On Monday, a Moscow court sentenced the journalist and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for criticizing Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
It’s a harsh sentence—longer than that imposed on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny—but not surprising. Vladimir Putin has a long history of clamping down on those who dare to question his authority. Under Putin, any number of journalists, government officials, and others have been killed, imprisoned, or forced to flee the country.
What’s more, as the war has dragged on, the Kremlin has become even more desperate.
Kara-Murza’s comments below—his final remarks in court before his sentencing—are a reminder not only of his extraordinary courage, but of something else easy to lose sight of these days: there is a noble, liberal tradition in Russia that stretches back centuries, and there are countless Russians who pine for the day when they can finally break free from their authoritarian shackles. These are the people whose names we must remember and whose words we need to heed. —Peter Savodnik, Free Press editor and writer
After two decades spent in Russian politics, after all that I have seen and experienced, I was sure that nothing could surprise me any more. I must admit that I was wrong.
I’ve been surprised by how far my trial, in its secrecy and contempt for legal norms, has surpassed even the “trials” of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s not even to mention the harsh sentence requested by the prosecution, or the talk of “enemies of the state.” In this respect, we’ve gone beyond the 1970s—all the way back to the 1930s.
As a historian, I believe this is an occasion for reflection.
At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances in my case was “remorse for what [the accused] has done.” And although there is little that’s funny about my current situation, I couldn’t help but smile: a criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.
Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that [assassinated opposition politician] Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I support every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price—the price of war.
In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rearview mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.
But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will evaporate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when it will be officially recognized that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who fostered and unleashed this war will be recognized as criminals, rather than those who tried to stop it.
This day will come as spring comes after even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. Through this realization, through this reflection, the long, difficult, but vital path toward Russia’s recovery and restoration begins: its return to the community of civilized countries.
Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path.
This translation of Vladimir Kara-Murza’s remarks was originally published at opendemocracy.net.
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