Olga Mazurova answers our 10 questions

19 March 2023

by Olga Mazurova

My name is Olga Mikhailovna Mazurova. I was born in 1960. I graduated from the Burdenko Voronezh State Medical Institute in 1984. I am a medical doctor, a widow and a mother of three children. As much as I can, I try to help those who have the hardest life. I am for the liberation of political prisoners. I am against the war with Ukraine – against any war.

1. Was there a real opportunity in the 1990s to create a democratic state based on the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Russia? If so, what went wrong?

In my opinion there was. It was a mistake not to evaluate the terrible results of the Soviet past and to reject the idea of lustration for those who carried out the repressions. Germany went through denazification, but this did not happen in post-Soviet countries. It is impossible to build a democratic society without evaluating mistakes.

2. How would you characterise the different roles of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin in these years?

For me, Gorbachev was like a breath of fresh air. At that moment the country had an opportunity to acquire a human face. Glasnost, openness to the world, an air of freedom, elections on an alternative basis, the beginning of perestroika, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the restoration of the rights of all victims of political repression … But there were also terrible events in Vilnius, Tbilisi …

Yeltsin tried to build democracy, fought against the communist system, made a start in attempting to transform the centralised economy into a market economy … But there was also the tragedy of war in Chechnya, the rigged elections in 1996, and worst of all, Yeltsin’s recommendation of a successor…

Putin is an attempt to return to the past, but essentially it is Russia’s road to nowhere…

3. What has been the role of the FSB in post-Soviet Russia?

The FSB is still an organization whose main activity is to protect the stability of the political regime that exists in Russia. In essence, it continues the activities of its predecessors, the VChK, the NKVD, and the KGB.

4. To what extent does Russia’s ‘imperial’ past explain its failure to become a democracy?

To a large extent, I think. And to a large extent another explanation is the belief of the majority in the ‘Father Tsar,’ whoever he may be and whatever he may be called. But I don’t think Russia is unable to become a democracy, though… It’s just that there has been a very long period of negative selection (emigration, repression, war) and this could not help but have an impact…Despite this, there are still people in the country for whom democracy is the most important value.

5. What is the main reason Russia invaded Ukraine again on 24 February 2022?

Here, it seems to me, there is a whole chain of events…But the main reason, in my opinion, is the million excess deaths of Russian citizens in 2021 because of the state’s failure to cope with the coronavirus epidemic, excess deaths which could not be explained without admitting mistakes. In any civilized country, this would have led to the resignation of the government… It was decided to divert the attention of Russians by means of a ‘small victorious war.’ The old saying goes, ‘You can blame everything on war.’ And people really have forgotten about the million excess deaths…

6. What do you predict will be the outcome of the war? What will be the consequences if Russia is able to make further territorial gains as a result of the war? What will be the consequences for the Putin regime if Russia is defeated in the war? What are the chances of bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice?

I think Ukraine will liberate the occupied territories, including Crimea. But the situation in the territories of Ukraine occupied in 2014 will remain difficult for years to come. Russia will be defeated. This will mark the beginning of a very difficult period for Russia. Putin is unlikely to be brought to justice. Very likely he will be eliminated by his own ‘inner circle.’ But many other war criminals will live to face trial. Russia will pay compensation to Ukraine.

7. Why has the Putin regime closed down Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Sakharov Centre? What is left of civil society in Russia today?

The Putin regime is trying to restore the Soviet past. And Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Sakharov Centre were reminders of the repressions, the tragic deaths and mistakes of the past, in sum of the shortcomings of the policies and politics of the past.

What is left of Russian civil society is citizens.  And they are trying to do what they can under the circumstances. They do not support military action, they help refugees from Ukraine, they support political prisoners, whose numbers are growing, and their families, attend trials, write letters and send parcels to prisoners. People subject to mobilization do their best to evade it, not infrequently being imprisoned for so doing.

8. What do you think will happen to Aleksei Navalny in the future? And other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience such as Ilya Yashin and Dmitry Talantov?

I am very concerned about the fate of Crimean Tatars and Ingush political prisoners. What they are doing to them is in the traditions of the Soviet past. Under the guise of prosecutions for terrorism, Crimean Tatars are being persecuted for their faith, for their political activism, or simply for dissenting opinions.

People who are severely ill or have serious disabilities are sent to prison indiscriminately with absolutely unthinkable sentences of dozens of years. Families with many children are left without breadwinners. I want the world, along with the names of Navalny, Yashin and Talantov, to remember Dzhemil Gafrov who had severe kidney failure and died recently without being given basic medical care in Novocherkassk remand prison, Aleksandr Sizikov, who is completely blind, Amet Suleimanov, a journalist with a severe heart defect sentenced to 12 years in a penal colony (essentially a death sentence for him), Servet Gaziev who is serious ill and who suffered a severe stroke and remains in prison, Zekirya Muratov who has serious disabilities and was sentenced to 11 years in a penal colony, and the brothers Teimur and Uzeir Abdullaev (Teimur has essentially been kept in a punishment cell in a penal colony in Bashkortostan for over two years, where his health has been severely damaged).

Dozens of Crimean Tatars have been imprisoned. They are often held in inhumane conditions in overcrowded cells crawling with insects, without proper medical care. It is very important that the world knows and remembers them…Those prisoners whose names are well known are better protected…Crimean Tatar prisoners need support…Just like the Ingush political prisoners.

I hope that most of them will be able to live in freedom again.

9. Russia has left the Council of Europe. Is there a chance Russia will return to this international body in the future?

I don’t know if I’ll live to see it happen, but I think it will…Since perestroika, a wonderful generation of young people has grown up…Just take for example Dmitry Ivanov, the former student at Moscow State University who recently was given 8.5 years in prison for telling the truth about the war, Azat Miftakhov, a former graduate student at Moscow State University, and many, many others! I think young people do care about the democratic future of the country.

10. In terms of human rights, how much worse can things get in Russia? How do you see the future of Russia?

In the very near future, the repression will become worse. But sooner or later, the bent stick will break. This regime will collapse, too. I do believe in the positive forces in Russia.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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