A True Russian Patriot

marinakhodokovskaya.jpgAt risk of succumbing to the sentimental, I wanted to take a few moments to write about my experience this week traveling alongside the admirable Mrs. Marina Khodorkovskaya, the mother of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Marina and I spent a considerable amount of time together over the past two days, meeting with political representatives and civil society groups in both Brussels and Paris, the most notable outcome of which was of course the generous statement of solidarity made by the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering.

The strong support from Pöttering also comes on the heels of another important endorsement from French Deputy Hervé Mariton, president of the France-Russia group of deputies in the National Assembly, who took time off during a recent trip to Moscow to pledge his solidarity for the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Mariton succinctly grasped the precise situation of the Khodorkovsky case, and sent a clear message to Russia’s political leadership:  “If the situation of your son, who has become a symbol, would improve, that would mean that all of Russia would be doing better.

These important achievements in the campaign to free Mikhail are in no small part due to Mrs. Khodorkovskaya – who upon meeting someone new is able to impress upon them the intimate human scope of this tragedy, and impart an understanding of these events that no lawyer, politician, or activist could possibly communicate.  She is the real deal, a true Russian patriot, and – on a personal level – someone I regard with immeasurable affection, like family.

Marina Khodorkovskaya is a passionate Russian patriot, not because she has any sort of active role in politics (I have never heard her speak a word about the current leadership), but rather because she has sustained herself and her family out of a bottomless love and optimism for both her only son and her nation.  Through five years of personal turmoil and painful uncertainty, Marina tells me she found support among the thousand acts of kindness from neighbors and strangers for her ongoing work at the orphanage and school and her efforts to help her only son.

Marina, who is 74 years old, has only been able to see her son in person about 9 times since his arrest in Oct. 2003.  The visits are remarkably short, held in very spartan, cold, and damp visiting rooms at the Chita isolator – simply journeying to the facility from Moscow is extremely arduous, made nearly impossible for someone of this age.  Marina reports to us that the conditions in the prison are inhumane, and although she has serious concerns over her son’s dwindling health, she is proud to report that his spirit remains unflappable and committed to principle. 

In the hour after she left Paris, I spent some time reflecting on just how impressed I was with the strength of character displayed by Mrs. Khodorkovskaya.  Over the years, in my moments of frustration over the crass injustices we have faced, I admit that I have lashed out with anger in response to the conduct of some officials.  However, spending a few days with Marina is a strong reminder of the extraordinary importance of separating our disappointments and criticisms of the political-legal institution from anything I could say about the admirable and as-of-yet unrealized potential of Russian citizens. 

Marina Khodorkovskaya is a model to all of us, and I find her courage and commitment nothing less than inspirational.