Village Reformer Jailed in Russia

A Muscovite’s quest to bridge the class gap between the metropolitan intelligentsia and provincial dwellers ended on Friday in a jail term for bribery and abuse of authority.

A court in the Tver Region sentenced Ilya Farber, 35, to eight years in a maximum-security prison and a fine of 3.2 million rubles ($100,000), media reported.

A jury earlier found him guilty of extorting 430,000 rubles ($13,000) from a local businessman contracted to renovate a village hall last year, as well as embezzling 940,000 rubles from the local budget for the renovation works.

Farber maintained his innocence and pledged to appeal the verdict, Komsomolskaya Pravda said.

His supporters said that the jury frequently consulted the prosecution during the trial, while investigators ignored all proof of his innocence, Novaya Gazeta reported.

The sound of a “rustle of banknotes” taped by the businessman on a recorder was offered as evidence of Farber’s bribe-taking, said.

The defense will appeal the verdict, which attracted the attention of federal media and rights activists, including prisoner rights champion Olga Romanova.

“Shameless ignoring of rules here…but nobody gives a damn,” Romanova wrote on her Facebook page in June, describing the trial.

Farber’s story comes across as a case study of the often-underestimated divide between Russia’s urbanites and the countryside. An unemployed former actor and artist and a father of three, he moved in 2010 to the village of Moshenki, some 380 kilometers northwest of Moscow and with a population of 200, to teach arts, music and literature at a local school.

The school struggled to fill the vacancy, complete with a salary of 11,000 rubles ($350) and no career prospects, but Farber was reportedly driven by enlightenment ambitions that earned him comparison to the narodniki – a late 19-century movement in Russia that saw the intelligentsia move to the countryside to mingle with peasants to both learn from them and teach them.

The narodniki movement ultimately floundered, as did Farber’s career in the village – situated, ironically, not far from Lake Seliger, whose shores house the eponymous pro-Kremlin educational and political indoctrination camp.

Farber deviated from the school program in his literature lessons, gave practical lessons on how not to fear the dark and celebrated Halloween with his 20 students, media reported.

But local residents grew to disapprove of his unorthodox teaching methods, even accusing him of child abuse, though the allegations were never proven.

“He was totally uncompromising, he wanted to do a cultural revolution here,” Moshenki school Principal Galina Pavlinova said, blog Web site reported.

Some distrusted him from day one, when he said he was not interested in money. “Such confessions make one suspicious – everybody needs money,” Irina Fedotova, a mother of four former students of Farber’s was quoted by as saying.

Farber also took up the additional duty of managing the village hall, which he wanted to transform into a three-story recreation establishment complete with a hotel and a billiards hall.

However, the building needed renovation, with money squabbles over the process leading to his trial and conviction.

The floor at the village club collapsed last winter, several months after the renovation was completed.


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