Russian Prisons Again Churning Out Revolutionaries – OpEd


Prior to the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks often referred to prisonsas “our universities,” places where activists could grow in their revolutionary beliefs and become more ready to act on being released. The Putin regime appears to be following this tsarist tradition, with some it is sentencing as “extremists” pledging to return as “real revolutionaries.”

This is a problem the Kremlin does not appear to have anticipated when it began to charge people with “extremist” crimes involving posts, reposts and likes on the Internet. On the one hand, there aren’t enough prisons to hold all those who violate these rules. And on the others, those few who are sentenced for such “crimes” are being radicalized by the state.

One such Russian, 21-year-old Maksim Komelitsky who has been sentenced to a strict regime camp for a year after confessing to reposting photographs that prosecutors said were offensive to believers tells Radio Liberty that he will return from that experience “a real revolutionary,” something he was not before (

Komelitsky says he admitted to reposting the picture because he did although he doesn’t consider what he did a crime. There are many who do the same, and “there aren’t enough prisons in the country to hold all those who have reposted it.” As for the charges, he believes he was singled out because he is a member of PARNAS and therefore “’the fifth column.’”

“The present-day wild political system of Russia which is in no way different from one of the European countries of the 1930s always needs an enemy” so that the Kremlin can blame it for all of its shortcomings. It doesn’t matter much who – “fascists, Banderites, Islamists, Americans, or extraterrestrials.” Any will justify “tightening the screws.”

“Russia for a long time already has not been a secular and is far from being a democratic country,” Komelitsky continues. “What is taking place now in Russia very much reminds one of one of the European nations which in the 1930s also rose from its knees, talked about patriotism, burned books, and created an analogue to our ‘Young Guard.’”

As for the prosecutor’s suggestion that he was “a socially dangerous person” because of his activism, the Russian activist says that “a procuracy which has Article 282 at its disposal is much more dangerous for society than I.” But it may be that by its actions, the Russian state is making him more of a threat to itself.

“After the camps,” he says, he “plans to continue [his] activity” because “from the camps [he] will return a real revolutionary, [and] for the state, the only person more dangerous than a revolutionary is a revolutionary who has been in prison. That is because one can frighten the first with jail and shut him up, but that doesn’t work for the second.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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