My Interview with German Radio
I’ve given my first major interview to a Western media outlet following my release from prison to Deutsche Welle German radio. Here’s the translation:
* * *
Oleg Kozlovsky, the coordinator of the youth movement “Defense,” arrested for intent to participate in a “March of Dissenters,” believes that Russian law enforcement was in fact not executing the criminal code but rather instructions from on high. Having just gained his freedom after serving a 13-day sentence, he tells Deutsche Welle his story.
Deutsche Welle: Oleg, using the phraseology of Russia’s new president, is freedom is better than the lack of freedom?
Oleg Kozlovsky: Of course, based on recent my personal experience I can’t dispute this thesis.
DW: What is it about your work the authorities do not like? Why did you spent 13 days behind bars?
OK: I think that those in power have accumulated irritation against me for my protest activities, and they tried, one after another, different methods of combating their opponents. The first arrests were ineffectual because the charges were minor and resulted only brief periods of a few hours behind bars. But as time has passed the authorities have apparently begun to fear that a mass movement is developing, and they’ve begun to impose more draconian measures. So they’ve invented new charges to put against us.
DW: What was your attitude towards the police officers in the detention facilities?
OK: Ordinary policemen were usually reasonable. It’s a sad commentary that they’ve apparently become used to us, and openly refer to us as “political prisoners.” Of course, this is not the formal charge leveled at us, which might be disorderly person for instance. These officers do not question the basis of the charges, but simply see themselves as carrying out the instructions of the state. Many of them recognize us as possessing advanced degrees, and and such they tend to address and treat us rather respectfully.
DW: Were they able to explain why you had been arrested?
OK: I was not arrested by ordinary policemen but by plain-clothes officers from the terrorist enforcement section known as UBOB, an arm of the FSB (formerly the KGB). They’ve been on point in the FSB’s efforts to impede my organization at every possible turn. They told me nothing about the charges being made against me and refused to answer my questions. They simply tossed me on a bus and then gave instructions to the policemen later as to how to write up the arrest report.
DW: So the regular cops had no actual idea of the circumstances of the arrest?
OK: That’s right. But of course they are aware that the charges have been essentially fabricated and are based on political motivations. Unfortunately it’s quite normal for them to be expected to participate in fundamentally corrupt enterprises.
DW: What happened in court?
OK: More of the same. They judges, too, are fully aware that the charges have been rigged, and they overlook the predictably confused testimony of the police when they testify about the arrest (UBOP offices don’t appear in court). For instance, in my case a policeman testified that I had been arrested in a completely different place and at a completely different time of day that had actually occurred. The judge simply ignored the anomaly. Nobody wants to be the one to take the risks and try to break out of this vicious cycle, so it continues. I presented a great deal of direct evidence that the charges were without basis, but all of it was simply ignored.
DW: So the officers are not really aware of wrongdoing?
OK: Unfortunately, all police officers I have encountered in such situations feel that an order from their superiors is above the law. While they are perfectly aware that the order is illegal, they believe they can’t be blamed and the matter should be taken up with those in authority.
DW: If the guardians of the law behave in this manner, what are the prospects for reform? What does this say about the president’s remark?
OK: The fact is that our police are not safeguards the law, it is obvious. They are simply bureaucrats, carrying out instructions given to them by their superiors, who in turn are acting on instructions from their own superiors.
DW: So in Russia there is no law, only instructions?
OK: Yes, rather, orders and instructions. Often, in fact, only oral instructions, nothing in writing to document it. To tell a lie in a report, to carry out a firing squad, it’s not clear that there are any borders.
DW: Aren’t there any dissenters?
OK: My impression is that those who would have scruples would not enter police service in the first place, and the same thing for judges, whose attitude is no different from that of the police by and large.
DW: How can this cycle be broken? How can Russia be made into what Medvedev calls a “nation of laws”?
OK: It is said that “a fish rots from the head.” So the political will do to so must come from the top. What happened, for instance, to Khodorkovsky was authorized from the very top. Until there is true respect for the law at the very top, nothing will change down below.