Following the sentencing of Alexei Navalny, Mikhail Khodorkovsky issued a statement, published on his Russian Press Centre website. An edited and updated version of this statement, taking into account Navalny’s subsequent release pending appeal, has now been published by the Guardian. The statement was also published in French by Courrier de Russie.
A translation of the original statement can be read below:
“In order to be a hero today, it is enough to just be an honest person. To not be a traitor. I know this feeling well, when you are simply shaken to the depths of your soul in amazement when people who have never laid eyes on you refuse to slander and end up going to jail.
“When you’ve lied about someone, you end up being imprisoned for life. Deals you make with your conscience are never an equitable exchange. There are some lines you just cannot cross.” These words were said in the Kirovles trial by an ordinary businessman, Pyotr Ofitserov – a “chance person”, as Alexei Navalny called him.
Dozens of chance people are sitting in jail or in forced emigration today because of the whole YUKOS affair. And this is far more frightening than special-order contract “political” or “raider” trials.
The power’s machinery of repression is directed at just such chance people today. There is a reason why close to 30 people have been plucked out of the crowd and thrown onto the defendants’ bench in the “Bolotnaya case”. In this lies the power’s cruel and cynical message: it makes no difference who you are – a white-striper, an engineer, a student, a pensioner, an opposition activist, a theoretical physicist, a manager, a mathematician, a commercial director, a scholar, or a homeless street person. If you came out to a sanctioned rally – we’re going to send you to jail. If you tried to work honestly, not give kickbacks, not get sucked into the system – we’re going to send you to jail. If you exposed officials who were siphoning billions in government money abroad – you’re going to die in pre-trial detention, and then we’ll put you on trial and find you guilty of all the deadly sins even after you’re dead!
The guilty verdict on 18 July was inevitable and predictable. In Russia, there is nothing unusual about finding political opponents of the regime guilty of criminal offenses – both during the times of the Stalinist terror and in the Khrushchev/Brezhnev years, our law enforcement and judicial system routinely held up opponents of the regime as ordinary criminals, allowing the country’s leaders to hypocritically claim that we had no political prisoners. There were times when there were more such prisoners in Russia than there are today, and there were times when there were fewer. There were times when their sentences were longer (in the days of the Great Leader of the People), and times when they were shorter.
But the consequences always turned out to be the same: the bulk of the most active part of society either left the country or went into internal emigration. The country began to self-destruct, while corruption, theft from the treasury, and insane and reckless mega-projects flourished.
Even the most optimistic of optimists is going to pause and think here: just what is the power trying to achieve, anyway? Is there any point in taking such big risks by doing business here? Or at the very least, is there any point in building long-term plans for life in our country?
I’m afraid the answer is obvious: in a land where the power allows itself to wreak havoc with the law and to settle personal scores with its opponents, it is hard for its disciples to resist the temptation to use that same mechanism for their own personal benefit and enrichment. And this means that the only thing that political loyalty guarantees you is self-debasement. And there is no way you can defend yourself: the answer to the demand for honest elections has been the “Bolotnaya case”. An acquittal rate of one out of seven hundred in district-level courts gives you an idea of how good your chances are if you try to stand up for your rights in an “adversarial” trial process here.
Until we finally understand that to knock on every door already, until we realize that the trials of Navalny, Bolotnaya, and hundreds of thousands of other guiltlessly convicted people are our trials, they are just going to keep on locking us up, one at a time. Or in groups, if they whip up a charge of mass disturbances or a criminal conspiracy scheme to sell all the oil, timber, or mail.
You cannot swim against the inexorable flow of history. The era of unbelief and indifference is ending. Everyone who refuses to slander for the sake of his own well-being, who is not afraid to stand as a one-man picket line, and who does not let us forget about the twelve chance kids sitting in a cage is doing something to make our country a better place.
There is a name for that – it’s called patriotism.”