Navalny, Mandela, &c.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a court hearing in Moscow on February 20, 2021 (Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)
On prisoners of conscience; the late Ion Mihai Pacepa; disinformation, American-style; and more

After Russian police arrested Alexei Navalny last month, Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience.” This has a specific meaning, or at least it once did. Let me quote from a book of mine, if that’s okay:

The purpose of Amnesty . . . was to work for the release of prisoners of conscience. And that term, in fact . . . was an Amnesty invention. It referred to prisoners who had been jailed for expressing their opinions; they were distinct from prisoners who had employed violence, or advocated violence. Amnesty’s technique was to “adopt” prisoners, making them their own: their own concern.

Did you see this news story? It begins,

The human rights organization Amnesty International has rescinded its decision to grant “prisoner of conscience” status to Alexey Navalny, arguing that the jailed Russian opposition politician’s past statements about migrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus constitute hate speech.

Geez. This is a little perplexing. If there’s any consolation, it is this: An Amnesty official said, “Nevertheless, our calls for his immediate release remain in force, as he is being persecuted for purely political reasons.”

Some defenders of Navalny, and critics of Amnesty, have said, “He may not be a Mandela, but . . .”

May I tell you something about Mandela? I will again quote from my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, as I did above:

Mandela was an interesting kind of peace warrior . . . He joined the African National Congress in 1944, when he was 26. . . . In 1960 came the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of the ANC. Mandela turned militant, helping to found Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation — this was the ANC’s military wing. He went to Ethiopia and Algeria for training in the guerrilla arts. He returned to South Africa to apply them. He was arrested on August 5, 1962, and sentenced approximately two years later: to life in prison. He narrowly escaped the death penalty.

I am getting to the nitty-gritty:

Writers about Mandela frequently say that he had no choice: that the apartheid government left him no choice but to turn militant, to take up the armed struggle. He himself says this. Of course, everyone had a choice: Lutuli did, Tutu did, countless people whose names we don’t know did. Walesa had a choice, we could say, and so did other peace laureates. We may well say that Mandela’s was the right choice, or the better choice, or a defensible choice, or a great one: The point is, it was a choice. Amnesty International could not count Mandela as a prisoner of conscience; it supported him, pressing his case, nonetheless.

Lutuli was Albert John Lutuli, a great South African leader — multifaceted — and the Nobel peace laureate for 1960. Tutu, as you know, is Desmond. And Walesa is Lech.

Back to Alexei Navalny, on whom Mig Greengard had a superb “thread” on Twitter. I will do some quoting:

I’m all for discussing Navalny’s personal politics, and disagree with him on much, but saying the Free World shouldn’t stand up for someone jailed and nearly murdered because he’s not Bernie Gandhi Mandela is bull****. He’s risking his life fighting a mafia dictatorship.

Yup. Another blast:

Plus, Navalny’s politics as we know them (he’s never held office), not coincidentally, largely reflect mainstream Russia, which is far from liberal by Western standards.

Another blast:

Navalny and his organization fight Putin and corruption. They advocate for free and fair elections, for a democratic Russia that is part of the civilized world. As for his being xenophobic and pro-annexation of Crimea, congratulations, you discovered that he’s Russian.

Ha. One more blast:

As Kasparov said back when he was trying to help create an anti-Putin coalition in 2005 from tiny and scattered liberal and illiberal groups (Bolsheviks!), we’ll be on opposite sides of the parliament in a democracy, but at least we’ll have a parliament and a democracy.

Kasparov, as you know, is Garry Kasparov, with whom Greengard has worked closely.

One more thing, before I leave Russia. RFE/RL (that combination of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty) published a story titled “U.S. Ambassador Says Navalny Poisoning, Jailing Is Not Just An Internal Russian Matter.” Yeah, why not? Because Russia is signatory to some international treaties that apply — such as, you don’t use chemical weapons.

• One of the most remarkable figures of our age died earlier this month — on Valentine’s Day, in fact. I’m reminded that one of Nicolae Ceausescu’s sons was named Valentin. (The good one. The monster — the little monster of a monster — was Nicu.) I am speaking of Ion Mihai Pacepa, who died at 92.

Pacepa was a general in the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. He was a top adviser to the dictator, Ceausescu. In 1978, Pacepa defected to the United States. When it was all over, he would be the highest-ranking intelligence official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. In the mid-1980s, Pacepa published his famous memoirs, Red Horizons.

Over the years, I corresponded with him. He had a special love of music. He signed himself “Mike.” I usually called him “General,” but occasionally “Mike.” He used to refer to the dictator and his wife as “Nick & Elena,” which I enjoyed (not that you can enjoy much about the Ceausescus).

You know, I never talked to him on the phone. He said that using the phone would be risky; better to stick with e-mail. Once, he wrote me the following:

Unfortunately, Russia has become the first intelligence dictatorship in history, and the multimillion-dollar bounty on my scalp is still in place. Therefore, I have to pass up your generous invitation to a filmed interview that would reveal my new face, surgically changed.

I’d like to offer one last little bit. About three years ago, General Pacepa wrote me,

Yes, I am relatively well, considering my methusalemic age. I hope you are also well — we need your energy to fight dezinformatsiya, which has become the bubonic plague of our days.

• Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) has been pushing the lie that January 6 — the attack on the Capitol — was the work of agents provocateurs, aiming to discredit the Trump movement. Another Republican, Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, responded sharply: “It’s disgraceful for a sitting senator to spread disinformation so blatantly. It’s a disservice to the people he serves to continue lying to them like this. It’s dangerous and it must stop.”

Well, it “must,” but it won’t.

In my view, there are two lies that must be rooted out if the Republican Party and the conservative movement are to get healthy again — morally healthy (apart from electoral success): the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen; and the lie that January 6 was committed by the Left.

But listen: Some lies linger on and on, for generations. When I was young, I knew some people who believed that FDR, behind the scenes, engineered the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in order to get the U.S. into the war, and send American boys to die in behalf of international Jewry.

Millions and millions of Americans believed this, at one time; there are people who believe it yet today.

We will always have grassy-knollers. We will always have those who believe that 9/11 was an “inside job.” But through decent education, I think, you can reduce the number of people who believe such lies.

A lot depends on what media you consume — which is a very big subject . . .

• If you haven’t seen it, let me recommend a piece by Michael Powell in the New York Times: “Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College.” Here is the subheading: “A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.”

This is a tale of our times — another one — superbly handled by Powell. I never say “required reading,” but this is close.

• Soldiers are often in harm’s way; it’s practically their job description. But I am reminded, with regularity, that diplomats are sometimes in harm’s way, too. At the State Department, there is a memorial wall, honoring those killed in the line of duty.

Earlier this week, a news report began,

The Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday when gunmen attacked a U.N. convoy traveling to a school in eastern Congo . . .

• There was news from the art world. It almost gave me a shiver. Did you see this? “Oldest-known Australian rock art is 17,300-year-old kangaroo in the Kimberley, wasp nests show.” I suppose people have always expressed themselves, artistically — have always painted, composed songs, etc.

I wonder whether there were Mozarts among the primitive . . .

• Maxim Vengerov is a great Russian violinist. Here is a video of a little, at-home performance he gave with his young daughter. You never saw a prouder papa. And this video is the most touching I have seen in a long while.

Have a good weekend, my friends, and thanks for stopping by.

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