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(en) xUSSR: 1st conference of Autonomous Action, 14-16th of February 2003 in Moscow

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 23 Mar 2003 10:05:26 +0100 (CET)


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The goal of Autonomous Action (Автономное Действие, AD) is to form a common
libertarian communist organisation in the area of former Soviet Union.
Autonomous Action was organised in its first general meeting in January
2002, until then it had existed two years as a project. Currently Autonomous
Action has local groups in dozen or so cities of Russia and Armenia, and
supporters in Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Read more about us
from our website at www.avtonom.net

Conferences of Autonomous Action are not for discussing organisational
documents and principles of Autonomous Action, they are dealt in general
meetings which is a superior decision making mechanism of Autonomous Action.
Next general meeting will be organised in the summer of 2003 in South of
Russia. During both of the general meetings of Autonomous Action (1st in
Nizhni Novgorod in January 2002, and second in Krasnodar 2002), as well as
in all the 4 preparatory meetings in prior to foundation since January 2000,
considerable amount of time was sacrificed to organisational questions of
the movement. The practical and creative side of the activities had if not
been ignored, at least dealt very hastily in the strict time frame limited
by organisational needs. The 1st conference was the first real opportunity
to define ourselves in terms what we are actually doing, not only in terms
what we declare ourselves to be. Unfortunately the fact that conferences
have only right to make recommendatory decisions maybe also reduced
eagerness of activists to travel, only one delegate came from south (from
Rostov-na-Donu), and only one from Siberia (from Tyumen).

Friday 14th of February

People arrived during Friday, and during first evening people just presented
their local situation. There were delegates from Moscow (Autonomous Action
of Moscow, ADM), Nizhni Novgorod (Anarchist group of Nizhni Novgorod),
Ivanovo, Yaroslavl (Union of Young Anarchist Communists, SMAK), Tyumen,
Rostov-na-Donu and guests from Praxis (Moscow), MPST-AIT (Moscow), Belarus
Anarchist Front (BAF, Minsk), Movement Against Violence (DPN), ATTAC of
Nizhni Novgorod and Anarchist-Communist Union of Youth (MAKS, Yaroslavl).
Maybe 30-40 different persons participated to discussions during the
conference.

Before presentations there was a discussion about the anti-war demonstration
of the next day. 15th of February demonstration in Moscow was organised by
exceptional anti-racist, pro peace in Chechnya but not anti-authoritarian
coalition of ATTAC (in Moscow a trotskist front), anarchists who run Russian
Indymedia and Rainbow Keepers. Some conference delegates had principal
reservations against participating to such an event as an organisation, so
it was decided that those who want to go may go as individuals, and
conference will begin 4 hours later than planned in Saturday. In the end,
action was successful in Moscow scale (180 participators, in comparison
latest trotskist demo against Chechen war mobilised 20 persons in March
2000), but anarchist presence was small and we failed to present ourselves
as an anti-authoritarian alternative.

Situation in Moscow

In Moscow Autonomous Action has grown considerably during last 6 months, but
there are usual problems, such as every time different people in meetings.
There is a sizeable distro (www.avtonom.net/adistro) but not enough effort
to distribute products. Autonomous Action has participated to a broad
anti-war coalition which is offspring of the dissident movement and has
organised most massive demonstrations against Chechen war, but this
coalition is a forum of constant intrigue and political ambitions of
liberals, and some members of AD Moscow are in outright opposition against
participation to the coalition. Moscow group also publishes website on
working place issues, www.antijob.nm.ru, and its free paper version
Радикалний Лентяй, Radical lazybones, not to forget about music publication
and distribution. Two projects which are not projects of Autonomous Action
but to which activists participate were also mentioned - "Bespartshkola"
discussion club which is 2 years old now, and new anti-clerical campaign
"Radicals Against Church" (RPTs, same initials which Russian Orthodox Church
uses). On anti-fascist issues networking with football hooligans has been a
success, but this has also resulted to escalation of conflict where
activists have been assaulted at least 3 times with knives during the last 6
months.

Situation in Minsk

Belarus Anarchist Front was formed in autumn of 2002, after some 2 years of
discussions. Anti-fascist activity plays important role in Minsk. Relations
with older anarchists are not really good, old FAB (Federation of Anarchists
in Belarus) is not really functional anymore in Minsk, none of them showed
up on the streets in mayday or in October revolution memorial day 7th of
November. In Gomel FAB is doing well. but reports of at least one of their
militants running as a candidate in local elections were heard by other
conference delegates with a disappointment (eventually one member of
Autonomous Action from Gomel was excluded). In Minsk BAF has 6 members and
some 20 supporters. First action by these people was organised in 1st of
May, NBP (National Bolshevik Party) scum came up parasiting. In Grodno there
is also an active group called Razam, but politics of this group are not
anarchist. Nationalist pro-West opposition of Belarus which was strong in
mid-nineties is now in a state of complete collapse.

Situation in Nizhni Novgorod

In Nizhni Novgorod Autonomous Action has some dozen regular attendants of
meetings and several supporters. There is a sort of positive competition
which ATTAC, which unlike in Moscow is not a trotskist front but some 10
students who have very recently got involved in political activity. They are
helped by Voronezh ATTAC. Less positive competition from the side of nazis
and NBP. Nazis know some of anarchist activists, and unlike in many other
cities anarchists have not been able to challenge fascists on the streets.
Level of social conflict is low in Nizhni Novgorod, about all opposition
forces came up to a meeting against housing reform, and all in all it was
only 300 persons. AD organised 2 anti-militarist pickets in November, which
were attended by some 40 persons. There is a distro and discussion club
"Pozitiv" as well. Lecture organised as a part of visit of George Katsifikas
to Russia was a success. Rainbow Keepers has some 3 persons in Nizhni, they
organise actions together with AD. Old Federation of Anarchists of Nizhni
Novgorod Area (FANK) still exists because not everyone is content with the
way AD is organising, but it has maybe 1 member.

Situation in Yaroslavl

Main issue in discussion about Yaroslavl was for sure the split. This has
been a big source of confusion in other cities, since during half years
there were two groups with name SMAK (Union of Young Anarchist Communists),
who published paper with the same name (Тротиловий Эквивалент, Trotyle
Equivalent). Now however another group decided to change its name to MAKS
(Anarchist Communist Union of Youth),
and the first group will change name of its bulletin. In general situation
has calmed down, and after a period of bitter exchanges groups are now
co-ordinating their activities together. MAKS participated to conference of
AD as a guests, and both sides agreed that one important reason of the split
was in inter-personal dynamics.

There has been lots of activity in Yaroslavl since summer, such as picket
for anarchist
Stas Pochobut, who was cruelly beaten by police in Grodno, Belarus and
hospitalised for a month. 5th of September there was an action against
educational reform, which received good echo in media. There was nice
footage in TV about pensioners carrying anarchist banners... group
participated to Social Forum of Yaroslavl, which was a bad experience.
Anarchists withdrew from ATTAC which they were once co-founding, but SMAK
still maintains contacts. There was a successful action in opposition to
mainstream communists in 7th of November, this was jointly organised by
SMAK, local ATTAC and a local splinter group from KPRF (Communist Party of
Russian Federation) called Organisation of Workers Councils (OST), which is
developing to a positive direction. This was attended by some 400 people,
but resolution of the meeting was somewhat reformist. Social situation in
Yaroslavl is more heated than average in Russia, for example as a protest
against new housing bill one block of flats collectively refused to pay for
electricity and water.

In the end SMAK and MAKS debated their differences... MAKS described SMAK as
reformist, since they raise simple reformist and economic demands and try to
network with any kind of oppositional groups and non-stalinist workers. SMAK
criticised anti-fascist activities of MAKS - "since we do not beat up
junkies or alcoholics, why should we beat up nazis who are just another
symptom of a general disease called capitalism?".

Other cities

Tyumen group really never get off to air, last mayday they mobilised 4
persons. Now one person emigrated, and one spent half a year in Polish
squats... but the "left" in general is in trouble as well, for example
RKSM(b) collapsed altogether. (This is one of the several komsomols, this
has more extreme orientation than the biggest SKM and is sort of Maoist, it
has lately severely suffered due to imprisonment of many of its activists).
Tyumen is a rich city because of oil, and thus there are not really social
conflicts. In Ivanovo only two persons regularly attend meetings, and
everything is in the very beginning. Activists in Ivanovo are also involved
in the Esperanto movement, and it was decided that AD should establish
contacts to this movement.

Saturday 15th of February

First discussion of the day was no more nor less than about "Situation in
Commonwealth of Independent States, strategy and tactics of anarchist
movement in the conditions of today". A glaring difference between xUSSR and
Western anarchism is that although in xUSSR movement is tiny, people
definitely believe that the system is about to collapse. Sight of system
ruining itself around you pushes feelings inside the anarchist movement to a
completely other level. Not that there is much optimism around, it is more
like a bitter struggle about the future of world after capitalism - either
anarchy or disorder. This puts for example anti-fascist activity to another
perspective - although fascists are not so many, they are one of the few
forces who will be there robbing the corpse of the system after its rigor
mortis, and better to face them now than then. A delegate from Yaroslavl
defined the situation in his city like "anti-globalist consensus",
legitimacy of the system is in a freefall but there is a lack of
alternatives.

There was a discussion about to whom we should orientate, different opinions
were said for example about relevance of youth subcultures, but nothing very
new. Several delegates advocated getting involved in concrete struggles
instead of ultra-radical sloganism. There was some frustration since only
already politicised people come to mass actions - it was proposed that we
should push for abolition of any party- or political symbolics in mass
actions.

Ecological protests

Next part of days program were working groups, but these had to be organised
one by one due to lack of space. First discussion was about ecological
protests. It was pointed out that ecological protests are one field where
anarchists may get into concrete issues. There are lots of potential, for
example in Moscow some small-scale ecological initiatives pop up about every
month, but no-one has resources to network them. Things like clean air are
important to every person, no matter how apolitical. System also knows
this, just see how much they used pressure to silence protests in Votkinsk,
although even city major was supporting protestors. But now few people who
are continuing the campaign in Votkinsk feel themselves abandoned. The fact
that no major ecological protest camp was organised in summer 2002 was a
problem for anarchist movement in general, since these have been important
both as convergence and discussion platforms, as well as to have new people
involved in activities - a sort of activist school of self-organisation.

A question was raised about the situation of Rainbow Keepers in general.
Movement is indeed in a crisis, as its inability to organise a protest camp
in the summer of 2002 shows. These problems date back to mid-nineties, but
blew up in the summer of 2001 when a major protest camp was organised in
Votkinsk. But although future of Rainbow Keepers is unclear, it makes no
point for AD trying to replace Rainbow Keepers since latter has a very
different kind of organisational dynamics. One important factor in the birth
of AD has been the aspiration to get rid of the tyranny of structurelessness
rampart in Rainbow Keepers. But in the same time the informality of the
latter has been the main reason why it has had the best dynamics and least
barriers to involve new people among all anarchist groups during last 12
years, which has also lead it to being the most successful, at least to some
moderate extent. Role of AD should be more like ensuring that tradition of
the protest camps does not die even if Rainbow Keepers is unable to organise
them.

There was a discussion on protests against Taman ammoniac terminal project,
organised jointly by Atshi community and Rainbow Keepers. This was a minor
protest camp last summer, with less than 20 persons participating. Some
persons from
second Autonomous Action general meeting travelled to camp, but many
AD activists decided not to join due to involvement of Cossacks. And indeed,
one AD activist who had participated to protest told about her funny
feelings when sitting in campaign HQ, provided by Cossacks, and having a
portrait of Nikolai II hanging on her head... she also pointed out that
Atshi is really an NGO nowadays, and thus there will always be problems when
we try to co-operate with them. (Ed. note: Roots of Atshi community are in
Maikop group of Confederation of Anarcho Syndicalists of 80's, since then it
has developed through many phrases, latest being turning from an ecological
community to an NGO. Soon after AD conference Atshi confirmed that they will
organise a protest camp in summer of 2003 as well).
There was also discussion about relation between social and ecological
issues (one old criticism of Rainbow Keepers has been that they ignore
workers in facilities they aim to close). It was pointed up that anarchists
should always demand guarantees to those who may suffer after closing a
plant, one person also recollected a protest at Cherepovets in the beginning
of the nineties, in a city where life expectancy had dropped to below 50 but
there were not even theoretically other jobs available than horrible open
pit mines and industry connected to them.

Anti-fascism

Second theme-discussion was about anti-fascist activities. It was quite
generally agreed that really fascism is just another form of organisation of
capitalism. In discussions inside the fascist movement, one may see that
they just feel they do the dirty work which majority supports but does not
want to do. FSB (ex-KGB) plays double game, in another hand repressing nazis
but in another hand using them against leftists, they armed Tsarytsino
pogromists since they hoped they would crush antiglobalists who would
protest against WEF in Moscow, and they distribute anti-fascist addresses to
nazis. NNP (People's National Party, hardcore nazi sect having pagan rituals
and all that with some 500 members) fighters train in OMON (ministry of
interior special forces) bases. It is also a myth that street fascism is a
working class movement, first fascist football hooligan group in Moscow,
Flint's Crew of Spartak fans, has plenty of graduates from prestigious MGU
and GMIO universities.

One person wanted opinions about "reformist" strategies, since majority of
anarchists may never get involved in the streets anyway. She was
disappointed that soon after anarchists in Volgograd successfully stopped a
nazi concert by appealing to mainstream media and Union of veterans, no-one
was supporting her when she was trying to do the same in Moscow, claiming
such strategies being "reformist".

One should also not confuse racism and fascism. The former often has a
legitimate face, and we should pay more attention to that. For example about
every orthodox church distributes Russkiy Dom and Russkiy Vestnik-papers,
which carry openly racist materials in almost every issue. We should target
also target these kinds of organisations, and for example sabotage events of
Eurasia and other respectable new-right institutions with respectable face.

Workingplace issues

Third theme discussion was about conflicts in working places in general, and
about Radical lazybones-bulletin published in Moscow. In Yaroslavl people
have some success in networking workplace struggles. In historical faculty
of local university, practically all of the students, 460 subscribers
altogether, signed a petition against expulsion of a student who had been
fighting when drunk. There was a mass layout in one of local factories, FSB
panicked but in the end workers were just passive. However they have find
some great union militants. Yaroslavl activists do not like Radical
Lazybones - new forms of oppression, toyotism and situationism are just not
actual in Yaroslavl where fordism is still as strong as ever and conveyor
pulse of the city.

People in Moscow replied that it is true that points of view of
antijob-website and Radical Lazybones are Moscow-centred. According to web
statistics and messages in the guestbook, main group visiting the
antijob-site are office workers so stealing their bosses time, that is
really the group we reach most successfully.

Another Moscow activist described the conflict in MGPU university to which
he was participating, and which was described in Radical Lazybones. In the
end students were passive, and no-one wanted to get into regularly union
activity. He also thinks that RL is really trying impossible by trying to
mix revolutionary syndicalism to situationist and "anti-work" tendencies.

One veteran of the movement noticed a huge contrast between universities of
Perestroika years and today. About all what was then gained has been lost
now, students do not even have their own announcement boards anymore!

Antimilitarism

The following theme discussion was about anti-war movement and
antimilitarism. Nizhni Novgorod group had submitted a proposal about
campaign against law on alternative service which will come to force in 1st
of January 2004 (this was actually the only formal proposition submitted to
conference). To be honest, this proposal was written in somewhat formal and
boring language, but it was approved without much of discussion since there
was not really anything to disagree with. One concrete criticism of the text
was the demand about militia-kind of army - in distant past these kind of
structures have been used against workers movement. Such demands should
never be separated from the total of revolutionary movement. In general this
campaign which Nizhni has been organising since summer has at times had a
strange mixture of reformist and radical revolutionary slogans, you should
not really separate demands like right of everyone to carry arms from the
ideal of total social revolution.

Another part of the proposal questioned was its obligation to organise
common anti-draft actions locally in certain dates, such as in "Day of the
defender of the fatherland" 23rd of February (which happens also to be the
date of beginning of Chechen genocide of 1944), first date of the spring
draft and so on. Yaroslavl commented that last time they had such an action
they got beaten up by both cops and patriot bigot passerbys. They were
replied that action does not necessarily have to be a picket, it could be a
discussion, graffiti or whatever your imagination enables. Street actions
were sawn impossible in Ivanovo as well due to tiny number of activists and
repression.

In Moscow people have distributed stickers of website
http://antimil.narod.ru made
by anarchists from Kazan which gives advice to those who want to avoid
draft, but
later it was recognized that in Moscow they manage to draft only some 8%
anyway,
and some 10 commercial or NGO structures offer exactly similar kind of
services
more effectively than we do, so there is no really demand for such an
activity.

One alternative to pickets is to participate to common anti-war actions. It
is not really that much about by side whom you walk, but how you do it - if
it is forces hostile
to anti-authoritarism, you should prepare and make your point accordingly.

Anti-patriarchalism

Last discussion of the day was about anti-patriarchalism (or anti-sexism, or
feminism, or gender issues, or whatever...). This became quite funny process
in the end. In the beginning it was about to be cancelled altogether, since
those people from Krasnodar who had most to say had failed to travel to
conference. But then a comrade from Minsk made a point - against marriage
and for free love! What a blast from the past, an issue which seems to have
been completely buried in the anarchist movement during the last 60 years!

Some issues relating to more modern feminism were dealt as well. Some people
raised cliche arguments criticising such feminist projects like critic of
male majority in the anarchist movement, and were verbally baited
accordingly.

Sunday 16th of February

This day most were outrageously late, supposedly having partied the night
before. This was only breach of the iron discipline, which conference
organisers had successfully imposed in a form of a prohibition, first time
in the history of AD... only one person dared to open a bottle during
conference, and had it confiscated in 10 seconds.

Repression and Anarchist Black Cross

Since after more than hour of waiting there were only 7 persons around, a
decision was made to start program with discussion about repression, this
was an extra-point proposed on Saturday, but not dealt then due to lack of
time. Questions related to current projects of Avtonom had to be dealt later
in the day with bigger group of people, when there were some 20 persons
around.

There was usual discussion on the always controversial issues about who is a
political prisoner, what a solidarity group should do and who we could help.
There are currently dozens of political "leftist" prisoners in xUSSR, from
small urban guerrilla groups and also completely trumped up cases. However
there are no clear anti-authoritarians in trouble, and in Autonomous Action
there will never be consensus about need of supporting any of the current
prisoners.

Instead a point was made in favour of forming a working Anarchist Black
Cross group inside AD, which would work strictly by principle for anarchists
by anarchists.
This because although right now there are maybe not clear anarchists in
trouble in xUSSR, it is just a matter of time when there will be. And also
if we do not help those currently in trouble abroad, such as Polish
anti-fascists, we may not expect any help from abroad when the shit blows up
in xUSSR. Any lawyer in Russia costs $1000, а sum far beyond our capacities.

It might be that issue of supporting some unknown anarchist in a far-away
country is not a killer mobiliser to a picket, but there are also other
things we may do, such as writing letters. Any number of Avtonom should
dedicate a page or two to issue of prisoners. In the end, a decision was
made to found a Black Cross group inside AD, and that in the beginning
Nizhni Novgorod group would co-ordinate this work..

Publications of Autonomous Action

The official program of the day started by discussion about common journal
of Autonomous Action, Avtonom, which is also most widely distributed
libertarian publication in xUSSR. At first people raised usual criticism
against punky style of layout and language in the paper, but this discussion
was soon halted - the same discussion took place in every single preparatory
conference, and both 2 general meetings of the AD during the last 3 years.
And as usual, the conclusion is that change of the style demands change of
the editor-in-chief, but there are no volunteers. And those wanting more
intellectual and theoretical journal should set up a separate paper anyway,
since "most intelligent" journal in the scene, Naperekor has finally ceased
to be published after its 12th issue. Some new people were accepted to
redaction of Avtonom.

Yaroslavl group raised a completely new idea to make their now monthly
bulletin, formerly known as Trotyle Equivalent, as federative. Everyone
agreed that we need more regular publication than Avtonom which seems to be
unable to catch its quarterly publication pace, but people had reservations
against Trotyle Equivalent, since it has extremist rhetorics, and thus is no
less subcultural than Avtonom although it is not that much oriented to any
musical subculture. It was decided that Yaroslavl tries to take into account
these criticisms, they will publish new bulletin and if people like it they
may distribute it in their locals.

Getting new people involved

Following section of the program was rather confusingly named - as "cadre
politics of AD" in lack of a better term. Really it the point was about
getting new people involved, and what is even more important, about
transferring hangers-around to self-organising active subjects. Some groups
of people are difficult to integrate to movement, for example in Yaroslavl
and Votkinsk pensioners have shown militancy in actions organised by
anarchists, but attempts to get them into movement have failed. It was
pointed out that AD should have more public activity, since conferences and
general meetings must be somewhat closed we should also have some kind of
public presentations, bit like the way trotskist are seducing people with
events on "antiglobalism", whatever it means. It was also decided that AD
should make a well-made booklet about itself including manifesto and other
basic information.

Also other "agitational materials" were discussed... since Ivanovo is a
concentration of textile industry, they will take care about our federal
flag investments! Several provincial cities, such as Yaroslavl, Nizhni
Novgorod, Ivanovo and Minsk are setting up small anarchist libraries for
activists to use.. Moscow group may buy books from bookstores and to
distribute to these locals. It was also decided to more effectively share
information about available resources, for example Moscow has an old
notebook (486 DX) which we could pass to some group. It just spent few years
in Grodno. There should be other funds than that of the federal, since
membership payments are too small. It was also decided that AD should more
effectively react to actual events in form of resolutions and press
releases.

Summer camps

Next discussion was about summer camps. One person appealed for forming an
xUSSR co-ordination group to encourage xUSSR participation to Warsaw
anarchist conference of June, in vain. However there was some interest about
travelling to Warsaw, as well as to border camps which have been planned at
least in Poland and Romania, something might get organised in Grodno as
well. However many may not travel to abroad because you need a costly
special passport for that, so it would be important to have some kind of
camp in Russia as well. Either a camp similar to Rainbow Keepers camps, or a
discussion-training camp on our own which have been talked about for years.
Rainbow Keepers do not yet plan any camps, but Atshi wants to organise a
camp, maybe in Taman as last year. A new referendum should be organised in
Votkinsk, a delegation of radical ecologists will head there in the end of
March to evaluate the situation. There will be some kind of camp in Minsk as
well, organised by BAF.

Discussion about coordinatory council was one of the more depressing moments
of the conference... it is organ of AD, which co-ordinates work between
meetings in the real life with a strictly limited mandate. Collective works
in an e-mail list, and has a decisionmaking period of 2 weeks. During last
autumn council collapsed for difficulties of access and general ignorance of
members, but conference failed to find more than one new member. Each
collective of AD has one vote in council. This work is seen as boring and
bureaucratical, also working guidelines of council and AD in general are
difficult to grasp since there is plenty of grammatical errors in them. A
person was delegated to correct these documents. It was decided, that no
general referendum will be organised during the spring, and that in case it
is not possible to organise general meeting in South of Russia next August,
Yaroslavl will be an emergency variant. Nizhni Novgorod will collect
materials for and publish
next issue of Самоопределение (Self-definition), internal bulletin of AD.

Anarchism and "antiglobalism"

There was a spontaneous discussion about Attac. It was noted that Attac in
xUSSR is a very different than in the West. In some cities of former USSR
it is a trotskist front, in another ones a grassroots group. The scale is
everywhere small. But it was pointed out that the theoretical roots of the
movement come from the West anyway, where movement is militantly reformist
and very hostile to any kind of anti-authoritarian ideas. One person said
that even if xUSSR Attac is different, participating to it is an act of
unsolidarity with Western anarchists whom Attac is persecuting. However
no-one demanded cutting all links to any local Attac groups in xUSSR. One
person was delegated to write an article revealing those sides of Attac
unknown to many anarchist in xUSSR.

Last point of the program was discussion about movement against global
capitalism and PGA, for which there was no time in Saturday. As for the PGA,
talk was more like a monologue since most of the people had not really grasp
about it, and little ideas how to participate. Some people had information
that G8 would maybe come to Russia in 2004, and there was a discussion about
possibilities to organise international protest in Russia. Some people were
more pessimist, some more optimist, but in the end it was decided that we
should go for that anyway in order to get our level of activity to next
level. It should be possible to get at least few hundred international
protestors to Moscow, and it is unlikely that it will be anything more
dangerous for them than Genoa.

In the last minutes of the conference a very good and concrete proposal came
up - to organise an all-Russian anti-militarist action in prior to beginning
of the spring military call-up, 30th of March. It was decided that in
northern Russia activists of AD will converge to Nizhni Novgorod, since we
should travel to other events except conferences and too often everything is
centred around Moscow.

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