Bakhmina as a “Seed for Civil Society”

Below is an excerpt from an editorial published in the Boston Globe.  The New York Times also ran a piece, the petition can be signed here, and other blog material read here, here, and here (Pasko wrote his piece back on Jan.24, 2007).

Recently, the Bakhmina case took a new turn. In September, a former classmate of Bakhmina’s posted an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev asking him to pardon Bakhmina. Several days later, an Internet petition was launched. By late October, the petition had more than 60,000 signatures. On Oct. 30, in a rare media breakthrough, the case was discussed in the television debate show “K barieru!” (“Challenge to a Duel”), with writer Maria Arbatova facing off against veteran dissident Valeria Novodvorskaya.

Some commentators suggested that Novodvorskaya, known for heranti-Putin tirades, was set up to discredit the “Free Bakhmina”movement as a cause of loony radicals. But her occasional extremecomments (such as comparing Bakhmina’s treatment to Nazi killings ofpregnant Jewish women) were overshadowed by the repulsiveness ofArbatova, whose quasi-feminist argument against special treatment forwomen quickly devolved into cruel jeers at Bakhmina and her defenders.

The call-in vote tilted in Arbatova’s favor, by about 68,000 to56,000 votes. Many Russian bloggers believe it was rigged, claimingthat calls to the pro-Novodvorskaya line repeatedly got a busy signalbut calls to the pro-Arbatova line went through at once. Even so, itwas a fairly small margin for a pro-government position. Interestingly,in an October poll, only 16 percent of Russians approved of the denialof parole to Bakhmina while 37 percent disapproved and the rest had noopinion.

There are now more than 85,000 signatures on the Bakhmina petition -including professionals, managers, and college students as well ashomemakers, workers, and police officers. The accompanying commentsoffer a fascinating slice of Russian life. Some people appeal toMedvedev’s Christian mercy; others say that the request should be ademand. Some blast Medvedev and Putin as “vicious clowns” or”criminals,” or refer pointedly to Medvedev’s lack of true authority.Some angrily denounce the current regime and its injustices whileothers sound poignantly resigned: “How sad that we live in such atime,” or simply, “God help us.”  (…)

Meanwhile, the movement for Bakhmina may become, in the words ofwriter Boris Akunin, “a seed of civil society.” One petition signer, aMoscow mathematician, commented, “Svetlana, stay strong! With yourhelp, Russians are opening their eyes!”

Sometimes, such unlikely heroes make history.