Speech from the dock

 

 The speech from the dock has a legendary place in Irish history. In Russia during the Soviet period it occupied an equally prominent but quite different place as part of the terror apparatus to cow opposition with blatantly false charges and confessions. Truth was of no importance. In the show trials of the late 1930s public humiliation of the loyal and previously eminent like Bukharin was designed to keep Stalin’s paranoia within bounds.

  Putin’s Russia has yet to account for the suspicious murders  of Litvinenko and many other comparatively small fry.  In public it has not  plumbed the depths of the Stalin show trials  – yet.  But here , the Economist picks up a speech from the dock by Mikhail Khordorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil conglomerate . As a class, Russian billionaires are not always the most deserving of our sympathy. Yet Khodokovsky seems different, a man of basic integrity, a victim of Putin’s determination to sweep away anyone and anything that can seriously challenge his power and that of his revived KGB and cronies, the FSB. The charge against Putin is that instead of bringing creating stability he has created stagnation and newly institutionalised corruption. Here are extracts from Khodorovsky’s speech:

I want to talk to you about hope. Hope – the main thing in life.

I remember the end of the ’80s of the last century. I was 25 then. Our country was living on hope of freedom, hope that we would be able to achieve happiness for ourselves and for our children.

We lived on this hope. In some ways, it did materialise, in others – it did not. The responsibility for why this hope was not realized all the way, and not for everybody, probably lies on our entire generation, myself included.

I remember too the end of the last decade and the beginning of the present, current one. By then I was 35. We were building the best oil company in Russia.

Alas, this hope too has yet to be justified. Stability has come to look like stagnation. Society has stopped in its tracks. Although hope still lives.

 With the coming of a new President (and more than two years have already passed since that time), hope appeared once again for many of my fellow citizens too. Hope that Russia would yet become  a modern country with a developed civil society. Free from the arbitrary behaviour of officials, free from corruption, free from unfairness and lawlessness.

It is clear that this can not happen all by itself, or in one day. But to pretend that we are developing, while in actuality, – we are merely standing in one place or sliding backwards, even if it is behind the cloak of noble conservatism, – is no longer possible. Impossible and simply dangerous for the country.

It is not possible to reconcile oneself with the notion that people who call themselves patriots so tenaciously resist any change that impacts their feeding trough or ability to get away with anything. And yet it is precisely the sabotage of reforms that is depriving our country of prospects. This is not patriotism, but rather hypocrisy.

I am ashamed to see how certain persons – in the past, respected by me – are attempting to justify unchecked bureaucratic behaviour and lawlessness. They exchange their reputation for a life of ease, privileges and sops.

Luckily, not all are like that, and there are ever more of the other kind.

It makes me proud to know that even after 7 years of persecutions, not a single one of the thousands of YUKOS employees has agreed to become a false witness, to sell their soul and conscience.

Who is it that have lied, tortured, and taken hostages, all for the sake of money and out of cowardice before their bosses? And this they called “the sovereign’s business” [«gosudarevoye delo»]!

Shameful. I am ashamed for my country

Hope – the main engine of big reforms and transformations, the guarantor of their success. If hope fades, if it comes to be supplanted by profound disillusionment, – who and what will be able to lead our Russia out of the new stagnation?

I will not be exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes throughout all of Russia and throughout the whole world are watching for the outcome of this trial.

They are watching with the hope that Russia will after all become a country of freedom and of the law, where the law will be above the bureaucratic official.

Where supporting opposition parties will cease being a cause for reprisals.

Where the special services will protect the people and the law, and not the bureaucracy from the people and the law.

Where human rights will no longer depend on the mood of the tsar. Good or evil.

 The Economist asks

How long can such a system last? Earlier this week Mr Khodorkovsky tried to answer this question in an interview [link in English] given to Novaya Gazeta, a courageous and critical newspaper. In it, he argued that crisis will hit in about 2015, when the sinking potential of an unmodernised economy rubs up against the greed of the bureaucracy on the one hand and the material expectations of the population on the other. Exactly, in fact, what brought down the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

 

 

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  • joeCanuck

    YUKOS was a blatant theft of a national resource allowing people like this man to become a billionaire. I know little of the internal shenanigans going on in their commonwealth but he and lots of others did not become obscenely rich though dint of hard work or building better mousetraps. They were corporate thieves who undoubtedly became rich by emulating their many counterparts in the “Western” world.

  • HeinzGuderian

    You ‘know little’…..yet go on to use ‘undoubtedly’ ??

    You know little,undoubtedly ? Or,you undoubtedly,know little ??

  • joeCanuck

    Separate sentences; different concepts. Would it please you better if I had said “..little specifics..?
    I know little about robbing banks but undoubtedly that sophisticated bank heist was carried out by professional criminals.

  • A.N.Other

    “Shameful. I am ashamed for my country.”

    One knows how he feels…

  • Kevin Barry

    Man of integrity? Joe, I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one.

    I was in Russia in October and asked a number of my friends there what they thought of this whole affair and they gave me a fairly straight answer:

    The guy is clearly smart and they admire him for that, but if you play by the sword you die by the sword. The man stole his way to the top, had a few dodgy companies that, for instance, imported french brandy (that wasn’t french), that facilitated in the theft of Soviet Treasury bills back in the early 90s and his oil company acquired its wealth through incredibly dodgy or despicable means.

    As for the country stagnating, I would disagree, the country is in the midst of a building boom, though I imagine an Irish style property bubble is on it’s way too, alas.