18 October 2022
Leonid Nikitinsky, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, doctor of jurisprudence, and laureate of the MKhG [Moscow Helsinki Group] human rights prize
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Free Space]
“Why are you silent?” people ask us from abroad. The same question could also be put this way: does Russia have a society? Let’s try to answer this on the example of Kaliningrad. Of course, historically, the city is neither Russian nor ordinary at all, if only because Kaliningrad has the grave of the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
What does Kant tell us? Founder of modern moral philosophy, he came to think that “each person is his own legislator.” Not “judge”—that way anyone could find justification for his silence. “Legislator”! And that is us, not those who on 5 March came up with—for us, not themselves—Articles 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code and 20.3.3 of the Russian Code of Administration Violations. You can write all kinds of things, Kant says. What’s important isn’t what’s on paper but man’s moral nature, where his enigmatic categorical imperative nestles. Just don’t pretend you don’t know it. You do! You do! And don’t go waving papers, judge, that’s not the point.
Coming down to earth from the “transcendent,” it should be made clear that the standard “No …” posters and other propaganda do not fall even formally under Articles 207.3 of the Criminal Code or 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, as is obvious to anyone making decisions on that basis.
They “understand but can do nothing.”
And now about those who can do something.
Military pensioner Major Dmitry Sidelnikov woke on up 24 February, looked at the television, and set himself a moral rule that he had to do something. Previously, he had served in the missile forces, “sat on the nuclear button,” and understood what that was, and now he owned a small movie house in a shopping center in the resort town of Zelenogradsk. On the ad monitor at the shopping center entrance, Sidelnikov put up “No …!” titles between clips, that is, 30 seconds about Batman, then “No …!” then “Ooh, rabbit, just you wait!” It went on like that until May, until one of the resort goers informed on him.
While a search was under way, one of his fellow renters at the shopping center, when he found out what was going on, cut the cable to the monitor. He was a patriot, just not all that vigilant. Now Sidelnikov is awaiting decisions on two cases under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code. Actually, very few resort goers are buying tickets to the movies, since “Hollywood has left Russia.”
Sergei Erykalkin recently moved to Kaliningrad from Kamchatka, where he’d saved up some money. Here he bought a few quadricycles and opened a rental shop for them. He went out onto the central Victory Square, and the court levied a fine against him… What do you want, pal? Ride your quadricycle down the Curonian spit, and enjoy life, after all they might send you back not to Kamchatka but somewhere even worse…
Aleksei Zhuravlev and his son went out on the square with a “No …” poster, and when his father was taken away, the son took his place with the same poster. Both are now in Bishkek, so that his son won’t be caught in the partial mobilization, and his father will be tried remotely in a few days. The bird has flown, but the jaws of law enforcement can’t stop. They keep snapping.
Eighteen-year-old Elizaveta Yariza figures in more than a dozen police records about the detention on 2 March of other people she doesn’t know, and all the police records start identically: “Yariza was holding a ‘No …’ poster” while this or that person stood next to her “and had to have realized.”
At the time of his arrest, Egor P. had not yet turned 18, and it wasn’t the court but the commission on minor affairs that levied a fine against his mama for his participation in a rally. At the hearing they gathered about 40 teachers and god knows who else and had them lecture Egor: “More than likely you didn’t understand the significance of your actions. Maybe you were just walking by?”
Egor responded to the commission: “I understood everything perfectly well, I wasn’t just walking by but to the rally because…” (here we don’t want to stitch him up again). The commission began questioning his mama. Why was she raising her son so badly? And his mama answered: “I’m proud of my son.”
Mikhail Sukhoruchkin, a 20-year-old Muscovite, fell in love with Kaliningrad and entered the university here. When the special operation began, he bought a can of red spray paint, but for a while was afraid to use it, until the night of 6 April, when he crept up to the war memorial and on the back wall, so as not to insult the memory of the fallen, put up his inscription. He was found through videocam recordings and questioned at the local police station with the lawyer on duty in attendance, but after everything was signed and she left, they detained him again and had a very different conversation. As a result, Sukhoruchkin recorded there a remorseful interview that you can still access on the Internet: “I’m just an idiot, they’ve just explained this to me.”
Sukhoruchkin left the police station and went missing. His parents, now out of their minds, flew in from Moscow, and on the fourth day of searching thought they’d never see their son in freedom, and possibly not alive.
At that time he had thrown away his phone and was walking toward the Polish border, where he calculated the interval in the patrols’ rounds, created a gap in the barbed wire using a log, and was able to cross.
For a long time after that he couldn’t call his mama because he was in a camp for internees, but as soon as they offered him political asylum he called and was found.
Oksana Akmaeva is a completely different kind of person, she is known all over Kaliningrad. She has worked in newspapers and on the radio, and lately she has been organizing jazz and other international festivals, of which there were many in Kaliningrad until 2022. On the morning of 24 February, as Oksana told me by telephone, she “fell into a stupor, put on her fresh clothes” and went out to the square “like a sleepwalker,” only she asked her 17-year-old son Matvei not to go with her because he would have been certain to have done something crazy there. On the square, the peace-loving old women tried to talk to the police officers wearing their spherical helmets, but no dialogue was possible. Provocateurs showed up, shouting something, the police surrounded them, all the time tightening the ring.
She moved away with her friend for a smoke, and “like true Kaliningraders, they started looking for a waste bin.” That was when they caught them. And at that moment, Oksana recalls, like in a movie, the bells on the newly restored church on the square sounded.
A few days later Matvei, walking his dog, saw a printed sticker on the entry door of their apartment building that read, “A traitor liveZ here” [Zдесь жиVет предатель] – exactly the same sticker was affixed to the doors of other people detained at the rally at addresses they had told the police. Oksana was not frightened by the stickers, but she was afraid for her son: what if the people who had put up the stickers were still around?
Oksana attended the court alone, but by good luck in the corridor she was seen by the lawyer Selizarova, who is also a regular festival-goer: “What are you doing here?” They signed an agreement on representation and walked into the court room together. If it were not for Ekaterina, Oksana would have talked herself into getting criminal charges, but her friend and lawyer at a certain point said to the judge: “Allow me, your honour, to answer for my client myself.” And everything was settled with a fine.
Oksana, who hadn’t intended to go anywhere, because her whole life is connected with her beloved city, first flew to Georgia – to hold the “Kafka and Orwell Forum”, that until then had been growing ever more successful over the past ten years in Kaliningrad (I had even met her there before). Now she has received confirmation that she is expected in Germany, first in a special camp in Friedland, a name which translates as “city of freedom” (after the war, a camp was organized there for Germans who did not want to remain in the GDR).
Only the things Oksana had spent several months carefully choosing to take with her were all wrong and hadn’t taken what she needed because just having to get up and leave everything like that is such an inhumane experience.
Translated by Marian Schwartz