I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls lately from people asking me to comment on the exchange of the Russian spies for … other Russian spies. Just in this one fact alone you can feel the obvious idiocy of the situation. They exchanged one group of Russians for another, with all parties feeling pretty happy about how well the trade worked out. The first thing I was asked about was why Igor Sutyagin, a political prisoner whose case I have followed closely, was forced to sign an admission of guilt in order to be pardoned. Если Вы хотите прочитать оригинал данной статьи на русском языке, нажмите сюда. To the best of my understanding, Sutyagin’s “confession” for both sides was a highly notional and formal matter. And for a very long time, Igor stood firm in his refusal to go along with this Faustian bargain, and confess to crimes that he did not commit. (The same goes for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, by the way.) During my time as a prisoner of conscience, I too did not take them up on this offer: this is a question of principle for every innocent person. In my experience, which I assume is similar to that of Sutyagin, Khodorkovsky, and dozens of others, the refusal to admit guilt for false crimes is the one thing that grants the prisoner strength and resolve – it’s about the only exercise of power left to you. The chekists will never understand this.
In the situation of a looming exchange and after having sat behind bars for 10 years and 9 months, after it had become abundantly clear to everyone who knew the case that Sutyagin is not a spy, he finally adopted a decision to write a formal little letter about his guilt. This meaningless paper isn’t worth anything, but the chekists and Medvedev, perhaps for reasons of pride or arrogance, just had to have it that way for the swap to go forward. Fine, here you go. I understand, Igor. Would I have done the same? I don’t know. I didn’t sit in jail for 10 years as a political prisoner – I don’t think any of us can pretend to understand what that is like.In relation to this story, some journalists have been asking me for stories about how the chekists had worked me over in order to cajole and force an admission of guilt. With me, the gebists [Russian slang for (K)GB-ists–Trans.] behaved in different ways. There were threats, intimidation, and everyday fear… One eagle even attempted to get into a fight with me. And every time they said: “you will not come out to freedom until you admit your guilt.” For them this is important – to break a person. And for me this is important – not to admit a non-existent guilt, not to break, that is.And so the struggle went on. For years. It’s another matter that they, the bastards, have more opportunities to put pressure on you. On their side, they benefit from the entire repressive machine of the state. But you – you are seemingly alone and powerless… And yet, no, not alone: large numbers of generous people from all over the world – people whom you’ve never met or known – come out in vocal support of your plight. This also gave added strength. And to break down and give in signified letting them down as well. That is the question was very much indeed one of principle.Another frequent topic of discussion is that Sutyagin and the other prisoners are being forced to leave the country. As I understand it, Sutyagin didn’t have a choice: he was forced to either leave, or stay in the camp.I have never left Russia for anywhere for long. And it is unlikely I ever will. This is my country. And the people, a part of which are repugnant to me, – these are my people, and this is my home country, my motherland. Those who have got wives-dogs-accounts-villas-children – over there, beyond the hill, it is they who should have to leave. They’re the ones who should be leaving. They’re the ones who should we should swap… I don’t even know for what: innovations, technologies, fertilizers… True, first we’d have to find idiots willing to take our vampires in exchange for fertilizer.But the question of the personal safety of a journalist in Russia – not an idle one, of course. This topic came up once somehow in a conversation I had back in the day with Anna Politkovskaya… And after the murder of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov, the journalists Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirova and others – all the more so. I live in the house in which they killed the Novaya Gazeta journalist Igor Domnikov. This terrible act is always at the forefront of my mind, making me consider whether or not journalism is something worth the risks. It is another matter that to prevent a murder silently encouraged by the state is practically impossible.This whole story of the prisoner swap has once again shown that we are all living in the past. In the distant past. Oh, the nostalgia for the clear moral times of the Cold War heyday. The Americans disappointed me: both by the fact that they considered such a deal with the devil possible; and by the fact that they went on a leash for the chekists; and by the fact that they did not loudly declare and make clear that Sutyagin is not a spy, but an unlawfully imprisoned innocent civilian. Fine – May God be with them. For one person at least we can certainly rejoice – for Sutyagin: he is at liberty. It has cost him dearly indeed.Despite this breakthrough for one individual, the spate of so-called spy-mania trials in Russia is certainly not over. After dozens of successful show trials, it looks like the chekists have taken a little break. A time out, in order to take a look and see what they didn’t do right, and how they can fine tune their machinery of persecution. In order to clean up the candid rotten places, camouflage the cynicism and dirtiness, give the appearance of legality to candid lawlessness… They are imitating, adapting themselves to different opinions … I think that the “spy” cases will go on. At any rate, as long as chekists remain in power in Russia.