talk about how youth is us: “All over Russia there are hundreds of thousands of young people who will fight for and defend your rights.” What did we mean, who are these young people? We called on them intuitively and when we were arrested, they really did start to band together and form a wider group of support.
This is interesting work with time: I already feel like a veteran of this time war, I am reaching out a hand from the future to grab myself by the hair and pull myself out of these Moscow swamps of the 2020s. The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed and manifests in anomalies and miracles. We can look back from the future and deconstruct the past narrative, knowing that the future was already shining through it.
—Translated from the Russian by Ainsley Morse
The holding pen for people on trial. —trans. ↩
Ekaterina Shulman is a popular Russian political scientist and commentator, an associate professor of RANEPA and MSSES. She has her own YouTube channel with a large following. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL1rJ0ROIw9V1qFeIN0ZTZQ ↩