Leonid Nikitinsky: “Dura lex…” and distance glasses – On what repeat criminal cases against people who have already been convicted on political grounds mean

11 November 2023

by Leonid Nikitinsky, Novaya gazeta correspondent

Source: Novaya gazeta

Here, we, too, are going to repeat ourselves, but the “law enforcement organs” are continuing to tighten the screws, and new repressive practices are arising, including “track down and add on” for those who have been convicted only for speech. What can we expect further down the line? readers ask. 

The answer depends on how much “further” we ourselves want to look; those who have been convicted and those who have arrested and tried them and passed the laws that made this possible have already done so. If we can still contemplate a person as a rational being, each of us weighs our own benefits and risks, which, however, can be viewed both in the immediate and the slightly more distant future.

Investigators and judges are evidently interested only in tomorrow, and those they are prosecuting console themselves in light of the few years they are giving the current regime—according to their rational conclusions. 

From that standpoint, the typical sentence of seven to seven and a half years for “false information about the armed forces” looks rather hypothetical. Young people usually have a more distant horizon; they can take out a kind of political mortgage. For older people, though, the horizon is closer, of course.

There are also those who don’t weigh any risks, immediate or distant, and simply can’t not speak their minds. This category evidently includes the majority of those serving their punishment for speech. They are, strictly according to Kant, moral people following their categorical imperitive, which is unconditional. This kind of heartfelt statement could be in support of the SVO [special military operation]—for instance, from the police’s standpoint—but there is scarcely anyone to be found among today’s judges, Duma deputies, and senators for whom the moral imperative might outweigh rational calculation.

They, too have to make peace with themselves somehow, though, and the categorical imperative is “a priori,” that is, in a certain sense innate. Therefore the judges and other individuals taking decisions about violence (they perhaps to an even greater degree) use as an alibi so-called legalism: Dura lex sed lex (the law is harsh, but it is the law).

The further it goes, the more “legalism” demands major admissions, but from that standpoint repeat sentences still appear “legitimate.” After all, did Aleksei Gorinov say something similar about the SVO to his cellmates in the Vladimir remand centre? And didn’t Azat Miftakhov comment on television broadcasts in the penal colony? Witnesses on whom this “inflicted moral suffering” will be found, that is, readymade “dispositive facts” are at hand.

In the case of Vladimir Kara [entered into the register of “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry], who is refusing to affix the “foreign agent” tag to communications distributed in his name, even witnesses aren’t needed; there’s a formal definition here. Standing a little apart is the latest case against Navalny. As we learned after his attorneys were detained on 13 October, the case arose not so much in the logic of revenge and intimidation as in the rational field: by deeming Navalny to be the creator of an extremist organization, the “organs” gained the opportunity to harass anyone who has collaborated with him in one way or another.

And when it comes to these “inadvertent extremists” there is, once again, “Dura lex…”

Legalism makes it possible to put in parentheses not only the moral but also the actual legal dimension of cases. On that plane, arguments about a sentence’s commensurability, the economy of repression, the equality of subjects, double jeopardy, and also, finally, that the laws themselves, supported (so as not to say “passed”) by so-called legislators, contradict the Constitution, and miss the point in general—those arguments don’t work.

Therefore, we too are going to climb off our legal horse and look at the situation from the political standpoint. Then the “law enforcement” system (in the broadest sense, including not only the courts and police but also the “legislators” who pass the laws that are so convenient for them) will emerge … in the form of media. To use Marshall MacLuhan’s classification, unlike horizontal media (net-based, rapid), this is a “vertical” medium put in place seemingly in perpetuity. Actually, that is the message it broadcasts: “It will always be this way.” You thought rational arguments could change something? They can’t. It has to become a universal and unconditional (permanent) reflex. How many times you’re given a new term (in the best case, a fine) will depend only on you, so you can stick your moral imperative up your ass (the way we did but you’re no better).

The “message’s” addressees feel something akin to what people of the older generation remember from the mid-1980s in the Soviet Union. But we also have experience of what inevitably happened afterward.

The situation looks frozen only in the near term. Those who put the emphasis on “eternity” in fact aren’t seeing past their own nose. Those who think rationally have a reserve pair of “distance glasses,” but out of fear for the future or in hopes that the continuation will take place outside the bounds of their physical life, they prefer not to use them.

Still, if the “media police”—admission to which specialty was just announced by RANKhiGS [Presidential Academy]—study for four or five years, by the time they get their diplomas, will it be considered a crime?

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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