Two Russian Nationals Jailed in Tripoli

Two Russian Nationals Jailed in Prison in Tripoli Suburbs
RBC
July 6, 2019

Two Russian nationals, previously detained by Libyan authorities, have been jailed at Mitiga Prison in the suburbs of Tripoli, according to Alexander Malkevich, president of the National Values Defense Fund [sic], as reported to TASS.

Malkevich confirmed that two Russian nationals, sociologist [sic] Maxim Shugaley and interpreter Samer Hasan Ali, who is a  dual Russian-Jordanian national, had been jailed. There were a total of three people in their research group [sic]. Malkevich also claimed fund staff members had not meddled in election campaigns in Libya. Their work was limited to monitoring the situation there.

The Russia-based National Values Defense Fund (FZNTs) reported on July 5 that their staff members had been detained in Libya. It claimed they had only been carrying out sociological surveys and researching humanitarian, cultural, and political conditions in Libya.

According to Bloomberg, the Russian nationals were detained in May of this year. In particular, two of them had arranged a meeting with Saif al-Islam, son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Saif al-Islam is considered a possible Libyan presidential candidate.

As noted in a letter sent by the Libyan Prosecutor’s Office to PNE [sic], the information found on laptops and flash drives confiscated from the detainees proved both of them worked for a company “specializing in meddling in the elections scheduled in several African countries,” including Libya. The prosecutor’s office also noted a third Russian national had managed to leave Libya before the special services arrested the men.

Thanks to Grigorii Golosov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

fundRussian Orthodox Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, and Alexander Malkevich presenting the National Values Defend Fund at a press conference at Rossiya Segodnya News Agency in Moscow in April 2019. Photo courtesy of Znak.com

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
July 7, 2019

As for the National Values Defense Fund, which sent a poor spin doctor (identified as a “sociologist”) to Libya, it is a new project, obviously run by [Yevgeny] Prigozhin. Its website makes it clear it is going to defend Russian national values primarily in Africa.

You can read more about the project here.

I realize Putin’s ex-chef Prigozhin has long been more than an errand boy for the man with whom he has been involved in the asymmetrical albeit profitable relationship of vassal and liege lord. Prigozhin has his own business interests in Africa. Russian foreign policy is now so arranged that Prigozhin’s business interests are Russia’s national interests.

So be it. China also has interests in Africa. They are backed by colossal investments that are gradually exchanged for political influence. This happens really slowly because the Africans are quite touchy about it: Chinese influence makes people unhappy. But the investments it makes go a long way toward containing the unhappiness.

Russia has taken a different route. It helps its cause to educate African army officers at the relevant Russian universities, but that is a long-term deal. The powers that be want things to happen quickly, hence the appearance on the continent of mercenaries [like Prigozhin’s Wagner GroupTRR] and spin doctors to aid dictators in fixing their so-called elections and squashing protests through trickery.

In other words, the Chinese approach involves spending money now to obtain influence later, while the Russian approach involves trying to gain influence now in order to make money later. I don’t need to tell you there is no better way to make “Russia” a swear word in Africa and elsewhere, and all Russian nationals into automatic personae non gratae.

Our current rulers will surely take pride in the fact they managed to make as many countries and regions as possible hate Russia. This how they imagine defending national values.

Thanks to Louis Proyect for the link to the article about Jane Goodall’s campaign against Chinese influence in Africa. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Nikolay Mitrokhin: The Church Militant, The Radio Complicit

Father Vsevolod Chaplin. Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox priest who recently argued on Russian radio station Echo of Moscow that it was sometimes necessary and possible to “destroy” whole groups of people as “internal enemies.” Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)

“For the Church, Violence Is the Norm”
Valentin Baryshnikov
Radio Svoboda
August 16, 2016

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, long-time head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society, made an appearance on Echo of Moscow radio in which he shocked many people by saying that some people “can and should be killed.”

Here is an excerpt of Father Chaplain’s appearance on Echo, which began with a discussion of erecting a monument to Ivan the Terrible in Oryol.

Presenter: Yes, but with that rationale you can also justify Stalin, for example. Sure, there were excesses, but he was an effective manager, they say.

Vsevolod Chaplin: He did a lot. Listen, at the end of the day what is wrong with destroying a certain number of internal enemies?

Presenter: “Destroying” people, that is what is wrong.

Vsevolod Chaplin: What is wrong with that?

Presenter: You cannot kill people!

Vsevolod Chaplin: Why not? Some people can and should be killed. That is for sure.

Presenter: “Some people”? Which ones are those?

Vsevolod Chaplin: So it is no accident that criminals are destroyed, and no accident—

Presenter:  I would remind you the death penalty has been abolished in Russia.*

Vsevolod Chaplin: I am not sure that was the right decision. Look, even God, if we read the Old Testament, if we read the Apocalypse, that is, the New Testament, directly sanctioned and sanctions in the future the destruction of a huge number of people for the edification of others.  For the edification of societies, it is sometimes necessary to destroy a certain number of people who deserve to be destroyed.

* In fact, capital punishment has not been abolished in the Russian Federation. President Yeltsin placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 so that Russia could meet the requirements for joining the Council of Europe. The moratorium has remained in effect since then, but the death penalty is still listed in the law books as a legal punishment for certain crimes. TRR

When asked whether Chaplin’s statement was his personal opinion or a reflection of conversations within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Nikolay Mitrokhin, a sociologist of religion and author of the book The Russian Orthodox Church: Its Current State and Challenges, confidently replied that church insiders think this way.

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The majority of rank-and-file clergy and the bishops are quite militantly minded. They do not rule out violence. Violence is the norm in ecclesiastical practice. Bishops hit priests who do something wrong on the altar. Its is a popular subject of stories told within the Church. In turn, priests are capable of hitting sacristans and subdeacons. The Church is now also the leading social institution that has come out against so-called juvenile justice, in other words, against bans on beating children. So for the Church, violence is the norm.  The Church supports militarist rhetoric. The Church supports the numerous military-patriotic clubs operating under its auspices. If you chat with a rank-and-file priest, he will surely talk like Chaplin or worse. It is another question whether it was worth putting Chaplin on the radio and giving his cannibalistic ideas a platform.  However, that is the stance of Echo of Moscow, which has given various kinds of fascists the chance to speak out on its airwaves. Let us not forget that several right-wing radicals have their own programs on the station.  So it all fits, in the first place, not only the mindset of the ROC but also the mindset of Echo of Moscow.

Echo of Moscow actually plans not to publish the transcript of this speech and, as far as I can tell, will not be inviting Father Chaplin on the air again.

With Chaplin’s appearance, they have reached a point where a lot of people have wondered whether the prosecutor’s office is asleep at the wheel and whether they should not file a complaint against Echo of Moscow radio station. In this case, they face quite specific criminal charges. But the reason they invited Chaplin to appear on the air is itself quite obvious. Yet again they had to rile up the liberal public with harsh statements so that a discussion would emerge around them. They are not shy about inviting someone who on several occasions has voiced his tough and, quite frankly, fascist stance. So I think this was a big mistake on the part of Echo of Moscow, which is no less liable for the statements than the person who made them.

When Chaplin says this, when priests en masse within the ROC hold such positions, does this somehow link up in their minds, if I can put it is this way, with the concept of Jesus Christ, who spoke of love and non-violence?

As we know, there is no Christ in the ROC. There is Orthodoxy in the ROC, but there is no Christ in the Church in the sense in which the idea of Christ was shaped by the Russian intelligentsia in the early twentieth century. For centuries, the phrase that Jesus is love just did not make sense. It was not a subject the clergy considered. From that point of view, it is not clear why it should be considered now. The concepts that the liberal intelligentsia have been attempting to discuss are all seemingly variations on western Christianity, so-called post-Holocaust thought, which has nothing to do with what the majority of the ROC’s ordinary parishioners think and believe. They see Orthodoxy as the national religion, which provides them with spiritual strength to oppose the “godless” west, and so on.  So Chaplin, who was driven from his post in the Church, deliberately shocked the audience by divulging what the conservative half of his brain thinks. The audience talked about it. Basically, though, any average Russian priest, whomever you approach, thinks exactly the same thing.

Does it come from the Church? Or does the Church trail behind its flock?

It comes from the Church, of course. Within the Church there has long existed a concept, which has been its main content, that has to do with Russian nationalism and militarism. The vast majority of the clergy espouse these ideas and communicate them to parishioners in one form or another. It is another matter to what extent the Church’s leadership controls all of this. To what extent are the clergy permitted to speak out or keep quiet about political issues? This is something that the Church’s leadership monitors. When it wanted the ROC to have a fairly decent image in Ukraine, priests were told they should not travel to Ukraine and help the separatists. A couple of people who violated the ban were banned from the ministry. The Russian clergy immediately began speaking carefully about Ukraine. The clergy can keep thinking as aggressively as it likes. The question is the things it will say in ordinary life. This is something that can be regulated both by society and the state.

Let us come back later to the question of regulation on the part of society and the sate. Let’s talk about the situation within the Church. Are there priests who follow the idea that God is love?

This is a concept common among a very narrow segment of Moscow and Petersburg intelligentsia, among university-educated intellectuals in the broad sense. The majority of clergymen have no secular education whatsoever (I mean higher education), and they have had a very average secondary education. Many of them either do not know about this concept or regard it as a bit of intellectualizing. There are individual priests (among the ROC’s 20,000 priests you might find several hundred, at best) who espouse this concept. But they are outside the mainstream of the Church and do not constitute a respected or influential minority.

Are they persecuted within the Church?

No, but these ideas are so remote from what priests really do it is impossible to say they in any way define the life of the Church. Especially because ideas of this sort are clearly articulated only by individual priests, priests who are closely associated, again, with liberal circles. One level down, in the provinces, a priest can very well tell his parishioners that Christ is love while running a military-patriotic club. It all gels perfectly in their minds depending on their personal views and the last book they read ten years ago. Nothing contradicts anything else. That is why priests with distinctly liberal views who are willing to say that God is love amount to a dozen. They are known to journalists, who turn to them all the time. Beyond the confines of this narrow circle, such concepts are not particularly popular, and they are not subjects of conversation.

The real life of the clergy and the real ideas in their minds are so diverse, so not amenable to systematization, that we can speak of a society, an ideology, that is in fact unknown to us. We can speak of their militarism. But for some priests this militarism is clearly defined—they wear camouflage all the time except during services—while other priests have these ideas in their heads, but they do not express them too publicly, because they think they should say something else to their parishes. In addition, there are the changes that come with age. When they are young, people’s blood runs hotter. As they age, they become smarter, but in old age, on the contrary, they lose their heads, senility sets in, and they can say things that completely contradict what they had said fifteen or twenty years earlier. For example, Father Dmitry Dudko became a communist in old age, although his whole life he was a harsh anti-communist. It is a dynamic environment of generally anti-liberal ideas, but certain noble notions can be found in what they think or say.

What about the natural objection that, in the twentieth century, a huge number of Russian Orthodox priests were murdered by the Bolsheviks on the same grounds that Father Chaplin cited? Does this objection just have no effect on these people? Do they not feel they are the successors to those priests, to the church that was destroyed by this massive crackdown?

They feel like this when it suits them. When they have to argue with the former collective farm chair and current local council head that the church needs paint, they remember the new martyrs. Generally, a person who is willing to remember the new martyrs was probably a Party or Communist Youth League member or even a political officer in the Soviet Army (that is a quite common case) or a local university graduate who wrote pro-Soviet articles. The fact is that there are very few people directly associated with the new martyrs in Russia, and there are fewer of them as the years go by. The bulk of the Church consists of former Soviet people who until 1991 believed in socialist ideas of some kind, were card-carrying Party members, were involved in political organizations, and did not give a second thought to anything religious. Ideas about the regime’s responsibility, ideas about the memory of the mass repressions, all had some importance in the late 1980s, but then quickly came to naught. In this case, what is urgent for the ROC is the question of so-called post-Holocaust thought that the intelligentsia has proposed, meaning the awareness of guilt and the needlessness of so many victims, but the Church has consistently rejected all this now. It believes you can kill, but you have to pick the right group to kill, as Chaplin said. This is the basis of the current ROC’s ideology.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a research fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of important books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Read his previous reflection on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Right-Wing Saints.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Nikolay Mitrokhin: Right-Wing Saints

Alexander Mikhailovich (center), a co-founder of Sorok Sorokov (Multitude), a militant Russian Orthodox organization that Patriarch Kirill has identified as his personal guard
Alexander Mikhailovich (center), a co-founder of Sorok sorokov (“Multitude”), a militant Russian Orthodox organization that Patriarch Kirill has identified as his personal “guard”

Right-Wing Saints
Nikolay Mitrokhin
October 26, 2015
Grani.ru

Last week at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), three decisions were adopted that illustrate the further transformation of church leadership into a fascist-type extreme right-wing organization.

The rank of bishop was awarded to Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), abbot of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, who is closely linked to Black Hundreds-like organizations. For the last fifteen years, at least, his public and political reputation had prevented him from moving up into the ranks of the church’s “generals,” despite his successes in advocacy (the Sretensky Monastery’s publishing house is the largest in the ROC) and close ties to the Russian state establishment. Now decency has been cast to the wind, and the path to a big church career has been opened to him.

In another decision, the Synod formed a joint commission of the Russian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches on the issue of canonizing Archbishop Serafim (Sobolev) of Bogucharsk. It has been emphasized that the commission was created at the personal behest of Patriarch Kirill, who on May 5 sent a formal request to the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. An émigré from Russia and, subsequently, one of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Serafim is known not only as the man who practically founded modern Bulgarian monasticism. He also penned many xenophobic essays (just like Putin and Nikita Mikhalkov’s favorite philosopher Ivan Ilyin) that mixed the Russian nationalism of his day with a hatred of other faiths. In the 1930s, he vigorously campaigned against the theologians of the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, insisting on rejecting all forms of ecumenical cooperation. And of course, like the other so-called Karlovites, the European bishops of the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), he actively collaborated with the Nazis. This did not stop him, as a Russian patriot, from collaborating just as successfully with the Stalinist regime after the war.

Sobolev’s most prominent Russian disciple and protégé was the young émigré priest known to us as Archpriest Vsevolod Spiller. To a large extent swayed by the ideas of his teacher, he returned in 1949 from Bulgaria to Moscow, where as deputy head of the Department of External Church Relations he was an influential church official. But then his ideas came into conflict with the political reality and, maintaining his post as prior of the Church of St. Nicholas in Kuznetsy, he became an equally influential figure in unofficial church life. In particular, he vigorously supported resistance groups within the church, which attempted to reconcile right-wing views with human rights rhetoric in order to gain greater autonomy for the clergy and the ROC as a whole.

A group of young disciples from the Moscow intelligentsia formed around Spiller. In the early 1980s, they were ordained as priests, and by the middle of the decade they had begun to confront their own former comrades who had chosen a more liberal vision of the church’s future. During perestroika, they founded the most successful ecclesiastical education project of the new era, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Institute, and in the early 2000s, as a result of a large and successful intrigue, they became the leading ideological faction within the ROC. Members of this faction have held a variety of leadership positions in the church and still control at least two posts at the overall church level. One of these clerics is Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Patriarchal Commission on Family and Youth Affairs. Smirnov is known for his aggressive xenophobic and extremist rhetoric (and his involvement in at least one major violent protest action), and he virtually acts as the church’s liaison with the extremist group God’s Will.

There is no doubt that the prospect of Archbishop Serafim’s canonization and, therefore, the church’s blessing to republish and promote his works is the handiwork of St. Tikhon’s Institute, now known as St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of [the] Humanities, especially since the university’s rector, Archpriest Vladimir Vorobyov, one of Spiller’s principal disciples, is on the canonization commission.

Finally, the third ideologically significant accomplishment of the Synod was the resolution it adopted in connection with the report made by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, chair of the Synodal Department on Church and Society Relations, on “proposals for countering neopaganism.”

“[We] consider concerns about the increasing spread of neo-paganism in countries for which the Moscow Patriarchate is canonically responsible, including the cultural and information sectors, reasonable. [We] emphasize the need to work more vigorously on the overall church and diocesan levels in order to refute the neo-pagan errors. This works must be conducted primarily with young people, with communities of athletes and sports fans, members of military-patriotic clubs, law enforcement officers, and persons in places of incarceration,” wrote the Synod in its resolution.

This is a response to the clear failure in recent years of the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts vis-à-vis “socially congenial” categories of young people. Despite the patriarchate’s desire to harness the energy of right-wing extremists and militarists in the youth subcultures to its own advantage by implementing the concept of military sports clubs in the parishes (there are definitely two or three such clubs in every region), it has become more and more obvious that the ROC’s “sluggish” stance did not satisfy its “flock” of extremists. Emblematic in this regard was the sensational renunciation, in 2013, of Russian Orthodoxy by Alexander Povetkin, a boxer popular among Russian nationalists, and his virtual conversion to neo-paganism as publicly demonstrated by the tattoos and amulets on his body.

Obviously, the ROC’s balanced position the Ukrainian conflict and its rejection of public anti-Ukrainian rhetoric has also caused dissatisfaction among patriotically minded right-wing radicals and facilitated their rejection of the church’s leadership. No wonder that Vsevolod Chaplin, whom the neo-Nazi gang BORN had considered as a candidate for assassination “for betraying the interests of the Russian people,” is now so worried about the religiosity of football hooligans, policemen, and convicts.

But maybe, in this case, the Moscow Patriarchate really is concerned about the morality of young people? This could be admitted as a possibility if the patriarchate and the patriarch personally had not hired those very same right-wing football hooligans and neo-Nazis as their personal bodyguard. Nor in the text of the Synod’s decision is there a single word of condemnation of “sports fans.” After all, they create idols and worship them, which is a direction violation of the commandment “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”

Alexander Mikhailovich (center) and his comrades from Sorok Sorokov (Multitude)
Alexander Mikhailovich (center) and his comrades from Sorok sorokov (“Multitude”)

In my opinion, these decisions by the Synod, which hammer away at the same point, are symptoms of the fascization of the church’s leadership. In this case, “fascization” is an academic term describing the process by which a subject of public space is indoctrinated with a certain set of ideas and practices. When it was under the authority of the communist regime, the ROC was frozen in terms of its ideological evolution for seven decades and is now going through the same stages that the major Christian churches of Europe went through during the twentieth century. If the “pre-modern” mystical obscurantism of the Black Hundreds had dominated under Alexy II, Kirill’s ROC has shifted into the phase of modernist fascist experiments, typical of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. Statements by church leaders about the role of the “national leader,” the desired “unity of the people,” the sacred duty of war, and the special rights of collective subjects, which are more important than individual rights, and even the particular focus on young people are all phenomena from that earlier era and its rhetoric, just like militarized youth organizations in ecclesiastical communities.

Everything having to do with the Russian profession of fascism and other versions of right-wing radicalism, which was quite popular in the Russian émigré community of the 1920s and 1930s, is thus only welcomed in the church at the moment. The Synod’s recent decisions testify to this fact.

While it is a big problem for the church, “fascization” is not of paramount importance to society. The church is too small in terms of numbers [of parishioners] and too fragmented in terms of organization and ideology for these processes, which primarily affect the church’s administrative apparatus, to have a real impact on Russian politics on the federal and even local levels. However much some in the church leadership would enjoy commanding strictly serried ranks of militants, there are fewer and fewer people who would want to join the ranks of these militants, especially just for the heck of it. Therefore, there are many more generals in this army than soldiers.

Meanwhile, the process of fascization, despite its unacceptability to modern society, has a variety of consequences. By itself, fascism was for its time a revolutionary movement, a form of catch-up modernization. It brought with it not only anti-democratic and xenophobic impulses but also the destruction of obsolete social institutions and barriers. It paved the way for new technologies, and provided means of social mobility and opportunities for young people.

In this regard, the work of Patriarch Kirill and his team does not appear so straightforward. The ideological component of Kirill’s reign and his blunders in the realm of information policy have overshadowed to outside observers the efforts made by the patriarch and his supporters within the church over the past five years. Reform of the ROC’s administrative apparatus (the establishment of the Supreme Church Council, changes to the number and function of departments), the creation of quasi-democratic institutions (the Interconciliar Assembly, ecclesiastical courts, congresses of various categories of clergymen), the unification of church law, a significant increase in the number of bishops, and, finally, the retreat from old-fashioned ways of confessing the faith (i.e., the fight against eldership, mysticism, superstition, and flagrant ethnic and confessional xenophobia) and a policy of actively recruiting educated young people all have laid the foundations for the ROC’s further transformation into a more modern church.

For an enormous number of rank-and-file (and not so rank-and-file) priests and lay people, it is not that all the games with black-shirted militants and the flagrant Russian nationalist rhetoric are completely unacceptable, but rather that they are absolutely trivial compared with other truths and values they associate with Russian Orthodoxy. Daily concerns about Sunday school, soup kitchens for the homeless, and, finally, their own wallets are much more important to them than the ideological “deviations” of the Moscow Patriarchate’s leadership. Especially because, even within the church, the leadership has been incapable of ensuring that brains are being washed in the right direction, much less clearly signaling its wishes.

Thus, the real needs and concerns of these people in a modern, post-industrial society make it possible to express very different priorities in the work of Russian Orthodox communities than as seen by the higher-ups. Sooner or later (it is a matter, here, not of years but of “five-year plans”), these priorities will obviously come to be at odds with the church’s ruling elite and its small groups of radical supporters on the ground. And then the ROC will have its own version of the Second Vatican Council, “post-Gulag theology,” priests organizing pancake feeds for aggressive congregants, and all the other things modern Russian society expects from the ROC.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a research fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of groundbreaking books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Photos courtesy of atheism.dirty.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: “I Won’t Be Able to Forgive Myself If I Don’t Try and Change Something”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: “I won’t be able to forgive myself for the rest of my life if I don’t try and change at least something”
September 26, 2013
Vera Kichanova
Slon.Ru

On Monday, convicted Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said in an open letter she was going on hunger strike to draw attention to numerous violations at the penal colony where she is serving her sentence. According to her, the workday there lasts sixteen to seventeen hours, production quotas are constantly raised, and convicts are punished for not fulfilling quotas: they can be deprived of the right to go to the toilet, to eat, and to drink. Human rights activists who have visited the penal colony have essentially confirmed what she described. Tolokonnikova also claimed she has received death threats and asked to be provided with protection; she was then transferred to solitary confinement. In a telephone conversation with Slon.Ru, she explained why it had been necessary to complain, why all the other inmates are silent, and how, in her opinion, to fix the system.

Nadya, how do you feel?

So-so: I have aches, dizziness, a headache, and feel like I’ve been poisoned. In fact, this is from the hunger strike, but at Penal Colony No. 14 the conditions are such that a hunger strike is relatively easy to take, because there are so many psychological problems that physical problems somehow don’t bother you that much.

Are you really in solitary confinement?

As always happens, it turned out very funny: I’m in a solitary confinement cell to which this morning, before the inspection commission arrived, they attached a sign that read, “Provision of a safe place.” In fact, it differs from solitary confinement only in the sense I can have my personal belongings here, and after numerous complaints about the cold they have put a heater in here.

Did anything change after the human rights activists visited the penal colony?

I can’t tell you anything about the penal colony: I have simply been isolated in solitary confinement so that I wouldn’t be able to monitor the state of affairs in the penal colony. I have thus been put in a position where I cannot monitor the things I’m demanding in my own hunger strike. All my communication with the other prisoners has been cut off. I only know that they’re undergoing standard preparations for an inspection, preparations that involve eliminating all shortcomings and flaws. But as far as I know, most of the prisoners support me and they still have high hopes that things will change. However, my experience of dealing with the administration tells me this is totally unlikely.

You’ll be getting out soon, but you go and write this letter. Had it really become unbearable, or do you want to help the others you’ll leave behind?

The others are the reason. I realize that six months will elapse and I’ll leave. But these people will remain, and I won’t be able to forgive myself for the rest of my life if I don’t try and change at least something. I won’t guarantee that something will change for the better, but I need to do this.

Yevgenia Khasis [a Russian nationalist sentenced to eighteen years in prison for acting as an accomplice in the murders of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist and anti-fascist activist, in downtown Moscow in January 2009 – Trans.] has said to journalists that you’re exaggerating about the intolerable conditions, that you actually don’t have support, and—

You can stop right there. I’m not interested in talking about Yevgenia Khasis, because she has already shown herself in such an extremely negatively light, including in those criminal cases in which she was involved. She is a figure who deserves no respect, and her words mean nothing to me.

Did you really talk the other day with an archpriest [Russian Orthodox Archpriest Alexander Pelin – Trans.]? And he gave you an icon?

Yes, he gave me an icon and conveyed Patriarch Kirill’s blessing, which was very cute during a hunger strike.

He said that, in his opinion, you didn’t write the letter yourself and are even poorly informed about its contents. Did someone help you draft the letter?

I’m quite offended a question like that could occur to you. That was said to vilify me. In fact, I wrote the whole letter from beginning to end in a single passionate outpouring: I wanted to tell people what was going here. And I’m ready to take a lie detector test, if necessary, and prove everything I say there is true.

Has a doctor examined you during the hunger strike?

A doctor examined me today: he said my blood sugar level was 2.2. As far as I know, this is fairly low. He didn’t say anything else interesting. But I want to tell you about a strange incident that happened today and, frankly, shocked me somewhat. Tonight, the administration resorted to violence against me for the first time. The on-duty inspector entered my cell and demanded I surrender my water to him. As you know, I can drink water while on hunger strike. So I couldn’t understand why I had to give him the water that had been given to me by [journalist and Presidential Human Rights Council member] Elena Masyuk. I asked him to show me a warrant for confiscating the water. However, in response, he just snatched the water by force: he grabbed me by the arms and legs and pulled me away, while a convict who works as an orderly in the solitary confinement wing just made off with the water. I tried to get it through their heads that their actions were illegal, and they were confiscating my things without a warrant. However, they continued these actions until all the water I had in the cell had been confiscated.

You say the prisoners generally support you. How do they show their support?

After the letter was published, I was isolated. Our paths could cross only when people were going through the penal colony and could say a few words—“Nadya, you’re beautiful!” or something like that.

That has happened?

That has happened a number of times. Things like that happen quite often when I walk through the penal colony. People have hopes. Their hope doesn’t fade, although, of course, the mind makes them act differently, so when an inspection commission comes, they’re afraid to tell the truth. They would simply be destroyed in here for telling the truth. And yet they support me, hoping that I alone will pull them through. Although I know very well that without their help, without their testimony, my words do not mean much, as long as I am the only one. They really do fear for their health and their lives. It’s a stalemate, and I just can’t imagine how to get out of it. So I went on hunger strike.

This morning, human rights activist [Ilya] Shablinsky said he was shown new bathrooms and so forth in the penal colony, but that he had strong suspicions that everything had been prepared specially for the commission’s arrival. Could this be?

Those are in units where they really have new bathrooms, so naturally it’s not hard for them to take a human rights activist to those very units. In my dorm unit, the sewer periodically clogs up so that the shit—excuse my language—comes gushing out. There are no new bathrooms in my unit, and if the prisoners were not afraid of reprisals against them, they would have said the same thing.

Have you seen Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin’s letter?

I know the gist of what he said. Let God be his judge. I am not going to make any judgments on this score.

Is there a church in the penal colony? Have you had talked with the priests?

There is a church here, but the priests are not particularly willing to talk to me. Honestly, there is no time for it. Vital issues—sleeping, eating, and working—occupy my attention. There are things that are on the front burner: I really want to help someone. But intellectual and spiritual issues have receded into the background. Now the question of survival is front and center.

Are there many believers in the penal colony? What have they said about your story?

These things are generally not discussed in the penal colony. It is not what is discussed. What gets discussed is whether we’ll be punished today by being forbidden from eating our own food, whether we’ll be able to drink tea today, whether we’ll work today until one in the morning or whether we’ll be let off work at eight in the evening once this week. There is no space here at all for intellectual dialogue.

Have they tried to talk you out of the hunger strike?

Of course, this happens all the time.

In what form?

They leave me food for two hours: it sits in the cell and stinks. Today, I wrote a complaint to the penal colony warden saying that I’m being tortured psychologically. I’ll see what fruit this complaint bears.

Do you and your fellow inmates know whom you’re sewing for? Today, [the newspaper Izvestia] wrote that you’re working for a former State Duma deputy.

I think that is not important in this case. If our production quotas are reduced and we’re given a decent amount of working hours, it won’t matter for whom we’re sewing. That is an ideological issue. Maybe it is not clear to you people on the outside, but here issues of survival are the priority.

How can all this be fixed? Are people the problem, or is it the whole system?

I think that solutions for all this can only be centralized, coming directly from the central authorities, because without great political will it is impossible to seriously reverse this. Discrete changes, great and small, are possible, but a rollback is inevitable, unfortunately, without great political will.

Meaning, if Putin says something about humanizing the penal system in his [upcoming state of the nation] address. . .

I think that until Putin is removed, nothing will change. He has a stake in this system’s being as punitive as possible.

But if he’s removed, no Stalinist wardens will be left in the penal colonies?

If he’s removed, there is a vast number of ways things could evolve. But I think that if we take matters into our own hand, we will be able to reform the system the right way.