Aleksandr Podrabinek: On the arrest of Soviet-era dissident Aleksandr Skobov

3 April 2024

Source: Facebook

Yesterday, Aleksandr Skobov, a man whose political views I do not share, but who is without doubt a decent and courageous person, was arrested in St Petersburg. It seems he is the first from the ranks of our Soviet-era dissidents to have finally become a target for Putin’s oprichniki. This is, possibly, a landmark event and an indication that previous opposition to the Soviet regime will now be seen as an aggravating circumstance, rather than one that merits rehabilitation.

Aleksandr was twice prosecuted for anti-Soviet activity and both times he was detained in the most intolerable conditions – enforced psychiatric ‘treatment’. That didn’t break him then, and this probably won’t break him now. He is not one of that pitiable breed of frivolous opposition Frondists who obediently comply with any demands made by the illegitimate authorities – those who at the first threat to their personal well-being tamely shut up or hastily evacuate abroad.

Last Tuesday, exactly a week before he was arrested, Aleksandr Skobov visited me in Moscow. We talked about many things. He told me with a chuckle that he had been listed as a foreign agent, but that he was not going to comply with the rules requiring him to write various reports, use the label Roskomnadzor insist on, or fulfill their other stupid requirements. I wasn’t surprised – he’s a man with a dissident pedigree. What else would you expect from him? A sense of dignity, when it is genuine and not just a pretence, cannot be crushed by threats or persecution.

Skobov has written a great deal and published in the independent press. He has not been shy to express his views or to criticise people. He has no inner censor. He well knew that he could probably be arrested soon, and being listed as a foreign agent was a first sign. But it also proved to be the last. The authorities did not intend to play a long and entertaining game with him of ‘leave the country or things will get much worse for you.’ They realised they would lose. Skobov will never leave his country.

Aleksandr is 66 years old and in poor health. However, ‘poor’ health is putting it mildly. I will not go into the medical details, but only say that prison is not a place he would survive. His eyesight is very bad, and it’s hard for him to walk outside unaccompanied. A week ago when he left I took him to catch the train. He was returning to St Petersburg, expecting nothing good from the future, but calm and even-tempered. His equanimity and composure are based on the knowledge that he is in the right, and the conviction that he has made the right choices. There was no trace whatsoever of the panic one can feel at the expectation of imminent arrest. And that can happen even with very strong people.

All this is sad, though unsurprising. Someone who opposed the Soviet system is again being subjected to political persecution and once again their life hangs by a thread.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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