Grigory Pasko: Nobody Forced Him to Say It

Nobody forced him to say it by Grigory Pasko, journalist Speaking recently at a session of the Council to Assist the Development of Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights, president of Russia Vladimir Putin said that neither the people nor the president have much confidence in Russia’s correctional system. The members of the council, among whom are many human rights advocates well known in the country, reminded the president that a draft of a law on public oversight of the correctional system has been languishing in the State Duma for three years already. Putin summarized: “The more rigorous the oversight over the prison system will be, the better”. Here is Putin’s quote, word for word: “And it is not by chance that we have such empathy in society towards those who are found in places of deprivation of liberty. This is associated not only with our having a huge quantity of people who were found in prisons and are still found there even now, but is associated also with the understanding in society that far from all people are found justly in these places of deprivation of liberty. This is where the problem is, and this problem has been sitting in our consciousness since all the way back in the year ’37. And the more rigorous the oversight over the prison system will be, the better. I promise, we will definitely return to this.” Certain Russian mass media rushed to praise the president for such words. And there was even a flash survey of listeners conducted on the «Echo Moskvy» radio station on the topic of: why would Putin have gone and said something like this all of a sudden? putin_cartoon.jpg Personally, I recalled the first meeting with Putin in November 1999, then still chairman of the government of Russia. It took place in the Russian PEN-club. Writers were asking some hard-hitting questions of the recent director of the FSB. And Putin answered them quickly, without shirking or hesitating. He answered well and indeed exactly what the people wanted to hear him say, people who had in their day gone through the camps and the prisons, the Glavlit censors and the non-publication of their works. EVEN THEN Putin was already trained to say the right words. It’s just that his deeds bore witness to the fact that these words didn’t mean squat, neither to Putin’s subordinates nor to Putin himself. Same thing with the correctional system in Russia. This system became monstrously secretive and closed precisely under Putin. One would think: if you’re such a progressive democratic president, while the jailers don’t want or can not march in step with the modern world, then get rid of the old head of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) and install a new one, someone more in tune with the times. Nothing of the sort! Even when the current director of FSIN, Yuri Kalinin, turned 60 in October of the year just past – and age when government officials should retire on a pension – Kalinin remained in place. By the way, it was precisely under Kalinin that the system became closed. It is precisely under him that the tortures, the mutinies, and the multitude of violations of prisoners’ rights did not cease in the penal colonies of the country. We need look no further than the facts of systematic violation of correctional legislation with respect to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev, Svetlana Bakhmina… I’m not talking here about the court decisions with respect to them. I’m talking about how FSIN has violated and continues to violate the law with respect to these persons. And all of a sudden, among the timid talk in certain mass media about the unlawful convoying of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev from the penal colonies where they were found to Chita, president Putin starts talking about how there’s no oversight of the prison system in the country, and about how not everybody is found in this system justly… You would think – what could be simpler?: why don’t you do something at least to improve this system at least, not to mention the judicial system even! You’re the president, after all! You’ve got an entire vertical of power! Alas! It is not for this reason that Putin utters the right words – to then act right as well after saying them. It seems that Western leaders have begun to understand this: Angela Merkel, just before a meeting with Putin, couldn’t even bring herself to call him a democratic leader: “I have not said something like this yet, and I will not say it now”, declared Merkel, responding to a question about whether she could define Putin as a “died-in-the-wool democrat”. …It is noteworthy that the overwhelming majority of “Echo Moskvy” listeners assessed the president’s words in precisely this way: just that much hot air, a smokescreen, the latest PR campaign. So where, you may ask, do the Russian president’s stratospheric approval rating figures come from? Probably from there: from the times of desire to find favour in the eyes of the “father-tsar” through flattery and lies. And also from that time that Putin himself knows so well. He said it himself: “This is where the problem is, and this problem has been sitting in our consciousness since all the way back in the year ’37.”