MOSCOW â€" The last state execution carried out in Russia was on Aug. 2, 1996, as the young democracy led by then President Boris Yeltsin was imposing a moratorium on capital punishment.
But a recent bill submitted at the Duma national parliament proposes to bring the death penalty back in force, specifically for crimes of terrorism. Backers of the bill, leaders of the A Just Russia political party cite the ISIS" bombing in October of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai that killed 224, as well as the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Just Russia leader Sergey Mironov says that convicted terrorists â€œdeserve the most severe punishment,â€ dismissing any notion of rehabilitation for such criminals. â€œThe punishment must certainly be adequate,â€ Mironov said, â€œtaking into account the degree of threat to society and serving as a warning to committing crimes of this category in the future.â€
The new bill would amend two existing articles in Russia's Criminal Code, article 205 (an act of terrorism) and article 205.1 (facilitating terrorist activity), to allow for capital punishment both for those carrying out attacks and others involved.
Just Russia Duma member Oleg Nilov tells Kommersant that the threat of terrorism in the world is a growing problem, and the death penalty could be a deterent. â€œPotential accomplices and organizers will be forced to think it through,â€ he says.
Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, noted that there is a longstanding moratorium in Russia on capital punishment. â€œThe question of the death penalty is incredibly complex, and multiple discussions are currently taking place. At the end of the day, there is a moratorium, which we will continue to follow.â€
In effect since 1996, the moratorium is a provisional suspension of capital punishment, that has effectively halted any executions. The penal code, however, stipulates that it can be lifted in five defined exceptional circumstances for men, aged 18 to 65: murder under specific aggravating circumstances, encroachment on the life of an officer of a law enforcement agency, encroachment on the life of a statesman or public figure, encroachment on the life of a person administering justice or engaged in preliminary investigation, and genocide.
Article 20 of the Russian Constitution states: â€œEveryone has the right to life â€¦until its abolition, death penalty may only be passed for the most serious crimes against human life.â€
Mironov in 2010 â€" Photo: Wikipedia
Under the Soviet regime, there was an on-and-off relationship with official state executions. Capital punishment was alternately permitted and prohibited, and was last restored on May 12, 1950, expanding the list of capital crimes along with it. GARF archives show that in the following decades state executions became less frequent, and the majority of the sentences were successfully appealed to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.
A serial killer
One notable execution was that of Antonina Makarova. During World War II, the woman dubbed "Tony-Machinegun" ("Ð¢Ð¾Ð½ÑŒÐºÐ°-Ð¿ÑƒÐ»ÐµÐ¼Ñ‘Ñ‚Ñ‡Ð¸Ñ†Ð°") conspired with the Nazis, and was held solely responsible for the executions of more than 1,500 Soviet partisans and their family members. Makarova was eventually caught by the KGB and sentenced to death in 1976, and executed two years later by firing squad.
In the early 1990s Russia's bid to gain entry into the Council of Europe, which advocates for intergovernamental human rights and requires all of its members to outright abolish the death penalty. In Moscow's case, a moratorium was accepted in 1996, though a final state execution took place shortly afterward of serial killer Sergey Golovkin, also known as "The Boa" ("Ð£Ð´Ð°Ð²"), who'd tortured and murdered 11 boys between 1986 and 1992.
The new push for a resumption of the death penalty in Russia comes as a recent report from Amnesty International found the number of state executions across the world reached a 25-years high In 2015. Some 86% of the officially registered executions were carried out in just three countries: Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The report also mentions of China, dubbing the country as "chief executioner" due to the presumably high number of executions, though the information remains classified.
Today, Russia stands as one of the three post-Soviet nations with an active moratorium, along with Kazakhstan and Tadjikistan. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have all abolished the death penalty outright, leaving Belarus as the only remaining post-Soviet country to actively practice capital punishment.
Aleksander Bastyrkin of the Investigative Committee of Russia, is a longtime advocate of enforcing capital punishment. â€œI personally speak in favor of the death penalty, first and foremost as a human," Bastyrkin tells Kommersant. "I am not afraid of criticism. Donâ€™t be a hypocrite â€" evil must be punished. You take the life of another, especially the life of a child, pay with your own.â€
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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