Probably everyone has heard of Voltaire, the great French author and philosopher. What you might not know is there was really no such person as Voltaire; it was a pen name adopted by Francois Marie Arouet, who assumed the nom-de-plume while doing a stretch in the Bastille for insulting the French government.
Maybe you think this is where the Boris Nemtsov connection comes in: political prisoner for pissing off the government. Nope – the reason I brought up Voltaire is because he authored perhaps my favourite quote ever.
“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one. ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous’. And God granted it”
Yes, considering he lived in an age when grown men walked around in public wearing jackets that had a skirt attached to the bottom, and wore their hair down over their shoulders – and had prissy manners, to boot – he was a pretty witty guy, as funny as Chris Rock. Taller, too; but grown men wore high heels then, too, so that probably doesn’t count.
Make my enemies ridiculous. Maybe God only grants a prayer like that once every century or two, but this seems to be my lucky century. My muse at La Russophobe is, once again, ridiculous. Consider this story, if you will. “Neo-Soviet Russia Goes Berzerk”. Uh huh. Leaving aside for the moment that “berzerk” is actually “a multidirectional shooter video arcade game released in 1980 by Stern Electronics”, while the word that suggests “in or into a state of violent or destructive rage or frenzy” is actually spelled “berserk”, I hesitated to get into yet another story about Boris Nemtsov. Why? Because he’s as boring as watching the process of time-lapse photography. Writing about him – again – only plays into his hands, because he wants attention. That’s why he keeps getting arrested.
But the post I referenced is just too good to let pass, just too….melodramatically hero-worshiping, saccharine-coated comical. Give it a read, then we’ll get started.
Ready? OK, let’s begin at the beginning. Poor Nemtsov is trapped in a tiny concrete box that is…just about the same square footage as a comparable cell in the U.S. Nice of them to let him take his tape-measure in, too. Not to mention a pen and paper to write a note; I don’t know if you noticed the comments to the referenced post, but the first one – by someone named casasa – is pretty funny. It was still there the last time I checked, and reads, “He is in a concrete box, 1.5 by three metres, without a window and without even a mattress. A bare floor and that’s it. And then … he finds a piece of paper and a pen to write a note and … finds the way to smuggle it out of his jail cell (perhaps through non-existing windows?). What a romantic story!” Although the ever faithful Bohdan (the very one who gave this blog its name) rushes to La Russophobe’s defense with the suggestion that Nemtsov probably had the pen and paper cunningly hidden on his person before his arrest, that would presuppose (a) he wasn’t searched before being put in what sounds like a holding cell, before being assigned to more long-term quarters (even in Russian jail, you get a bed) which is unlikely, or (b) he knew he was going to be arrested. If the latter is the case, he intended to break the law. Which would suggest he’s exactly where he belongs. People who break the law – repeatedly – go to jail. That’s what’s called the rule of law. While we’re discussing that, how did he get his note smuggled out? A sympathetic guard? In a situation where anyone would have to know it would be immediately published, followed by an investigation into how it got out, and suspicion would immediately focus on the guard? Or maybe a bribe? Hey – wouldn’t that be illegal?
Nemtsov was not, repeat not, arrested for “publicly criticizing the Putin regime in a permitted demonstration”. He was not bothered in any way while taking part in the permitted demonstration. When he attempted to leave it and join an unsanctioned demonstration nearby, he was immediately arrested. The Moscow mayor had announced prior to both demonstrations that protesters taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations would be liable to arrest. The Russian constitution says if the demonstration is bigger than one protester, you have to have a permit. That forms the basis for the law. Boris Nemtsov continues to deliberately break the law while shouting for reform and rule of law. Would he have defended such a practice while he was Deputy Prime Minister?
Mr. Nemtsov had to stand throughout his four-hour trial. Sorry, but so what? That’s not even impressive. Who says so? The former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, says so. “I stand for 8-10 hours a day”, says he; “why is standing limited to 4 hours?” Take that, Boris Nemtsov, you moist-eyed chorus girl. When Donald Rumsfeld wrote that in 2004, he was 72 years old. You’re 51.
Let’s move on. Mr. Nemtsov, we’re told, is accused only of “speaking too harshly about the Kremlin’s crackdown on democracy”. Again, sorry, but I’d need to see some substantiation of that, because that’d be one hell of a charge. Other published information says he was charged with smarting off to police officers – never a wise policy, including in the USA. Oh, and taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration, which he was specifically warned not to do. Several times, including previous sleepovers in jail, which would make you wonder if maybe he’s not as bright as he’s made out to be.
The piece closes with the bemusing suggestion that the President of Russia should have “protected people like Nemtsov and Khodorkovsky from further abuse”. Really? Let’s see, as usual, how the leader of the free world sets the example. What happens if you protest – by way of civil disobedience, which is precisely what the 31 protesters are doing – in America? Simple. You go to jail. How about massive corporate fraud, which is what Khodorkovsky is being punished for? As we’ve already cited by way of example in the Khodorkovsky case, Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay, former honcho of Enron, looked likely to get 20-30 years in one of those little concrete boxes we spoke about earlier. Unfortunately, he died before serving so much as a single day of his sentence. Or so they say, although rumors persist that he isn’t actually dead at all, and is living it up on some island somewhere. He could certainly afford it, with the money he swindled his investors out of. Did the president intervene to “save him from further abuse”? He did not, even though the two were old friends.
Once again, the double standard – do as I say, not as I do.