Grigory Pasko: Nobody Is Immune from Prison in Russia

Nobody is immune from prison in Russia By Grigory Pasko, Journalist It seems like every television channel in Russia was showing performances by Russian pop diva Alla Pugacheva during their recent holiday programming. She is well known for her many talents and has been involved in many – as it is now fashionable to say – “projects”. But there is at least one project in which she has not had success. pugacheva.jpg Alla Pugacheva, a friend of Russia’s prisoners? It is known that a year ago, the so-called Public Chamber began its existence in Russia. Thought up, they say, by president Putin himself, the Public Chamber has probably been noteworthy only for the fact that several of its members have been involved in several regional scandals., in particular interference in the standoff between the Yuzhnoye Butovo district of the city of Moscow with the Moscow authorities. At the same time, it is also known that Alla Pugacheva too is a member of the Public Chamber. The broad public has not been informed of her participation in any noteworthy actions of this chamber. There was the time, just before the first session of the chamber, when the singer told reporters that she would like to participate in the work of the commission on social development, deal with problems related to women, children, the family, and demographics. Last year, the problems of these categories of citizens were more of an urgent hot topic than ever before. However, we did not notice actions by the chamber and by Pugacheva personally to solve them In addition to this, the singer noted at that time that she was worried about the plight of prisoners in Russian jails. In so doing – as the website reported – she added with a smile that when she speaks of prisoners, she does not mean only former YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “I consider that this is a good person, a guy with a good head on his shoulders. But this does not mean that I think about him from morning till night. Although, of course, I do pity him on a purely human level”. There is a long-standing tradition of pitying prisoners in Russia. However, if in tsarist times there existed boards of trustees and societies for assistance to prisoners, nowadays the government is doing nothing substantive for this category of people beyond asserting that yes, they are in a difficult situation. For many years already, the government has been allocating a bit more than 20 rubles (about 75 US cents) a day for the upkeep of one prisoner. I don’t know who Alla Pugacheva helped or how in the business of protecting the rights of prisoners. But it is known that a Foundation for Assistance to Prisoners with its own Board of Trustees did appear last year, in 2006. By the way, the foundation itself was the idea of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And its Board of Trustees was headed by Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky’s mother Marina Filippovna Khodorkovskaya. As of yet, I personally do not know of Alla Borisovna Pugacheva’s participation in any such foundations or boards. In this context, the attitude of other Russians to the prisoner problem probably deserves mention. As an example, it is known that one of the first public visits by president Putin happened to be a visit to the famous “Kresty” prison in St. Petersburg. At that time, he too expressed concern for the plight of arrestees, but it would seem he completely forgot about them later. In today’s “democracy a la Putin”, even people with power and money can’t afford not to think about prisons. At any rate, it has become clear that any government official or wealthy person may find himself sitting on the defendant’s bench. This bench has even become something of a tool for the change or rotation of power in the regions. Even very rich people understand that their situation and well-being in Putin’s Russia are nothing more than a phantom. This understanding came, naturally, after Khodorkovsky was sentenced. But it has not disappeared with time, it has not evaporated. Indeed, it seems to have merely solidified. Recently, Chukotka governor Roman Abramovich, famous for his close ties to president Putin and enormous wealth (around 11 billion dollars) gave an interview to a correspondent of the British weekly The Observer. In it, Abramovich said: “There is a Russian proverb – No one is immune from prison or conscription”. We are often told that stability has appeared in Russia under Putin. At the same time, sceptics will note that a cemetery offers plenty of stability as well. Realists like Abramovich draw on folk wisdom. Apparently they have grounds to do so.