Russia: Siberian autonomy web page shut down
- 4 August 2014
Campaigners who want more autonomy for resources-rich Siberia have had their pages blocked on Russia's most-popular social network.
The prosecutor-general's office ordered the Vkontakte site to block the March to Federate Siberia page, which now carries a message saying: "Access is limited on the orders of the law-enforcement agencies." The page was shut down after discussion of the campaign began to build online, with some people comparing it to protests in Kiev that brought down Ukraine's pro-Russian government earlier this year.
The Vkontakte page called Enough of Feeding Moscow! says it wants to create a Siberian Republic with its own government that "can stand up for the region's interests" in Moscow. The campaign, which has been endorsed by writer and artist Artur Solomonov, says more of the money from Siberia's enormous oil, gas and mineral resources should be be spent for the benefit of local people - especially those who live in harsh Arctic and tundra conditions.
Online media in Russia and Ukraine picked up the story, and soon politicians joined the debate. Opposition MP Ilya Ponomarev - the only politician to vote against Russia's annexation of Crimea - tweeted in favour of the march, declaring "Siberia is Ours". Other supporters, such as artist Artem Loskutov, are drawing parallels with the separatists in eastern Ukraine - who enjoy the encouragement of the Russian government and media.
But MP Nikolai Valuyev, loyal to President Vladimir Putin, dubbed the march the "first attempt of global efforts to promote separatism in Russia". Vkontakte began to see demands that the authorities investigate the campaign - some pointed to a law passed last month by Putin that imposes tough penalties for promoting "separatism" online.
Within days the prosecutor-general's office acted, and the Vkontakte page was gone - along with an interview Loskutov gave to the liberal website Slon. But the Siberians appear undaunted. They have set up another VKontakte page, while it lasts, have asked the mayor of Novosibirsk to have their demonstration, and are continuing their campaign on Facebook - beyond the reach of the Kremlin censors.
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