Staunton, January 9 – Many observers have concluded that the continuing legal actions against Mikhail Khodorkovsky represent an updated version of the “show trials” of the Soviet and Russian pasts, but few have asked why the defendant and his lawyers have not tried to turn the tables on his accusers the way Vera Zasulich or Nikolay Bukharin did.
And yet, Irina Pavlova argues in a commentary on Grani.ru, that is precisely the question Russians should be asking if they “soberly assess the situation” because the answer to it not only illuminates where their country is now but also what its possibilities and their own may be in the future (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/yukos/m.185090.html).
Recent days have seen another outpouring of criticism of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Judge Danilkin for their roles in the Khodorkovsky case, Pavlova says, but “in reality, it is time to begin ‘soberly to assess the situation.’” And that requires asking “a number of uncomfortable questions” not only about the accusers but about the accused as well.
These questions arise “with the very same inevitability that similar questions arose among contemporaries of the show trials of 1936-38.” People then, Pavlova continues, asked themselves why so many in the Soviet dock confessed to horrible crimes that were entirely invented.
“Regarding the show trial of our time,” she says, it is legitimate to ask “why neither Khodorokovsky himself nor his lawyers have attempted to convert this trial into a trial over the specific crimes of the Russian powers that be.” By so doing, she suggests, they would make a not guilty finding in his case “inevitable.”
But that has not happened, even though and despite the conditions of Russian jails and the threats that anyone incarcerated in them inevitably face, “few would deny that the accused and the lawyers theoretically have the chance to outplay the current powers that be,” either through the Internet and the international media if not in the courtroom itself.
Were they to have done so or to do so yet, this “trial could really become a turning point in the history of Russian public consciousness” because such a turnaround would have had the effect of transforming the trial of Khodorkovsky into “a trial over the general practice of the mafia powers” in the Russian Federation.
“However, neither Khodorkovsky nor his lawyers nor even more the witnesses speaking in his defense revealed a single secret of the ruling mafia, a highly placed member of which the accused himself was before his arrest,” Pavlova continues, and thus the trial did not become a judgment on the privatization of the early 1990s and its consequences.
Instead, as their statements showed, Khodorkovsky and his lawyers who had placed their hopes in the change at the top from Putin to Dmitry Medvedev, with Khodorkovsky himself approving the idea of a strong Russian state and even its actions like the war in the Caucasus, announced themselves disappointed that the new president did not intervene.
It turns out, Pavlova says, that “the tactic of the defense from the very beginning consisting in putting the accent on the person antagonism of Putin and Khodorkovsky” rather than on raising any broader points about the existing Russian political system. In this, she notes, the defense has followed through to perfection.
However, she continues, “if one seeks to make an objective analysis of the existing information, then one is forced to recognize that none of the figures of the case” – neither Khodorkovsky, nor his lawyers, nor the judge, nor anyone else -- has been able to go beyond the borders of the space and the rules set by the Kremlin.”
Despite all his firmness of will, Pavlova says, Khodorkovsky has turned out to be “morally unfree of obligations before the Kremlin.” And what is worse, the accused, already in 2008 admitted that the powers that be have the right to dictate these rules of the game in his “Esquire” interview.
Khodorkovsky may be placing his hopes for freedom on a key distinction between a mafia power and a legal state. “Precisely a mafia power, unlike a legal state, is capable of producing surprises.” Possibly, it will pardon him or take some other step in his favor, as Medvedev implied in his meeting with Konstantin Remchukov of “Nezavisimaya.”
However that may be, “one thing is clear beyond any doubt: the case … which will go into history as the Khodorkovsky case has become an inalienable aspect of the Russian puzzle known as ‘sovereign democracy.’” And it will be resolved only by future historians who gain access to “highly secret documents,” if “of course,” those aren’t destroyed.