Aleksandr Podrabinek: Sergei Mokhnatkin – a model of civic honesty and personal courage

30 May 2024

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: Facebook

In Moscow today, an evening was held at Open Space in memory of Sergei Mokhnatkin. Here is what I said there.

In my several decades of participation in political life, first in the Soviet Union and then in Russia, I have had occasion to see many people who have started down the path of resistance to despotism. These people have varied greatly: different ideological preferences; different modes of activity; and different behaviors, especially under investigation and in court. They all had one thing in common, though: a rejection of the totalitarian regime and arbitrary rule. 

In my youth, when I joined the democratic movement in the Soviet Union, this rejection of the regime seemed to me paramount. And it was indeed the unifying principle. Now, too, it unifies very different people with very different views. With time, though, I came to lend more significance to the motives that led to people’s participation in opposing the state. This turned out to be important, too. Because if you don’t look at the oppositionist world through rose-colored glasses and don’t consider all oppositionists angels, then you can discern less than pure intentions among some figures of the resistance. Many even, unfortunately. 

I am talking about the present day, about present-day Russia, about the present-day opposition. For many of them, participation in the opposition struggle was a game—risky perhaps, complicated sometimes, but a game in which many could be sacrificed for the sake of personal fame and political success. When success did not come, they saw that their own well-being was much more important than foolhardy resistance to the dictatorship. They realized that prison was not their destiny, that now it was better to shut up or go into emigration and there suffer loftily and passionately over Russia’s fate.

Fortunately, not everyone was like that. We know the names of Navalny, Kara-Murza, Yashin, Gorinov, and Kriger, and we know hundreds of other honest and courageous people who have resisted the harsh authoritarian regime to the best of their abilities. This is resistance on the brink of life and death—such is the price of honorable conduct in our fatherland. Among these people stands Sergei Mokhnatkin. I will explain why. 

Oppositionist politicians will probably say he was ineffective. Public activists will probably say he was introverted and insufficiently communicative. I view this differently. 

Sergei Mokhnatkin. Photo:

Sergei Mokhnatkin may not have had political ambitions or public interest, but he did have something much more important: personal honesty and dignity, which did not allow him to retreat under the pressure of violence, to surrender, to connive, or to barter with the state for the sake of his own advantage or public benefit. In today’s Russia, where the concept of reputation, be it in the state or the opposition, is simply nonexistent, Mokhnatkin was a model of civic honesty and personal courage. He did not languish from vanity, did not seek fame, did not pontificate at conferences or congresses, did not seek out influential friends, did not try to get on the air or television screens. He simply stayed true to himself and did not dare retreat from the principles he had established for himself. That is how I see him, and that is how I understand him, although we did not know each other well. 

This life choice cost him dearly: prison killed him. He was lucky enough to be released, but his health, undermined in prison, left him no chance of survival. Unfortunately, this is what most often happens: one ends up paying the ultimate price for honesty and courage. This is something wheeler-dealers—who for the sake of their own well-being are prepared in practice to give up everything they had preached with such heat—will never understand. They are ruled by circumstances; Mokhnatkin was above those cunning calculations.

If the saying that the earth cannot stand without a righteous man is correct, then Sergei Mokhnatkin was one person thanks to whom Russia has a chance for the future.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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