30 June 2022
On 30 June, in Zamoskvoretsky District Court, Moscow, Leonid Gozman pursued Russia’s Ministry of Justice, which not long before had designated him a ‘foreign agent’. We report on him in court, where he sought recognition that he is no such thing. The court, of course, denied the claimant’s position, and so Gozman remains a ‘foreign agent’.
The Ministry of Justice declared me a foreign agent not because I did something illegal (I did nothing of the sort) and certainly not for being linked to any foreign groups (I’m not). They declared me a foreign agent on account of my belief that our politics is gradually destroying the country, condemning it to destitution, lawlessness, and backwardness, and wiping out everything our people achieved, which our compatriots paid for with their lives and their labour. I was declared a foreign agent because I hold an extremely negative view of our foreign policy – especially in Ukraine – and because I just cannot accept the lies and demagoguery that pours out of the screen every day and sweeps through our country, and with it, cynicism, complacency, and amorality. They declared me a foreign agent because I don’t just think these things; I say them.
Our government and their lackeys don’t lack the intelligence or skills to enter into discussions with their opponents. But then, they have the vast experience of the Cheka, NKVD, and KGB behind them to pressure those who disagree with them, not with the force of words, but with a strike of a boot or a bullet in the back of the head. The practice of declaring people foreign agents is the government harking back to arbitrary reprisals and for the chance to kill or throw in prison anyone they don’t like.
If I believed in your objectivity and honour, and if I had hope that you would in fact try to understand the situation and come to a fair decision, as a judge is supposed to do, then I would ask what a declaration like this has to do with the law, and against one person, too – someone like me, who not only never headed a newspaper or radio station but hasn’t even worked as a journalist or in the media at all? I would draw your attention to the fact that in my case, there is, at the very least, a degree of selective law enforcement going on. Lots of people publish articles, go on TV programmes, and are paid royalties for having their writing published abroad. But only a small number (who are, by strange coincidence, opponents of the government) are ever declared foreign agents. I would just mention here that a strange thing happened to me with royalties. On sending off an article to the journal Foreign Policy, I had no idea they paid out royalties, not having signed any agreement with the editorial office, and I didn’t even know that they had paid a fee. Was this some sort of provocation, I wondered? The Ministry of Justice had been searching since September for a way to catch me out, based on the documents provided to them. They had made various enquiries, which hadn’t given them anything to go on, and then, just like that, royalties! But none of this matters, as you have already drafted your decision.
One does not require a legal degree, only common sense, to understand that the practice of labelling someone a foreign agent completely contradicts the very idea law.
Some anonymous body of government chooses someone they, or their superiors, do not like, and without a trial, without allowing them the opportunity to defend themselves, strip them of their rights. Directly comparing our system to that of Nazi Germany’s seems to be prohibited by law. Fine, I won’t compare.
But the whole situation with foreign agents inevitably evokes associations with the gradual restrictions on the rights of Jews, which began immediately after the Nazis came to power, and which paved the way for the Holocaust. We are persecuted not on the basis of ethnicity of course: there is a wide spectrum of Russian ethnic groups represented by foreign agents. We are persecuted for our ideology. But, like in Germany for the Jews, new restrictions and prohibitions are constantly emerging for foreign agents. For now, there is no requirement to sew on a version of the Yellow Badge, but the status of disfranchisement, a ban on participating in election campaigns, has already been assigned to them.
Your Honour, those who, unfortunately for Russia, govern our Fatherland, can undoubtedly still cause considerable harm to our country, to the world, and to many of us. History shows, however, that they are doomed, and arbitrariness as a substitute for the law is just another example of their inability to offer the country anything other than death and oblivion.
LEONID GOZMAN’S COMMENTS AFTER THE COURT’S DECISION
I understand that the chances of achieving anything from this trial are zero. But, not going to trial is not an option because if we do not take legal action, then we are consenting to their right of giving out Yellow Badges. And we do not consent. We must resist at all times, even if the situation is beyond hope. It is a matter of preserving self-respect.
During my defence, it was said that I was not notified of being given the status of a foreign agent, although they are required to notify me. They said, “No, we notified you”. And indeed, they sent the notification of this decision to a registered address that I lived at 10-15 years ago, which they then presented as evidence. The level of professionalism of these people is such, that they cannot even determine a person’s place of residence.
The Ministry of Justice did not answer a single one of my questions on the merits. They told me that they are not in a position to answer, that there are authorised bodies equipped to deal with this. But it is not possible to ask an authorised body.
It turns out that in September last year, they already began asking Roskomnadzor and Rosfinmonitoring to investigate whether, by any chance, I had any foreign funding. And now, their patience has paid off, thanks to a single article from February. I sent an article, not realising that they were paying royalties. They really did send me $300. But the government does not hand out the title of ‘foreign agent’ to someone based on things that they have done; they choose a victim and then start looking for material on them.