Open Letter re Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

avec Gera, 2011

The Luxembourg writer Lambert Schlechter has been writing to the Russian ambassador & to the media in Luxembourg & beyond to try & put pressure on the Russian government in relation to the latter’s Stalinist behavior regarding the Pussy Riot group of protesters & more specifically Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Below, the second of his Open Letters:

Banishing Human Rights to Siberia


To His Excellency Dr Mark Entin,

ambassador of Russia to Luxembourg

18 November 2013 

Excellency, for a year now you have been the ambassador of Russia to Luxembourg; by formation a jurist, you are a Professor and specialist of European Law: which gives me the hope that you will lend a favorable (and competent) ear to these few words I take the liberty to send you.

Three weeks ago my Open Letter addressed to you was published in our print media as well as on the site of RTL (Radio-Television-Luxembourg) — a letter also widely disseminated in the Italian print media and with exponential circulation on the social networks, including those in Russia. A week ago I send you, personally, a handwritten letter and a photo of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her five-year old daughter Gera.

Maybe you showed my letter and the photo to your wife; you have three children, including a lovely little girl a little younger than Gera.

Since 21 October little Gera has asked every day: where is my mama where is my mama…? Nobody could answer her. Her mama had disappeared. For 26 long days Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had disappeared without a trace. Neither her husband, nor her father, nor her kin or friends, nobody knew what had become of her; they were beginning to wonder if she was still alive… How to explain such cruelty, such inadmissible brutality, such a blatant lack of humanity?

Since 12 November we know: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was deported to Siberia, more than 5000 kilometers from her family and friends. Deported to solitude and isolation, to that Siberia of icy desolation where Stalin had consigned (and put to death) hundreds of thousands of opponents to his diabolic regime.

I am asking you, Excellency: what crime has this young woman (who celebrated her 24th birthday on 7 November 2013, in a sealed railway car  or a transit camp…) committed?

A year and a half ago she, with a few friends, had, in a church in Moscow, for all of two minutes, sung a protest song against the shady & opportunistic political buddy-buddy relationship of ex-KGB agent Putin and the most reactionary circles of the orthodox church — without causing any damage, without hurting anybody.

Her crime? To have expressed her thought.

If that had happened in my country, Excellency, a few people would have shaken their heads, while others, many, I’m certain, would have understood and applauded. And the police would have stayed in their barracks given that here the police doesn’t busy itself with what people think.

In your country, Excellency, things are different. In your country it is immediately a matter of arrest, of handcuffs, of barbed wire. On orders from on high. In your country it means a tribunal and a guilty verdict. And the charge is as scary as it is grotesque: “hooliganism by religious hatred…” — and the sentence comes down, staggering and obscene: two years in a forced labor camp!

Labor camp — slave camp: what this means in 2013, in Putin’s Russia, the prisoner Tolokonnikova, once more standing up to the regime, expresses in a long document she published on 23 September 2013, the day she started her hunger strike: labor camp means 16 to 17 hours of hard labor a day (it’s illegal, but quotas have to be met!), it means 4 hours of sleep per night, it means one day of rest every six weeks, it means the blackmail and the threats of the penitentiary administration, it means daily vexations and humiliations (prohibition to wash oneself, to go to the toilet, forced to work naked), beatings by prisoners collaborating with the administration, and the continuous cold… The first day in the Mordovia camp, Nadezhda was welcomed by camp commander Kupriyanov with these words: “You need to know that in politics I am a stalinist.”

Down to the last details all of this resembles what we know since Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead and Chehkov’s The Island of Sakhalin (on the Czarist penal colonies) — all the way to Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov, Julius Margolin, Yevgenia Ginzburg — and to the dissidents Andrei Amalrik, Yuli Daniel, Abram Tertz (= André Sinyavsky) and Anatole Marchenko, the latter pushed into death in 1981 by the neo-stalinian Brejnev, for having written, like Tolokonnikova, about the conditions of life in the regime’s jails.

Tolokonnikova, now subjected to the supplementary sentence of solitary confinement, is thus held incommunicado, forbidden to speak for having spoken out.

“Envoyé Spécial,” the France 2 program — the best investigative journalism show on all of French television — on this 14 November, aired a full show on today’s gulag in Russia. It’s conclusion: in Putin’s prisons  “there is torture at every level.” And in all impunity.

All this, Excellency, is deeply shocking and unacceptable — and I wonder how, when teaching European law, in front of your students or a knowledgeable public, how you manage to reconcile everything that has occurred in European law since Montesquieu and the many struggles against authoritarian repression and for freedom of  speech, how you manage to reconcile all of this with how Putin’s Russia banishes human rights to Siberia.

Lambert Schlechter

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Comment on “Open Letter re Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova”

  1. I’m thinking that Lambert Schlechter is making more of a personal, political statement of his own, (“the shady & opportunistic political buddy-buddy relationship of ex-KGB agent Putin and the most reactionary circles of the Orthodox Church,”) as opposed to any logical, legal word-smithed attempt at a true appeal. Name calling is so rarely persuasive though it does draw applause from the safely ensconced home side.

    To be sure, Pussy Riot has been punished well beyond any reasonable person’s definition for being little more than a bad band with an opinion or two. Anywhere else they would be a blip on the landscape. They would not be prisoners.

    The total disappearance of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is a crime reminiscent of a bygone era though certainly not unusual in Putin’s Russia. But Gulags have been operational in that country since 1917, well before Putin’s iron rule. Where has the world been all this time? Ms. Tolokonnikova is neither the first “artist” nor celebrity ruthlessly imprisoned, disappeared or even killed in one. Thousands of regular types are sent there too. What of them?

    Schlecter’s literary references are on point and excellent. Methinks, however, if you harbor any illusions (delusions) of attracting Putin’s attention a worldwide boycott of all things Russian might have more impact. Putin loves money more than a Wall Street Trader. Europeans might start by asking just whose oil is filling their autos. There is a good chance it is Russian! A letter writing campaign to the Luxembourg Government (and all others) might have more effect and certainly would garner more publicity. Maybe all the protest groups could put down their assorted placards for the day and help out. There is more than enough of them to make a real impact on governments the world over. You just might get a few of them to act. How about Gulag Sanctions? They’re worth a try. You certainly will not get Putin’s attention by insulting him with the truth. No Russian representative is going to disagree with Putin either. They know about the Gulags.

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