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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nostalgia for the Soviet police

The NY Times reports on a lifelong Russian dissident, Lyudmila M. Alexeyeva, who is still at it at 82 years old. Her specialty, in Soviet times and post-Soviet times, has been playful disruption of the police state:
On her way into K.G.B. headquarters, Ms. Alexeyeva would stop to buy a ham sandwich, an éclair and an orange. These were delicacies in the 1970s, even for the investigator, who was headed for a lunch of gray cutlets. Halfway through, Ms. Alexeyeva would unwrap her lunch and lay it out on the table.

“They reacted very nervously when they started to smell ham,” she said with a sweet smile. “Then I would start eating the orange, and the aroma would start dissipating through the room.” The effect was reliably hypnotic.

“That’s how I amused myself,” she said. “It was a way to play on his nerves.”
The most disturbing part of the story is her observation that the Putin regime exercises authority even more arbitrarily than did the Soviet Union of her youth:
New fears have replaced the old ones, though. Ms. Alexeyeva has received death threats, and last year she buried two friends who were killed. Legal risks are unpredictable, too. While Soviet dissidents could strategize to protect themselves -- knowing, for example, that prosecutors needed at least two witnesses -- their tricks are of no use in a post-Soviet justice system, where cases can be wholly fabricated, she said.

“Now they do what they want,” she said. “There were rules then. They were idiotic rules, but there were rules, and if you knew them you could defend yourself.”
this reminds me of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko Sugihara, who during World War II wrote thousands of visas to desperate Jews in clear violation of orders -- all of which were then honored by the meticulously bureaucratic Japanese government.

The dissident movement in Russia is small, but it's alive with organizations like "The Other Russia".

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