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Statements and Standouts

Oyub Titiev, of the truth-and-justice group Memorial, at his verdict hearing in Shali, Chechnya, Russia, on March 18, 2019 (Said Tsarnayev / Reuters)

Earlier today on the homepage, I had a piece on Oyub Titiev, a Russian human-rights defender. A Chechen human-rights defender, specifically. The life expectancy of such people is lamentably short. From January 2018 to June 2019, Titiev was a political prisoner. For my piece on him, go here.

He is no longer able to work in his home republic, Chechnya. It is simply too dangerous. He lives and works in Moscow. I was able to conduct an interview with him.

In my piece, I quote from the statement he made to the court, before he was sentenced to prison. It is a remarkable statement — here. “I’m a troublemaker,” Titiev said. “I tried to get the authorities to pay attention to violations of people’s rights.”

One more brief excerpt: “Our country is said to be democratic, but it’s a strange kind of democracy. In a democratic country, you don’t get sent to jail for one ‘like’ on the Internet.”

Titiev’s is a statement that deserves to be read in full. It tells you a lot about the man — the speaker — and it tells you about the political conditions in which he has spent his life.

Do you remember Yegor Zhukov? He too made a statement to a court, a statement that gained attention throughout Russia, and even beyond.

I will quote an editorial paragraph from the December 31, 2019, issue of National Review:

Yegor Zhukov is a remarkable young man of 21 who has caught the imagination of many Russians. He is a student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. He made pro-democracy videos. Last August, he was arrested. Before his sentencing on December 4, he made a heartfelt, moving statement, widely circulated. “I want to see two qualities in my compatriots,” he said: “accountability and love.” This became a kind of slogan, chanted by Zhukov’s supporters outside the courtroom later: “accountability and love.” In the end, he was given a three-year suspended sentence. He was also barred from managing websites for two years, and from running for office for six years. (Zhukov has expressed a desire to run for political office.) He got off lightly, owing to the relative fame of his case. Similar activists whose cases are less well known go to prison. When people say “Russia” and “Russians,” they usually mean the Kremlin and Putin. Remember that Yegor Zhukov, too, is Russian — and he does his country proud.

Yes. A country is more than its government. This is doubly — triply — true of a country whose government is “nonconsensual,” as Robert Conquest would say. Oyub Titiev does Russia proud, and Chechnya proud. I think, when you learn his story, you will find that he even does mankind proud. He’s one of those people who make you think, “Huh, maybe we’re not so bad after all. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.”

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