Film director Alexander Sokurov engaged in a discussion with President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.

The situation in the North Caucasus Federal District is the most problematic in Russia, Sokurov said at the meeting, a video of which has been posted on the YouTube channel of Radio Liberty.

The director recalled protests in Ingushetia against the 2018 border agreement with Chechnya. Sokurov asked for the release of the arrested protest leaders, listing the defendants by name: Akhmed Barakhoyev, Musa Malsagov, Malsag Uzhakhov, Ismail Nalgiyev, Bagaudin Khautiyev, Barakh Chemurziyev and Zarifa Sautieva. Sokurov stressed that the arrest of the woman, Zarifa Sautieva, caused resentment in the republic.

Responding to the filmmaker, Putin urged that relations between the Vainakh peoples be taken «very seriously». «We have two thousand territorial claims across the country. […] The topic of interethnic relations is dangerous and inadmissible to discuss. It is inadmissible even for you. These are dangerous toys» — said the President.

The director noted that he considers the themes of the Caucasus raised by his students to be important. He recalled that the Russian Ministry of Culture had banned the screening of a documentary about the protests in Ingushetia, Border, made by his student Maryana Kalmykova. Sokurov also called for «the abolition of all punishments for female citizens for participating in the socio-political movement,» because, in Sokurov’s view, «mercy is greater than justice.

«We need an active, strong opposition <… > we should ban censorship — the Constitution is still alive. We need to stop persecuting public and non-profit organizations,» he said.

In a conversation with Putin, the director criticized the federal structure of Russia, which includes republics formed on the basis of nationality.

«These republics have their own ‘armies’ and even ‘a Padishah has appeared,'» he said, referring to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Putin responded sharply to the filmmaker, calling his performance a «set of fears.» «There is something to apologize for, because you have not a speech, but a manifesto, a set of fears,» Vladimir Putin said.

Alexander Sokurov has asked uncomfortable questions of President Putin before. In December 2019, at a meeting of the Human Rights Council, the filmmaker addressed the burning themes of the Ingush people. «A people sandwiched between a brutal Chechen sector and an Ossetian state with oodles of unhealed war wounds is simply dying,» he said of the Ingush.

The director referred to the arrests of the activists. «Active Ingush citizens are imprisoned. Why? On the basis of what political logic? Some crooked logic. Why can’t we talk?» he said.

* The Russian Ministry of Justice has included the media in the register of non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.

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