Russia’s Thaw Will Come From the People – Piontkovsky

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Author and scholar Andrei Piontkovsky, who was charged with extremism for criticizing the Russian authorities, comments on the final result of his trial, which absolved him of any guilt. To those who liken his success in court with a liberalization of Russia under Dmitri Medvedev, Piontkovsky counters that any thaw in Russia is coming from below, not from above.

The article first ran in the online newspaper on December 10, 2008.

A Thaw from Below
Andrei Piontkovsky

The significance of the Basmanny court’s December 5, 2008 decision, or more precisely, the Russian Federal Center’s legal expertise which preordained it, goes far beyond the bounds of my case.

The FSB [Federal Security Service] and the prosecutors, armed with a new law on extremism, were trying to hold a show trial and create a precedent of criminal prosecution for criticism of the authorities.

The highly professional and academically reasoned report by Andrei Smirnov, Olga Kukushkina and Yulia Safonova, which found no signs of extremism in my harsh criticism of the country’s president, knocked this “avenging sword” from the hands of the repressive agencies. And for a long time, I hope.

The 34-page text of the report is our small Magna Carta; a charter of liberties to Russian journalists; a first step to restoring freedom of speech in Russia, which was deceitfully stolen from the public by a chekist lieutenant colonel who imagined himself the “father of the nation.”

A just-as-important first step to restoring an independent judiciary was the juror revolt against the judge’s attempt to close the proceedings of the trial against the men accused of killing Anna Politkovskaya.

The truth which may ring out in an open process is too dangerous for the authorities.

The “national leader” gained notoriety for two statement he made the day after Anna’s murder. First, struggling to hide his suffocating hatred for the deceased, he said that she “was an extremely insignificant journalist, and her death brought US much greater damage than all her writings.” Afterwards, deliberately trying to send the investigation on a false path, he asserted: “WE know credibly that her murder was organized by enemies of Russia abroad.”

The investigation, however, did not confirm this version, and on the contrary, established that the killers were assisted by two teams of Russian “siloviki” –one from the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and one from the FSB. In an open process, it should become clear to what pinnacles of power the tracks of Anna Politkovskaya’s killers lead.

Many observers, especially Western ones, ask the question: don’t these two victories –in the trial against Politkovskaya’s killers and the trial over Piontkovsky’s books– offer evidence or an indication of the coming thaw in Russia?

Yes, they do, but not that thaw from above, which adherents of the “liberal successor” theory have been speaking about for almost a year.

This is a thaw from below, which was not triggered by Medvedev the “successor,” but by Kolesov the roofer, and by the scholars, Smirnov, Kukushkina, and Savelova. People who honestly did their duties.

The “successor” wasn’t allowed to pardon Svetlana Bakhmina, and he didn’t dare do it himself. Even if he was publicly and respectfully asked by his own spin doctors in the Public Chamber.

The extent of pathological sadism shown by the highest authorities to Vasily Aleksanyan and Svetlana Bakhmina is such that is forces one to question the mental health of the people who head an atomic superpower.

Offering to release the dying Aleksanyan, who has been tortured for two years now, for 50 million [rubles] – here’s an example of a “thaw” from above that our authorities are capable of.

Someone among the highest-ranked humanists likely had the thought that “the death of this insignificant lawyer in custody will do US more damage.” As result, they decided that it was worth it, perhaps, to deny themselves the pleasure of continuing his torture.

2009 will become the year of the thaw from below. More and more people will refuse the Nabokovian “Invitation to a Beheading,” will forswear the game whose rules were given to the public by a chekist kleptocracy. And then the regime will face a dilemma: to move on to massive repression, or to finally take their chances on a belated thaw from above.

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