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Los Angeles Times: "Panyushkin writes in vivid tableaux"

Date: Jul 24 2011

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by Susan Salter Reynolds

12 Who Don't Agree

Valery Panyushkin, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz

Europa Editions: 259 pp., $15 paper.

Three months before the 2007 presidential elections in Vladimir Putin's Russia, a march was organized by various thinkers and leaders to assure that the elections would be held freely, that all parties would "get equal access to television time," and that all presidential candidates would be registered.

The authorities gave permission for the rally but reneged in various ways on their agreement. Protesters were dispersed, beaten and arrested. Valery Panyushkin, a journalist in Russia, wrote this book about 12 of his friends who were involved in that protest (including Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and leader of the United Civic Front Party).

In describing their lives, their motivations, their relationships to the government and the various forms of harassment they have suffered, Panyushkin reveals a great deal about post-Soviet Russia and the kinds of constraints on freedom that most citizens still live with and try to work around.

We learn a bit about the various special forces, the OMON (special-purpose police), the FSB (Federal Security Service) and others who follow dissidents, often arrest them on false charges and who have been involved in horrifying, violent events. Panyushkin writes in vivid tableaux — for example, a scene in a cafe deep in the woods, the candles sputtering, the dissidents bent over their maps; a gray street in St. Petersburg, the banners and flags of the protesters waving against the line of OMON officers wielding truncheons.