Sofia Kalistratova, the legendary Moscow lawyer who defended dissidents in the “anti-Soviet” trials of the 1960s and 1970s, told her charges: “Everyone else may cross the street on a red light, but you must always cross on green.” She knew that her clients couldn’t give the authorities the slightest excuse to accuse them of breaking the law.
I have always tried to follow this principle. True, my lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, says that if this advice worked in the ’60s, it definitely doesn’t work now: “They’ll just go ahead and write that you crossed the street on purple. And then they’ll accuse you of inventing a nonexistent light and maliciously crossing on it.”
Vadim was right, and almost literally. When I returned home on Monday evening and began to park my car, five or six police officers of the Second Special Regiment of Moscow’s Main Internal Affairs Directorate, who had been waiting at the entrance, rushed at me, hustled me into their minibus, took away my phone and drove me to the Khamovniki police station.
According to the police report filed later, when I caught sight of the waiting officers, I “changed the trajectory of my movement,” “accelerated my pace” and offered them “active resistance.”
And yet there was one true statement that made it into the verdict of the Khamovniki district court in Moscow during my subsequent trial: It noted that the court’s decision took “data on the personality of V.V. Kara-Murza” into account. Everyone who participated in the process, including Judge Diana Mishchenko and the Interior Ministry officers who brought me to the court, understood that the only reason for my arrest was my political and, above all, antiwar position.
In fact, no one hid it. When the officers of the Khamovniki Police Department, who brought me to Special Detention Center No. 2 in Khoroshevo-Mnevniki to serve out my sentence, rang the doorbell, they said: “Here’s a political for you. They should have called you from headquarters.”
There are many “politicals” — people targeted for political reasons — doing time in Russia right now. Even in the Khamovniki police station, where I spent the first day after my detention in a stone box measuring 2-by-3 meters, I met two young women in neighboring cells who had been picked up for writing antiwar graffiti. Among the inmates in the special detention center are a young man and woman who had staged a protest in response to the murders in Bucha, Ukraine. There are also students of the Higher School of Economics who were detained for an antiwar demonstration. And these are only those whom I myself saw in two days in two places in Moscow.
When you are told that no one protests against the war in Russia, don’t believe it. Hundreds of people who took part in such protests are imprisoned in police stations and special detention facilities. The police grab them immediately and take them away. And there are no more media outlets in Russia that can talk about it.
Yet the attitude toward “politicals” is good — both among the prison staff and the inmates. In this sense, nothing has changed since the dissidents of the 1970s. I wrote this phrase and thought, So we’re walking in the same circle. We never managed to break out of it in the short window of opportunity in the ’90s. But we’ll get out one day, for sure. There will be another window of opportunity — and this time we need to use it correctly. There will be a dawn. The night, as you know, is darkest just before the light.
As Boris Nemtsov liked to say: “We can do it.” Russia will be free. I’ve never been so sure of it as I am today.