“We are living inside a catastrophe.” Lev Shlosberg on politics in wartime

16 April 2022

An interview with Lev Shlosberg

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

The leader of the Pskov branch of the Yabloko [‘Apple’] Party, Lev Shlosberg, and his wife Zhanna, are charged with discrediting the Armed Forces of Russia. Thus far only an administrative case has been initiated, but the politician doesn’t rule out the possibility that criminal charges might later be brought. The regime is prepared to totally eliminate dissidents, he said in an interview with a correspondent for the website severreal.org.

On 14 April at 21:45, officers of the Pskov division of the Centre for Combatting Extremism [also known as ‘Centre E’, a branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – trans.] stopped Lev Shlosberg’s car and compelled him to follow them for questioning. Shlosberg spent until almost midnight at the police station. 

The day before, a charge based on Article 20.3.3, Paragraph 1, of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences —”public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”—was drawn up against Zhanna Shlosberg, the wife of the politician, for a publication on the site VKontakte, and a subpoena was delivered to her at home. There was no subpoena for Lev Shlosberg; he had been preparing to spend the weekend in Moscow, where a party congress was to take place. 

“At first, Centre E officers came to our home, but they didn’t find us there. Once I found out about the arrival of guests, I called and asked them what the purpose of their visit was. They informed me that they had received another document this time relating to me and that it would be necessary to draw up another charge. I informed them that I was leaving for Moscow, that I would be back Monday, and I proposed that we meet on Monday. And, as it seemed to me, we calmly agreed to on a meeting. But Centre E officers stopped our car in the city en route, as we, along with our driver, departed for St. Petersburg. They said “the situation has changed,” and it was necessary to draft a charge that same day. As a result, we “changed our trajectory of motion.” I never argue with the police in such situations. They asked us to ride over with them – so that meant we rode over. We took off in two vehicles – the officers, and we and our driver,” Shlosberg later wrote on his social media sites. 

The subject of the protocol, he said, was “a direct video quote from a month-old broadcast of the federal channel.” Court dates have yet not been set.

Lev Shlosberg called the administrative case initiated against him a “continuation of a quite long-standing history.”

“Properly speaking, there is nothing surprising in these events. It was totally clear that, with the political position I, and not only I, take, a charge like this was inevitable. It didn’t begin yesterday and won’t end tomorrow,” says Shlosberg. “I make no special prognoses for things either getting worse or getting better. We find ourselves in a situation where we essentially live in real time. What happens today happens. We assess today’s events. We are in a high-risk zone. It is a realization that accompanies our lives. 

-Will this administrative prosecution force you to be quiet?

– No.

– -Or to start thinking about emigration?


– In 2014, you took a similar position against the war. But back then, you had the opportunity to freely express your opinion, and spoke openly about the annexation of Crimea (as opposed to the official line of “returning it” to its native land). Today, however, any attempts to express disagreement with what is happening is severely suppressed. And it’s only been eight years…

– During these eight years, the framework for what is now taking place was being prepared. It was prepared carefully, methodically, and systematically. Until recently, almost no one understood this and did not want to hear it. People refused to believe in the terrible reality. In 2014, the system made a fundamental choice, but was not ready for a total cleansing of society, for a total cleansing of the opposition. The system was used to bullying, to suppression. But it was not  yet in a position to destroy dissidents. Now the system is ready for this.

– To physically destroy them?

– Any of them.

– You talk with a variety of people: voters, politicians. What can be said about the general mood in Pskov?

– Not just in Pskov city. I talk to people around the Pskov region and beyond. For the vast majority of people, everything that is happening now was sudden, a total surprise, people did not expect anything like this to happen. But people perceive it differently. There are people who see this as a long-awaited embodiment of unconscious desires, that is, they did not think that this could happen, but they support it. This is part of their internal need for violence, aggression, and the suppression of dissent. Unfortunately, these people do exist. There are not many of them, actually, but they are very vocal. They enjoy the support of the authorities, they are now on a certain crest of public influence. There are people who are conflicted – there are a lot of these people. I assume that these people make up the majority of the country. They do not understand how to live in the new situation. It looks like nothing has changed on the outside. The same streets, the same people, the same shops, the same life, the same work. But somehow everything is different. And awareness of reality comes to these people very slowly. These people are overwhelmingly apolitical. And they do not have a sufficient understanding of the situation to realize what is happening. And finally, there are people who share our values. Almost all of these people are deeply shocked, these people are indignant, ready to speak out, including in the form of public protest. But the law does not allow us to speak out. We live in a wartime situation without martial law. That takes a degree of skill to organise. It is very difficult to get used to this reality, it is almost impossible to adapt to it, because you never know what you won’t be able to say next.

– In Pskov – a military city – can you see any kind of anti-war sentiment?

— Of course, yes. Nobody likes it when people die. There are maniacs who like the very process of destroying people. But this, as they say, comes under a separate article of the Criminal Code, including the current Russian criminal law. For the vast majority of people, death is unnatural and unacceptable.

— But another thing is when you “back your own team”, so to speak. If your friends, acquaintances, relatives, husbands or sons went to war, then you worry about them and, of course, support them. Or maybe not?

— No, it’s unnatural. I am deeply convinced that this is unnatural. There is this terrible effect – almost like a disease. Bloodshed is contagious. All violent events lead to the fact that one bloodshed leads to another. This is one of the most dangerous effects of large-scale military action. This is almost like a traditional blood feud. This keeps alive the primitive traditions of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. These are the ideas that are triggered by any mass violence, whether it is associated with military operations or political violence. Revenge is one of the most destructive sentiments. And this is another form of suicide, including national suicide.

– This information has not been officially verified, but according to rumours, there have been dozens, possibly even hundreds of contract servicemen refusing to go to the front. Do you know anything about this?

We can’t say anything openly about this, as in 2015 Putin decreed that all military losses during peacetime be classified, including losses as a result of special military operations. Additionally, any information on transfers, including anything about military personnel refusing to act, has been completely shut away. Irrespective of who knows what, as it stands, nobody is going to be making any public statements. Just like those lawyers who provide legal aid for individuals who are refusing to participate in the special military operation, nobody is making any public comments because it’s dangerous to do so. Such situations have changed in a radical way.

– I can’t help but wonder why some of these people, whose profession involves bravery, don’t use the media, and speak out about their motives and incentives. Why don’t they do so?

It’s a different kind of bravery. To risk one’s life in anarmed conflict, and to risk one’s freedom for what are essentially political motives, are entirely different. Courage consists of a mix of different elements. They are quite often imcompatible and should be viewed with sympathy. The second kind of courage is much more dangerous, paradoxical as it is. Sometimes it’s more daunting to lose your freedom and reputation than your life.

– What can you, as a politician, do at the present moment, and what’s the range of actions available to you in the given conditions?

Essentially, the function of representatives in politics is no longer just representation on the people’s behalf. Representational service now is a representation of views, convictions, opinions, and values, which reflect the beliefs of people with the same views as us. By the very fact of our existence, we represent these people. This gives them strength; this is their public defence. If we are there and are speaking out, we give others the strength to carry on in this horrific situation. We’re currently living through something the likes of which our generation has never seen, there has been nothing like this for half a century. We’ve seen nothing like this since the Second World War. We are living through a catastrophe. This is an experience which we have never been faced with until now. How it will turn out is hard to say.

– Would an anti-war, political coalition be possible in Russia?

– The anti-war movement in Russia is a force which will change the country. It is, to all intents and purposes, a political movement. As it stands, I couldn’t really predict what’s to come, there’s only one anti-war party operating in Russia, the Yavloko party . The remaining parties are all pro-war.

– What, in your opinion, could stop the war?

– Public opinion.

– But how can public opinion be expressed in conditions of total censorship and harsh repression of any rallies and protests of any kind?

Public opinion is not necessarily seen or heard, but it is bubbling under the surface. And gradually the realisation dawns that the public atmosphere is changing. The more powerful people feel, the more they will be willing to speak out. The government will eventually run out of the resources for repression at the present level. But nobody can say how long it will take before this public opinion becomes dominant. It could happen soon, or it could take a while. It could possibly come at a high cost, but it will happen – such is the invariable course of history. Our natural course, as humans, is to sooner or later reject all-out violence and catastrophe. But this process may take a long time, we cannot say that it is within the easy reach of our generation. It’s not really a question of time. Living in times of catastrophe changes our perception of time and how we value it. As of late, time has become immensely valuable. Having lived another day, you appreciate the freedom it brought with it, and that you are still alive. This feeling is something which can only be found during times of global catastrophe. And that is the feeling we have right now.

Translated by Mark Nuckols, James Lofthouse and Friedrich Berg

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