Olga Romanova: Why do we put up with it?

15 April 2020

Olga Romanova, the head of the human rights organisation ‘Russia Behind Bars’, and Moscow Helsinki Group Prize laureate

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

I look at the queues on the Moscow metro. A friend from Denmark sends me videos of Moscow and swears profusely. If they did this to us in Denmark, he says, the Danish would have kicked the mayor of Copenhagen out of city hall that day and without any discussion. Why do we put up with it? It’s a crime.

And yes, this friend left 30 years ago.

And prisoners’ relatives come to us for help. But they don’t want anyone to hear, they don’t want a fuss.

But you’d have thought: that’s it, that’s the limit, we have to scream and shout now, your little boy is dying, maybe he’s on remand and not even been sentenced, but we won’t fight, just suppose things become worse for him…

And it’s from this subservience and despondence that everything else derives.

We had a case in Siberia. A young girl was remanded in custody and she slipped somehow in the pre-trial detention centre and broke her spine and her arm at the same time. They put her in hospital, and then they took her out, her back wasn’t healing as it should have done and it became worse and worse. And it was still ages and ages before her case was to be heard in court.

Her mother asked us what we could do to help her daughter, only without raising a fuss. Because neither her relatives nor her friends knew that she was in jail. It was too shameful.

But coming to us was not shameful? Half of us have been in jail, and the other half have been waiting and trying to get their relatives out of jail, or are doing that right now.

So, is it really OK to come to us? We’re all scary prisoners, aren’t we?

I should have rounded up these mothers long ago and rid ourselves of this so-called prison ‘healthcare,’ dumping it in the dustbin of history where it belongs – along with the whole of our Federal Penitentiary Service.

Or are you waiting for us to deal with it instead of you? We shall deal with it. True, it would be quicker with your help, but then again you are most worried about ‘not making things worse.’

And that young girl died in the pre-trial detention centre. Bedsores, a temperature, some kind of infection or other. But she died quietly. She didn’t make a fuss.

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson and Simon Cosgrove

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