At the New Yorker, Masha Gessen translates A Powerful Statement of Resistance from a College Student on Trial in Moscow (‘Yegor Zhukov’s message about responsibility and love at his trial, for “extremism,” shows what political dissent can be and seems to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one’).
(Zhukov was accused of “extremism” for posting YouTube videos about nonviolent protest and his campaign for a city council seat in Moscow. The prosecution asked for four years of incarceration; Zhukov received probation.)
A portion of Gessen’s translation of Yegor Zhukov’s remarks appears below (the full text is available at the New Yorker):
“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.
“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.
“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.
“The only social policy the Russian state pursues consistently is the policy of atomization. The state dehumanizes us in one another’s eyes. In the state’s own eyes, we stopped being human a long time ago. Otherwise, why would it treat its citizens the way it does? Why does it punctuate its treatment of people through daily nightstick beatings, prison torture, inaction in the face of an H.I.V. epidemic, the closure of schools and hospitals, and so on?