2 May 2021
Yuly Rybakov: This girl has turned 20 years old. Olga Misik became famous after the summer 2019 protests around the Moscow City Duma elections, where she read the Constitution out loud. She is threatened with two years in prison for her action at the General Prosecutor’s Office building.
Source: Yuly Rybakov, Facebook: ‘With children like this, Russia has a future!’
OLGA MISIK’S CLOSING STATEMENT AT TRIAL.
I’m often asked, aren’t I afraid. More often abroad than in Russia because they aren’t familiar with the specifics of our life, they don’t know about the Black Marias, the arrests and prison for no reason or grounds. They don’t know the feeling of desperation we drink in with our mother’s milk. And it is this feeling of desperation that atrophies all manifestations of fear, infecting us with a learned helplessness. What’s the point of being afraid if your future doesn’t depend on you?
I was never afraid. I felt despair, helplessness, desperation, frustration, alarm, disappointment, and burnout, but neither politics nor activism ever infected me with fear. I wasn’t afraid when armed bandits burst in that night and threatened me with prison. They wanted to scare me, but I wasn’t afraid. I joked and laughed because I knew the minute I stopped smiling I’d lose.
When I was riding to Moscow with those bandits in their Black Maria, I thought I might be seeing my last dawn for many years. I remembered my father, the first time I saw him crying, and my mama, who whispered in my ear, “Don’t confess,” my brother, who ran to see me at the dacha, Igor lying on the floor and ignoring the agents’ questions. I was sad and hurt but not afraid.
I wasn’t afraid when they put me in a cell. I was worried about Igor and reread the letter from my friends many times, but my fate was the least of my worries. It’s very strange, some kind of defence mechanism possibly, but over the course of those days I never once felt fear.
I remember well travelling to that protest, promising myself it would be the last in my activist career, that I was taking political retirement and would go back to my studies. I was anxious and worried about how it would all go, but I wasn’t afraid. Even studying the criminal and administrative codes and all the precedents for similar actions, I wasn’t afraid. It was a beautiful night, and I realized it might be my last night of freedom, but that didn’t scare me.
But since the search and for the last nine months, I have felt constant fear. Since that night in the cell, I haven’t once slept normally. Every night I wake up from the slightest sound, I constantly imagine steps in the corridor, and I’m overtaken by panic at the crush of gravel under car wheels out my window.
And it seems to me that all the fear that’s accumulated in me over the last nine months is concentrated here and now in my final statement because public statements are much scarier for me than my verdict. My pulse is 150 right now, and it feels like my heart’s about to burst to pieces, and I have gooseflesh even on my scalp.
Some say you can’t be afraid when you know you’re right. But Russia teaches us to be afraid constantly. A country that tries to kill us every day. And if you’re outside the system, you’re as good as dead.
And I may well have been afraid when I was travelling to that protest. But I understood I couldn’t do otherwise. I understood anything else was impossible. That if I were silent this time, I would never be able to face myself. When my children ask me where I was when this happened, how could I have allowed this to happen and what did I do to fix anything, I would have nothing to tell them. What was I going to say? I stood in a picket line outside the FSB [Federal Security Service]? That’s funny. A darling self-deception that I couldn’t allow myself.
And what about your children? When they ask you where you were when this happened, what are you going to tell them? That you issued guilty verdicts?
Of course I was at that protest. I don’t regret that and, moreover, I’m proud of what I did. In fact, I had no choice, and I had to do everything in my power, so I don’t have the right to regret it. And if I had the chance to return to the past, I would do it all over again. If I were threatened with the death penalty, I would do it all over again. I would do it over again and again, time after time, until there was nothing left to affect. People say that repeating the same actions in anticipation of a different result is insanity. Turns out, hope is insanity. But ceasing actions you consider correct when everyone around you considers them useless is learned helplessness. I’d rather be insane in your eyes than helpless in my own.
ABOUT NEW GREATNESS
The peripheral figures in the New Greatness case told me this Sunday that it had not been in vain. That it had given them hope. That they care about it. And even if this is only half true, it means that all this is actually for a reason. If just one person who is currently behind bars finds things easier because of this rally supporting them, then it’s not all in vain. This means that I have no right to complain that I might end up behind bars.
Maslov personally saw the posters addressed to him. Krasnov personally demanded a case be opened against us. This means that my challenge has been accepted. So they heard me. So, it’s not all in vain.
It would not merely be unprincipled to fail to acknowledge my own participation in the protest. It would cancel out all my efforts, all my fear and suffering, all my achievements, my pain and my rage. I cannot allow myself the lack of principle with which our investigator and prosecutor live. Our investigator in his office was so proud of his adherence to principle, the way he put a halt to cases that lacked merit, but in the courtroom he tucked in his tail like a coward, indistinctly mumbling something about grounds that still had force, and I am very sorry that I will not see him again and won’t be able to tell him to his face how I despise him. I also despise our youthful prosecutor, who is too young for hypocrisy and lies. It is impossible not to, and I don’t understand how you don’t despise yourself, how you can look your loved ones in the eyes.
And you too. When you extend the pre-trial restrictions, reject the petitions of the defence and swallow the falsifications fed to you by the prosecutor’s office, you understand perfectly what crime you are committing, and you realise your actions even more clearly than I did on that fateful night. When you forbid me to communicate with the most important person in my life, you know very well what you are doing. You think it humane to judge someone for being in the wrong place at the wrong time associating with the wrong people. You think that you can open a criminal case against a person just because I love him, and then forbid us to communicate, but you cannot. You cannot forbid me to love, you cannot forbid youth, and you will never forbid freedom. You will not forbid the truth.
And you yourself can see very well that this judgment is much more a turning point for you than for me. Because I chose my side long ago, and now you have to decide which path your whole future life will take. For me, neither this debate nor the announcement mean anything, and they will not decide anything. You are not passing this judgment on me – you are passing it on yourself.
A fascist regime never seems fascist from the inside. It seems this is petty censorship, some kind of targeted repression that will never touch you. But I am not the defendant here today. Today you are deciding not my fate but your own, and you still have a chance to choose the right path. Because you cannot deceive yourself further. You know what’s going on here. You know what it’s called. And you know that there are good and evil, freedom and fascism, love and hate, and to deny the existence of both would be the greatest of deceptions. And those who have now chosen the side of evil have booked their seats in the dock in advance. The Hague awaits everyone who is involved in this lawlessness.
I do not promise that we will win tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in a year or in ten years. But one day we will win, because love and youth always win. I do not promise that I will live to see this moment, but I really hope that you will live to see it. And you are all deceiving yourself if you really claim that I ended up here because of the protest at the Prosecutor General’s Office. You are deceiving yourself when you ignore the neon-lit sign “POLITICS”, hanging over this whole trial – the trial is not being inflicted on us, but on common sense.
You know why I am here. And you know why these two are here – because they are my friends. You know what I’m actually being tried for. For reading the Constitution. For my civic stance. For being recognised as the Person of the Year. For my principles. For speeches. Perhaps I could even be flattered by such an explicitly political prosecution, if everyone who has an opinion had not now been repressed.
All of the prosecution’s arguments attempt to prove my involvement in the case. I won’t delve into the fact that they haven’t even managed to do this professionally – the case file presents a fake fingerprint examination, and there are no traces of paint on my clothes, as you saw for yourself when examining the evidence. The prosecution has wasted nine months on proving my involvement, which I haven’t even denied. But what does this involvement even mean in a case without a case file? What difference does it make if I was there if there is no crime? Although I would be lying if I said that there was no crime whatsoever, because there is a crime which has been carried out by the investigation and the prosecution, and I sincerely hope that you, comrade judge, will not commit this same a crime.
That’s why I am insisting on a full and unconditional acquittal with no half-measures such as termination of proceedings with a court fine. I am certain of my innocence and am ready to defend it without compromise.
The absurdity of this case is clear to all of us: from the pre-trial restrictions all the way up to fabrications which have been proven false by the defence. But that’s not even the main contravention. That would be that on behalf of the injured party, several witnesses and experts made a big deal in pointing out our age, making the case that our behaviour is down to youthful exuberance. But the truth is that any one of us is much more of an adult than any one of you. Much more of an adult than Krasnov who, as Dmitry pointed out, was childishly upset by a few posters. The truth is that this is very difficult for me to say, but I can say it, and will do so far more honestly than any one of you, because you don’t have a say in the matter at all. The truth is that even with certain actions being prohibited and our freedoms being restricted, in court and in detention facilities, even with GPS tags and a rigid schedule, we are far freer than any one of you, because these three years will pass, and even before they are up, I will still be speaking my mind and doing what I believe to be right, and you all unfortunately can’t bring yourselves to do the same.
The last nine months were really very difficult, and I wouldn’t like to relive them. I spent the whole time regretting things, thinking, “But what would have happened if…” and “Things could be different…” But I was lying to myself, because things couldn’t be any other way. From the moment I took the Constitution in my hands, my future was decided. And I accepted it with courage. I made the right decision, and the right decision in a totalitarian state always comes with terrible consequences. I always knew that I’d go to prison; it was just a question of when. I’m reading a book by Markus Zusak about life in a fascist regime, and in it he writes, “You say that it was bad luck, but you knew all along that it would work out that way.” This sentence describes the criminal case against me perfectly. It wasn’t stupidity, or bad luck, or an accident — and it definitely wasn’t a crime. I always knew this would happen, and I have always been prepared for it. Nothing you do will surprise me.
My lawyer was talking about Sophie Scholl today, and her story bears striking resemblance to mine. She was tried for fliers and graffiti; I was tried for posters and paint. I am essentially on trial for thought crimes, as she once was. My trial is very similar to hers, and Russia today is very similar to fascist Germany. Sophie never abandoned her convictions, even before the guillotine. Her example inspired me to not agree to the charges being dropped. Sophie Scholl embodied youth, sincerity, and freedom, and I hope that in this way, too, she and I are similar.
The fascist regime in Germany ultimately fell, as will the fascist regime in Russia. I don’t know when this will happen — maybe in a week, maybe in a year, maybe in a decade — but I know that someday we will be victorious, because love and youth always prevail
I would like to conclude my final statement with quotes from two remarkable people: Albus Dumbledore and Sophie Scholl. Too much of what I’ve said today has been about fear, so both of these quotes will be about light. I started out with fear, but I will end with hope.
During wartime Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Sophie Scholl’s last words before her execution were, “The sun still shines.”
The sun does indeed still shine. I couldn’t see it out of the window of the detention facility, but I always knew it was there. And if now, in these dark times, we are able to turn to the light, then perhaps it can bring us at least one small step closer to our victory.
Translated by Marian Schwartz, Anna Bowles, Friedrich Berg and Nina dePalma