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.

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.

Joint Call of Parliamentarians on the condition of Alexei Navalny in prison

Apr 08 2021

April 8, 2021

We, the undersigned, are shocked and troubled by the most recent news of Alexei Navalny’s condition in prison. 

Russia’s leading opposition figure is reported to suffer severe back pain with losing sensitivity in parts of his legs. It is no more than six months since he survived a vicious poisoning attack with a nerve agent that has long-term crippling effects on his health. In prison, he is systematically denied any medical treatment. On top, prison guards wake him up every hour at night, a practice amounting to torture by sleep deprivation according to his lawyers. This is why medical experts called on the Russian authorities to allow Mr. Navalny’s treatment and why he himself now resorted to a hunger strike. Let’s not forget: Mr. Navalny’s incarceration itself is a travesty of justice – he was formally sent to prison for not checking in with Russian authorities on a fabricated case (as confirmed by European Court of Human Rights) when he was recuperating in Germany from poisoning and subsequent coma.

Russian authorities with its secret services tried to kill Alexei Navalny last August, they may now be attempting the same, in a slower, even more cynical way. 

Europe has offered Alexei Navalny a place to recover from the attempt at his life. Specialized labs in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed the assassination attempt used Novichok, an internationally banned chemical weapon. Angela Merkel personally met Mr Navalny in hospital and many other Western leaders expressed their solidarity after the poisoning attack. We need to intervene again. 

We urge Russia to immediately allow medical treatment of Alexei Navalny and release him from prison. We call on the EU Council as well as EU member states’ leaders to reach out to Russian authorities to request the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, which was mandated by European Court of Human Rights’ decision in February 2021. In addition, we demand the EU Council task EU ambassador to Russia to conduct, together partners from the UK, Canada and the US, a visit of the prison facility and meet Alexei Navalny. It is critical now that Alexei Navalny’s fate became the symbol of injustice many thousands face because of increasing brutality of Russian regime against its own citizens. 

In December 2020, the EU launched its Global Human Rights Sanction Regime modelled on so-called Magnitsky Act. This law has been inspired by one Sergei Magnitsky, a brave Russian lawyer who was tortured to death in prison in 2009 – he was systematically denied treatment when he developed a serious medical condition. We still can act now in case of Alexei Navalny so we avoid commemorating later.

Marek HILSER, Senator, Czech Republic

Andrius KUBILIUS, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Lukas WAGENKNECHT, Senator, Czech Republic

Žygimantas PAVILIONIS, MP, Lithuania

Miroslav BALATKA, Senator, Czech Republic

André GATTOLIN, Senator, France

Mikulas BEK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Nicolae ŞTEFĂNUȚĂ, MEP, Renew, Romania

David SMOLJAK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Petras AUŠTREVIČIUS, MEP, Renew, Lithuania

Tomas FIALA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Liudas MAŽYLIS, MEP, EPP Lithuania

Zdenek NYTRA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Dace MELBĀRDE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan SOBOTKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Matas MALDEIKIS, MP, Lithuania

Jiri RUZICKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Bernard GUETTA, MEP, Renew, France

Jaromira VITKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Rasa JUKNEVIČIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Petr OREL, Senator, Czech Republic 

Tomasz FRANKOWSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland 

Miroslava NEMCOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Hermann TERTSCH, MEP, ECR, Spain

Premysl RABAS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Aušra MALDEIKIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Ladislav KOS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Attila ARA-KOVÁCS, MEP, S&D, Hungary

Sarka JELINKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Erik MARQUARDT, MEP, Greens, Germany

Pavel FISCHER, Senator, Czech Republic

Pernille WEISS, MEP, EPP, Denmark

Helena LANGSADLOVA, MP, Czech Republic

Roberts ZĪLE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan LIPAVSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Klemen GROŠELJ, MEP, Renew, Slovenia

Pavel ZACEK, MP, Czech Republic

Riho TERRAS, MEP, EPP, Estonia

Ondrej BENESIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Miriam LEXMANN, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Frantisek KOPRIVA, MP, Czech Republic 

Sandra KALNIETE, MEP, EPP, Latvia

Petr GAZDIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Jerzy BUZEK, MEP, EPP, Poland

Tomas MARTINEK, MP, Czech Republic 

Janina OCHOJSKA, MEP, EPP, Poland

Jan BARTOSEK, MP, Czech Republic

Eugen TOMAC, MEP, EPP, Romania

Jan FARSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Ivan ŠTEFANEC, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Roman SKLENAK, MP, Czech Republic

Krzysztof HETMAN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Frantisek VACHA, MP, Czech Republic

Ivars IJABS, MEP, Renew, Latvia

Marek VYBORNY, MP, Czech Republic

Franc BOGOVIČ, MEP, EPP, Slovenia

Zbynek STANJURA, MP, Czech Republic

Radvilė MORKŪNAITĖ-MIKULĖNIENĖ, MP, Lithuania

Petr FIALA, MP, Czech Republic

Raphaël GLUCKSMANN, MEP, S&D, France

Vít RAKUSAN, MP, Czech Republic

Juozas OLEKAS, MEP, S&D, Lithuania

Jaroslav VYMAZAL, MP, Czech Republic

Assita KANKO, MEP, ECR, Belgium

Adela SIPOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Radosław SIKORSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Róża THUN UND HOHENSTEIN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Javier NART, MEP, Renew, Spain

Andrzej HALICKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Alexander ALEXANDROV YORDANOV, MEP, EPP, Bulgaria

Ondřej KOVAŘÍK, MEP, Renew, Czech Republic

Andreas SCHIEDER, MEP, S&D, Austria

Leopoldo LÓPEZ GIL, MEP, EPP, Spain

Sergey LAGODINSKY, MEP, Greens, Germany

Antonio LÓPEZ-ISTÚRIZ WHITE, MEP, EPP, Spain

Marketa GREGOROVA, MEP, Greens, Czech Republic

Lolita ČIGĀNE, MP, Latvia

Marko MIHKELSON, MP, Estonia

Renata CHMELOVA, Czech Republic

Bogdan KLICH, Senator, Republic of Poland

Transatlantic Interparliamentary Statement on Unprecedented Mass Arrest of Russian Pro-Democracy Leaders on March 13, 2021

Mar 25 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 25, 2021

Contacts:
Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, OQ, Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights
+1 514.735.8778
Natalia Arno, Free Russia Foundation
+1 202.549.2417

TRANSATLANTIC INTERPARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT
On unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders on March 13, 2021

“We, the undersigned members of the foreign affairs committees of legislatures around the world – the duly elected democratic voices of our constituents and countries – unreservedly condemn the unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders. 

A violation of the Russian constitution and of the country’s international legal obligations, these unjust and arbitrary arrests are an assault on the last bastion of the Russian democratic movement. United in common cause, we call for an end to Putin’s punitive persecution and prosecutions of Russian civil society leaders, the release of all political prisoners, and the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Russia’s architects of repression.

The crimes perpetrated by Putin’s regime against the Russian people and against the international community have been deadly and are well-documented. Left unchecked, its internal repression has often morphed into external aggression. Wars, murders, theft, embezzlement, nuclear blackmail, disinformation, election interference — they are so numerous and now so well-known, that we feel no need to enumerate all of them in this letter. Under the cover of Covid restrictions, we have seen a further intensification of these trends.

Last year, Putin’s regime illegally amended the Russian constitution, executing a constitutional coup, allowing Putin to stay in power indefinitely and thereby formalizing the Russian transition to authoritarianism. 

In January, he arrested Aleksey Navalny, who was punished with a nearly three-year prison term for not meeting his parole obligations because he was out of the country convalescing from a state-sponsored assassination attempt. Putin then brutally suppressed the nation-wide protests that emerged in Navalny’s support, arbitrarily arresting thousands, and launching criminal prosecutions against them.

On March 13th, security services entered a perfectly lawful Congress of elected municipal deputies and detained nearly 200 people for not adhering to the Kremlin’s command of how to interact with local constituents. In today’s Russia, disagreeing with Putin is not tolerated, and those who do find themselves in jail or worse.

Some of those detained included elected leaders like Ilya Yashin and Maxim Reznik, pro-democracy reformers Andrey Pivovarov and Anastasia Burakova, and popular politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. Mr. Kara-Murza is a top public intellectual and opposition leader whose transformative work on behalf of the Russian people has had a global resonance. His vision and values – eloquently conveyed with a uniquely compelling moral clarity and commitment, often before our respective legislatures – led to his earlier being targeted by the regime for assassination, attempts on his life that he survived twice. The work of such courageous leaders continues to be a source of inspiration in our pursuit of collective peace, security, and dignity for all.

For a society to succeed it must have a set of principles and values that guides it. Most notably, this includes a legal system that honors the rights of all its people and not solely for those who deem themselves leaders and the sycophants who profit from them.

Sadly, these recent developments demonstrate yet again that only Putin’s criminality and impunity prevail in Russia today. The way the regime runs its politics is indistinguishable from the way it runs its foreign policy and its business dealings. To indulge such malign behavior by the Kremlin toward those it disagrees with is to encourage its corrosive behavior in all these other areas.

The democracies of the world have a choice: maintain a normal relationship with a rogue state, continuing to send the message that its treatment of its own citizens is to be overlooked, and its malicious activities are to be condoned. Or, sending a clear and compelling message: that until the Kremlin reverses its troubling trajectory, the current status quo will be unacceptable. This includes targeted sanctions against Putin and his corrupt and criminal cronies – such as canceling access to our banking system, business ties, and safe harbor in our best neighborhoods and schools – ensuring that they cannot enjoy the liberties in our countries that they deny their compatriots in theirs. 

For the sake of a free Russia and a free world, we trust democracies will make the right choice.”

Rasa Jukneviciene, Member of the European Parliament

Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament

Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament

Pavel Fischer, Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of the Senate of the Czech Republic

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Richards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Latvia

Žygimantas Pavilions, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Bogdan Klich, Senator, Chairman of the Foreign and European Union Committee of the Senate of the Republic of Poland

Eerik Niiles Kross, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Emanuelis Zingeris, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Benjamin L. Cardin, Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Bill Keating, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations and Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment

Brian Fitzpatrick, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations

Kimberley Kitching, Senator, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Deputy Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia

Chris Bryant, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Bob Seely, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.