Grigory Pasko: Happy Birthday, Andrei Sakharov

With whom should the intelligentsia be? OR The fifth wheel on the armored cart 86 years from the day Andrei Sakharov was born has come to pass on 21 May By Grigory Pasko, journalist With the deaths of Andrei Sakharov and Dmitry Likhachev, the ranks of the Russian intelligentsia lost its benchmarks, its measuring sticks, as it were, for purity of convictions and decency of relations. Including relations with the power. (We won’t even talk about people from the world of show business: for them, these relations are often merely an extension of show business).


Mark Zakharov, artistic director of the theater named after the Leninist Komsomol in Moscow, once wrote: “I am convinced: one must work together with the power, and not sink into mute opposition. Especially if one holds a state post and does not refuse to receive his salary”. I do not hold a state post, and I do not get a salary from the state. Furthermore, after having served 20 years in the armed forces, it turned out that I didn’t even earn myself a pension – contrary to the law, they denied it to me upon the instruction of the FSB. So I don’t have a pension. Fine. Truth to tell, it would actually even be somehow unpleasant to be receiving one from THIS state. But that’s not my point. What I’m discussing today is: must one work together with the power? This is actually a very difficult and even painful question. It arises all the time, for example, for human rights and environmental activists, when they get together at their conferences and adopt resolutions and appeals. When the Civic Forum was being held in 2001 and state officials and president Putin were supposed to speak at it, not everybody chose to participate in this event. Precisely because they considered working together with the power to be a preposterous proposition. And, it turns out, they were right: working together didn’t work out. Of course, things didn’t turn out quite the way the power would have liked, either: it failed in its effort to line up all the human rights advocates in neat ranks and incorporate them into its notorious vertical so it could subsequently interact with them by means of instructions and commands. I could provide many examples of when the intelligentsia wanted and even attempted to work together with the power. And it’s still trying even today, as witnessed by the sessions of president Putin’s various commissions and councils. There is barely any benefit from this. The return from working together with the power turns out to be miniscule. Because for the power, the intelligentsia is like a fifth wheel on a cart (or on an armored BMW, whichever image you prefer). And besides, the power today, woven as it is out of chekists, is such that it doesn’t even regard the intelligentsia as a fifth wheel, but as a fifth column – it sees “enemies of the people” everywhere. So with whom should one work together? With the “civilian” first vice-premier and former minister of defense Ivanov, whom environmentalists have been taking to court for many a year already because he refuses to declassify the lists of accidents that took place on nuclear submarines? Or with FSB director Patrushev, whose agency apparently can’t live a day without false spies? Or maybe with Sechin – the invisible bane of the “oligarch” Khodorkovsky? I recall how the intelligentsia communicated with Putin in the year 1999, at the time when he was chairman of the government. This was at the premises of the Russian PEN-center. Then one of the writers asked Putin a question: why such a despicable organization – the FSB? Putin replied: How the people are, so is the FSB. It is noteworthy that practically no one of the participants in that meeting has become a member of any committee or council under Putin. Apparently the people who had attended that event weren’t the right kind of writers, and they hadn’t asked the right kind of questions… So, must one work together with a power that has done so much to persecute those who think differently and to bury in graves the first young shoots of democracy in the country? Supporters of working together with the power call on us to remember the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who, in his famous letter to his brother about what it means to be an intelligent person [i.e. a member of the intelligentsia—Trans.], gave the advice to never to walk out and slam the door behind oneself saying “it is impossible to live with you!” Or Andrei Sakharov, who, at his own initiative, entered into a dialogue with the CPSU Central Committee in the 1970s, in order to develop his ideas of convergence, the integrating of socialism with a modern market economy. And speaking of Sakharov… “We still continue to live in a spiritual atmosphere created by this epoch. And the state, as before, applies repressions towards those few who do not submit to the prevailing consensus of accommodation. Along with judicial repressions, the most important and decisive role in preserving this atmosphere of internal and external submission is played by the power of the state… Indifference to social questions, a consumerist and egocentric position develops in broad strata of the population… What is needed is a systematic defense of human rights and ideals, and not a political struggle, which inevitably pushes towards coercion, sectarianism and devilry”. This lengthy citation is from the article “Sakharov about himself”, dated 31 December 1973. It now already seems unthinkable that in those years, which have been given the name “years of stagnation”, a person – even just one lone person – could have written something like this, could have thought something like this. Today’s years are being called the years of the establishment of democracy in Russia, the construction of a state governed by the rule of law, the strengthening of the vertical of power, etc. Nowadays many people are writing and thinking in the same way that Andrei Dmitrievich did in his time. But here’s the rub. Even after twenty-four years, the atmosphere of internal and external submission to the prevailing consensus of accommodation still has not disappeared. And after a quarter century, the repressions still continue, including judicial ones. (A vivid example being the new political prisoners in Russia). And after a quarter century, one of the mass forms of protest is the desire to leave the country. And after a quarter century, there exist people who are disgusted by the putrid spirit of the resurgent ideology of giving priority to the interests of the state over human rights. It can be said that fear and passivity have returned to our country. And we can also recall – once again, as we so often do – Andrei Sakharov and his words about the INERTIA of fear and passivity. And it will turn out that there WAS fear, and there WAS passivity. It’s just that they had dozed off for a while, lulled by words about how democracy and a rule-of-law state were just around the corner. The fear and passivity were rudely awakened by the chekists who finally managed to clamber into power. Not so long ago, I had a chance to interview an officer in the reserves. This still-young person said: “I could tell you a lot about the state of today’s army, because I live on the territory of a military unit and am constantly talking with those who are still serving. But… I’m afraid. What if they come for me…? at night… arrest me…?” You can see that this is a manifestation not of fear as such, but of the INERTIA of fear. The fear had always been inside this officer. And this fear had awakened. Or maybe in never was asleep in the first place. When I look at our servile journalism, I understand that the power has nothing to fear about introducing censorship legislatively. THIS journalism doesn’t need censorship. THESE journalists have already introduced it by themselves. Against the background of the never-ending and endlessly-discussed “soap opera” of obviously illegal trials in our country, Sakharov’s words about a “judicial machine that is blind, often unjust, for sale, and dependent on the powers and the local ‘mafia’” ring out as clear as a bell. These words were said in 1975. And we see that nothing has changed here either in these twenty-seven years. Although… The cynicism of the judges has become more cunning, the lawlessness more sophisticated, the lack of control more complete. And even the introduction of the institution of jury trials has in any way shaken the depraved foundations of the judicial community. And once again, like many years ago, in our country “people are totally dependent on the state, and it will consume everybody, without choking…” When in one of his addresses to the federal assembly president Putin said that “human rights, civil and political liberties will be provided for in full measure” in Russia, we somehow didn’t really believe him. We didn’t believe him then, and we don’t believe him now, when he speaks about how there is democracy in Russia. But we do believe Sakharov, who spoke of the inertia of fear and passivity. Because his words don’t require any proof – it’s enough just to take a look around ourselves. And, after having looked around, to ponder yet again: exactly whom in SUCH a power must we work together with, and why exactly must we work together with THIS power? Some recent statements by the Russian intelligentsia about the power:

Film director Eldar Ryazanov: “On the occasion of a jubilee I am invited to Novo-Ogarevo [the official residence of the president outside Moscow—Trans.] by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. And during the time of discussion he asks: what creative plans have you got? I know that I don’t have any creative plans, but it is awkward for me to appear to be a person without a future in front of the president, so I recall an old project proposal… Putin asked: ‘And how much is this going to cost?’ I started to improvise, named an outrageous number. Vladimir Vladimirovich made a funny sound, but said: ‘We will help you. The government will give something, something we will ask from the oligarchs.’ And I left, absolutely spellbound by the president.” Anatoly Chubais, head of RAO UES (about a press conference by V.V. Putin): “A very high level, this doesn’t happen often. I simply felt a rare sense of pride. It’s frightening to say – pride in our own leadership. But that’s exactly what happened.” Yuri Bashmet, violist: In the moment of perestroika I had this feeling that I am a representative of the third world. Contacts were maintained only out of professional respect. And only in recent years have they begun to give us any kind of consideration at all. Our president expressed everything that is taking place and everything we feel inside in his Munich speech. Writer Vasily Aksyonov: “Dmitry Anatolievich [Medvedev] invited writers for a cup of tea, which, but the way, in reality turned out to be a sumptuous dinner. The dinner took place in the fireplace hall of the CDL [Central House of Literati], where the party committee used to meet once… I really liked him [Medvedev]. He’s intelligentsia. He’s got a sharp mind. He quickly grasps what is being spoken about, and instantly gives an interesting answer.”