Like many Russians I was glued to my television set this morning, watching the annual press conference of President Vladimir Putin with the Russian and foreign press. For over four hours questions on various subjects were pouring in, like hot lava and answers came back like ping-pong balls – measured, sometimes with a dash of humour, but it was what happened after the press conference that made me pause and wonder if my ears were deceiving me. It seems that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of Russia’s most famous former oligarchs, who has been incarcerated for over ten years, refusing to ask for forgiveness, has asked to be pardoned on the human grounds, as unfortunately his elderly mother is ill.
This smart and spectacled man, who has been the subject of endless discussions, books and documentaries, continues to fascinate and divide my nation and to be honest I always thought that what happened to him, whether he was guilty of some of the things that he was accused of or not, was inhuman and unjust in the way it was done. I have no insider information and have never met him in person, yet it horrifies me to imagine what he and his family must have been going through since the moment he was arrested on board of the plane. He was warned, many of his colleagues and business partners chose to leave the country but for reasons only known to him, Khodorkovsky chose to stay.
I have recently read a quote from someone famous that one should never say ‘I understand’ unless he or she has been in that situation. We also have an old saying in Russia, along the lines of ‘never say never about being imprisoned’. To go from being incredibly wealthy and famous to a prisoner, far away from family and even the simplest life’s comforts can break anyone, yet Khodorkovsky remained resolute, protesting his innocence, educating himself within the prison walls and occasionally giving interviews via letters from prison. His family, friends and lawyers continued to fight in the face of opposition, threats and absence of the transparent justice.
If today’s news are true, than a miracle of sorts will take place. Lots of people, including your truly, were sceptical that the pardon will ever happen and I sincerely hope that Khodorkovsky will be freed and reunited with his family, which includes his truly stoic wife and children who remained in Russia and in true Russian character refused to give up on the man they love. Over ten years have passed, a life-time when you are incarcerated and yet I chose to believe and hope for the goodness of the human spirit, especially on the eve of the new year.
We live in interesting times and this year has been particularly strong for Russia’s politics. Will 2014 be a year that the tide turns, that the strength of the human spirit prevails and a truly Russian quality of humility and compassion comes into play? Will there be political gains for President Putin within Russia and around the world ? Is it a calculated step on his part ? Why now? Only time will tell but if Khodorkovsky emerges into the bright daylight and leaves the world of prison life behind him for good, the world will certainly become a better and more just place.