Campaign diary

Irkutsk businessman jailed for five days for hosting Navalny

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Dmitri Tolmachev talking about the pig’s head that was left on his door. Image from Radio Svoboda video.

by Sarah Hurst

The owner of a furniture showroom in Irkutsk who provided a venue for Alexei Navalny’s rally on Nov. 4, Dmitri Tolmachev, has been sentenced to five days in prison a day after Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Irkutsk was jailed for seven days. Tolmachev was convicted of organising a public event without the necessary permission. The event was deemed public by the judge because it was advertised to the public, although it was ticket-only and held on Tolmachev’s private property.

Before the rally Tolmachev was interviewed by Yekaterina Vertinskaya for Radio Svoboda (now itself under pressure from Russian authorities to register as a foreign agent), in connection with the pig’s head that was left on his door with a threatening note. Tolmachev, who was wearing a Che Guevara-style beret and bears a resemblance to the revolutionary, said that the threat was probably not to do with Navalny’s rally but his long-running dispute with Irkutsk authorities, which itself was one of the reasons why he had opposition views.

His statement to the Irkutsk administration

Explaining why he wanted to host the rally, Tolmachev said, “This is a meeting of a politician on the federal level with workers, with businesspeople, who work with their hands and make a product from which officials then receive their salaries. And it’s my statement to the administration so that above all they think about the people who pay taxes, who bring this money to the treasury. And how can they live in this city? And do they want to continue working? Or do they want to leave?”

The business climate under Putin has not lived up to the hopes people had when the Soviet Union collapsed, Tolmachev told Radio Svoboda. “When the Communist regime fell in the 1990s and we looked around freely and democratic paths were taking shape, for me and my friends this was like a gulp of fresh air,” he said . “I did business back in the Soviet era too, but it was underground then. I realised that we were going towards Europe, towards a democratic society, and that we would now repeat the model of the developed European countries, ‘hooray for freedom’. But the events of the past 15-18 years demonstrate the opposite.

“You always need an alternative government. If there is no alternative you get Kim Jong-un, a closed society… I would like to meet Alexei [Navalny] personally. Since there is this opportunity and I have the right of ownership of a land parcel, there’s a means to bring this person, I told his headquarters that I could offer this opportunity to the people of Irkutsk.”

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