Oleg Sentsov’s Forty Days
Yegor Lopatin Za-Za
June 22, 2018
We are witnessing a tragedy generated by incredible cynicism. Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for forty days.
Have you tried not eating for four days? For ten days? I once performed an experiment on myself and did not eat for eight days. What mattered to me was whether I could do it or not. I passed the test fairly easily.
As far as I can remember, no one has been on hunger strike for forty days in a row.*
I would imagine Sentsov, who is 42 years old, has already irreparably damaged his health and can never be completely normal again. This is quite sad. What is even sadder, however, is that he apparently has decided to die, thus challenging the people who sent him to prison for 20 years, annexed Crimea, and unleashed a war in Donbass.
Sentsov has no other means of influencing these people, who are firmly convinced anyone can be broken with a good spanking. We are thus witnesses to a invisible duel between Sentsov and Putin, who bears direct responsibility for everything that happens in Russia.
No one will emerge from this duel a winner. There will only be losers. Sentsov will most likely die an agonizing death, and the damage to Putin’s reputation will be worse than from the sinking of the Kurskand the downing of Flight MH17, although people with their heads screwed on straight have long understood that Putin’s reputation is beyond saving.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will also bear blame for Sentsov’s death. He has been incredibly passive during the hunger strike and has done basically nothing to save Sentsov.
All of us, the people of Russia, are directly responsible for the lawlessness of our authorities, who have destroyed a young man on trumped-up charges. I do not believe Sentsov could have planned terrorist attacks in Crimea or even laid a finger on anyone.
This is a typical KGB move: doing something nasty and blaming the victim for it.
So, before you bask in the success of the Russian national football team, remember that an amazingly courageous man is dying a painful death right now for his beliefs.
His name is Oleg Sentsov.
This is not only his tragedy. It is our tragedy, too.
Yegor Lopatin is a Russian writer. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
* Provisional IRA militant Bobby Sands was on hunger strike in the Maze Prison for 66 days in 1981, while Soviet dissident and political prisoner Anatoly Marchenko struck for 117 days in 1986. Marchenko died in a prison hospital several days after ending his strike, while Sands died in the prison hospital while still on strike. // TRR
I was riding tonight in a taxi driven by someone with a surprising name: Nasimjon. I was watching Solovyov’s show on my telephone. His guests were voicing the warmest feelings of devotion to the winner of the race.
“He got so many votes not because he had the administrative resource behind him, but because people love and respect him,” said Andrei Maximov, presenter of the program Duty Officer for the Country.
My [sic] Nasimjon was silently listening to this splendor with me. At some point, moved by the emotions of the people speaking, he voiced his own.
“I was so scared today.”
“What was wrong?”
“I typed the question, ‘How much did Putin get in Moscow?’ into Yandex. The answer I got was eleven percent for him, and seventy-three percent for Grudinin. I was frightened.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Because the situation in the world is such that where would be without Putin? Look what’s going on around us: England and America again. Who else can deal with them?”
“Why do we need to deal with America?”
“They dream of ripping us to shreds. They kill everybody. They occupy everybody and kill them.”
“Who have they killed?”
“Iraq, Afghanistan. They organized the coup in Ukraine.”
“Did you hear that on TV?”
“No, my passengers told me. Plus, the Americans think everyone else is stupid.”
“Who told you that?”
“My Armenian friend. He’s lived in America for twenty years. He says that in the textbooks over there it’s written that Americans are smart, and everyone else is stupid. But Putin has made everyone fear us.”
“That’s a good thing?”
“Maybe it would be better if we were respected and liked?”
“It doesn’t work that way with the Americans. We have to make them fear us.”
“So, how did this thing with Putin end? You believed the figures were real?”
“Yes, I did, and that’s why I got scared. But then I turned on Business FM Radio, and it turned out it was the other way around, that Putin had seventy-three percent, and Grudinin, eleven percent. So now everything here is going to be fine.”
“What’s going to be fine?”
“Putin’s friends have already had their fill of stealing. If new guys had come to power, it would have started all over again.”
P.S. “What the taxi driver told me” has long been a common genre in Russian social media, especially the Russophone segment of Facebook. In most such stories, whether true or fabricated, the taxi driver is a stand-in for (debased) popular wisdom, for the Russian folk (russkii narod), meaning “ordinary,” “rank-and-file” Russians, whom the Russian liberal intelligentsia have historically imagined as a benighted, homogeneous mass.
The twist in this particular variation on the yarn is that the taxi driver’s name, Nasimjon, indicates he is clearly not ethnically Russian, meaning he hales from the Caucasus or Central Asia, or he was born in Moscow, but his parents moved there from one or other of these regions.
Even with this “politically correct” update, the genre remains problematic. It is more a symptom of the liberal intelligentsia’s failure to account for its own role in generating and maintaining the successive tyrannies that have plagued Russia since the nineteenth century, when the intelligentsia per se could be said to have been born as a kind of social subclass or metaclass, than it is a window onto the world of the “common people.”
To put it less murkily, if you stop talking to “taxi drivers” and listen to what actual Russians of all shapes, sizes, colors, and classes have to say and find out how they have either adapted to the Putinist tyranny or resisted it, you are as likely to discover resistance and clear thinking among supposed members of the Russian folk, among the people whom liberal Russians contemptuously refer to as “philistines” (obyvateli), as you would among the self-identified liberal intelligentsia.
Over the last several years, this website has featured many such inspiring stories of grassroots, working-class and lower middle-class resistance to the current Russian despotism, including the saga of the country’s fiercely militant independent truckers and the tale of the so-called partisans of Suna, a group of pensioners in Karelia who camped out in their beloved local old-growth forest to protect it, its environment, and their own humble livelihoods from local officials and developers, who wanted to build a road through it and turn part of it into a sand quarry.
Of course, there have also been many tales of similarly fierce, thoughtful resistance by Russians who by virtue of their educations and professions could be classified as intelligentsia. It is just that the vast majority of such intelligenstia militants are too clear sighted to sink to the vulgar sociology and flagrant mythologeme that would blame uneducated, poor, downtrodden, disempowered, and mostly invisible Russians for the country’s problems and Putin’s long-lived and wholly engineered “popularity.”TRR
“You’ll Be Gone in Three Minutes. I’m Going to Kill You”
Elena Srapyan, Civic Assistance Committee refugee.ru
April 12, 2016
On Friday, April 8, between Novye Cheryomushky and Kaluzhskaya subway stations in Moscow, an elderly man fired a trauma pistol several times into the head of a man of non-Slavic appearance. The wounded man is now in the intensive care ward of City Clinic Hospital No. 1 in serious condition. The Civic Assistance Committee has taken charge of the victim’s legal defense.
On the evening of Friday, April 8, Sulaimon Saidov, a 38-year-old Tajik national, was traveling home from work to Tyoply Stan. He was accompanied by his 19-year-old nephew Mukhammajon Khakimov, who had recently arrived in Moscow from Tajikistan. Saidov has lived in Moscow for over thirteen years. Like most of his relatives, with whom he rents a small flat in Tyoply Stan, he works in construction. The job enables Saidov to feed his four children.
This time, the trip home on the subway proved disastrous. It all began quite casually. At Profsoyuznaya station, a drunken middle-aged man who could barely stand on his feet burst into the subway car. He immediately spotted Khakimov. He went right up to him, pushing him and shouting.
“Who the hell are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?” he asked Khakimov.
Khakimov modestly replied he was from Tajikistan.
The assailant called Tajiks “black monkeys,” swore, and demanded that uncle and nephew immediately leave the car because it was “only for [ethnic] Russians.” Khakimov went over to his uncle, seeking protection. Saidov stood up, pushed his frightened nephew behind him, and tried to calm him.
“The man is just drunk. Don’t look at him. Don’t pay any attention,” he said.
Staring point blank at Saidov, the assailant said, “You’ll be gone in three minutes. I’m going to kill you.”
As Saidov relates it, he felt no danger: the threat from the elderly, frail-looking man seemed too absurd. Even when he spotted a pistol in the assailant’s hands, he did not believe it. He thought it was a toy. However, the pistol was real, a trauma pistol, and the assailant began firing.
He managed to squeeze off several shots at both Tajiks. He missed Khakimov, but he hit Saidov three times in the head and once in the stomach. At short range, the shots could have been deadly. One of the bullets entered Saidov’s eye and damaged the sclera, while another left a huge wound in his skull.
Saidov realized he had to fight for his life. He felt no pain. In a state of shock, he grabbed for the assailant’s pistol and managed to wrest it from his hands. At that moment, the doors of the subway car opened, and assailant and victim found themselves on the platform of Kaluzhskaya subway station. According to police, there was no CCTV camera in the car, but on the station’s cameras what happened looks like a fight. Rushing to the scene, police detained the man holding the pistol: Saidov. Police grabbed him, wrested the weapon from him, and put his hands behind his back. Only when bystanders shouted that he was the victim was Saidov released.
The assailant managed to escape the scene, but was detained quite soon thereafter. When witnesses identified the attacker on video surveillance recordings at the station, it turned out the man’s face was familiar to police. After the pistol was fingerprinted, there could be no doubt: the assailant was 58-year-old local resident Sergei Tsaryov, who had been detained at the same subway station a week earlier.
Tsaryov was brought in literally minutes later. However, police were unable to talk with him for a long time. The man was so drunk he could not answer clearly. At the same time, relatives of the victim were giving testimony in another office. Saidov was almost immediately taken away by ambulance. His injuries were so severe that doctors feared for his life.
Saidov’s cousin Dilshod Saidov, who speaks Russian well, soon arrived at the scene. At the time, Police Captain Ilyinsky was questioning relatives and witnesses, and drawing up an incident report. Dilshod Saidov assisted the captain by translating for Khakimov. But when Ilyinsky read the interview record aloud, Saidov was struck by the differences between it and Khakimov’s testimony. Saidov began verifying the interview record phrase by phrase. According to the text, it was Khakimov who had got a rise out of the passenger with whom Sulaimon Saidov had later fought.
“As if Mukhammajon had provoked the assailant by the mere fact of his existence,” said an indignant Dilshod Saidov. “I had to fight for every word in his testimony: that alone took two hours. They also tried to give me a hard time. They said, ‘Who the hell are you? Let’s check you out.’ Only I wasn’t scared. I’m a regular guy: all my papers are in order. Yeah, the night at the police station was just awful.”
But most importantly, the ambulance doctors managed to get Sulaimon Saidov to City Hospital No. 1 quickly, where he immediately underwent surgery. Thanks to the efficiency and professionalism of his doctors, Saidov survived.
Saidov’s family are alsop grateful to a young female witness who went with them to the police station and stayed there to the end. Unfortunately, they were unable to exchange telephone numbers. The police were vigilant and made sure that communication between them was impossible.
Saidov’s relatives stood watch outside the intensive care ward all through the evening of April 8 and the early hours of April 9.
“I was at work when it happened,” says Dilafruz Sharapova, a close friend of the victim’s. “I called Sulaimon, but he didn’t answer. That usually doesn’t happen, and I got scared right away. Then his nephew picked up the phone. First he said they were just on the subway. He didn’t want to scare me. When I got home, his cousin called and told me everything. I remember I immediately said to him, ‘Come and get me, and let’s go to the hospital.’ I couldn’t just sit there, you know? We arrived at the hospital, and I waited so long for the doctors to say at least something that it was frightening. I was able to see him only a day later. The operation was over, and the danger had passed. Things will probably be rough for us now, because he won’t be able to work. But I’m not thinking about that for the time being. I am only worried for him. I can’t think about anything else.”
The doctors are now optimistic in their prognoses. Although Saidov suffered a severe bruise to the crown of his head, the brain was not affected. Saidov remembers everything perfectly, and has no problems speaking. The biggest worry is his eye, but the doctors hope to be able to save it despite the damage to the sclera. Perhaps another operation, a more expensive one, will be necessary. The Civic Assistance Committee plans on announcing a fundraiser for Saidov when details have become clear and his relatives have received the necessary medical documents.
The Civic Assistance Committee is defending the interests of the victim, Sulaimon Saidov, in the case.
“For the incident to be qualified correctly it is vital that our lawyer begin working as quickly as possible,” said Marina Leksina, head of the project for the victims of hate crimes. “Because we already have cause to assume that they will try to acquit the assailant by presenting Sulaimon as an active party to the conflict. From what Sulaimon has told us, the attack was motivated only by xenophobia. It was direct aggression, which the assailant accompanied with corresponding language.”
Representing the victim will be Filipp Shishov, an attorney for Memorial Human Rights Center’s Migration and Law Network. Shishov previously represented Maratbek Eshankulov, the young man who unable to return home for four years because of the “dissimilar” photograph in his passport.
Photo courtesy of the Civic Assistance Committee. Translated by the Russian Reader