After the majority of Crimeans voted to accept annexation by Russia in March’s oft-criticized elections, pro-Russian sympathizers in post-Soviet states across the region are demanding similar referendums of their own. In some countries, governments are perceiving such calls to rejoin Mother Russia as a serious threat to national stability. And sometimes the state comes down on such Russian sympathizers hard.
In Kazakhstan, for instance, Russian-speaker Tatyana Shevtsova-Valova finds herself facing charges of “inciting ethnic hatred”—a crime with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison—after posting a series of pro-Russian, anti-Kazakh messages on Facebook. Shevtsova-Valova shared photos and memes glorifying the USSR and Russian President Vladimir Putin while insulting people of Kazakh ethnicity.
Two posts, in particular, led to her arrest:
“The USSR was 100 years ahead of its time. Now it’s the USSR’s time.”
“I’m not ashamed of being Russian.”
“If you are going to magnify the radical nationalism in Kazakhstan, the same thing that happened in Crimea will happen here,” she wrote in Russian in the second Facebook post. “The northern part, and possibly all the other parts of Kazakhstan, will go to the Russian Federation. Not through annexation, but through a referendum, as was done in the Crimea. Voluntarily joining Russia.”
Shevtsova-Valova’s anti-Kazakh messages sparked an active local VKontakte backlash, with many Kazakh users hailing her prosecution.
The political dissident came to the attention of the authorities after 12 Kazakh social media users reported her posts as offensive. This wouldn’t be the first time a pro-Russian activist was put on trial in Kazakhstan. Yevgeny Vdovenko, a Kazakh citizen who fought alongside pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, was sentenced to five years in prison when he returned home from the Ukrainian battlefield.