This week one courageous man in a Moscow courtroom reminded all of us what the struggle against people like Putin and Xi Jinping, and the systems they dominate and seek to spread, is all about.
In too many quarters in the West there is flagging enthusiasm for…the West. The principles of democratic government under law and an end to aggression, principles for which the United States has fought repeatedly, are often nowadays seen as hypocritical and phony.
In Moscow, Vladimir Kara-Murza stood in a courtroom to appeal the 25-year sentence he was given for speaking truth about Putin’s regime and his war against Ukraine. Kara-Murza, who is 41, was arrested in April 2022 for “disobeying police orders” but was then charged with treason. In April of this year came his sentence to 25 years in prison. Kara-Murza was twice poisoned (in 2015 and 2017) by Putin’s forces, but survived to continue his struggle for freedom in Russia. He returned to Russia from abroad in 2022, knowing full well that prison or even death might await him—but believing he had an inescapable moral responsibility to fight for a democratic Russia not from exile but from within his country. Needless to say, his appeal was rejected in Putin’s kangaroo court.
In 1978, the Soviet dissident Anatoly Sharansky made a now-famous speech to a Moscow court that sentenced him to 13 years in a Siberian labor camp for being part of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union. (The text can be found here.) This week, Kara-Murza delivered equally moving and stirring remarks in a Moscow courtroom that remind us how little has changed in Russia—but also that there are still men and women there willing to risk their lives for their country’s freedom. Kara-Murza’s words remind us of the values and principles of which we in the West should be so proud and which we must continue to defend—in societies based on peace, liberty, and law. Kara-Murza’s message is also a message of hope about the ultimate defeat of tyranny.
Here is what he said, courtesy of the Human Rights Foundation:
Throughout this process — first in the Moscow City Court, now here in the Court of Appeal — a very strange feeling has not left me. Judicial procedures, by their very nature, must be linked in some way to the law. But everything that happens to me has nothing to do with the law, except perhaps in the sense of the complete opposite. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits the waging of aggressive war. But for more than 16 months, the man who calls himself the president of my country has been waging a brutal, unprovoked, aggressive war against a neighboring country: kills its citizens, bombs its cities, seizes its territories.
The law — both Russian and international — prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects. But in the 16 months of [Vladimir] Putin's aggression in Ukraine, tens of thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and thousand hospitals, schools, and houses. The law — both Russian and international — prohibits the propaganda of war. But war propaganda is all I hear from morning till night on the TV that plays in my prison cell.
Today, in our country, not those who wage this criminal war, but those who oppose it, are judged. Journalists who tell the truth. Artists who put up anti-war stickers. Priests who remind of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." Teachers who call a spade a spade. Parents whose children draw anti-war pictures. Deputies who allow themselves to doubt the appropriateness of children's competitions when children are being killed in a neighboring country.
Or, as in my case, politicians who openly speak out against this war and against this regime. Twenty-five years for five public performances. As the head of my convoy in the Moscow City Court joked: “It looks like he did a good job.”
All this has already happened in our country. In 1968, participants in a demonstration on Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia were sentenced to camps and exile, and in 1980 Academician Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky for speaking out against the war in Afghanistan.
But very little time passed — not by historical standards, but by human standards — and the president of Russia in Prague condemned that occupation and laid flowers at the memorial to its victims, and the highest legislative body of our country recognized the war in Afghanistan as deserving of moral and political condemnation.
The same will happen with the current war in Ukraine, and much sooner than it may seem to those who unleashed it. Because in addition to legal laws, there are laws of history, and no one has yet been able to cancel them.
And then the real criminals will be judged, including those whose arrest warrants have already been issued by the International Criminal Court. As you know, war crimes have no statute of limitations.
To those who organized my and other show trials of opponents of the war; by trying to present opponents of the authorities as “traitors to the Motherland”; for those who are so nostalgic for the Soviet system, I would advise you to remember how it ended. All systems based on lies and violence end the same way.