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Into the Darkness: Khodorkovsky’s Last Speech

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As many readers are well aware, today Mikhail Khodorkovsky delivered his final comments at the last sessions of his second show trial, marking the very last words we will likely hear from him for quite some time.  The verdict, a foregone conclusion to many, will come on Dec. 15.  The impassioned speech carries the weight of a historical moment for modern Russia.  Khodorkovsky did not just speak on his own behalf in these comments, but also on behalf of his generation.  This text should be read and considered most carefully by those who have sustained an endorsed an artificial reality of Putin’s Russia, and those who have mistaken false promises for hope.

Versions of these comments are being carried as opinion articles in a number of newspapers, including the New York Times.  Below is the full transcript:

I can recall October 2003. My last day as a free man. Several weeks after my arrest, I was informed that president Putin had decided: I was going to have to “slurp gruel” for 8 years. It was hard to believe that back then.

Seven years have gone by already since that day. Seven years – quite a long stretch of time, and all the more so – when you’ve spent it in jail. All of us have had time to reassess and rethink many things.

Judging by the prosecutors’presentation: “give them 14 years” and “spit on previous courtdecisions”, over these years they have begun to fear me more, and torespect the law – even less.

The first time around, they at least went through the effort of firstrepealing the judicial acts that stood in their way. Now – they’ll justleave them be; especially since they would need to repeal not two, butmore than 60 decisions.

I do not want to return to the legal side of the case at this time.Everybody who wanted to understand something – has long since understoodeverything. Nobody is seriously waiting for an admission of guilt fromme. It is hardly likely that somebody today would believe me if I wereto say that I really did steal all the oil produced by my company.

But neither does anybody believe that an acquittal in the YUKOS case is possible in a Moscow court.

Notwithstanding, I want to talk to you about hope. Hope – the main thing in life.
I remember the end of the ’80s of the last century. I was 25 then. Ourcountry was living on hope of freedom, hope that we would be able toachieve happiness for ourselves and for our children.

We lived on this hope. In some ways, it did materialise, in others – itdid not. The responsibility for why this hope was not realized all theway, and not for everybody, probably lies on our entire generation,myself included.

I remember too the end of the last decade and the beginning of thepresent, current one. By then I was 35. We were building the best oilcompany in Russia. We were putting up sports complexes and culturalcentres, laying roads, and resurveying and developing dozens of newfields; we started development of the East Siberian reserves and wereintroducing new technologies. In short, – we were doing all thosethings that Rosneft, which has taken possession of Yukos, is so proud oftoday.

Thanks to a significant increase in oil production, including as theresult of our successes, the country was able to take advantage of afavourable oil situation. We felt hope that the period of convulsionsand unrest – was behind us at last, and that, in the conditions ofstability that had been achieved with great effort and sacrifice, wewould be able to peacefully build ourselves a new life, a great country.

Alas, this hope too has yet to be justified. Stability has come to looklike stagnation. Society has stopped in its tracks. Although hopestill lives. It lives on even here, in the Khamovnichesky courtroom,when I am already just this side of 50 years old.

With the coming of a new President (and more than two years have alreadypassed since that time), hope appeared once again for many of my fellowcitizens too. Hope that Russia would yet become a modern country with adeveloped civil society. Free from the arbitrary behaviour ofofficials, free from corruption, free from unfairness and lawlessness.

It is clear that this can not happen all by itself, or in one day. Butto pretend that we are developing, while in actuality, – we are merelystanding in one place or sliding backwards, even if it is behind thecloak of noble conservatism, – is no longer possible. Impossible andsimply dangerous for the country.

It is not possible to reconcile oneself with the notion that people whocall themselves patriots so tenaciously resist any change that impactstheir feeding trough or ability to get away with anything. It is enoughto recall art. 108 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the RussianFederation – arresting businessmen for filing of tax returns bybureaucrats. And yet it is precisely the sabotage of reforms that isdepriving our country of prospects. This is not patriotism, but ratherhypocrisy.

I am ashamed to see how certain persons – in the past, respected by me -are attempting to justify unchecked bureaucratic behaviour andlawlessness. They exchange their reputation for a life of ease,privileges and sops.

Luckily, not all are like that, and there are ever more of the other kind.

It makes me proud to know that even after 7 years of persecutions, not asingle one of the thousands of YUKOS employees has agreed to become afalse witness, to sell their soul and conscience.

Dozens of people have personally experienced threats, have been cut offfrom family, and have been thrown in jail. Some have been tortured.But, even after losing their health and years of their lives, peoplehave still kept the thing they deemed to be most important, – humandignity.

Those who started this shameful case, – Biryukov, Karimov and others, -have contemptuously called us “entrepreneurs” [«kommersanty»], regardingus as low-lifes, capable of anything just to protect our prosperity andavoid prison.

The years have passed. So who are the low-lifes now? Who is it thathave lied, tortured, and taken hostages, all for the sake of money andout of cowardice before their bosses?
And this they called “the sovereign’s business” [«gosudarevoye delo»]!

Shameful. I am ashamed for my country.

I think all of us understand perfectly well – the significance of ourtrial extends far beyond the scope of my fate and Platon’s, and even thefates of all those who have guiltlessly suffered in the course of thesweeping massacre of YUKOS, those I found myself unable to protect, butabout whom I remember every day.

Let us ask ourselves: what must be going through the head of theentrepreneur, the high-level organiser of production, or simply anyordinary educated, creative person, looking today at our trial andknowing that its result is absolutely predictable?

The obvious conclusion a thinking person can make is chilling in itsstark simplicity: the siloviki bureaucracy can do anything. There isno right of private property ownership. A person who collides with “thesystem” has no rights whatsoever.

Even though they are enshrined in the law, rights are not protected bythe courts. Because the courts are either also afraid, or arethemselves a part of “the system”. Should it come as a surprise toanyone then that thinking people do not aspire to self-realisation here,in Russia?
Who is going to modernise the economy? Prosecutors? Policemen?Chekists? We already tried such a modernization – it did not work. Wewere able to build a hydrogen bomb, and even a missile, but we still cannot build – our own good, modern television, our own inexpensive,competitive, modern automobile, our own modern mobile phone and a wholepile of other modern goods as well.

But then we have learnt how to beautifully display others’ obsoletemodels produced in our country and an occasional creation of Russianinventors, which, if they ever do find a use, it will certainly be insome other country.

Whatever happened with last year’s presidential initiatives in the realmof industrial policy? Have they been buried? They offer the realchance to kick the oil addiction.

Why? Because what the country needs is not one Korolev, and not oneSakharov under the protective wing of the all-powerful Beria and hismillion-strong armed host, but hundreds of thousands of “korolevs” and”sakharovs”, under the protection of fair and comprehensible laws andindependent courts, which will give these laws life, and not just aplace on a dusty shelf, as they did in their day – with the Constitutionof 1937.

Where are these “korolevs” and “sakharovs” today? Have they left thecountry? Are they preparing to leave? Have they once again gone offinto internal emigration? Or taken cover amongst the grey bureaucratsin order not to fall under the steamroller of “the system”?

We can and must change this.

How is Moscow going to become the financial centre of Eurasia if ourprosecutors, “just like” 20 and 50 years ago, are directly andunambiguously calling in a public trial for the desire to increase theproduction and market capitalisation of a private company – to be ruled acriminally mercenary objective, for which a person ought to be lockedup for 14 years? Under one sentence a company that paid more tax thananyone else, except Gazprom, but still underpaid taxes; and with thesecond sentence it’s obvious that there’s nothing to tax since thetaxable item was stolen.

A country that tolerates a situation where the siloviki bureaucracyholds tens and even hundreds of thousands of talented entrepreneurs,managers, and ordinary people in jail in its own interests, instead ofand together with criminals, – this is a sick country.

A state that destroys its best companies, which are ready to becomeglobal champions; a country that holds its own citizens in contempt,trusting only the bureaucracy and the special services – is a sickstate.

Hope – the main engine of big reforms and transformations, the guarantorof their success. If hope fades, if it comes to be supplanted byprofound disillusionment, – who and what will be able to lead our Russiaout of the new stagnation?

I will not be exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes throughout allof Russia and throughout the whole world are watching for the outcomeof this trial.

They are watching with the hope that Russia will after all become acountry of freedom and of the law, where the law will be above thebureaucratic official.

Where supporting opposition parties will cease being a cause for reprisals.

Where the special services will protect the people and the law, and not the bureaucracy from the people and the law.

Where human rights will no longer depend on the mood of the tsar. Good or evil.

Where, on the contrary, the power will truly be dependent on thecitizens, and the court – only on law and God. Call this conscience -if you prefer.

I believe, this – is how it will be.

I am not at all an ideal person, but I am – a person with an idea. Forme, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to diethere.

But if I have to – I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for. I think I have proven this.

And you opponents? What do you believe in? That the bosses are alwaysright? Do you believe in money? In the impunity of “the system”?

Your Honour!

There is much more than just the fates of two people in your hands.Right here and right now, the fate of every citizen of our country isbeing decided. Those who, on the streets of Moscow and Chita, Peter andTomsk, and other cities and settlements, are not counting on becomingvictims of police lawlessness, who have set up a business, built ahouse, achieved success and want to pass it on to their children, not toraiders in uniform, and finally, – those who want to honourably carryout their duty for a fair wage, not expecting that they can be fired atany moment by corrupt bosses under just about any pretext.

This is not about me and Platon – at any rate, not only about us. It isabout hope for many citizens of Russia. About hope that tomorrow, thecourt will be able to protect their rights, if yet some otherbureaucrats-officials get it into their head to brazenly anddemonstratively violate these rights.

I know, there are people, I have named them in the trial, who want tokeep us in jail. To keep us there forever! Indeed, they do not evenconceal this, publicly reminding everyone about the existence of a”bottomless” case file.

They want to show: they – are above the law, they will alwaysaccomplish whatever they might “think up”. So far they have achievedthe opposite: out of ordinary people they have created a symbol of thestruggle with arbitrariness. But for them, a conviction is essential,so they would not become “scapegoats”.

I want to hope that the court will stand up to their psychological pressure. We all know through whom it will come.

I want an independent judiciary to become a reality and the norm in mycountry, I want the phrase from the Soviet times about “the most justcourt in the world” to stop sounding just as ironic today as they didback then. I want us not to leave the dangerous symbols of atotalitarian system as an inheritance for our children andgrandchildren.

Everybody understands that your verdict in this case – whatever it willbe – is going to become part of the history of Russia. Furthermore, itis going to form it for the future generation. All the names – those ofthe prosecutors, and of the judges – will remain in history, just likethey have remained in history after the infamous Soviet trials.

Your Honour, I can imagine perfectly well that this must not be veryeasy at all for you – perhaps even frightening – and I wish you courage!