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Grigory Pasko: Reporting from Day 1 of the Khodorkovsky Trial

The latest spectacle in the “Khodorkovsky trial” theatrical series:

On 3 March of the year 1585, the first-ever theatre in a building purposely built for it opened in Vicenza (Italy). The “Teatro Olimpico” exists to this day and is the oldest theater in the world.

On 3 March of the year 2009, the latest act in the “Khodorkovsky trial” theatrical cycle opened in Moscow (Russia). They did not build a special building – they decided that the building of the Khamovnichesky Court would do just fine.

By the way, there weren’t very many police at all: maybe ten – at one end of 7th Rostovsky alley, and four dozen (half – in an avtozak [paddy wagon] and a bus) – on the other.

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A policeman eyeing Grigory Pasko suspiciously from inside an avtozak (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

It seemed to me that there were more journalists than police. Thatis, given the occasion, they might have dared to not even notice thecops. But they didn’t dare. They went in decorously. A girl to the leftof the metal detector checked off the arrivals against lists ofrequests to attend the show. A woman in the middle – let people throughthe metal detector, proposing that they dump anything that jangles outof the pockets. A little man to the right wrote down who and from wherein a thick notebook and looked at a document.

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Journalists trying to get into the courthouse (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

A request for me had not been received, therefore I had to leave myphoto gear in the police cloakroom, that is right next to the dutyofficer. After the metal corners of my passport set off the metaldetector, I entered into the courthouse proper. No fewer than a hundredcolleagues had already gotten in before me.

An apple wouldn’t be able to find a place to drop on the thirdfloor. Therefore, soon, driven on by the commands of the bailiff, thejournalists without cameras poured down to the floor below, into a hallwhere three large plasmas had been set up. On them could be seenKhodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s lawyers, the procurators, and the judge’sbench. Something could be glimpsed behind the lawyers’ table: a cageenclosed in tinted glass. I’ve seen many a cage in my day, I’ve evenspent time in a few myself, but I’d never set eyes on a marvel likethis before.

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Khodorkovsky’s unique tinted-glass cage may be more impermeable than the Popemobile (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

After about five minutes of this silent movie, the bailiff came outand turned off the televisions. The people began to make noise and tolaugh. The bailiff clarified in a quiet voice that the preliminaryhearings were closed, so there wouldn’t be a movie today.

On the street, the cameramen of television channels of the wholeworld were working in full force. I got the impression that this mustbe the first time they’d ever seen 7th Rostovsky alley and that theywere so smitten by its beauty (the Turkish embassy and the librarynamed after Gaidar) that they were trying to capture it all forposterity. Or maybe they were waiting for Khodorkovsky or procuratorShokhin to jump out the window?

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Reporters, supporters, and plainclothesmen mingling outside the courthouse (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

A noise from the direction of the former Krasnoluzhsky (now BohdanKhmelnitsky) bridge across the river Moscow attracted my attention.Coming closer, I saw a small group of perhaps 20 young people who werechanting “Medvedev, release Khodorkovsky!” Medvedev, being found atthis time in Spain, obviously didn’t hear them. But the OMONovitesstanding close by did. One of them, the leader, warned the kids tocease yelling. They continued. In the wink of an eye, hefty and stoutcops scooped up three of the active ones under the arms and carriedthem away to a bus. “For shame!”, – loudly shouted the girls and then,even louder: “Freedom for political prisoners!”

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Police arresting pro-Khodorkovsky protesters (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

At that, the show in this corner ended. It could be seen that eventhe cops regretted that it was over, because all of a sudden they werebored again with nothing to do.

…But the show in the building of the Khamovnichesky court continued.And it will continue, as the bailiffs in the court are saying, foranother half year and more. The day of the premiere was obviously asuccess for the organizers: the journalists were satisfied that a placewas found for all of them – some in the courtroom before the start ofthe hearings, some in the “telehall”…

…But the premiere of Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen”, which took place on 3 March of the year 1875 in Paris, was a total flop.