December 19, 2023

Pacifist Violist: Life with an Ankle Bracelet


Pacifist Violist: Life with an Ankle Bracelet
"If music be the food of love..." Wikimedia Commons, Frinck51.

Anna Chagina of Tomsk lives for music. The musician plays the viola and transmitted her love for the arts to her young students in Tomsk. But everything changed on November 30, 2022, after the police raided her home in response to her anti-war posts on VKontakte.

Now Chagina lives under a curfew, is cut off from the internet, unable to send correspondence and attend public events, and sports an ankle bracelet.

The Beatles, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi were constantly playing in Chagina's childhood home. She grew up watching her father and mother riffing on their guitars. Her school teachers admired her talent on the violin. After a hiatus from music during university, Chagina returned to a music college shortly after graduating. Her skills on the violin had diminished during her time away, so she picked up the viola.

Chagina identifies as an Orthodox Christian Pacifist. In 1988, she posted pamphlets protesting NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. She attended her first protest in 2014, after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it was the last straw. "I had been letting too much pass before my ears and eyes," she said. "But when the war began, it was too obvious."

On March 6, 2022, Chagina was detained at an anti-war rally while carrying a sign that read, "Blessed [are the] peacemakers," a nod to the Christian Beatitudes. She then turned to VKontakte to express her anti-war views. In response, the Prosecutor General's office blocked her page in September 2022 and opened an investigation into her actions.

On November 29, Chagina celebrated her birthday. Then, at 6 AM the next day, there was a knock at the door. Seven policemen were on the other side.

"I was in a cheerful mood, so I asked everyone to take off their shoes," Chagina said. "After they started the search, I realized I couldn't just sit there." So she picked up her guitar and sang a mix of her own songs, children's music, and pieces by Bulat Okudzhava and Boris Grebenshchikov during the two hours police spent searching her apartment. When the search was completed Chagina and her daughter Marina, who the next day developed symptoms of pneumonia, were detained. No one knew where the women were for several hours.

The interrogation went well at first. Then, the investigator, Islam Nabiev, said, "[You] don't like Russians." Chagina was speechless. The musician later discovered who denounced her. A senior lieutenant, Pavel Kudasov, and an unemployed man, Pavel Kytmanov, testified that they saw Chagina's anti-war posts.

Despite ongoing court hearings and her visible ankle bracelet, Chagina's community continues to support her. Her friends keep in contact. When she was fined R200,000 ($2200), Tomsk residents collected the sum in two days to help her pay. But, she said, "I won't be able to officially do what I love: teaching music to children."

In August 2023, Chagina was fined again R150,000 ($1600) and banned from posting on the internet for two years.

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