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'Aren't You Embarrassed, Mr. President?'

"I have no hope [this letter] will change anything. "
"I have no hope [this letter] will change anything. "

Sergei Kovalyov -- former Duma deputy, former Russian human rights ombudsman, noted democrat and tireless activist -- is increasingly becoming the conscience of Russia. Last February, he published an open letter to Vladimir Putin in which he said Russia faces a "shameful moral crisis" because of the widespread cynicism stemming from the "managed-democracy" (read: rigged-elections) system.

Today he published an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, chatising the lawyer-president for the growing lawlessness of the state he presides over. The letter was prompted by the recent savage attack on human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. In Russia today, Kovalyov writes, "law is associated with hypocrisy" -- so what does that make the lawyers? At least the ones who have not become victims of the lawlessness that Kovalyov condemns.

Here is the complete text of Kovalyov's latest letter:

On the night of March 31-April 1, Lev Aleksandrovich Ponomaryov -- a former deputy of the Supreme Soviet and then of the Russian State Duma, a noted public activist both at home and abroad, a democrat with an undisputed reputation within the human-right community -- was savagely attacked.

No one doubts that this outrage was obviously political in nature. Unfortunately, there is politically motivated violence all around us and even murders have become a fact of daily life for us. I will not bother to recount for you the long and mournful list of political massacres -- your assistants can easily present you with all the particulars.

But what is immediately evident in cases where political motivation is obvious is that the victims are always critics and opponents of the authorities. Why is this, Mr. President? What do you think?

I won't consider here the suspicions that the state security organs have been directly involved in these attacks. Although civil society not only has the right, but the duty to have such suspicions (our country's history itself pushes us to consider them), that is a separate, very complex, and even intentionally muddled problem.

In this letter, Mr. President, I will look at another version of events, one that goes much easier on your government. It is perfectly likely that Ponomaryov was beaten by fascistic bandits. Certainly they weren't convicts: for one thing, convicts are (you can believe me on this) ill-disposed toward the authorities and, for another, Ponomaryov was widely known -- especially in prisons -- as an energetic (and sometimes successful) campaigner against lawlessness and abuses in the corrections system.

So, what of the fascists? The question arises: why do they like your government so much, Mr. President? Doesn't that embarrass you? Can it be that we are returning -- and very quickly -- to the memorable epoch of "socially alien" and "socially compatible" groups? "Socially alien," it is clear, mean us -- liberals, the opposition, human rights defenders, dissidents, independent public activists. That is natural. I, for one, have no intention of renouncing the honor of being "alien" to our current political elite. But these scum who beat people in courtyards and shoot them in hallways -- they have once again firmly entrenched themselves among your "socially compatibles."

I won't list here the well-known examples of cynical collaboration with bandits. There are many such examples, and they are known to all. I won't burden this open letter with them.

And that is why they love you -- that cynical, unspoken collaboration, without the awkward openness of the Stalin era, but with a definite clarity that is understandable to any malicious, stupid cretin and that demonstrates the profound inner similarity -- practically, identity -- between your habits and opinions and theirs.

There isn't much to think about when you look at, for instance, the investigation into the so-called Blagoveshchensk affair, in which the police beat and tortured hundreds of local residents (incidentally, Ponomaryov played a leading role in efforts to force the government to investigate these crimes seriously). In any civilized country, even a much smaller instance of police lawlessness would have shaken the government. In ours (I mean, yours), [Interior Minister Rashid] Nurgalieyv is given promotions and honors.

In what other country would a man who has refused to face charges of committing a barbaric political murder in a court of law be confirmed as a deputy in parliament?

And then there are legal cases: Two state (apparently, very "special") agents of the Russian Federation blew up a car in Qatar, murdering a man and a child. They were convicted and sentenced and, at Russia's request, handed over to serve out their sentences in Russia. In Moscow these patriots were greeted with honor. And it would be interesting to know exactly where they are serving their sentences. I would guess that we'd be more likely to find them on some list of people secretly given state awards than we would among the rolls of prison inmates.

So is it any wonder our homegrown fascists know that they are "socially compatible" here? They know they aren't allowed to do the things the authorities do, but, after all, they aren't taking polonium to London or smuggling explosives into Qatar.

No one believes your celebrated proclamation that freedom is better than non-freedom, Mr. President. Some deeds would be more convincing, but all of your deeds seem rather to prove the opposite. Despite the pathos of your rhetoric (or maybe because of it), our political practices give birth to repulsive tendencies -- it is no longer possible to tell who is in the secret services and who is simply a fascist thug. The concept of law is associated with hypocrisy. This is fraught with catastrophic danger -- it is simply criminal for you to act like you don't know where this will lead. And it is always the authorities who are to blame for these things.

Despite my disrupting you with this letter, I have no hope that it will change anything. But I do think, however, that simple truths must always be stated aloud.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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