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Viktor Shenderovich: 'Sergei Adamovich Kovalev. On the 85th birthday of an awkward person' (Ezhednevny zhurnal)

posted 9 Mar 2015, 00:38 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Mar 2015, 00:48 ]
2 March 2015

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

Original source: Ezhednevny zhurnal

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

By Victor Shenderovich 

It was a few years ago. The authorities still hadn’t broken up the “Pilorama” festival which was taking place at the site of the Soviet-era political labour camp, “Perm-36”. Arseny Roginsky, a former prisoner of the place, took me, a novice, on a tour around the places where he received an education from prison guards in the past. We reached the punishment cell, a damp, cement box behind a thick metallic door.

“Would you like to sit here?” Arseny Borisovich kindly suggested. “Say, for about ten minutes….”

Well, ten minutes – why not be in prison for ten minutes? So of course, I agreed.

“Just give a rap if there’s anything,” Roginsky now bade me farewell quite tenderly, and with a heavy clunk, closed the door behind my back.

This was in the height of summer but the temperature in the stone cell was very low. The clichéd expression “cold as the grave” came to mind immediately together with the thought that ten minutes is really a pretty long stretch of time. There was almost no light: what light did squeeze through a crack not much bigger than the gap in a letterbox high up under the celing, traced the outline of the narrow stone cell. Looking around, I saw an iron cot attached to the wall. This cot was let down for six hours at night, the other eighteen hours meant standing. Leaning against the cold, slimy wall wasn’t something you’d even think of. It was easy for the cold to creep through my canvas shoes and up my legs….

In the third minute I felt the urge to bash my fists against the iron door. By the seventh minute, the urge turned into full scale panic…. God knows what I would have given for someone to let me out of there.

Sergei Adamovich Kovalev sat in this cell, with just a few breaks, for several years.

He isn’t exactly the easiest person to get along with, this Sergei Adamovich. It’s sometimes awkward even for his close associates. He’s not made of plasticine, but from meteoric rock. You see, he has convictions. You see he makes a sharp distinction between good and evil – and he is absolutely not inclined to compromise on this question.

In 1974 Kovalev wrote to Andropov with the demand to return something belonging to him – and confiscated during a search OF SOMEONE ELSE’S HOME – a copy of “The Gulag Archipelago”. You see, this was his property! I would have given a lot to look through the horn-rimmed glasses of the chairman of the KGB, into the eyes of this bastard, at the very moment when he was told about this …..

The answer to this letter, in essence, is well known: that very same stone cell in “Perm-36”.

But it didn’t help. Neither the camp, nor solitary confinement, changed anything, neither the starry sky above our heads, nor the moral code within Sergei Adamovich. Whether he is sitting in a stone cell or in the Russian State Duma, he is still the same Kovalev.

And this 60-year-old parliamentary deputy Kovaley threw himself into saving the hundreds of lives of those captured by Basaev in Budenovsk, only to receive from his own country, and its new guardians, the stigma of traitor – and he embraced this label with the supreme indifference of a person devoted to reason. For a long time he has firmly distinguished between good and evil, and it’s of no great interest to him what anyone else thinks about it.

You can drag him through the dirt, but you see the result. Because you’ll find yourself in your own dirt, breathless from your efforts, but Sergei Adamovich, carefully choosing his words, accurately, step by step, will prove the arguments of his own thinking and only shrug his shoulders. Well, he’s right, isn’t he? Right. And what is white doesn’t cease to be white, and there’s nothing new in the fact that it’s been covered over with dirt.

Of course, he’s a marginal figure, this Kovalev. If people like him were not on the fringe, we would be living in quite a different country. It will not happen and it is useless to dream about it – but possibly (it is still allowed) we can wish good health to this awkward person who remains beside us.

Good health to this clear-sighted and unchanging person, like the starry heaven overhead!