Russia has just concluded the trial of Sergei Magnitsky and found him guilty of tax evasion. The judge declared that he would send Magnitsky to prison except for the fact that Magnitsky has been dead for four years. A cry went up in the West that this trial was reminiscent of the Stalin era, but it isn’t really because the victims of those show trials were still alive.
Magnitsky was a young lawyer who had caught out high officials robbing the state of the handsome sum of $230 million. So they had him arrested, put him in the Lubyanka, tortured, and killed him. That is certainly a straightforward continuation of Stalinism. Indescribable ghoulish and barbaric, the trial of a dead man surely couldn’t happen in other countries. The horror is quintessentially Russian and has been recorded and mocked 150 years ago in Nikolai Gogol’s great novel, Dead Souls. That is the tale of Chichikov, who in the days when there were serfs finds a way of getting rich by discovering those who have died and cutting deals with their former owners. A straight line goes from Chichikov to Magnitsky. A famous passage in the novel likens Russia to a troika speeding to God knows where. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is speeding there too.