The Two Gentlemen of Russia

On his blog Alexander Goldfarb writes that while he is glad to see an innocent man released from prison, there can be no doubt that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s plea for clemency was written under pressure:

It says more about Putin than about MBK: not only has Putin kept a man in prison for ten years for nothing, he, the brute, has also forced a confession out of him.

We should not forget that in the relationship between these these two characters there is much that is personal. In their Shakespearean drama the outcome of the plot still lies ahead. In this situation a plea for clemency in no way amounts to a capitulation.

When one man sits on the throne, and the other in a dungeon, everything is clear – one is a tyrant, and the other a martyr. When a prisoner dies in a torture chamber or emerges into freedom with head unbowed, not repenting, everything is also clear: the tyrant has lost his authority and is powerless against the power of the spirit. Both of them understand that.

But a confession extracted by force tells us nothing. The final result depends on how MBK conducts himself in future. If, like Galileo who exclaimed:”And yet it moves!”, he in some form disavows his confession, does not express thanks to Putin and says something, for example, in defence of the Bolotnaya prisoners or the thousands of businessmen who have been jailed by the lawlessness of the Cheka, then his persecutor will be shamed even further.

But if he puts his lips to the hand of the man “who granted him freedom”, gives us to understand, like Orwell’s hero, that the “re-education ” has worked and that now “he loves Big Brother “, then Putin will have something on which to congratulate himself. Then he will really have won.

Update: in a new post written after Khodorkovsky’s Berlin press conference on December 22, Goldfarb adds:

The key passage in MBK’s statement: “I don’t want to take a completely open position on many issues. I have won the right not to say what I do not think. That is worth a great deal.”

He will not sing Putin’s praises. But he has not won the right to say what he thinks of him. Well, one cannot judge him for that, in his position he was entitled to make compromises. But the expectations that he would be a Sakharov or a Mandela have not been realized.

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