Unlikely Martyr: Mikhail Khodorkovsky as Noble Dissident in Putin’s Russia


Julia Ioffe in Tablet:

Instead of defending his innocence at the final day of his trial on nebulous charges last November, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and now imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp near a radioactive mine, read to the court a political manifesto that lambasted the stagnation and corruption into which contemporary Russia has sunk. “The obvious conclusion a thinking person can make is chilling in its stark simplicity,” he intoned in the tiny courtroom packed with reporters and the pensioners who’d come to show their support. “The silovikibureaucracy can do anything,” he said, referring to the powerful faction in the Russian government whose roots are in the security forces. “A person who collides with ‘the system’ has no rights whatsoever.” He added: “I am ashamed for my country.” It was a moving speech that laid out, powerfully and clearly, everything that is wrong with Russia today; it made even my sober male Russian friends tear up.

When the judge handed down the guilty verdict just before the New Year, hundreds protested outside the courtroom. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the ruling, as did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The White House issued astatement condemning “abuse of the legal system for improper ends.”

Five months later, the case still hasn’t receded from Russian headlines. The press secretary of the court that heard Khodorkovsky’s case revealed to an opposition newspaper that the judge in the case didn’t write the verdict and that he was pressured from the outside. (She has since been made to take a lie detector test—she passed—and been forced out of her job.) Fifty-five “official” celebrities have signed a controversial open letter praising the verdict in the case, and 45 others signed one opposing it.

More here.