A Letter To The Warden Of Segezha – OpEd


The Warden
Correctional Establishment No 7
1 Leigubskaya Street
Segezha City
Republic of Karelia

Citizen Warden,

Neither your name, or surname have the slightest importance here.

Yet, I don’t know what to call you: Citizen doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And here is why:

I dare to assume that you won’t walk into history. In the best case for you, you will fall into it. As for plunging into it, well you’ve already done that. You have stepped in the same criminal jackboots. With your absurd and unlawful punishments of Mikhail Khodorkovsky you have not only showed your slow-witted efficiency, but also proved that you are in no way a citizen , because its obvious you don’t belong to the citizenry. A citizen is obliged to obey the Law. You find yourself in no situation to do that. In fact, you find yourself in the position of having to follow instructions – not even demands necessarily, as you probably never received a written order to “waste Khodorokovsky” (our authorities are cowardly enough to leave no written footprints of their despicable deeds).


You could console yourself with the thought that in your Gulag-like system you are not alone: behind you stand dozens of your colleagues who have broken and who will continue to break laws regarding prisoners. For you, prisoners are not people, but a “special contingent”.

Though, if we’re honest, the special contingent, the obedient, unthinking, aggressive and spiteful group, is you and your comrades in arms. Not all amongst you of course. But they aren’t many who don’t take part in the despicable deeds. They don’t survive in your system long.

I hear that you became the warden of the penitentiary right before they transferred Khodorkovsky.They didn’t choose you by accident. It’s likely that you already won their attention for something and that your earned their trust. And its likely that you were instructed on just what to do. And you found yourself worthy of their trust: Straight after Khodorkovsky’s arrival into your hands you behaved not like a warden, but like a minion: hurrying to follow instructions to punish him. I can picture you, how loudly you neighed laughing, handing out idiotic penalties.

It so happened, that I have spent three years locked up, including 6 months of the harsh regime of Ussuriisko (zone No 41). And I can easily picture all the dishonourable arsenal, that you and people like you ran to make use of, hoping to curry favour in front of the Procurators and the Chekists, your higher-ups, and other drunk-with-power vampires. They also punished me, they wrote in my report that I “wasn’t on the path to righteousness”, because I “ didn’t take part in artistic activities”.

I thought then: when, in our country, will you and your bosses’ un-artistic activities be finally put to an end?

When you’re home, in the kitchen with your wife, and are getting indignant at the high costs of gas, housing expenses, taxes, groceries, medicine etc.; when you’re getting angry at the state of the roads and at coruption, bureacracy and the cynicism of officials; you most likely will rail against “the system”. However, the system is you! Once you had signed your name to your camp’s denunciation of Khodorkovsky, you became an inseparable part of that system, with which you are personally so dissatisfied.

Of course, it would be good to see you in the role of prisoner. You would, without fail, find somebody to impose on you those same punishments that you yourself imposed on Khodorkovsky. Go on, have a think and imagine that situation and those words that you would to address those who are punishing you. To the System.

But now, its you doing the punishing, lots of mean, stinking punishment. Just as, before you, Danilkin and the OPG did – the Procurator’s group all joined together in their hate for Khodorkovsky. If you think that it will work out for you,you are very mistaken. Study the history of the Gulag: the fate of many of the instigators hasn’t turned out well. Thus you pray to your Gulag God that you won’t be noticed by your boss, and that he forgets about you. And if that doesn’t happen, then at least you can bring their attention to how well you “unlawfully confiscated any feeling of justice amongst the prisoners”.

And if you smoke, give it up. You never know how they could charge you: either of slobbery if you don’t give someone a smoke, or of seizure of personal property if you decided to offer a Chekist a cigarette. In any case, that Chekist will write up an official statement on you.

I accuse you of “a dishonest attitude to work”. You do not have, in your list of duties, a point about how you must use all your strength and all your means to persecute the prisoner so as to please your boss and the Chekists. If you have even a drop of honesty or integrity left, you must stop the punishments of Khodorkovsky. Or at least don’t do it to any new prisoners. Don’t shame yourself further.

I will tell you a little story. A convoy guard led me to court for many years. He clearly felt the burden of his job, and especially those loathsome orders that the local Chekists gave him in relation to me. Once, he told me that he wanted to quit, but that he had family and children. I gave him some advice. He quit. It turns out he’s got a clever pair of hands. Now he is the owner of an incredibly successful business. His conscience is clear.

And yours?

Grigory Pasko, journalist

Grigory Pasko

Grigory Pasko is a Russian journalist and publisher of an environmental magazine. In November 1997 Pasko was arrested by FSB agents in Vladivostok and accused of espionage for publications on the environmental problems in the Japanese sea but found not guilty due to lack of evidence. He was found guilty of “abuse of his official position,” but released immediately under a general amnesty. He was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. His articles appear at Robert Amsterdam's website (http://www.robertamsterdam.com) and are reprinted with permission.

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