For the 2014 annual edition of the International Herald Tribune Magazine, the International New York Times invited prominent people to answer one of the big questions of the year: Who are their moral leaders for these times?
Among the diverse contributors to the question in the INYT’s Turning Points section was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his piece can be read below:
Mikhail Khodorkovsky — The former head of the Yukos oil company, currently an inmate of a Russian prison colony in northern Karelia.
For me, my mother has always been an undeniable moral authority.
She has not had an easy life. But then again, Russia has always been a land of hard destinies. Her father, a Bolshevik, was kicked out of the Communist Party for marrying my grandmother, who was considered a “class enemy” because of her noble background.
My mother’s childhood coincided with the war years. Evacuation. Cold and damp living conditions in barracks. Tuberculosis. In those days it was virtually impossible for a civilian to get treatment for this deadly disease in Russia — all the antibiotics in the country were being sent to the front lines for the wounded.
But by a miracle, she survived.
She had always dreamed of becoming a doctor, but ended up having to work at a factory instead. In all, she spent some 40 years there, in practically the same department the entire time. That is where she met my father. They have been together for 55 years.
When she was 45, my mother learned that she had advanced cancer. The hazardous working conditions at the factory had taken their toll. Extremely serious surgery. Several times. Chemotherapy. Then more of the same.
Again, luck was on her side — my mother entered a long remission.
Life was hard. The question of what we were going to eat for our next meal may not have come up daily, but it was always there, nevertheless. Standing in line to get ration coupons, then standing in line again for food.
Not once in my life do I remember my mother complaining or falling into despair. I can only imagine what must have been going on inside her. But on the outside there was always a smile and a head proudly held high.
My mother is now nearly 80 years old and again facing cancer and more surgeries. Her son has been in jail for 10 years, and there is a high probability that we are never going to see each other outside of a prison again.
But my mother does not give in.
Journeys, dozens of visitations. And always with her head held high.
My parents never told me what they thought of the Soviet system. They did not want to see me suffer the fate of a dissident. Only once, after I had gone to work for the Young Communist League, did my mother tell me that she felt ashamed for me. I did not understand her then. But I understood later, when I was standing on the barricades in front of the White House in 1991.
Mother, you will never have to feel ashamed of me again.