Yesterday I learned that you have managed to gain temporary asylum in Russia. Congratulations on behalf of progressive people everywhere. At last, you are safe.
Here in Russia no one would dream of harassing you for exposing the security services when they listen to telephone conversations and read others letters without a warrant. Russia, thank God, is a law-abiding State and ever since 2008 our security services have had a quite legal right to listen to whatever people are talking about on the phone and to read their e-mails.
Everyone is aware of this, and there is nothing here in Russia to expose.
While you are only just beginning to get acquainted, however, with the aspects of liberty in our society, let me give you some modest advice. Russia, It goes without saying, has its own way of doing things and it would be better if you knew about this in advance.
One, feel free to take up whatever activity you like.
This is not the USA, Ed, where exposing the activities of the government carries unpleasant consequences. There is nothing of the kind here. On the contrary, people who expose the American government are given all kinds of rewards and can enjoy a fine career, which I wish for you. I would just remind you not to forget which government you are fighting against. For were you, in the heat of the moment, to get confused about this you would have to return to a little room again (and this time, most likely, it would not be at the airport).
Two, it would be best, old chap, if you grasp from the beginning that Russia is a spiritual country.
Perhaps in the USA they taught you that Russia’s wealth lies in its oil and its timber. Well, that has long ceased to be the case. All the oil was stolen back in 2004 by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and all our forest reserves will soon have been stolen by Alexei Navalny. So today our spiritual wealth can best be expressed as “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Populism”. Orthodoxy is a very liberal religion. You may drink alcohol, eat pork, or, like Abbot Timothy, drive your BMW roadster while under the influence – in short, do whatever you like. You mustn’t dance, that’s the main thing. Dancing is a crime. But you’re no dancer, Ed, so it’s not a problem as far as you’re concerned. Autocracy is Russia’s form of democracy. It’s very spiritual and you’ll like it. Every few years we re-elect Vladimir Putin. Putin recently caught the biggest catfish in the world. The very biggest was caught by Lukashenko. That’s all you need to know about politics in the Commonwealth of Independent States – if you don’t want to return, that is, to a little room in a hotel somewhere like Krasnokamsk. Populism: that means the national spirit and you can get acquainted with it by listening to the songs of Stas Mikhailov, though my advice to you would be, Don’t.
Three, please don’t imagine I have any objections, it’s a matter of indifference to me, but it would be better if you’re not gay. If you are, well, don’t leave the hotel. If you’re Jewish then you won’t be able to work as a rural schoolteacher. Does that strike you as silly advice? Ed, I know what I’m talking about. Take my word for it.
I hear that your defence lawyer Kucherena has given you Crime and Punishment. It’s an excellent book. Do read it, and do so BEFORE you encounter a certain middle-aged lady called Yelena Mizulina. Don’t do anything you might come to repent of later! No matter how noble the idea that guided your actions.
Lastly, a couple of practical suggestions.
Do not commit any offences when you’re out driving until you have been elected deputy of one assembly or another. Don’t waste your money buying a flat – all you have to do is become friendly with Ramzan Kadyrov. Learn to play badminton and if someone offers to help you run for Mayor of Moscow, do not agree. It’s a trap! There are three simple rules you must remember: Do not wear white, at least not when you’re near Bolotnaya Square; Don’t walk about in tight-fitting garments anywhere within sight of the State Duma; and Don’t Dance within the vicinity of a church.
Please don’t imagine that I am trying to scare you. On the contrary. You can do everything else that I haven’t mentioned above. If you want to tell lies, go ahead; if you want to steal, be my guest, thirteen years in a row: and no problem. Just remember my advice and, to be safe, don’t leave the hotel. I can’t explain – and anyway, you wouldn’t understand. It’s just better if you stay inside,
It would take at least as many words as the author uses to decipher the allusions in this short letter. Here it’s worth noting the following.
In 2008 the various Russian security services were allowed by law to use a “technical system to support investigative activities” (its acronym is SORM) which gave them access to communication networks without seeking prior permission. Such access is now a condition of registration for any new website, and providers must foot the bill themselves for installing the necessary equipment and software. For an account of SORM in action see this link.
The author of the letter Roman Dobrokhotov is a Moscow-based blogger, and a journalist with the internet news-site slon.ru.
In 2012 he was described by Al Jazeera in the following terms: “Roman has been arrested 120 times. His actions – part performance art, part comedy and part political statement – are daring and entertaining but his cause is deadly serious.” Dobrokhotov’s targets, according to the TV broadcaster, are “Putin, the Orthodox church and ultra-nationalists”.
Don’t miss the spring issue of Index on Censorship magazine. Post Charlie Hebdo our commentators take a global view at how threats are being used to stop writers and artists, with Ariel Dorfman, David Edgar, Father Ted’s Arthur Mathews, Turkish novelist Elif Shafak and others. Also, major general Tim Cross and internet guru Martha Lane Fox go head to head on national security versus privacy, and Ismail Einashe on the perils of escaping from Eritrea.