_
_
_
_
_
RUSSIA
Tribune
Opinion articles written in the style of their author." These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. shall feature, along with the author's name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

Russian dissidents: Is it better to fight inside or outside the country?

Many of those killed while fighting Moscow’s authoritarianism had lived abroad, where they soaked up the democratic values they then tried to introduce to Russia

Monument to the victims of political repression in St Petersburg
A woman places flowers in memory of Alexei Navalny at the monument to the victims of political repression in St. Petersburg, Russia.REUTERS
Monika Zgustova

The dilemma of political dissidence — and of artists, who need to create in freedom — remains the same: should we confront dictatorships directly or from the protection of abroad?

In the case of Russia — particularly during the Soviet Union — the return of exiles often had dramatic consequences. Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, who lived in different European capitals for years, was poisoned by Stalin in 1939, on her 70th birthday.

The composer Sergei Prokofiev was not seduced by Paris’ promises while in exile and returned, with his wife and two children, at the height of the Stalinist purges, with the hope of working better in the Soviet Union. The secret services soon separated him from his wife, Spanish singer Lina Codina, who was sent to the Gulag. The composer was also persecuted by Stalin, and ended up falling ill. He died on March 5, 1953, the same day as the dictator.

Tragedy also awaited the poet Marina Tsvetaeva in her country. First, her daughter Ariadna and her husband Sergei Efron left Paris for Moscow. The former was sentenced to several decades in the Gulag, and later died in prison after months of torture. Reluctantly, before the arrest of her husband and daughter, Marina with her son Mur followed them, but the Soviet secret services pursued her until she killed herself in 1942. The young Mur was forced to take part in the Second World War, where he died. Tens of thousands of Russians — those who had to leave during the Russian Revolution and returned from Western exile after the war — were sent directly to the Gulag, where they perished en masse.

Like Stalin, Putin also does not trust those who return to Russia from the West. When dealing out punishment, Russia’s secret services play with dates, using them as symbols. Journalist Anna Politkovskaia, who was born in New York and had an American passport, was murdered on Putin’s birthday, October 7 (2006). The dissident Alexei Navalny was poisoned (the first attempt to get rid of him) on August 21 (2020), which marked 52 years since the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops, and 80 years since, on Stalin’s orders, Ramón Mercader split Leon Trotsky’s head with an ice axe in Mexico City. Boris Nemtsov, politician and opponent of Putin, who tried to Westernize Russian politics and even had dealings with Bill Clinton and other politicians, was shot dead on February 27 (2015), the date on which the Krupskaia was poisoned by Stalin. In its bloody work, Putin’s FSB looks for emblematic coincidences and birthday gifts.

Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned the first time with Novichok, traveled to Germany to be cured. There he decided that, once recovered, he would return to Russia. Upon his return, he was arrested and sentenced to a penal colony. He died there on February 16, assassinated by the regime. Both Navalny and Putin had raised their bets.

All of these murdered figures have something in common: they lived abroad, where they soaked up the democratic values that they tried to introduce in Russia.

Other dissidents are currently behind bars in Russia. The best known of them is Vladimir Kara-Murza, a disciple of Boris Nemtsov and deputy director of Open Russia, an NGO founded by the dissident and businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Incidentally, Khodorkovsky — who was imprisoned by Putin for 10 years in Siberia and now lives in London — is never far from his bodyguards. Khodorkovsky and Garry Kasparov, the chess master who left the sport to dedicate himself to dissidence, decided to fight against Putin’s regime from abroad. But they know that Putin’s tentacles know no bound: remember the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, who died in exile in London.

But let’s return to Kara-Murza, Putin’s most prominent political prisoner after Navalny’s assassination. This descendant of the Tatar aristocracy studied history at Trinity Hall in Cambridge, worked as a BBC correspondent in Washington and establishing the Magnitsky Act in the United States, which sanctions those who infringe human rights. On two occasions, the Putin regime has tried to get rid of this 42-year-old dissident, who is also the producer of a long documentary about the Soviet dissident movement. Kara-Murza, who opted for direct confrontation with Putin, was sentenced last year to 25 years in prison “in a special regime,” that is, to a dark, cold and damp cell measuring three by four meters — the same regime Navalny languished in until his death.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_