Pavel Chikov: On Pavlensky and the Havel Prize

posted 15 Jul 2016, 11:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Jul 2016, 12:00 ]
8 July 2016

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

By Pavel Chikov, director of the Agora International Human Rights Association, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council

I’m not inclined to say I have the right to express an opinion on any significant occasion, but nonetheless. Here are a couple of theses to contemplate with respect to Pavlensky, Havel, and Dallas.

1. Citizens have the right to change their government. If the procedures prescribed on paper do work for this, that’s excellent. If they don’t, as in Russia, citizens still do not lose their right to change their dysfunctional government.

2. There are societies where citizens’ mass dissatisfaction over the irremovability of a regime itself leads to changes. During its Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Czech Republic was an example of this. Or take the Salt March in India with Mahatma Gandhi (who had three attempts made on his life and was ultimately murdered). There are societies where this is insufficient. Ukraine in 2013 is an example of this. Or South Africa with its “Spear of the Nation.” Take a look at a leaflet from 1961, the year of the creation of the armed wing of the African National Congress: “The time comes in the life of every nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight,” it says in the document, which Nelson Mandela had a part in writing. “That time has now come for South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom. Umkhonto we Sizwe will be . . . the fighting arm of the people against the government and its policies of race oppression. It will be the striking force of the people for liberty, for rights and for their final liberation!”

Velvet isn’t enough especially where the people have been excessively tolerant and the authorities have excessively abused this tolerance.

3. When the authorities do not react to numerous signals from society for an extended period of time and don’t change the blatantly unjust ways that have come about, citizens start to rebel. This is neither good nor bad. It’s the law of life. Five policemen shot in Dallas today is a terrible thing, but it is a logical development of the absolutely excessive use of firearms by American police. A thousand Americans die by cop annually. And the overwhelming majority of those dead are blacks. Yes, legalized guns and the Second Amendment to the US Constitution create the prerequisites for the active use of weapons. Given legal automatic weapons, cops in the United States cannot get by with rubber truncheons, as English bobbies can. But who says it’s easy to solve problems on a national scale? Except that not solving them is the same as having permanent nightmares in the White House over shootings.

4. For a little less than a year (September 2009 to June 2010), the ‘Primorye partisans’ committed violent robberies, arson, and murders, including of police officers, in the Primorye region Province. In parallel, they posted videos about this on the Internet, justifying their actions politically. This is far from a political struggle against apartheid, of course, and there’s little heroic about it.

However, there is objective proof of torture against the defendants after their arrest. Besides the murdered police officers, the murders of four other drug dealers were hung on them. There are major questions as to the quality of the investigation and the fairness of the court, which, in essence, is confirmed by the RF Supreme Court’s disaffirmation regarding the drug dealer murders. The investigation and trial in their case has been going on for more than six years. For nearly a year, they couldn’t assemble with a jury. As far as we know, there are no lawyers hired by the defendants there.

Pavlensky asked us to find a reliable lawyer for this trial in the expectation that he might receive the Havel Prize. Since we do not have our own people in the Far East, we discussed the possibility of bringing in some of our lawyers from Central Russia. This is a considerable expense. Now they won’t have our lawyer in the case.

5. Pavlensky is a political artist. He is a representative of provocational art. The decision presents the Havel Prize organizing committee with a dilemma; moreover, doing this in advance is a conscious move. Habitual ways have to be torn up and periodically have their correctness proved. You cannot without substantial damage to your reputation simply allude to Gandhism and nonviolence, or, out of the blue, bluntly at some point in your charter. You have to substantiate. You must examine. Did Mandela really not have the right to a good lawyer when they condemned him for armed rebellion and gave him approximately as much as they have given the ‘Partisans’? By the way, before 2008, the United States considered Nelson the leader of a terrorist organization and he was banned entry without permission from the Secretary of State.

Conclusions. The Havel Prize organizing committee should have acted more wisely (there were many options). Pavlensky is without a doubt a fine man. The ‘Partisans’ have the right to a defence. The regime has to change.

Translated by Marian Schwartz