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Grigory Pasko: The New Year

The New Year By Grigory Pasko, journalist 2008 – the Year of the Yellow (Golden) Rat – will be met by many political prisoners of contemporary Russia in “red” colonies, that is ones that are not under control of the law, but rather the arbitrary tyranny of the administration. For many, this is their first year in camp. But no doubt not their last – not as long as the current president and his accomplices in crime remain in power. What is it like over there, on the other side of the barbed wire, to meet the New Year? I met this holiday behind bars four times. There’s a bit written about this in my book «We sing to the deaf» («Мы поем глухим», 2000, St. Petersburg, «Blitz» publishing house). On the eve of the “old” New Year (yes, we have such a holiday as well in Russia), I offer readers of the blog certain prison notes. They are of pressing concern for many of my countrymen. khodor011108 Mikhail Khodorkovsky – one of the new political prisoners of Russia (photo from the Grigory Pasko archive)

«30-го декабря 1997 года30 часов – до Нового года.30 шагов – за забором свобода.30 дней – и кончается срок,Отведенный на первый этап травли.30 минут – и начнется проверка.30 секунд – долго по камерным меркам,30 сребреников – урок не впрок.30 уроков – плевать на них нам ли?Именно нам, потому что в стране без правилГоды сменяются лишь условно,Их суть остается прежней,Меняются лишь одежды,Но даже цвета остаются те же –Красный и побольше смерти,Если зеленый – то реже,Если надежда – не верьте!Просто привычно поманит.30 часов – до обмана.«The 30th of December of the year 199730 hours to the New Year.30 steps to freedom beyond the fence.30 days to the end of the term,Allocated for the first stage of hounding.30 minutes to the start of inspection.30 seconds is a long time by cell standards,30 silver pieces – the lesson has not been learned.30 lessons – should we just ignore them?Yes, us, because in a country without rulesThe years go by only relatively speaking,Their essence remains as before,Only the clothes are changed,But even the colors remain the same –Red and more death,If green – then less,If hope – then don’t believe it!It will simply beckon as usual.30 hours to deception.The 31st of December of the year 1997It’s foolish to expect a holiday from this day in prison. There isn’t even any water in the cell in the morning. And it’s foolish to hope for anything. It’s the same as hanging up in the cell a poster with the text of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen “Faith-Hope-Love”, while our life has already long ago taught us – and not only zeks – to “Don’t believe, don’t fear, don’t ask”. Through naïveté on my part, yesterday I asked that something to read be brought to me. It’s good that they didn’t tell me to fuck off or worse, but simply said: this is impossible. As of the morning, there’s only one thing I want: for all this idle chatter about a holiday to end as quickly as possible. But the television can’t be turned off. I don’t know whose hands had the remote tonight, but the television was booming so loudly that I didn’t sleep all night. Now I’m sitting here like a plague victim, waiting for eight o’clock in the evening to arrive, when I’ll finally be able to “disconnect myself”, and then may their prison and their New Year burn for all I care – with a real fire, not one of those little New Year sparklers. Even in my worst nightmare I had never imagined that I would one day meet this holiday in a prison. A philosopher would say: there is always a first time for everything. To which I will say: at death too I will be thinking of vengeance upon mine enemies.…You may ask me: what is prison and how do people live there? I will reply: a prison – this is hell on earth. Not a model, not a copy, but hell itself, and the whole horror of it is that people do live there. Most of them think they’re normal. But this is not so, for the years spent in hell will break even the most bold in spirit, at times forever. I asked a 26-year-old lad who had already done four years what he’d do the first day after he got out. “Get a good night’s sleep” was the reply. And I understood him: I myself dream of this.avtozak011108The author looking forward to another year of unexpected unpleasantness, Vladivostok, December 1998 (photo from the Grigory Pasko archive)…Things are never so bad that they couldn’t get even worse. At 11:00 they transferred me to #163. There are 34 people here. The same three shift system (sleeping in three shifts [due to a shortage of beds in the horribly overcrowded cell—Trans.]), the same crowding. But there are differences, there are… And then the dicks (investigators) came. A young one with the thirteenth protocol with my notation about refusal to give testimony, and an old, fat one with a heart-wrenching talk about how my uncooperativeness is to no purpose – after all, everything is clear, they’re just trying to ease my lot. Well, and a whole bunch of all kinds of nastiness about me in general and about lawyers in particular. Evidently they can’t connect some of the dots, they’re not able to fit the pieces together, if he’s even started talking about how after 20 January the court will once again deny me in changing the measure of restraint, and that the investigation is going to drag out for a very long time. That means the lawyers were right: the nightmare could last for around a year, if not more. And this means that I’ve still got another fifteen or so cells ahead of me. This is the third one so far. In a month and a half. Oh well, there’s nothing to do but endure and prepare for an even worse turn of events. At least there are no more illusions.And that’s what kind of New Year – 1998 – is approaching. They may be cynics, but they sure don’t lack imagination: I’m sure you’ll agree that dragging you from the hut (cell) where you’ve gotten used to the nightmare and throwing you in another hut just before the New Year is a very cheap move.The 1st of January of the year 1998…We met the New Year. I even got a little piece of prison cake. Quick, jot down the recipe for how it’s made: take one handful of breadcrumbs made from gray bread, a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk, water, and sugar. If you’ve got some condensed milk or a spoonful of honey, that’s super. Mix it all together, set it out in the winter cold next to the window bars for 20-30 minutes, and voila, your holiday cake is ready. So tasty you’ll be licking your fingers!…It’s a gray morning. The year is starting out slowly and heavily, like a big battleship in a tight harbor before heading out to sea for an impending battle.”Of course I understand how it is for them, sitting in faraway places, to meet the new year with a sense of foreboding about a new term or new problems. I understand, because I’ve gone through it myself.And this is why I sincerely wish all of them on this day to be upbeat and merry nevertheless – to spite their enemies and to bolster the spirits of their families.Remember: everything’s got to end sometime. Even a term…