IMPERIAL COLONY

Oct 31 2016

Dmitry Glukhovsky, a Russian writer, delivered this speech during the opening of the first Boris Nemtsov Forum. We, at Free Russia, think that it is pertinent to share the English version of that important speech with you.

I am thirty-seven years old. I was born in 1979, twelve years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The years that followed the fall of the USSR are often referred to as the years of a free Russia.  This definition obviously contains a certain paradox.  When one of the former Soviet republics marks the anniversary of its freedom and independence, it is clear that it celebrates its deliverance from the former mother country.  But what does the mother country break free from?

Does it break free from its colonies-republics?  But if fact, no matter how much colonies might seem like a burden, the collapse of an empire signifies its failure which would be a foolish thing to celebrate. Perhaps, it was assumed that we would be celebrating the deliverance from our own past, or from the future that had been intended for us, or from ourselves?

One can say that the Russians had been keeping the Latvians, the Ukrainians or the Kazakhs prisoners.  But who had been keeping us – the population of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union that was unquestionably an empire in itself – captives? Who had been keeping us in bondage like slaves?  In fact, we had been doing this to ourselves.

Serfdom in Russia was abolished only four years before the final abolition of slavery in the United States.  However, while White Americans enslaved and brought to America representatives of a different race, language and religion whose dehumanization slave owners justified by their multi-century civilizational delay, we were enslaved by people of the same race, faith and culture.

Kolkhozes became a new form of serfdom for peasants.  Tens of millions of innocent people sentenced and sent to labor camps under false or ridiculous accusations became real slaves of the state.  The economic rationale of Stalin’s Terror consisted in using free slave labor while keeping prisoners in complete submission.

I understand why the regime, regardless of its name, has always treated us like stupid cattle by putting blinders on us, by flogging us, using dogs to herd us like sheep and keeping us locked in corrals.  There has always been a logical explanation for such practices which came down to the regime’s desire to maintain its authority and enjoy the fruits of being in power.

The intoxication of the peasantry with the idea that the supreme ruler was chosen by God; the Church’s selling its soul to the state and serving the tsarist regime for a percentage of income from slavery – these are the elements of a deliberate economic activity.   The use of indiscriminate purges to terrify and bring the population to an unquestioning submission for the purpose of reclaiming and industrializing Siberia and Russia’s Far North is yet another characteristic of a consistent economic activity.

What is wrong with us?  Why had we been putting up with all this?  Such a degree of acceptance and submission seems completely unimaginable and meaningless.  Why had we been settling for being owned by monsters? How had we been convincing ourselves that our owners were not that bad? Why hadn’t we tried to escape?  Hadn’t we cared for freedom at all? Why on earth would other peoples care for it but not us?

We have been living in a new free Russia for twenty-five years now. We freed our colonies but we cannot and do not even seem to be willing to free ourselves.

I watch news on the Russian TV that over the last few years has completely turned into an instrument of mass disinformation used to mislead, confuse and psychologically manipulate the population and to control people’s thoughts and feelings.

I observe how blatantly and shamelessly we are being lied to; what simple tricks are being used to deflect our attention from actual political processes; how we are being pitted against each other and being turned against the West.  I ask myself: How come people believe all that?  They have access to independent and comprehensive information so why do they keep their blinders on?  Don’t they feel sore from wearing them?

I read the results of polls according to which the majority of the population supports all kinds of bans and restrictions in the interests of so-called morals, spirituality or security and I ask myself: Can it be possible that all those who support the above mentioned things do not care at all for freedom?     Why do they desire so much to flog themselves?

When three years ago tens and hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Moscow’s streets, Sakharov Prospect and Bolotnaya Square, it seemed like people had finally seen through all the lies and realized that they were wearing blinders and a yoke. It seemed that people finally wondered where they were being led.     People demanded respect and independence.

But then Crimea happened, and it served as a real blackout of the collective consciousness. Many of my friends who had protested against election fraud suddenly joined the mass exultation of those who believed that the annexation of Crimea had put the historical record straight and served as a proof that Russia had finally gotten up off its knees.

Berdyaev in The Russian Idea says that no other national idea or ideology fits Russia so well and elicits such an unanimous support as the idea of territorial expansion. He also argues that Russia is condemned to be a police state regardless of the name of its ruling regime because there is no other way to keep such an enormous territory together.

We had to pay for Crimea soon after its annexation. For example, any attempts at even discussing the status of the peninsula as a part of Russia falls under the anti-extremism article of the Criminal Code as calls for separatist activity. The regime now uses various excuses to punish public condemnation of the war Russia is pursuing in Ukraine and Syria.

Chaos that Russia is now eagerly creating in the world is being served to us as evidence of our country’s growing strength and proof that our empire is coming back to the world arena.  However, empires create order – not destroy it. On the outside, Russia is trying to be an empire. On the inside, however, it looks increasingly like a colony.

Meanwhile, it appears that only a pitiable minority feels slighted. The rest of the population willingly trades freedom of speech–and basically of thought–for an illusion of Russia’s imperial comeback.  Furthermore, the proverbial 86 percent of the population as good as unequivocally support the regime including in the most questionable matters. Few people truly care for freedom of speech–that is freedom to criticize the government.

Meanwhile the state keeps insinuating that it can deprive us of all freedoms. Thus, the provision on banning those suspected of extremism – or in other words involved in opposition political activity – from leaving the country was removed from the “Yarovaya package” basically at the last minute.   However, the possibility of such a ban is being regularly discussed.

Who needs the freedom of movement though? Two-thirds of Russians do not own a passport for international travel. Three-fourths of Russians have never been outside of the former Soviet Union.

What about freedom of expression? Less than one-third of the population of the central Russia voted in the most recent parliamentary elections.

The regime tries to chew away even at freedom in private life which is probably the biggest conquest of ordinary people in modern Russia.  The government ostracizes homosexuals, threatens to ban abortions, blocks access to adult websites and is just about to begin regulating the consensual sexual practices of Russian citizens.  The government already knows how to tap our phones and read our messages. It is now working on cracking encryption in all messenger apps. However, no one seems to mind.

Do we really need this freedom? Or is it something else we need?

We have always considered justice a much more vital topic and a much more significant value.   Peasant revolts in tsarist Russia, the 1905 uprising, the October Revolution of 1917 were all fueled by the feeling that the government and its representatives had been carrying out oppressive and unjust practices with regard to ordinary people.

The pursuit of justice served as a key vital emotion that supported and justified the implementation of the socialist and communist project in Russia.  Votes for leftists of all kinds in Russia are votes in favor of social justice.   Meanwhile, for several years now, the idea of freedom has not been able to gather enough support to cross the electoral threshold.

The image of the USSR sweetened by official propaganda and senior citizens’ nostalgia is being offered as an example of a justly organized state.  As for Russia’s imperial comeback and the country’s imaginary rising up off its knees, these ideas speak to people’s hearts because people believe that in this way the historical record is being set straight.   Russia is getting back what it is entitled to. It is making up for the humiliation it has been suffering, and this is why its most outrageous actions on the world stage are being supported by the majority of the Russian population.

We left Egypt twenty-five years ago. After walking a bit in the desert, in its oil-rich sands, we felt nostalgic for the Pharaoh’s bondage and daunted by so much freedom. We felt wistful for the erection of pointless pyramids, and so we are now voluntarily returning to Egypt.   Those who were born in the desert learned to love Egypt at their mothers’ knee. Thus, it is understandable when special forces veterans masturbate to Stalin’s portrait. But how come thirteen-year-olds see him as their Che Guevara?     Meanwhile, there are a lot of Stalinists among Russian teenagers.

Could it be that people miss feeling united by one common purpose? Or could they get nostalgic about the hive-like structure of life in Soviet Russia? Or else about indifference and irresponsibility with which the Soviet Union awarded them for giving up their freedom?  They want to be children–not citizens. They want their parent-state to take care of their worries and to shelter them from the necessity to deal with the complexity of existence.   With freedom comes responsibility for one’s life and the life of one’s family members.  We, however, are still afraid of responsibility. We have not grown up in twenty-five years.

Could it be that our Asian side with its collective thinking is stronger than individuality of the Western civilization? Maybe Russians find it more appealing to belong to a collective body instead of being free and thus independent from others?  Maybe one side of our medal says “freedom” while the other says “loneliness.”

Are we Europeans or has the love of freedom been entirely eradicated in Russia?

Every time I criticize the regime in my articles or public speeches about the situation in the country, even when I just call things by their proper name, I know that my parents, not to mention my two still living grandfathers, will be calling me afterwards to ask me not  to stick my neck out. They will say that I do not understand how dangerous it is to speak the truth nowadays. They will ask me to go with the flow.  Meanwhile, I am not engaged in any political activity, and in fact I am not even an opposition activist.

In the 1920s, my great-grandfather was dispossessed and exiled to Solovki.  Although no one else in my family suffered from repressions, my parents are still afraid. In the twenty-five years of freedom, the generation of today’s sixty-year-olds has not come to believe in it while it certainly believes in the possibility of yet another terror. Our elders are very sensitive to any signs of the restoration of a repressive system and consequently, they are prepared to roll over and play dead even before the government asks them to.

The government knows this and uses this knowledge to manipulate the population by hinting at the possibility of such a scenario.   One of Putin’s favorite mantras is his statement that we are not in 1937–an annoying incantation that makes one think about the possibility of traveling back in time.  Sometimes his hints become truly obvious. For example, there is an initiative to rename the ever-strengthening FSB into Stalin’s  MGB.

Could it be that fear is to blame?

Besides, do we sincerely seek uniformity?

The regime discourages us from thinking by blatantly and ingeniously manipulating us; by constantly making up new enemies; by making us talk in terms of war and constantly forcing us into new–not imaginary–wars. We have been living under wartime laws for years now surfing TV channels from the sense of danger to the feeling of euphoria from fighting. We have been getting used to tolerate and to endure anything. We have been getting out of the habit of arguing and asking questions. By descending into animal existence, we are becoming like cattle.

The government demands unity and uniformity from us. Any demonstration of dissent or any other form of “otherness” in this apocryphal wartime is seen as a sign of treachery.     Loyal cogs in the regime gather under the auspices of the All-Russia People’s Front while dissidents are being branded foreign agents.

During such times, one wants to be like everyone else  and do what everyone else does. One wants to blend in with the crowd and go with the flow.  It is for a reason that our current regime, that appears to be the same one we have always had, has been subjecting the population to decimation.  Under our Zara and Brioni suits we are still the same Soviet people.

Of course, one still has the right to literally choose between remaining a Soviet man or becoming a European one  by fleeing to the West. Out of my thirty classmates with whom I had graduated from high school in Moscow’s Arbat district seven made their civilizational choice by moving to Europe and the United States.  Hundreds of thousands of active young people leave Russia.

This forum is being held in Berlin because in Russia, this auditorium would be besieged by provocateurs-Red Guards, clowns in green garrison caps and Cossack army uniforms simulating patriotism and spy-mania before the cameras of the propaganda machine.

They would be merely faking their outrage of course, because this quasi-patriotic flag-waving in Russia obviously relies on government coffers,  and people engage in such activities for money  – the same reason that prompts them to display quasi-Orthodox spirituality or to play the Cold War.

The problem is that the effigy of war can come to life; the figurative language of war can become a spell that might trigger it. We saw this happen in Europe a century ago.

The trouble is that being afraid to assume responsibility for our lives, we often voluntarily give power over ourselves to random people who get drunk with so much authority and begin seeing us as cattle due to our submissiveness and speechlessness. Thus, our tragedy repeats itself over and over again.

The trouble is that while dreaming of justice and consequently continually suffering injustice, we somehow fail to realize that we can truly achieve justice only by taking control over our own destiny.

The problem is that we fail to realize that the path to justice which we so desire to reach lies through freedom.

Only by refusing to march in lockstep and leaving the file; by sticking our necks out and going against the flow; by overcoming our fear to be noticed and marginalized; only by choosing individuality can we truly aspire to freedom and justice.

However, such behavior demands more and more bravery in our country.

I understand people who march in lockstep. I understand people who bury their heads in the sand.  Everyone wants to live and no one wants to perform heroic exploits. Heroic exploits are the domain of daring people – people with a benumbed sense of danger or those few for whom ideals and fidelity to oneself are more important than wealth or safety.

There are very few such people, and I have no idea where they come from.  We can all see, however, where and how they depart.

But it is thanks to such true individuals, such genuinely independent and brave people as Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov  that we realize that one can live differently.  We are afraid to share their fate.  We feel ashamed of being afraid.

I have said so much today about our peculiarity but we are obviously the same people as the German, the French, the British,  The Chinese or the Korean.  We are all born free and unique. The only question is what and for the sake of what we subsequently give up.

I do not want to believe that my country is truly condemned to be an imperial colony.

Russia can maintain its present-day immense borders and be a modern state at the same time. My country’s geographical vastness can be the space of freedom and justice.

However, we will have to earn this freedom.

I am thirty-seven years old. I was born in 1979, twelve years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The years that followed the fall of the USSR are often referred to as the years of a free Russia.  This definition obviously contains a certain paradox.  When one of the former Soviet republics marks the anniversary of its freedom and independence, it is clear that it celebrates its deliverance from the former mother country.  But what does the mother country break free from?

Does it break free from its colonies-republics?  But if fact, no matter how much colonies might seem like a burden, the collapse of an empire signifies its failure which would be a foolish thing to celebrate. Perhaps, it was assumed that we would be celebrating the deliverance from our own past, or from the future that had been intended for us, or from ourselves?

One can say that the Russians had been keeping the Latvians, the Ukrainians or the Kazakhs prisoners.  But who had been keeping us – the population of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union that was unquestionably an empire in itself – captives? Who had been keeping us in bondage like slaves?  In fact, we had been doing this to ourselves.

Serfdom in Russia was abolished only four years before the final abolition of slavery in the United States.  However, while White Americans enslaved and brought to America representatives of a different race, language and religion whose dehumanization slave owners justified by their multi-century civilizational delay, we were enslaved by people of the same race, faith and culture.

Kolkhozes became a new form of serfdom for peasants.  Tens of millions of innocent people sentenced and sent to labor camps under false or ridiculous accusations became real slaves of the state.  The economic rationale of Stalin’s Terror consisted in using free slave labor while keeping prisoners in complete submission.

I understand why the regime, regardless of its name, has always treated us like stupid cattle by putting blinders on us, by flogging us, using dogs to herd us like sheep and keeping us locked in corrals.  There has always been a logical explanation for such practices which came down to the regime’s desire to maintain its authority and enjoy the fruits of being in power.

The intoxication of the peasantry with the idea that the supreme ruler was chosen by God; the Church’s selling its soul to the state and serving the tsarist regime for a percentage of income from slavery – these are the elements of a deliberate economic activity.   The use of indiscriminate purges to terrify and bring the population to an unquestioning submission for the purpose of reclaiming and industrializing Siberia and Russia’s Far North is yet another characteristic of a consistent economic activity.

What is wrong with us?  Why had we been putting up with all this?  Such a degree of acceptance and submission seems completely unimaginable and meaningless.  Why had we been settling for being owned by monsters? How had we been convincing ourselves that our owners were not that bad? Why hadn’t we tried to escape?  Hadn’t we cared for freedom at all? Why on earth would other peoples care for it but not us?

We have been living in a new free Russia for twenty-five years now. We freed our colonies but we cannot and do not even seem to be willing to free ourselves.

I watch news on the Russian TV that over the last few years has completely turned into an instrument of mass disinformation used to mislead, confuse and psychologically manipulate the population and to control people’s thoughts and feelings.

I observe how blatantly and shamelessly we are being lied to; what simple tricks are being used to deflect our attention from actual political processes; how we are being pitted against each other and being turned against the West.  I ask myself: How come people believe all that?  They have access to independent and comprehensive information so why do they keep their blinders on?  Don’t they feel sore from wearing them?

I read the results of polls according to which the majority of the population supports all kinds of bans and restrictions in the interests of so-called morals, spirituality or security and I ask myself: Can it be possible that all those who support the above mentioned things do not care at all for freedom?     Why do they desire so much to flog themselves?

When three years ago tens and hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Moscow’s streets, Sakharov Prospect and Bolotnaya Square, it seemed like people had finally seen through all the lies and realized that they were wearing blinders and a yoke. It seemed that people finally wondered where they were being led.     People demanded respect and independence.

But then Crimea happened, and it served as a real blackout of the collective consciousness. Many of my friends who had protested against election fraud suddenly joined the mass exultation of those who believed that the annexation of Crimea had put the historical record straight and served as a proof that Russia had finally gotten up off its knees.

Berdyaev in The Russian Idea says that no other national idea or ideology fits Russia so well and elicits such an unanimous support as the idea of territorial expansion. He also argues that Russia is condemned to be a police state regardless of the name of its ruling regime because there is no other way to keep such an enormous territory together.

We had to pay for Crimea soon after its annexation. For example, any attempts at even discussing the status of the peninsula as a part of Russia falls under the anti-extremism article of the Criminal Code as calls for separatist activity. The regime now uses various excuses to punish public condemnation of the war Russia is pursuing in Ukraine and Syria.

Chaos that Russia is now eagerly creating in the world is being served to us as evidence of our country’s growing strength and proof that our empire is coming back to the world arena.  However, empires create order – not destroy it. On the outside, Russia is trying to be an empire. On the inside, however, it looks increasingly like a colony.

Meanwhile, it appears that only a pitiable minority feels slighted. The rest of the population willingly trades freedom of speech–and basically of thought–for an illusion of Russia’s imperial comeback.  Furthermore, the proverbial 86 percent of the population as good as unequivocally support the regime including in the most questionable matters. Few people truly care for freedom of speech–that is freedom to criticize the government.

Meanwhile the state keeps insinuating that it can deprive us of all freedoms. Thus, the provision on banning those suspected of extremism – or in other words involved in opposition political activity – from leaving the country was removed from the “Yarovaya package” basically at the last minute.   However, the possibility of such a ban is being regularly discussed.

Who needs the freedom of movement though? Two-thirds of Russians do not own a passport for international travel. Three-fourths of Russians have never been outside of the former Soviet Union.

What about freedom of expression? Less than one-third of the population of the central Russia voted in the most recent parliamentary elections.

The regime tries to chew away even at freedom in private life which is probably the biggest conquest of ordinary people in modern Russia.  The government ostracizes homosexuals, threatens to ban abortions, blocks access to adult websites and is just about to begin regulating the consensual sexual practices of Russian citizens.  The government already knows how to tap our phones and read our messages. It is now working on cracking encryption in all messenger apps. However, no one seems to mind.

Do we really need this freedom? Or is it something else we need?

We have always considered justice a much more vital topic and a much more significant value.   Peasant revolts in tsarist Russia, the 1905 uprising, the October Revolution of 1917 were all fueled by the feeling that the government and its representatives had been carrying out oppressive and unjust practices with regard to ordinary people.

The pursuit of justice served as a key vital emotion that supported and justified the implementation of the socialist and communist project in Russia.  Votes for leftists of all kinds in Russia are votes in favor of social justice.   Meanwhile, for several years now, the idea of freedom has not been able to gather enough support to cross the electoral threshold.

The image of the USSR sweetened by official propaganda and senior citizens’ nostalgia is being offered as an example of a justly organized state.  As for Russia’s imperial comeback and the country’s imaginary rising up off its knees, these ideas speak to people’s hearts because people believe that in this way the historical record is being set straight.   Russia is getting back what it is entitled to. It is making up for the humiliation it has been suffering, and this is why its most outrageous actions on the world stage are being supported by the majority of the Russian population.

We left Egypt twenty-five years ago. After walking a bit in the desert, in its oil-rich sands, we felt nostalgic for the Pharaoh’s bondage and daunted by so much freedom. We felt wistful for the erection of pointless pyramids, and so we are now voluntarily returning to Egypt.   Those who were born in the desert learned to love Egypt at their mothers’ knee. Thus, it is understandable when special forces veterans masturbate to Stalin’s portrait. But how come thirteen-year-olds see him as their Che Guevara?     Meanwhile, there are a lot of Stalinists among Russian teenagers.

Could it be that people miss feeling united by one common purpose? Or could they get nostalgic about the hive-like structure of life in Soviet Russia? Or else about indifference and irresponsibility with which the Soviet Union awarded them for giving up their freedom?  They want to be children–not citizens. They want their parent-state to take care of their worries and to shelter them from the necessity to deal with the complexity of existence.   With freedom comes responsibility for one’s life and the life of one’s family members.  We, however, are still afraid of responsibility. We have not grown up in twenty-five years.

Could it be that our Asian side with its collective thinking is stronger than individuality of the Western civilization? Maybe Russians find it more appealing to belong to a collective body instead of being free and thus independent from others?  Maybe one side of our medal says “freedom” while the other says “loneliness.”

Are we Europeans or has the love of freedom been entirely eradicated in Russia?

Every time I criticize the regime in my articles or public speeches about the situation in the country, even when I just call things by their proper name, I know that my parents, not to mention my two still living grandfathers, will be calling me afterwards to ask me not  to stick my neck out. They will say that I do not understand how dangerous it is to speak the truth nowadays. They will ask me to go with the flow.  Meanwhile, I am not engaged in any political activity, and in fact I am not even an opposition activist.

In the 1920s, my great-grandfather was dispossessed and exiled to Solovki.  Although no one else in my family suffered from repressions, my parents are still afraid. In the twenty-five years of freedom, the generation of today’s sixty-year-olds has not come to believe in it while it certainly believes in the possibility of yet another terror. Our elders are very sensitive to any signs of the restoration of a repressive system and consequently, they are prepared to roll over and play dead even before the government asks them to.

The government knows this and uses this knowledge to manipulate the population by hinting at the possibility of such a scenario.   One of Putin’s favorite mantras is his statement that we are not in 1937–an annoying incantation that makes one think about the possibility of traveling back in time.  Sometimes his hints become truly obvious. For example, there is an initiative to rename the ever-strengthening FSB into Stalin’s  MGB.

Could it be that fear is to blame?

Besides, do we sincerely seek uniformity?

The regime discourages us from thinking by blatantly and ingeniously manipulating us; by constantly making up new enemies; by making us talk in terms of war and constantly forcing us into new–not imaginary–wars. We have been living under wartime laws for years now surfing TV channels from the sense of danger to the feeling of euphoria from fighting. We have been getting used to tolerate and to endure anything. We have been getting out of the habit of arguing and asking questions. By descending into animal existence, we are becoming like cattle.

The government demands unity and uniformity from us. Any demonstration of dissent or any other form of “otherness” in this apocryphal wartime is seen as a sign of treachery.     Loyal cogs in the regime gather under the auspices of the All-Russia People’s Front while dissidents are being branded foreign agents.

During such times, one wants to be like everyone else  and do what everyone else does. One wants to blend in with the crowd and go with the flow.  It is for a reason that our current regime, that appears to be the same one we have always had, has been subjecting the population to decimation.  Under our Zara and Brioni suits we are still the same Soviet people.

Of course, one still has the right to literally choose between remaining a Soviet man or becoming a European one  by fleeing to the West. Out of my thirty classmates with whom I had graduated from high school in Moscow’s Arbat district seven made their civilizational choice by moving to Europe and the United States.  Hundreds of thousands of active young people leave Russia.

This forum is being held in Berlin because in Russia, this auditorium would be besieged by provocateurs-Red Guards, clowns in green garrison caps and Cossack army uniforms simulating patriotism and spy-mania before the cameras of the propaganda machine.

They would be merely faking their outrage of course, because this quasi-patriotic flag-waving in Russia obviously relies on government coffers,  and people engage in such activities for money  – the same reason that prompts them to display quasi-Orthodox spirituality or to play the Cold War.

The problem is that the effigy of war can come to life; the figurative language of war can become a spell that might trigger it. We saw this happen in Europe a century ago.

The trouble is that being afraid to assume responsibility for our lives, we often voluntarily give power over ourselves to random people who get drunk with so much authority and begin seeing us as cattle due to our submissiveness and speechlessness. Thus, our tragedy repeats itself over and over again.

The trouble is that while dreaming of justice and consequently continually suffering injustice, we somehow fail to realize that we can truly achieve justice only by taking control over our own destiny.

The problem is that we fail to realize that the path to justice which we so desire to reach lies through freedom.

Only by refusing to march in lockstep and leaving the file; by sticking our necks out and going against the flow; by overcoming our fear to be noticed and marginalized; only by choosing individuality can we truly aspire to freedom and justice.

However, such behavior demands more and more bravery in our country.

I understand people who march in lockstep. I understand people who bury their heads in the sand.  Everyone wants to live and no one wants to perform heroic exploits. Heroic exploits are the domain of daring people – people with a benumbed sense of danger or those few for whom ideals and fidelity to oneself are more important than wealth or safety.

There are very few such people, and I have no idea where they come from.  We can all see, however, where and how they depart.

But it is thanks to such true individuals, such genuinely independent and brave people as Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov  that we realize that one can live differently.  We are afraid to share their fate.  We feel ashamed of being afraid.

I have said so much today about our peculiarity but we are obviously the same people as the German, the French, the British,  The Chinese or the Korean.  We are all born free and unique. The only question is what and for the sake of what we subsequently give up.

I do not want to believe that my country is truly condemned to be an imperial colony.

Russia can maintain its present-day immense borders and be a modern state at the same time. My country’s geographical vastness can be the space of freedom and justice.

However, we will have to earn this freedom.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.