A local engineer and tank enthusiast in the south-central Russian Novosibirsk oblast is facing charges of extremism. Prosecutors in the Kolyvansky region of the oblast have launched an investigation into two tanks built by the hobbyist. As the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported on March 27th, the affair began after a road-worthiness competition between the man’s tanks and several modern SUVs. One of the tanks bore Nazi insignia on its turret.
Vyacheslav Verevochkin, who built the tanks, was shocked by the investigation. “What the prosecutors are doing is nonsense,” he said. “I restored those tanks that were used during the war. How could there even be mention of any kind of extremism? This is history.” Verevochkin told the newspaper that he has received a warning not to use any Nazi symbols. Regional law enforcement are also trying to fine him for breaking road traffic rules, since he moved about on tanks that “did not pass the mandatory registration from the STSI [road police].”
The prosecutor’s office declined to comment. A source within the office explained that they had not expected the investigation to launch a public outcry.
Earlier, the lead prosecutor of the Kolyvansky region, Aleksei Voytov, had spoken about the reasons for the inspection: “The legislation of the Russian Federation considers the public display of Nazi symbolism and attributions as an insult to the victims of the Great Patriotic War.”
Russian opposition groups and critics of the Kremlin have faced similar charges of extremism, which they say have been used as a lever to silence criticism. Frequently, the charges seem vague and politically motivated, as in the case of Voice of Beslan, a rights group for victims of the tragic 2004 terrorist attack. Similar charges have been used as a pretext to raid the offices of The Other Russia coalition as well as prominent independent newspapers and non-governmental organizations. In this instance, the investigation appears an absurd miscalculation on the part of prosecutors, although the case raises questions on freedom of speech and expression in the country.