11 June 2020
An open letter from human rights activist Irina Yasina to the head of the Central Electoral Commission Ella Pamfilova.
Even up until a couple years ago, if I were to send you a birthday note, I would have known exactly how to address it. Dear Ella. Or, perhaps, “Respected Ella Aleksandrovna.” That would have been if I became timid and decided that you were now a big boss and had forgotten our previously close relationship. Although, even when we were in close contact with each other and were virtually personal friends, you were always a big boss. However, enough of prefaces.
Ella! I summon up the courage and will use the familiar form of “you,” as you yourself once proposed to me.
Until the moment you invited me, at the beginning of 2009, to become a member of the Council on Human Rights and Civil Society, we were not personally acquainted. From television and the press, I of course knew well the striking blonde who was first a minister in the Gaidar government, and then even a candidate for president. You probably had also heard of me, if you invited me to become a member of the Council that you headed. It was a golden time! You were so convincing when you proposed that we work together. You forced me to believe in the good intentions of President Medvedev, although after the Yukos Affair, which I observed unfold from within the company, I had few illusions regarding the trajectory of our country’s development.
But how your words sounded! We can do it, we just need to try, he is full of energy, he is a totally different person, it will definitely turn out well!
And we tried, we brought up difficult questions, we collected information. And we hoped and we believed we would have success.
And some things turned out. Turned out, although you can count on one’s fingers the number of those we were able to snatch from the claws of the “system.” And then I left. I even learned from you, inasmuch as we had had, I repeat, a close relationship, that Surkov’s endless intrigues did not sit well with you. He needed a more compliant person, for the times were changing. You didn’t give any details, but in your face I could see many worries and doubts.
Instead of you, Surkov found Mikhail Fedotov, who immediately accepted the post in the presidential administration. Your office wasn’t on Old Square. Do you remember the name of that street in the Miusy area near Tverskaya Street? Honestly, when, at the end of 2011, I encouraged Svetlana Sorokina to leave the Council in a sign of protest against the fraud in the parliamentary elections, it was easy for me to do that. Your example showed us the way. It would’ve been much harder to leave you or from your Council. As for Fedotov. With all due respect, he’s a state bureaucrat, nothing more.
Then you called me to join the expert council under a certain Commission for Distribution of Grants to NGOs of a certain Presidential Fund. Things were getting harder and harder. Foreign financing was linked to the status of being a ‘foreign agent,’ the number of domestic donors wasn’t expanding, it was narrowing. But you managed to maintain some sort of balance. We were not ashamed of you and being under you wasn’t shameful either.
When you became human rights ombudsman we stopped talking. I understood the scope of the tasks and the lack of time you had and that you probably wanted to remain a beautiful woman. This also took up your time.
And then the Central Election Commission. Was I alone in hoping that this symbol of lies would finally have a human face? I don’t think so. When hundreds of people turned to you after the Moscow protests of last summer, they all believed in the beautiful blonde with the fine reputation as a fighter for human rights.
Oh how we all failed!
What happened? When did it happen? Yes, I know that people change throughout their lives. I’ve changed a lot myself. I’ve become softer, I’ve stopped talking about people with that youthful, Manichaean, directness of “me vs them”, and started looking for the reasons that would make a person act in one way and not another. But thinking about you, I get lost. Of course, I don’t have the right to judge anyone. But I have a lot of free time. Actually, apart from my head, not much about my body works. I sit in my wheelchair, reading a lot and thinking a lot.
I’m sorry, I simply can’t understand what made you change like this.
What force did this tool of persuasion have, that an intelligent, experienced person would believe that on the 1st July we must all vote for the preservation of the Russian language and not for the monarchical, lifelong rule of the head of state?
I don’t understand how you – and I know that you are a staunch supporter of democracy – could so zealously begin to defend the values of an absolute monarchy from the time of the late Middle Ages?
What must have happened, so that in your old age…?
In The Doomed City by the Strugatsky brothers, there is this passage. I’m quoting from memory, as lately I have been listening to audiobooks and not reading. My hands have forgotten how to turn pages. So, the question is: How is it that in the realm of Absolute Evil we are left with inner freedom?
I answered for myself: Inner freedom allows you to preserve your self-esteem. In our country this is in great deficit. The history of centuries shows how any sense of self-esteem has been knocked out of our ancestors.
And so, you have become one of those who continues to knock it out of our children and grandchildren.
And without it, when we are without the sense of self-esteem of an ordinary person, our homeland has a bleak outlook. Alas.
Featured picture: Wikipedia