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G8 Summit, St Petersburg, Russia - On the ground 5

Oscar Beard | 14.08.2006 13:44 | G8 Russia 2006 | Globalisation | Repression | World

I woke on 17 July to endless text messages and phone calls about Lebanon. I found a television and watched bombs falling on so-called Hizbullah strongholds that looked like poverty-stricken Lebanese housing estates.

Now the G8 summit, and any attempted demonstrations against the Great Eight Greedheads, was swiped from all international news stations in an instant.

A panicked call from my mother, after my family had heard nothing from me in 24 hours, added a poignant statement.

“Every time you go and cover these things,” my mother said, “something happens somewhere else in the world. Last year you go to Scotland and London is bombed. And now this.”

My UK contacts were all now in prison, as was anyone else who dared to publicly oppose the G8 in Russia. The two Russian girls disappeared for the day and the Estonians were gone. They left sometime in the early morning to catch their train home. I decided to head into the city centre with the animal rights activist from the southern estates of St. Petersburg to see what was going on in the streets.

We first went to one police station in the north of the city where her friend and at least 12 others were being held for the crime of protesting the G8. They took vegetarian food for the prisoners. Reports from the previous evening outside the St. Petersburg central court said the detainees were being deprived of food.

In the afternoon I headed off into the centre. Every street corner and every train and bus station, every government building and tourist attraction was watched over by numerous police and military personnel.

I was stopped at regular intervals and told to put my camera away. This I did, only to pull it out the case again after I turned the street corner.

My conversation for the day was now limited to two Russian words: “English, journalist.” But the gestures from the police and the soldiers told me all I needed to know. Do not argue. Do as they say and maybe I will avoid a ten-day holiday in a police holding cell.

Other than the huge security presence the streets were normal and quiet. I contacted AP to see if they had anything, but they were all sat in their base camp watching the live reports coming in from Lebanon.

“It’s over,” said my contact. “We have nothing.”

I gave up and found a cheap subterranean bar to hide in for a while, away from the suspicious eyes of the police. It seemed like I was the only international journalist left in St. Petersburg.

A call came in from one IMC contact back in the UK. He told me the UK arrestees were being held at police station 28.

“Get over there and see what you can do,” he said.

I took the Metro over to Vladimirskaya and walked down to the police station, a cold-looking building where drunks sat outside downing vodka. One drunk showed me how much vodka he could swallow in one go. His face grimaced and he coughed and laughed.

I spoke to two punk kids, knowing the younger generation had a better grasp of English, and explained the situation to them. There were four British people in police station 28. They had no access to lawyers and were being held illegally. The punk kids offered to help and translate what I wanted to ask the police.

We entered the police station and my new, young and eager translators told the officer on the desk I was a UK journalist and was trying to find the names of the four UK citizens they were holding and what charges they were being held on. The officer went red and flew into an insane rage. He began yelling at us. The punks started for the door.

“We should leave,” said the boy.

But the enraged officer was already around the counter pushing me, still shouting. We left quick. Outside the punks told me the officer was telling me I was about to be arrested. He said the G8 was over, finished and if we did not leave his police station all of us would end up in a cell with the British prisoners.

Outside the station a man sat on a wall crying. He saw me, saw my camera and ran up to me. He complained the police were doing nothing to help him. He had been robbed by street criminals. They had taken his mobile phone, all his money and his ID. He was more worried about his ID, “Here, in Russia,” he said, “no papers you go prison.” He said it was the mafia and added the police did nothing because they are all corrupt and on the mafia payroll.

On the way back to meet the animal rights activist and the Russian girls I was again stopped by the military and questioned. They made me put my camera away again, despite my official G8 press credentials being visible and authorising my right to film.

The day finished uneventful. The G8 leaders left St. Petersburg early after a press conference backing the Israeli actions against Lebanon and a photo opportunity of happy G8 leaders waving at the few remaining international press.

I stayed my final night in St. Petersburg at the animal rights activist and spent the next day just filming scenic shots of the city. By late afternoon I decided to spend the last of my rubels on beer, sit in the park opposite Vitebskiy station and wait for my train back to Latvia.

I met with the animal rights activist and burned the footage of her friend outside the court from the previous day, which would be used in his court case to prove he was beaten by the police.

Then two people came and sat talking to us for an hour. They bought me beer and offered to get some vodka, so we could get drunk. We talked about Russia, how it was for the everyday people and what had changed since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The consensus was nothing had changed. The secret service was still up to its usual tricks - as the recent weeks leading to the G8 summit where hundreds had been arrested, detained and deported - the mafia controlled everything, people were poorer than ever before, employment was at an all-time low and AIDS was at an all-time high, with no help from the state to combat the disease. But there were plenty of roles in the police and military.

Somewhere during our talk with the two Russians, the female manoeuvred herself behind the bench where I was sitting and, without myself or my animal rights activist friend noticing, the woman managed to unzip my camera bag, take out the camera, zip the bag closed and steal my camera. She left fast, saying she was going to the toilet. After she did not return I became suspicious.

It started raining. I checked the camera to make sure it was not getting wet. It was gone. The bag, empty.

I called several police over and kept hold of the Russian man who was with the woman. He immediately changed his story. Before he said the woman was his friend. Now, as the police arrived, he said he had never seen her before. The police got angry, threw my friend and me into a police jeep and, despite my shouting, they let the man go.

We were taken to a police station where we both argued with police, who did not want to write a report of the theft. One officer said it was not crime because I was insured. After over an hour I got my statement, but it seemed the officer was writing what he wanted on the statement and did not listen to us. The rest of the police officers in the station sat watching TV.

We left the police station with 15 minutes to walk to the train station and get me on my night train back to Latvia. The officer who took my statement shook my hand, grinning.

“Fuck you very much,” I said. He nodded, still grinning and saying "Dar, dar."

My friend told me as we rushed back to the station the police were all mafia and probably knew the street criminals, which was why they seemed uninterested in recording the crime.

I caught the train just in time, but nearly got thrown off because I could not find my ticket when demanded by a vicious female train guard.

I left St. Petersburg and Russia around 9pm. And not a minute too soon for my liking. On the train two Russian men began drinking with me. We started on beer, then hit the vodka, and again I was nearly thrown off the train at the Estonian border because we were getting too rowdy.

I passed out around 3am, waking to a full carriage of disgusted-looking locals. My left arm was sore. I checked it to find a small wound directly over the main vein. It looked like a needle puncture.

As for Russia, and the G8 demonstrations for that matter, it had been a lame fuck-around. From the outset it had been dogged by internal political differences, but more so by the free and democratic clampdown by the Russian authorities to suppress any kind of free speech.

The similarities between Russia and the UK are shocking scary. The UK and US for that matter. And many other European countries that no longer need to be named, because it has become obvious to this hack in the last six years of journalism and travel the social systems of all countries have become identical, simply because they are all running the same social control systems, run by the same few heads for their own financial benefits.

In the 1990s this was referred to as the New World Order. But that kind of language - in a time when the UK language devised a new word “Orwellian” to describe the 21st Century state control and surveillance – that language would be instantly dismissed as pure conspiracy theory.

And yet it is there. It is totally apparent and there are no plans implemented to hide the fact that now all our countries are run on identical society control systems of consumerism and sedation, no matter what the cost to the world and its people.

Those who oppose the system are crushed by the system. Those who speak out are arrested. Some are beaten. Some just disappear. Sometimes they are killed. And everyone is under surveillance. Everyone a terror suspect. Especially those who dare to protest.

Oscar Beard
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  1. Thankyou for the reports! — mike