Monthly Archives: December 2013

An Interview with Vladimir Akimenkov, former Bolotnaya prisoner (translated from the Russian Open Left site)


One of those who attended the talk to promote the book of writings and memories about Stas Markelov and Nastya Baburova which I wrote about in my previous post was Vladimir Akimenkov, released in the recent amnesty after he was unjustly imprisoned in the Bolotnaya case. He has also been back to the Bolotnaya courtroom to support former fellow defendants. Here for the excellent new site in Russian Open Left or Окритая Левая, he talks about his detention and imprisonment, his life before that as a political activist and his life after his release under the recent amnesty.

Taken from the Open Left site:

Vladimir Akimenkov “The Bolotnaya Case is an attempt to destroy the Left opposition”
Aleksandra Markova

Vladimir Akimenkov arrested at the Bolotnaya demonstration

Half of the people arrested in the Bolotnaya Case are Left activists. “Open Left” spoke with one of them after he was freed in the recent amnesty.

Aleksandra Morozova: I went with Vladimir Akimenkov to a self-service restaurant. He found it difficult to distinguish the food on display and I helped him out with his order. Vladimir’s bad eyesight after eighteen months of detention has only got worse. It is a week after his release from jail and he still finds it difficult to get used to the city bustle feeling joyful but rather bewildered. Vladimir is an activist of the Left Front and was one of the accused in the Bolotnaya Case included in the amnesty.

Aleksandra Markova: How did you get involved with the Left movement?

Vladimir Akimenkov: I’ve long been interested in politics, I read a lot on the subject since my adolescent years. I became an activist in 2007 on the wave of the “March of the Dissenters” at that time. I evolved from being a Liberal to socialist views in that time, and for the past four years I have been a member of the “Left Front”

Have you been arrested in the past four years?

Yes, more than once I’ve been detained both on ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ actions, as have a large number of my comrades. In 2010 I was tried for the article 282 on extremist activity for leaflets with the slogan “Eliminate the slave in yourself”. The text was a very moderate one. I then received a one-year suspended sentence. Though I’ve seen many cases in which people have been jailed and maimed for political actions and I knew that this could also happen to me.

Tell us about the incident which led to your arrest on the ‘March of Millions’.

I found myself in the crush that was provoked by the police. The police arbitraily restricted the territory where the event was going to take place, they blocked the square, cramped the entrance and as a result we got stuck inside a police cordon. The columns of demonstrators could not get to the square. In spite of the fact that the pressure from the crowd behind grew, the police moved two steps forward two steps and people, in order not to be crushed , escaped from the cordon. As a result a fight started and the police began to beat demonstrators. I shouted out “What are you doing, stop beating people” and as a result of this they grabbed me and dragged me to a police van. According to the accusation, I threw a flagpole at the police cordon. This is a lie. In the case materials there is not (and could not possibly be) a video which supports the position of the prosecution case. It is based simply on false claims of the Moscow OMON (the riot police). Let’s not forget that members of the riot police were given free flats for the way they handled the crackdown on the March of the Millions. It is clear that we are political prisoners, we were arrested for the fact that we expressed our position. Almost two thousand people could not come because they were forceably taken off the trains.

The March of the Millions, unlike the previous actions, was comprised of significantly large numbers of leftists. How do you think that the Bolotnaya Case is linked to this fact? Is there a possibility that the authorities were afraid that the protest was moving radically to the left?

Yes, I think that the authorities were fearful of the protest moving leftwards. On the March of Millions there were large columns of the Left Front, the Russian Socialist Movement, anarchists and a strong column from the universities and educational spheres [protesting against the growing privatization of education – trans. note]. On the whole social slogans were dominant. I believe that the Bolotnaya Case was to a significant extent directed towards defeating the left opposition. But the crackdown was unsuccessful, we have overcome this stage and come out of it stronger, the struggle continues. At the same time I would like to remark that amongst the people involved in the Bolotnaya case there were people who were for the first time at a demonstration. Ending up in jail has made them more conscious and politicised them.

Akimenkov brought to trial

Tell us about the conditions in the prison.

In my case the number of detainees corresponded to the number of prison bunks, but in any case it was rather overcrowded. The Sanitary regulations and standards of four square metres for each detainee were not observed. In the last cell where I stayed, there were three people in an area of 9 square metres. In some places the surface of the walls are very rough and when you lie close to them it is easy to get badly scratched when you sleep. Prison food is very badly prepared, it was not only tasteless but also at times even harmful to one’s health. In terms of our subsistence we were assisted by parcels given by friends and relatives.

Was there a period when you found yourself in the prison hospital? What were the conditions like there, were you given the treatment you needed?

The hospital were themselves very much prison-like quarters. I was there for more than a month and a half, although I only expected to be there for three weeks. They twice called me there for observation but the results, to my mind, were falsified. According to the medical note, the condition of my health was satisfactory and I can see well. But in reality I can see practically nothing from my left eye. Also I have quite a few more problems with my health. In general both in the prison and in the hospital I only felt contempt from the administration regarding the health of prisoners. They did not treat us as human beings and even the implementation of legal requirements were only achieved after a large number of written claims. I want to thank the Public Monitoring Committee for the fact that they kept our case under their supervision and that we could get at least some of our rights observed.

How did your fellow inmates relate to political prisoners?

I felt a sense of respect from the part of completely different types of prisoners. Among fellow inmates there were those who consciously chose a criminal path in life, there were people from business, there were drug users or people detained for the possession of drugs. There were many migrants from various countries, even from European countries. In spite of the fact that we stood out from the general mass of prisoners, we managed to find a common language with nearly all the other prisoners. People recognised that we were in jail for the rights of the people, and so they respected us. Even in the prison vans when we were transferred people asked to be sent to those blocks where we were going to.

How has your life changed since you left jail? How have friends, colleagues and relatives reacted to your release?

I was only working episodically and I communicate with my relatives only rarely. Basically my circle of friends mainly include other social activists and I have had a great deal of from support from these circles. I have had a very eventful week since I’ve been released. It is nice to find oneself in a more relaxed and freer environment, to communicate with people who you underrstand and who understand you. Today, for example, I managed to attend two trials- those of the case against Udaltsov and Razvozhaev and the setencing of Danil Konstantinov. It was important for me to see these people who I’ve been acquainated with, and that they saw me and that they would get some cheer from that. I have also noted that strangers have begun to recognise me in the street and have shook my hand. But I can’t say that this always pleases me.

Do you have any plans for the days of action (against political repression and xenophobia) from January 18- January 26th?

So far I have no concrete plans, but I will take an active part in these and call on others to participate. We need to organise a number of powerful protest actions- meetings, concerts. The actions should take place not only in Moscow but also in the Russian regions and abroad. The more people that show that they support the freeing of Bolotnaya prisoners , the earlier that the release of those remaining in detention will become a possibility. We must not allow people to receive terms of 7 or 8 years for nothing, or simply for actions of self defence or defending people nearby. However pompous this may sound it is now that we are forming our future and the future of our children. If the state condemns the Bolotnaya prisoners then in the future the crackdown will be even worse.

Aleksandra Morozova – activist and journalist.

The arrest of another Bolotnaya prisoner, Alexandra Dukhanina who remains in jail.

Remembering Stas Markelov and Nastya Baburova.


Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov

This coming January 19th will mark the fifth anniversary of the murder by Russian Neo-Nazis of two anti- one a lawyer, Stanislav (Stas) Markelov and the other a journalist, Anastasia (Nastya) Baburova. The murder took place in the centre of Moscow and yet, in spite of the prominence of Markelov in many important court cases in the past decade and in spite of the fact that Baburova worked for the well-known opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta – which also included the prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya (many of the human rights she denounced in her columns had been cases taken on by Stanislav Markelov)- their names have far too long ignored both in Russia and elsewhere. Attempts to gather in their memory in Moscow are sometimes permitted, sometimes broken up by police (as was the case in January 2010). This Sunday a book presentation of a volume of Stas Markelov’s articles and of memories of him and Nastya was held in the Dostoyevksy Library in the central Chistye Prudi district of Moscow to remind people of these figures. The book entitled Никто кроме Меня (No one apart from me) deserves a wider public, both a national and an international one given the significance of the figure and work of of Stas Markelov throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the twentieth century as well as Nastya’s tragically short career in journalism and activism and the immense generosity of her person- one slogan of hers resounds as a political slogan more important than ever in current times of anti-immigration hysteria Мое Отечество — все человечество (My country is the whole of humanity).

Here is a short biography of Stas Markelov’s taken from the book:

Born on the 20th May, 1974, he developed an interest in history, social and political issues and was influenced by Hippy ideas in his adolescent years lived out in the era of perestroika. From 1991-1996 he studied at the Moscow State Legal Academy, already at that time becoming an active member and helping to found the Russian Social Democratic Party. He identified himself with its Left faction and took an active part in internal discussions in the Party.

A book of articles by Stas Markelov and memories of him and Nastya Babrurova by people close to him.

The tragic events of October 1993 in Moscow (with the clash of two powers – Presidential and Parliamentary – leading to a mini civil war in the Russian capital) found Stas playing an active part in the Maximilian Voloshin Sanitary Brigade founded by Socialists and Anarchists with the intention of helping victims of both sides in the clashes (members of this brigades risked their own skins in order to save people injured in the gunfire and the beatings).

In 1994 he travelled to Ingushetia as an observer for the Human Rights Organization ‘Memorial’ to study the human rights situation of people suffering during the Osetian-Ingushetian conflict.

In 1994-95 Stanislav was one of the leaders of the Radical Left Student Union “Student Defence”, creating an organisation at his own place of study. He was one of the organizers of a one of the largest student demonstrations in Post-Soviet history on 12th April 1995 and which ended with clashes with the police and mass arrest. He himself was beaten during the crackdown.

Between 1992 and 1995, Stanislav Markelov work as a correspondent for the “Bulletin of the Left InformCentre” and wrote many notes on a large number of issues on social life: the situation in the Social Democratic Party, and in the student and anti-military movement. In the mid 1990s he actively participated in meetings and discussions of the Left Historical Club at ‘Memorial’- a community of historians with Socialist and Anarchist convictions.

In 1996 after finishing his studies along with a group of anarchist friends he worked trying to restore Bakunin’s estate. He will work here again later in 2001 and in 2007 will take part in the Pryamukhinsky Readings where he will give a talk in memory of his comrade, the Irkutsk anarchist Igor’ Podshivalov.

From 1996 he will regularly travel to Belarussia and work with the Belarussia opposition and write articles on the situation in the Republic becoming a lawyer in the case of the brutal crackdown of meetings in Minsk and in 2001 will be a social observer in the elections for the President of Belarus. In the summer of 1998 he was one of the initiators and participants of an anti-nuclear project and a marsh throughout Belarussia against the building of a nuclear power plant in Belarussia.

In 1997 he will become acquainted with a student journalist, Galina Goga, who a few years later will become his wife. They will have two sons- a son Lev and a daughter Ksenia.

Demonstrator in memory of Stas and Nastya holds up portrait of Nastya Baburova .

In the middle of the 1990s Stanislav will take an active part in the activity of Radical Anarcho-Ecological movement “Defenders of the Rainbow”. In 1996 he will take part in an ecological lager which protested against the building a nuclear power plant and in 2008 he will help another ecological lager as its lawyer.

In 1997 Stanislav Markelov will become a lawyer and will be registered in a variety of national and international lawyers organizations and will become involved in a large number of cases which received public interest.

From January 2004 he became an assistant to the opposition deputy, Oleg Shein.

From 2006 he founded and headed the Institute of the Rule of Law. Special attention in the work of the Institute, uniting a whole group of lawyers, was given to its activity in crisis regions of the Russian regions (North Сaucasus, Kalmikia, Baskiria etc) and in the conduct of trials of social importance and the most significant trials for the defence of citizens rights. Often Stas Markelov worked with independent journalists and gave regular legal support for Novaya Gazeta. He was the lawyer for a number of journalists including Novaya’s Anna Politkovskaya (murdered on October 7th 2006), the director of The Truth of Khimki, who led the campaign for the defence of Khimki Forest and was charged with libel against the head of the local administration (Beketov was later badly beaten and would die a year and a half later of injuries sustained during the beaten). The lawyers of his group actively worked in cases linked to the Caucasus and worked alongside other human rights organizations including the Moscow Helsinki Group as well as Memorial.

Stas Markelov also played an active part in conferences, round tables and gave many interviews and comments on many social and political issues. He participated in many forums and meetings. For example, he played an active part in the Fifth Siberian Social Forum in Irkutsk and in Autumn of 2008 participated in the European Social Forum in lamo (Sweden). On November 30th he gave one of his most well known speeches at a meeting in Moscow.

Many times Stas Markelov went to the Northen Caucasus as a lawyer and human rights activist.

The main spheres of social and professional interest for him were: the situation in Chechnya, in Belarussia, the history of the Socialist movement, anti-militarism and pacifism, the workers’ movement. Communitarianism, ecology, left terrorism, the excess of police force, anti-fascism, social initiatives, the persecution of journalists.
Stas Markelov first became well known in the Russian media in 1997 when he defended Andrey Sokolov and other members of the underground group “Revolutionary Army Council” who were the accused in the case of an explosion of a memorial plaque of the tsarist royal family at Vagankovsky cemetry, an attempt to cause an explosion at the statue of Peter the First in Moscow and a number of other activities. Markelov managed to get the accusation of terrorism withdrawn although the defendants were condemned on lesser charges. In 1998 he defended Larisa Shchiptsova and other anarchists accused of planning an attempt on the life of the Governor of the Krasnodar Region. In 1998-1999 he was the lawyer for a groups of anarchists and communists accused of a number of symbolic explosions against the offices of the FSB in Lubianka, although under pressure from the FSB who managed to change his status to that of witness so that he was excluded from the trial.

Russian antifa march in memory of Stas Markelov and Nastya Baburova with the slogan: Fascists Kill, The Authorities Cover Up for them.

In 2001 the lawyer Markelov represented the interests of workers of a Vyborg pulp and paper mill who had occupied their factory while in conflict with new owners of the enterprise. More than once he provided legal support to people illegally evicted from Moscow dormitories, defended activists of an independent railway union from mass dismissal as well as ticket collectors sacked from Russian railways for revealing financial abuse in the company.

In May 2002 he defended the interests of Elza Kungaeva, murdered in Chechnya on March 26th 2000 by the corporal Yuri Budanov (in 2003 Budanov was condemned to 10 years imprisonment in a maximum security prison). In 2002-2003 Stanislav took part in the freeing of Yakha Neserkhoeva –a victim of the Nord-Est terror act who had been accused of collaboration with the terrorists. He also supplied his support as a lawyer to relatives of the dead hostages in other court cases.

In 2003 he defended Zaur Mysikhanov who after refusing to serve in the Chechen militsia was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment.

Stanislav Markelov defended many ‘refuseniks’ (who evaded drafting into their militiary service) as well as the head of the Vladimir Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, Liudmila Yarlina, accused of collusion in draft evasion (she was sentenced in December 2004 to a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment).

In 2004 Stanislav Markelov was brutally attacked in a wagon of the Moscow metro. Documents and other valuable items were taken from Stas Markelov who lost consciousness. This attack was not properly investigated in spite of Markelov’s appeal to the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecutors.

In 2005 Stanislav represented the interests of the victims on the “Cadet” case- a Khanti-Mansiisk policeman Sergei Lapin who took part in the torture and disappearance of a person was eventually sentenced to 11 years for the murder. Stanislav also defended Magomedsalekha Masaeva, managing to institute proceedings for the fact of his kidnapping carried out by the Chechen authorities, but on August 8th 2008 he Masaeva was once again taken hostage and probably murdered.

In 2005 Markelov worked as a lawyer for the victims of a case in which during a “general prophylactic operation” in the town of Blagoveshchensk (Bashkiria) in December 2004 several hundred people were arrested and cruelly beaten.
In the course of the verification of these facts several heads of the security organs of Bashkiria were fired and a number of police received sentence from suspended sentences to four years imprisonment.

In 2006-2007 Stanislav defended the interests of friends and relatives of the anti-fascist Alexander Riukhin, killed by Nazis in Moscow, managing to make sure that they were not sentenced for ‘hooliganism’ but for murder with aggravating circumstances- nationalist motives. He also managed to secure that other accused persons were arrested and charged.

In 2008 Stanislav Markelov was the defender of one of the leaders of the antifa movement Alexei Oleynikov, accused in a framed case of hooliganism (a more serious charge than in other countries).Stanislav didn’t manage to follow the case to the end.

In the spring to the autumn of 2008 Stanslav represented the interests of young people beaten by police personnel from ‘Sokolniki’ district in Moscow (the campaign against arbitrary police violence received wide publicity and led to a number of meetings, the closure of the central Tverskaya Street etc).

These are only some of the trials that Stanislav Markelov took part in and only some of the more significant and exemplary actions of his engagement in social and political issues.

In December of 2008 after the war criminal Yuri Budanov was given an immediate suspended sentence on appeal, Markelov appealed against this decision. His appeal was unsuccessful and Budanov was freed. On January 19th 2009 the lawyer held a press conference in the Independent Press Centre on Prechistenka street. Around 3pm when Stanislav Markelov along with the antifascist, anarchist and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova were walking to the metro station, his murdered came towards him and shot him in the head with a silencer. Stanislav Markelov died immediately. The fatally injured Anastasia Baburova died the same day in hospital.

Stanislav Yurevich Markelov is buried in Ostankinsky Ceremony in Moscow.

Their photos in a meeting to mark their memory

It was not possible to detain the murderer on the spot but he was later caught after an independent investigation carried out by Stanislav Markelov’s brother and Nikita Tikhonov was sentenced along with his assistant, Evgeniya Khasis.

Scattered thoughts (2) on Pussy Riot, anonymity & other political prisoners.


Back to the anonymity of Pussy Riot.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s release from prison has been followed by other releases, including that of the two members of Pussy Riot that were still in jail. That these will be reported in the Western press in more or less the same tones can be taken for granted. Minor differences will be found but the generally accepted “thought images” to explain these releases will slowly collect producing an easily manageable discourse. Being in Moscow it is difficult to extricate oneself from a certain elation. For all the scepticism I have about the figure of Khodorkovsky, I couldn’t bring myself to support his imprisonment if it wasn’t a necessarily fair one. I think that there was a case for the imprisonment of oligarchs (perhaps indeed an ever greater case for the imprisonment of Roman Abramovich than Khodorkovsky could be made given that it was at his mine in the Kuzbass town of Mezhdurechensk where due to the ignorance of safety mechanisms over 90 miners lost their lives). Abramovich even refused to pay them compensation. But a jail sentence should have been handed down for the right reasons (implementing a system in which the wilfull neglect of safety procedures leading to massive loss of life was systemic) and not simply for directly political conflicts (but, of course, this demand is clearly a utopian one in contemporary Russia). All in all, Khodorkovsky’s release wasn’t as good a piece of news as Alyekhina’s and Tolokonnikova’s release.

Whether one thinks that their strategy is a good one or not and there is space for criticism, their freeing from prison gives one more reasons to rejoice precisely because they had no part in the oppressive set up of either the 1990s or the past decade. Whatever their outlook it is not the Neo-Liberal outlook of Khodrkovsky but one, at least, taking into account the social question. In the decade that Khodorkovsky spent in prison he made not a single call and wrote not a single article on prisoners rights. Compare that to Tolokonnikova’s article or Alyekhina’s resistance to the idea of being amnestied. She had fellow prisoners to support and didn’t wish to be released early. The difference between Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot prisoners can be gauged by Alexei Tsvetkov’s (quoted in the previous post about Khodorkovsky) suggestion that if the opposition had any backbone, it would choose Tolokonnikova as the only candidate to oppose Putin (ie she is the only real national symbol of non-systemic opposition).

Of course, it is rather early to make many more comments but I would say that the next step is what Maria Chehonadskih has to say in her article on Pussy Riot. Their real strength, she argues, was their anonymity (their unmasking at the trial was, in some ways, the victory of Power over them- just as they had unmasked the Power mechanisms of Putin’s authoritarian project). Now it is time to think of strategies (political ones) and also to think of those prisoners who have been truly anonymous – the Bolotnaya Prisoners-and who are still in prison:

We expected to hear the story (of Pussy Riot) from the second- or third-person point of view, which was so important for their early performances. We don’t want to see what is beyond the mask but what the mask is, itself. We would like to know who are these hes and shes for whom Pussy Riot is fighting. We would like to know what these hes and shes can do together, how they can collaborate, and for what they should struggle – for human rights, for smashing down a tyranny, or for a ‘free market’ unburdened by authoritarianism, or a new, just world for all? We would like to understand together and to learn more about these hes and shes, and we want to come to a common political viewpoint. And we would also like a more active solidarity campaign for the sixteen anonymous activists arrested on 6 May 2012 in Moscow, and for those hes and shes who are being arrested elsewhere, in so many other countries.

Four of the Bolotnaya prisoners still awaiting their freedom

Alternative Voices on Khodorkovsky


The release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is one of those events in Russia that it is hard to ignore. Ten years is a significant period and just as there was much discussion at the time of his arrest and trial (and then second trial), his release has taken many people unawares. It feels like an epoch-making moment for Russia as did his arrest in its own way. I was working very briefly at the Moscow Times as proof reader for one of its occasional listing supplements around the time when Khodorkovsky’s arrest was becoming inevitable. I was more interested in following people at the news desk and hearing the latest agency reports than the listings. It sounded exciting to be there at the middle of such a story. Then again I realized that the world view of many journalists changed from one report to the next: it seemed to me then that, apart from the odd general view that they had, their conclusions about Russia’s political system hung on the latest news agency report. I stopped considering that journalists ever had much more of an idea of current events than any mildly-interested and informed outsider (in fact in most cases they had less of an idea). There are, of course, noble exceptions.

The Foreign Correspondent and why they are rarely much good.

I think that journalists such as Julia Ioffe are worth even if they might not get everything correct simply because their articles rarely fit easily into a simple narrative, unlike say many journalists from the British Guardian. One wonders what, someone looking back in a decade or twos time will make of their articles. They will probably be held up to opprobrium as much as we hold up foreign correspondents in Stalinist Russia to opprobrium for missing the essential truth of what was really going on. The Guardian occasionally (let’s say once or twice a year) offers the excellent Jonathan Steele a word in edgeways, but that is about it. The eXile used to have some fine, caustic pieces on foreign correspondents in Russia as well as some fine parodies of the kind of rot they would write. Anyway, maybe things have got marginally better but my guess is that you’re nor going to get much on Khodorkovsky of that much insight in most of the dailies or many of the weeklies.


What’s more interesting, though, are some of the discussions in Russia. To tell the truth a whole swathe of Russian liberals are in ebullient mood, and let’s be honest, at least Khodorkovsky was the only former oligarch to serve time. The others such as Berezovsky and Gusinsky either chose escape from Russia or knuckled down keeping their cash but losing their explicit political influence. Nonetheless, not all share the opinion that Khodorkovsky is some Nelson Mandela-like hero.

Opinions are not nearly as uniform as one is likely to believe even amongst opposition figures. Here are some of the voices who have struck a discordant note in some way.


Vladimir Pozner

The journalist and broadcaster, Vladimir Pozner – occasionally a darling of liberal Russia for speaking out and occasionally damned as someone who doesn’t also fit the role of inflamed liberal oppositionist – was caught saying, at a meeting to promote his own book, that Khodorkovsky was no hero. He had served time because he thought that he could ignore an agreement with Putin that he had made twice. Moreover, Pozner also stated that Khodorkovsky had never really fought for anything apart from money and that he had given money to all parties of the opposition from Communists to Liberals. The interview in Russian can be heard here:

This had many liberals fuming. Pozner was accused of having said mean, detestable, base, despicable things according to the most outraged. Andrei Illarionov, once a Putin adviser who later became one of the liberal (neo-liberal) critics, wrote an outraged denial of all the points made by Pozner. Illarionov even went to compare Khodorkovsky favourably with Mandela who, according to this unreconstructed Thatcherite, had been involved in terrorist activities. It’s always worth knowing that certain Russian Liberals will use arguments long since abandoned by the Tory or Republican Right.

It was left to a couple of other writers to either provide some reminder of the pre-jail Khodorkovsky or to rise above the pros and cons of the man himself and try to work out what kind of historical realities were behind this move.


Alexei Tsvetkov

Alexei Tsvetkov whose fine article on Evald Ilyenkov I translated some months ago for this blog, spoke of the time that he was called to meet Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his Open Society offices in the Moscow Region. Prepared for the meeting by the economist Yasin who gave a pep talk informing participants how important modernisation was and how valuable Khodorkovsky’s time was, Khodorkovsky then arrived. Tsvetkov then mentioned how Khodorkovsky told them about his own success story and a story about how when oil prices were falling he could not pay his oil workers in Siberia. “these same workers who, instead of understanding the economic situation, started to leave their work and smash the regional offices of his company. How, thank God, OMON (the riot police) quickly came and forced these people down with their faces in the snow and how, afterwards, Khodorkovsky arrives and these witless plebs crawled to him on their knees pleading with him not to send them to jail and save their work etc.” Khodorkovsky also reminded his audience how, with his money, he secured Yeltsin’s second term and saved the country from a Communist revanche. It was clear to Tsvetkov that Khodorkovsky wished to play the role of someone who was secure that he would choose the next leader and had an ideology of ‘anthropological superiority’.

Tsvetkov concludes “from jail Kh. wrote rose-coloured letters of the inevitable ‘left turn’ in Russian politics. I never had any empathy for him. I always liked the fact that it was he who was in jail and not I, although it could have easily have been the other way round”

If Tsvetkov’s view of Khodorkovsky was influenced by the way that Khodorkovsky thought of and treated his workers (and I remember at the time a Moscow Times article by one of the more conscientious journalists who went to the town where Khodorkovsky’s company worked- few had much sympathy for his plight and none received decent wages in spite of the immense profits that Khodorkovsky had made), another writer of note has taken on another angle.


Maxim Kantor

Maxim Kantor’s argument involved an attempt to look at things from a much higher political and international level. And so far Kantor is the only Russian to attempt such a complex dispassionate look at events. For Kantor the fact that Khodrokovsky met Hans-Dietrich Genscher at Berlin airport suggested that this release happened at a very high international level. For Kantor, Genscher is one of the greatest European stratgists- possibly equal to Kissinger- and maybe even someone of greater skill. Genscher always knew how to find a way of asserting Germany’s interests against (or, in spite of) the opposing interests of the US and Russia. For Kantor the Khodorkovsky intrigue will become obvious when Khodorkovsky will decide whether to remain in Germany or leave for the United States. In short, this will explain which international card is he playing: a financial one or a political one (the US meaning that there is a financial intrigue behind this and Germany suggesting a more political one).

In terms of the European political intrigue, Kantor, believes that Europe is interested in a figure who will play for Europe- simultaneously against both modern US and against Russia. A pro-Western Russian who will save Europe in Russia and defeat Russian in the world. This is the role that Europe (in the face of Genscher, envisages for Khodorkovsky)- to play for Europe, against the hegemony of Russia in Eurasia and against the hegemony of the US in the world. What did Russia get out of this? Ukraine seems to be the answer.

Pavlensky and Nikolaev’s Boycott of Garage Centre of Contemporary Art


Anton Nikolaev

Just a small post but one that is worth posting in order to praise two Russian artists for a single but important gesture of solidarity with a completely forgotten group: the families of dead coalminers from the Kuzbass. Both Pyotr Pavlensky and Anton Nikolaev have decided to boycott a conference on actionism at the Garage Centre of Contemporary Art. The main reason given is that the centre was built with money from Roman Abramovich- an oligarch who at the same time was refusing to pay compensation to the families of miners killed in a blast in a coal mine in the Kuzbass town of Mezhdurechensk, where in May 2010, 91 miners lost their lives. Lives sacrificed because the miners at Raspadskaya mine could only earn a living wage by ignoring safety procedures at Abramovich’s mine. Kudos to Pavlensky and Nikolaev for reminding people of this link between corporate contemporary art and the evil turbo capitalism of Russian oligarchs.


Pyotr Pavlensky