The Russian version of Esquire magazine has published a conversation between Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the writer Grigory Chkhartishvili, better known as Boris Akunin. Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, will be posting a portion of it everyday this week in his very necessary blog.
Correspondence: CONVERSATION OF WRITER GRIGORY CHKHARTISHVILI
(B.AKUNIN) WITH MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY
When the editorial board proposed to me to get an interview from any person who would be interesting to me, I said right away: “Most interesting of all for me would be to talk with Mikhail Khodorkovsky”. The fate of the former richest person of Russia gives me no peace. And not at all because he is the richest. Every time somebody tries to stand up for Khodorkovsky an his comrades, without fail you always hear the reproach: come on, we have many people in our country who are being held behind bars unfairly. They don’t write about them in the newspapers, they don’t have a team of high-class lawyers looking out for them. Why is it, gentlemen, that you’re making such a fuss over this specific oligarch?
I will explain why I’m making such a fuss. It was specifically on the YUKOS case that we lost the independence of the judiciary – an institution without which a democratic society can not exist. That means this is precisely the point to which we have to return. If we restore justice and legality in the case of Khodorkovsky, this will also help all the rest of the victims of our foundering Themis.
For understandable reasons, the dialogue took place in epistolary form. It is given here without any abridgements. -- Grigory Chkhartishvili...
"Evil, especially political evil, is always a bad stylist."
"Evil takes root when one man starts to think that he is better than another."
“The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even - if you will - eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn't be happy with.”
"Life, the way it really is, is a battle not between Bad and Good but between Bad and Worse."
"Auden's lines: 'Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return' should be tattooed on every baby’s chest."
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)
[From David McDuff's always necessary A Step at a Time]
I dream of hunchbacked Tiflis
Where the sanzandar's moans resound.
People crowd the bridges,
Carpeting the whole capital.
And below, the Kura murmers.
Above the Kura are dukhans
Where there is wine and darling pilaf
And the tanned waiter
Gives glasses to the guests
And is at your service.
In the cellar, the rich Cahetian wine
Is ready to drink.
In the coolness, in the peace.
You can drink all you like, drink two,
Or you don't have to drink at all.
In the same small inn,
If you ask for Teliani
You'll find a friend.
Tiflis is swimming in the haze,
You are swimming in the dukhan.
--Osip Mandelshtam (Translated by me)
Back in 2005, speaking before a crowd of more than 150,000 exuberant Georgians cheering "Bushi! Bushi!", President Bush made a promise to the people of that former Soviet republic: "The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone. Americans respect your courageous choice for liberty. And as you build a free and democratic Georgia, the American people will stand with you." So where was Bush as Russia launched a major military attack against Georgia? Monkeying around with the U.S. women's volleyball players -- and otherwise amusing himself at the Beijing Olympics. This is not to suggest that Bush should have sent in the Marines. But his impotence in the face of such a gravely destabilizing move highlights not only his personal loss of stature, but how deeply he has diminished American authority on the world stage generally and, particularly, in the eyes of Russia.
Via Robert Amsterdam
Columbia University's Harriman Institute is hosting: The Life of Anna Politkovskaya: A Panel Discussion. Presenters inlcude:
Ann Cooper, Coordinator, Broadcast Program at the Columbia Journalism School, and former Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Rachel Denber, Acting Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division; Mary Holland, NYU School of Law; Michaela Pohl, Vassar College. Moderator: Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Director, Harriman Institute
Sunday, October 7 @ 5:00pm
Refectory, Union Theological Seminary
Broadway and 121st Street
Katherine Shonk on Nina Lugovskaya's diary from the Soviet '30s:
"Oh, I love writing! Now I've written this, I feel calmer, as though some invisible hand has tidied up everything in my heart so that there's not a single little thing left to worry me."
Thirteen-year-old Muscovite Nina Lugovskaya wrote this passage early in the diary that she began in 1932. For the next five years, many more worries, both little and big, sent Nina to her diary, her one confidante. Only intermittently did writing seem to alleviate her frustrations and loneliness. And, as it turned out, the turmoil of adolescence was only a prelude to greater troubles.
Oh, Lord. This is almost exactly the situation I find myself in!
The novel in question, Fires, was written in the late winter and early spring of 2003. I was 19 when I started it, 20 when I finished. It was published by Iowa City’s Impetus Press in December of 2006. Wait, no, make that January 2007. Except that copies of the book being shipped from the printer (in Canada) were held at the border for a while by U.S. customs, so it wasn’t actually available to customers until February 2007. But according to Powells.com, the publication date was March 2007. Barnesandnoble.com says April 2007. And at parties, acquaintances ask me, “Is your book coming out soon?” This is independent publishing.
[Via Maud Newton]
Gregory Feifer on Anna Polikovskaya's last book, "A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia," an account of the country's major political events from December 2003 to August 2005.
The book opens shortly after the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, whose Yukos oil company would be broken up and sold to state-controlled companies in shady closed auctions. Khodorkovsky's arrest in October 2003 was a wake-up call to the West, where many Russia observers had shut their eyes to Putin's attacks on democracy, free-market capitalism and above all, his rivals. When the president visited British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London several months earlier, the Times called him Russia's best leader since Tsar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in 1861. The book ends with the aftermath of the Beslan school siege, which Putin used as justification to abolish elections of regional governors in favor of Kremlin appointments.
Politkovskaya's indictment records some of the Putin administration's worst official corruption and criminal negligence, beginning with the parliamentary elections of December 2003. The Kremlin's manipulation of the voting was a major step toward Putin's evisceration of Russia's liberal opposition parties: None of them won enough votes to make it into the legislature. Politkovskaya describes some of the numerous violations: the beatings and intimidation of regional opposition candidates -- one of whom had plastic bags containing human body parts thrown through his window -- as well as pervasive evidence of ballot stuffing and the state-controlled media's refusal to cover the campaigns of Kremlin rivals. Her account belies the weak complaints of observers from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, whose failure to properly condemn such abuses amounted to an endorsement of Putin's victory.
Anne Applebaum on Anna Politkovskaya's assasination for Slate:
She wasn't charismatic, she didn't fill lecture halls, and she wasn't much good on talk shows. Nevertheless, at the time of her murder in Moscow Saturday, Anna Politkovskaya was at the pinnacle of her influence. One of the best-known journalists in Russia, and one of the best-known Russian journalists in the world, she was proof—and more is always needed—that there is still nothing quite so powerful as the written word.