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Sergei Kovalev & Lev Timofeyev: Open letter to the organizers of the Congress of the Russian Intelligentsia "Against War, against the Self-Isolation of Russia, against the Restoration of Totalitarianism"

21 March 2014

Sergei Kovalev and Lev Timofeyev


Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

At this critical moment in history, once again the eternal Russian question ‘What is to be done’ is brought to the fore. Here, the judgments and arguments of the ‘thinking class’, which the Russian intelligentsia has always been, can and should provide if not a program of action, then at least moral and behavioral guidelines to those not willing to put up with the oncoming evil... Alas, this question was not even raised at the first session of the Congress of the Intelligentsia, which was held on March 19. The hopes of those who went to the meeting to hear at least some constructive ideas, were in no way justified. After the event, someone even made the comment, absolutely deadly for the organisers: "A complete void”.

Yes, there were reports by scientists who very competently made us all understand that the impending danger not only threatens the well-being, but also the very existence of Russia... And yes, there were several emotional polemics similar to ones that can be heard at political rallies... Yes, there was the proclamation of the well-written address which many had already signed (and therefore it has already taken place, and was not subject to debate) about the inadmissibility of further escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. And that was all. And everyone went home. And nothing concrete was said about the future of this important undertaking with its beautiful name ‘Congress of the Russian Intelligentsia’. The initiative remained merely an initiaive and did not receive any concrete follow-up. It was almost as if this was intentionally and deliberately brought to nought.

Well, a month and a half ago, such an event would not have caused any particular emotion: We met, we talked, and we left. The usual thing! But these days emotions arise, and it is a sense of shame that predominates.

No, the lack of constructive ideas was not simply a glitch of the organizers, or negligence, or an accident. We know that such ideas were offered to you before the Congress, but they were dismissed out of hand, without further discussion. Why? After talking with some of you, I got the impression that you do not wish to talk about the future of the Congress for one obvious reason: there can be no other prospect than a direct confrontation between the Congress and the current political leadership of our country. And you are not ready to take on the consequences of such a confrontation, which are clear to all. You would like to remain an ‘opposition within the system’, and from that position try to influence the political course in any way possible.

Are you being cautious? Naive? Blind? Don’t you see that in our country over recent months the course of politics has not just been changed? In fact what has happened is a change of the political system. At the basis of this new order, at the basis of this official state ideology, the sole permitted one and obligatory for all, have been placed aggressive imperialistic ideas and a cult worship of the unquestioned authority of the single ‘national leader’. You, who know well the history of the past century, are somehow not familiar with this configuration? Perhaps you should watch once more the film ‘Triumph of the Will’ and try to find a place for the ‘systemic opposition’ in the scenes of that great movie.

Meanwhile, there lies a huge responsibility on all of us, on the Russian intelligentsia. We must understand that the domestic and foreign policy of our government is disastrous not only for Russia or Ukraine, it is disastrous for the entire world community. And what's the point of any of our, even most pious, initiatives if we do not try to oppose this threat in any way?

We are convinced that only on the basis of a search for constructive ideas and ways to fight the new totalitarianism, ways to fight state-sponsored terror, can one with dignity and honesty announce an effort to consolidate Russian civil society, its ‘thinking class’, the intelligentsia. But we must understand what is expected from you and from us. And really, millions are waiting. Even today, when every TV channel, every TV programme, has its own Goebbels, even in these days at least a quarter of the population is not willing to support the new order. And that is at least than 20 million adults and reasonable citizens! We are convinced that in one-and-a-half or two years, when the criminal economic policy inevitably leads to a sharp decline in people’s living standards, this figure will increase many times over. Surely this is a significant enough basis, an adequate social basis, to begn already today, let’s say, a public movement to call for early elections at all levels of government, so that in one-and-a-half or two years it would have gained a serious momentum?

Of course, in their criminal desire to crush all resistance and dissent in society, the authorities already use and will increasingly use what is in Russia a well-oiled mechanism of political repression. But in our country the power of tyranny has always been opposed by – and always defeated by! - the power of moral conviction in what is right. In the dark Communist times, prisons and camps did not succeed in crushing resistance. But if in those times only a few hundred people who knew about impending repressions were not afraid to clearly express their disagreement with the policy of the government, now there are millions of such people... And those who have given their initiative a name - ‘Congress of Russian inteligentsia’ – which places on it so many obligations, are simply bound to understand what exactly these millions expect from them. That is, of course, if they are sincerere and responsible in their intentions. That is what we had hoped for when we signed the initial declaration of the initiative group. And that means we ourselves took on the responsibility for the message the statement contained to seek ‘a way out of the situation, which is depriving our country of any prospects for a worthy life for the foreseeable future...’

Sergei Kovalev

Lev Timofeyev

Translated by Eva Cukier