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Russia: Marina Khodorkovskaya On Her Son, Mikhail

Mikhail Khodorkovskii is serving an 8-year prison sentence in Siberia (file photo) (AFP) On 15 February, RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mumin Shakirov spoke with Marina Khodorkovskaya, mother of imprisoned former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Khodorkovskii was sentenced last September to eight years in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion and is serving his term in the Russian Far East, at the Krasnokamensk prison colony in Chita Oblast. Khodorkovskaya spoke from the Moscow suburb where she and her husband live in a boarding school for orphans, which her son built 12 years ago.

RFE/RL: How is Mikhail's health?

Marina Khodorkovskaya: A while back he had an operation on his eye and he says that he can't read. [He said] "The lines of text keep moving around and I can't see them." Perhaps his vision has gotten worse; after all, prisons have always been dark. The lawyers say that when they talk to him, what light there is comes from behind him, so it's very difficult for him to read the papers that the lawyers give him. Moreover, there is a screen between him and the lawyers. And they only give him two hours. They say that they can't get much done in two hours and the work isn't very productive because they only let the lawyers in one at a time. So far, he is reading there. But if his vision gets worse, there will be no way to get it checked.

RFE/RL: And is he still sewing?

Khodorkovskaya: As far as I know, he was recently moved to some other kind of work -- that is, he is still in the sewing shop, but he isn't sewing. He was packing something or doing something like that that is more physical.

RFE/RL: What kind of work would he like to be doing?

Khodorkovskaya: The lawyers said the last time they were there, he said: "They call me 'Borisych.' These guys are so young I could adopt them. They're uneducated, miserable." Of course, he wants to teach. He has asked [prison authorities] to buy computers so that the prisoners can study, since they are going to get out of there without any education, without any trade, and they'll just end up in prison again. He wanted to teach them mathematics. By the way, his teachers from school keep calling me and offering to send him teaching materials and the like. And I tell them that they won't give him permission to teach there. He also knows history really well. He always loved history. He has a lot of books on history. He wants to teach them how to organize a small business, how to write a business plan. But instead he is sewing felt shoes -- and his eyesight is bad.

"God willing -- we can live eight years, or rather, the six remaining years [of Khodorkovskii's sentence]. But if they give him another term, then I'm afraid we won't see him again." -- Marina Khodorkovsaya

RFE/RL: They say you haven't been able to visit Mikhail in prison and that you've only spoken to him once by telephone. What was that like?

Khodorkovskaya: We all went to the telephone center. They told us that we had to send a telegram so that he could be summoned to speak to us. I was there with my husband, his wife, and his daughter.

RFE/RL: You've said that prison officials have canceled a visit planned for Khodorkovskii's relatives, purportedly because of repair work. Have you at least received letters?

Khodorkovskaya: Not one. He told me over the phone that he has been writing to me. But he is receiving my letters. I give them to his lawyers so that they take them there -- that's faster. Otherwise, it takes a very long time.

RFE/RL Marina Khodorkovskaya thinks President Putin is envious of her son's business success (AFP)You have said that you consider Mikhail a prisoner of conscience and that you believe he is being held at the wishes of President Vladimir Putin. Could you comment on that?

Khodorkovskaya: That envy, that feeling of one's own inadequacy. [Putin] understands this -- that's why he tries to surround himself with his allies. In spite of everything, he doesn't feel that he is in control of the situation. And then there is the money. Grabbing such a delicious morsel [as Khodorkovskii's company, YUKOS] -- that played a big role, I think, in all this. If he didn't want it, then, most likely, his people wouldn't have done it -- or maybe his people are stronger than he is.... Sometimes I think his people are stronger. You know, a German journalist answered this question really well. I asked her why he has such good relations with [former German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder. Was Schroeder in the secret services? She said, "No, they simply have the same way of thinking. They had identical lives. Schroeder also came from a poor, insignificant family and really dreamed of occupying high office." That is, [Schroeder] has the same [complex]. Sort of as if a person has no intrinsic worth. It figures that [Putin] would make a career in the secret service. Probably, in our day, that was the only way for an insignificant person to become more or less important.

RFE/RL: What do you think the future holds for your son?

Khodorkovskaya: Civil society is sleeping. The outside world will only get involved if we really want them to. I mean "we" in the broadest sense of the word. As long as there is enough to eat in the stores, everyone will be silent. I have the feeling that most people are only thinking about their stomachs. They'll only rise up if they can't get enough to eat.

RFE/RL: Are you getting any support?

Khodorkovskaya: I get a lot of telephone calls from total strangers of various ages. I get a huge number of letters. When Misha has a birthday, we get whole packets of letters, and telegrams as well.

RFE/RL: Often when a person gets into trouble, some friends disappear and others remain.

Khodorkovskaya: I'd say the cream [remains]. Poor people come to us. My husband and I even laugh about it. They come with groceries! I simply can't convince them that we are already old and don't eat much. And of course, thank God, we have enough to eat. They bring groceries and then I have to look for people to give them away to. At New Year's they came -- even a governor. They brought baskets of New Year's food -- crabs, caviar -- which I won't eat because I'm allergic. So I invite everyone I know over and feed them. Of course, they are afraid, but some people are able to get past their fear and try to do at least something. [Former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov sent Misha New Year's greetings, and us too. From one embassy, I got a nice bottle of New Year's wine, but it took more than a month to get here from Moscow.

RFE/RL: Why didn't Mikhail, when he saw that it was getting dangerous, leave the country like some of his colleagues did?

Khodorkovskaya: For one thing, he never wanted to live abroad. He had offers even back when everything was going well -- offers to do business there. He never wanted that. He never had any desire for it. I think that he would have felt bad there spiritually. Everyone has their own way of looking at things. After all, even among those of his colleagues who left for Israel, not all of them settled there. A lot of them feel really bad.

RFE/RL: Do you regret that he didn't go abroad?

Khodorkovskaya: I probably do. Probably, of course, it would have been better if he had left. But then again, I don't know how he would have felt there. I mean, spiritually. I can't answer that question.

RFE/RL: Does he regret it?

Khodorkovskaya: I don't think so. I'd like to think that we will see him released. We are young enough that -- God willing -- we can live eight years, or rather, the six remaining years [of Khodorkovskii's sentence]. But if they give him another term, then I'm afraid we won't see him again.

RFE/RL Russia Report

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