Oleg Orlov’s final speech at his trial: ‘Their children and grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers served and what they did’ [Mediazona]
Oleg Orlov

26 February 2024

By Anna Pavlova and Sergei Golubev

Source: Mediazona


The retrial of Oleg Orlov, co-chair of Memorial, on charges of ‘discrediting the army is drawing to an end at Moscow’s Golovinsky district court. Last autumn at his trial the court handed down a fine, but the prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict and the case was sent for a new investigation. Finally, today the state prosecutor asked that the human rights activist be sentenced to a term in prison of two years 11 months. The verdict will be announced tomorrow [27 February 2024 – RiR]. Orlov, who refused to speak in court in protest, broke his silence today and gave a final speech in court. Mediazona has published the text of Orlov’s speech in full.


On the day this trial began, Russia and the world were shaken by the terrible news about the death of Aleksei Navalny. The news shook me too. And I even thought of not speaking in court at all: how can we speak now when we still haven’t recovered from the shock caused by this news? But then I thought: all these are links in the one chain – the death, or more exactly the murder, of Aleksei Navalny, and the judicial crackdown on other critics of the regime, including me, the suppression of freedom in the country, and the sending of Russian troops into Ukraine. These are all links in the one chain. And I decided to speak it all the same.

I have not committed a crime. I am being tried for a newspaper article in which I called the political regime established in Russia totalitarian and fascist.

The article was written more than a year ago. And at that time, some of my acquaintances thought I was exaggerating. But now it is quite obvious that I exaggerated nothing. The state in our country controls not only social, political, and economic life, but also claims full control over culture, academia, and interferes in private life. It, the state, is becoming all-encompassing. And we see this.

In the course of the four and a bit short months since the end of my first trial in this very court, many events have happened that show how quickly and ever more deeply our country is sinking into this darkness.

I will very briefly list a number of events that are different both in terms of scale and tragedy:

  • books by a number of contemporary Russian writers have been banned in Russia;
  • the non-existent LGBT Movement has been banned, which in essence means brazen government interference in the private lives of citizens;
  • students applying to the Higher School of Economics are banned from citing ‘foreign agents.’ Now applicants and students must study and memorize lists of ‘foreign agents’ before studying a subject;
  • Boris Kagarlitsky, the well-known social scientist and left-wing commentator Boris Kagarlitsky was sentenced to five years in prison. For what? For a few words he said about the events of the war in Ukraine that differ from the official position;
  • and finally, the man whom propagandists call ‘Russia’s national leader,’ speaking about the outbreak of World War II, said the following, and I quote: ‘After all, the Poles forced, they got carried away and they forced Hitler to start the Second World War precisely by attacking them. Why did the war start with Poland? Poland was uncooperative. There was nothing left for Hitler to do in the realization of his plans but to start with Poland.’ End of quote.

Is this what we should call the political system under which everything that I have just listed is happening? In my opinion, there can be no doubts as to the answer. Unfortunately, I was right in my article.

Not only is public criticism banned, but any independent opinions. A person can be punished for actions that would seem to have nothing to do with criticism of the authorities or with politics.

There is no field of art where free artistic expression is possible, in the academy the humanities are no longer free, and there is no private life anymore.

Let me now say a few words about the nature of the charges brought against me and those brought in many similar trials against those who, like me, speak out against the war.

At the opening of this trial, I refused to participate in it, and as a result I was able to read Kafka’s novel, The Trial, during the court sessions. Indeed, there are similarities between our current situation in our country and the situation in which the hero of this book finds himself – the absurdity and arbitrariness, arbitrariness that masquerades as formal compliance with certain pseudo-legal procedures.

Here, for example, we are accused of discrediting without explaining what it is and how it differs from legitimate criticism. We are accused of knowingly disseminating false information without bothering to prove its falsity – exactly as the Soviet regime behaved in declaring criticism, any criticism, a lie. And our attempts to prove the veracity of this information are themselves treated as criminal offences. We are accused of not supporting the system of views, the worldview, proclaimed as correct by the leadership of our country. And this is despite the fact that, according to the Constitution, there can be no state ideology in Russia. Convictions are handed down in the courts for doubting whether the attack on a neighbouring state has the goal of supporting international peace and security. This is absurdity.

At no time in the novel does Kafka’s hero know what he was accused of, yet despite this, he was convicted and executed. Whereas in Russia the charges against us are formally pronounced, although it is impossible to understand them in the framework of law and logic.

Unlike Kafka’s hero, indeed, we understand why the real reasons why we are arrested, tried, remanded in custody, sentenced, killed. In fact, we are being punished for permitting ourselves to criticize the authorities. And in today’s Russia, this is absolutely forbidden. Of course, deputies, investigators, prosecutors and judges never say this openly. They hide the fact under the absurd and illogical formulations of the so-called new laws, indictments and sentences. But it is so.

Now Aleksei Gorinov, Aleksandra Skochilenko, Igor Baryshnikov, Vladimir Kara-Murza and many others are being slowly killed in penal colonies and prisons. Why are they being killed? They are being killed because they protested against the bloodshed in Ukraine, because they want Russia to become a democratic, prosperous state that does not pose a threat to the outside world.

And in recent days, people have been seized, punished and even imprisoned just because they came to the memorials to the victims of political repression to honour the memory of the murdered Aleksei Navalny. A wonderful man, brave and honest, who in incredibly difficult conditions did not lose his optimism or faith in the future of our country. And of course it was murder, regardless of the specific circumstances of his death. And the authorities are at war even with the dead Navalny, they even fear him now that he is dead – and they are right to fear him. They are destroying memorials spontaneously set up to his memory. And those who do this hope that in this way they will be able to demoralize that part of the Russian public who continue to feel responsible for their country. Well, they shouldn’t bother hoping. We remember Aleksei’s words – ‘Do not give up.’ And from myself I add: do not lose heart, and do not lose optimism. After all, the truth is on our side.

Those who have led our country into the pit in which it now finds itself, represent what is old, decrepit and outmoded. They have no vision of the future – only false notions of the past, mirages of imperial grandeur. They are pushing Russia backward, back into the dystopia described by Vladimir Sorokin in The Day of the Oprichnik. But we live in the twenty-first century, we have a real future ahead of us, and this is the key to our victory.

Concluding my speech, I, perhaps unexpectedly for many, want to address those who, by their work, are now pushing forward the steamroller of repression. Government officials, law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors. In fact, you all understand everything perfectly well. And far from all of you are convinced supporters of political repression. Sometimes you regret what you have to do, but you tell yourselves: ‘What can I do? I’m just following my superiors’ orders. The law is the law.’

I’m addressing you, Your Honour, I’m addressing the prosecutor here present. Aren’t you yourselves scared? Aren’t you scared to see what our country, which perhaps, probably, you love too, is turning into? Aren’t you afraid that perhaps not only you, but also your children and, God forbid, your grandchildren may have to live in this absurdity, in this dystopia? Doesn’t the obvious come to mind – the steamroller of repression may sooner or later roll over those who launched it and pushed it on? After all, that is just what has happened so many times in history.

I repeat what I said at my previous trial. Yes, the law is the law. But I remember that in 1935, the so-called Nuremberg Laws were adopted in Germany. And then, after the victorious year of 1945, those who had executed them were put on trial. I do not have full confidence that the current creators and executors of Russia’s anti-legal, anti-constitutional laws will themselves be held judicially responsible. But punishment will be inevitable. Their children and grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers served and what they did. It will be the same with those who are now committing crimes in Ukraine in fulfilment of orders. And in my opinion, this is the most terrible punishment, and it is inevitable. Well, punishment for me, obviously, is also inevitable, because to hope for an acquittal in the current circumstances would be the height of naivety. And now very soon we will all see what the verdict will be. But there is nothing for which I repent and I have no regrets. That’s all.


Translated by Rights in Russia

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