What a biography they invented for him!
On the fifth anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest
by Yuliya Latynina
Novaya Gazeta 27.10.08
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Do you remember what you were doing on the day they arrested Khodorkovsky? I certainly do. I was sitting and writing a piece about the Tuzla Peninsula when I got a phone call and the poor peninsula immediately and irrevocably ceased to exist.
It’s not that often that we remember precisely what we were doing on some particular day five years ago. In my case I remember it because I went to sleep in one country and woke up in another.
This has happened to us several times since then. We woke up in a different country after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. After Litvinenko’s poisoning. After Beslan and the abolition of the election of governors. After the Russo-Georgian War. But the first time this happened to us was when Khodorkovsky was arrested.
Before Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Russia’s development was moving towards open society. I don’t mean that there were no clouds in the sky. Russia had governors for sale and crooked cops and oligarchs who waged war against each other with the help of the buyable governors. But Russia-2002 was moving, like Russia-1913 had once, in the direction of an open society.
And Khodorkovsky was the symbol of this. An oligarch who had decided to give up collecting assets (he had collected plenty) and started instead to increase the value of those he had. What increases the value of assets is greater transparency in the companies that hold them and a more open society. Because you don’t get companies worth a lot in countries where people’s lives cost nothing. Now that Russia’s investment bubble has burst and we have seen how in a country where its prime-minister “sends a doctor to Mechel” and tanks to Georgia, the worth of a company promptly plummets to near zero, the issue is obvious even to foreign investors who were so incautious as to invest money in Russia even after Khodorkovsky’s arrest.
Khodorkovsky, however, realised this five years ago. You can’t have flourishing companies without an open society. It was because he understood this – and therefore wanted to make society more open – that he came into conflict with the model of power that president Putin represents.
When Khodorkovsky was imprisoned, we were told that he had robbed the state. We were told that he had avoided taxes, selling oil via offshore companies in order for the profits to be made in one place while production went on in another. And now we see the former YUKOS’ oil being sold by Gunvor, a Swiss-registered company belonging to long-time Putin friend Gennady Timchenko, making $70 billion a year. The fact that Gunvor is earning money in this way ends all and any arguments as to why Khodorkovsky is in jail.
Before Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Russia was moving in one direction; after it – in another. Corruption levels have risen while freedoms have contracted. Corruption has become the modus operandi of the state. Only one person has become free – internally. That is Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The people surrounding president Putin were not taught how to manage businesses. The people around president Putin were not taught how to run a country. They were, however, taught how to annihilate enemies. And in the absence of enemies, they get invented. Especially if the people protecting the president from enemies can take over those enemies’ property in the process of annihilating them.
There are two kinds of people when it comes to money and power. Some become better from having them. They start to think on a different scale. Khodorkovsky is like that. Some are made worse by money and power. Those who had him imprisoned belong to that group.
“What a biography they invented for him!” Akhmatova exclaimed this about Brodsky.
Khodorkovsky sits in jail and corresponds with Akunin. In a previous age, Odoevsky was in jail out there and corresponded with Pushkin. Khodorkovsky is in fact very much like the Decembrists. They were aristocrats and wanted something strange; Khodorkovsky’s an oligarch and wants something strange too.
Of course, the authorities today do not much resemble the Tsarist ones. General Liparsky, Governor of Chita under the Tsars, read every book that was sent to the Decembrists. Can you picture the bossman of the Krasnokamensk Labour Camp reading Karl Popper?