To those who ordered my arrest

Leonid Gozman, arrested in absentia this week, muses on those who persecute the innocent

To those who ordered my arrest

Armed police officers on duty outside a Moscow court during the trial of Oleg Orlov, the chairman of human rights group Memorial, in October. Photo: EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV

Leonid Gozman

Russian opposition politician

I finished writing this a few minutes before the death of Alexey Navalny was announced, may his memory live forever! It may be inappropriate at a time like this to talk about the Russian authorities and their political masturbation — arresting people in absentia, sentencing people in absentia. But, despite this tragedy, it will continue.

Russian justice is at least predictable. If the prosecutor asks for a prison sentence, they get a prison sentence. If they ask for a fine, they get a fine. What the defendant did or didn’t do is neither here nor there.

Charges always end in conviction, so you can know in advance how any legal action will end. Did anyone doubt that the Supreme Court would say no to Boris Nadezhdin? Does anyone in Russia ever expect acquittal?

When the hearing due on 14 February to announce that economist Konstantin Sonin and I were to be arrested in absentia was adjourned to 20 February due to a hitch — the procedural violations were so blatant that even the Prosecutor’s Office supported an adjournment — nobody noticed.

As far as public opinion and the media were concerned, the arrest was already a fact and was written about as if it had happened.

Indeed, what difference did it make, because it would happen eventually anyway? I’ve been on the wanted list for months now and they’ve been looking for me ever since. They could have just called me and I’d have told them where I was.

But seriously, how bored I am of you all! How bored I am of the arrogant way you pronounce abomination after abomination in the name of the people and do such unimaginably wicked things. How bored I am of being part of these investigative and judicial farces, whether in person or in absentia, when the outcome is a foregone conclusion. How bored I am of having to say I don’t care every time you make a decision to fine or arrest someone, put someone on the wanted list or declare them a foreign agent.

Because I do care! While you don’t have much chance of catching me — I won’t be extradited from Europe, I’m not idiotic enough to travel to any Russia-friendly dictatorships, and I’m of insufficient importance for you to send a patriot after me with a gun or Novichok — I do still have friends in Russia. We speak. We write. I want to hear what they have to say about my writing. You will persecute them, start calling them, dropping hints that they shouldn’t be in touch with the enemy, that they might lose their job or their daughter might be expelled from graduate school. They’ll probably ignore you, but you’ll complicate their lives and our friendship too. So on that front, congratulations, you have caused me some trouble.

It is very hard to accept the fact that the Russian state will never forgive those who tell the truth, calling a war a war and a dictatorship a dictatorship, and will always hunt them down. 

My lawyer suggested I write a few lines to the court laying out my position on the charges against me, saying that I had acted within the law and did not admit my guilt. And the amazing thing was I caught myself taking it seriously, as if I was appealing to someone who would look into the case, and not just rubber-stamp the verdict.

Unlike you, we haven’t harmed our country. We didn’t rob it blind, we didn’t fill people’s heads with obsolete, obscurantist ideas, we didn’t set it at odds with the rest of the world. Somehow you’ve now even managed to fall out with Ecuador.

By always complaining that you’ve been hard done by, you’ve made a laughing stock of our country. For heaven’s sake, you put the Estonian prime minister on the wanted list simply for saying something that you disagreed with. You still feel your honour has been offended, when in actual fact nobody cares about you.

We, on the other hand, built the country up to the best of our ability. We attempted to offer our compatriots a better shot at a normal life, to free them from the difficult legacy our history and people like you left for them. But just as our efforts were coming to fruition and foreign opinions of Russia began to improve, you came to power.

You, executors of the supreme will, investigators, judges, prosecutors, you trump up charges and trample all over the law and morality on a daily basis. You know you’re lying, but you convince yourself that you’re doing it in the name of a higher goal. So, yes, protecting the Motherland from me is as good a goal as any! You studied law — the same law you now trample over — though you surely once believed you would uphold it and protect people from tyranny. Do you really like what you’ve become?

I am an ungrateful person, but you actually did me a favour! When, in 2022, I was suddenly released from custody, either thanks to the efforts of my once high-ranking friends, or by accident, because of some cock-up, my lawyers and I believed I would end up behind bars for the rest of my life, so I left Russia within hours. But I really didn’t want to! And I kept thinking, maybe I’m doing the wrong thing. Maybe I should have risked it and stayed? Well, you’ve now made it clear to me that staying wasn’t an option and that I’ll only return to Russia once you’re gone. So I had to go. The alternative was dying in prison. Thank you for ridding me of any doubt or illusion.

I don’t believe in divine judgement, though sometimes I wish I did. And I don’t really believe that you’ll face justice here on Earth either, except for a few unlucky ones. But let’s not forget that even if the descendants of executioners don’t curse the names of their ancestors, they’re certainly not proud of them. Whereas the descendants of those who fought the Bolsheviks and the Nazis wear their names with pride. But then, why would you care about something as petty as that?

Views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of Novaya Gazeta Europe.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.