Discussion around Gidon Kremer’s “De Profundis”

5 April 2011 Michael Hoffman says:

I mostly enjoy your learned music reviews; when you wander into politics it is not so enjoyable, however. You write, “Dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oil mogul who is arbitrarily jailed in Siberia by Putin and his judicial henchmen, it is a cry of protest against the ‘worshippers of the golden calf, ‘drunk on oil’ and seeking ‘to silence opposition and build walls between peoples and states”.

This is to laugh. When Khodorkovsky and his henchmen plundered the Russian state oil concession, they did so with utmost rapacity, including ordering the murder of locals who stood in their way. These facts have been airbrushed out of Khodorkovsky’s C.V. by the western media. However unfortunately politicized the judicial response to this crook may be, he is nonetheless a greedhead who plundered the Russian people’s national oil resources and then tried to gain political power based on the appropriation of Yukos. In the U.S., where money is god, he would probably be mayor of New York by now; in Russia they still take a dim view of rule by plutocracy.

5 April 2011, Discophage responds:

Hi, thanks for your comment. It is not me writing and not my political analysis, I was merely quoting Kremer, and I thought the touch of irony which (I thought) I had put in the review showed sufficiently that I wasn’t making Kremer’s opinions entirely mine. But I guess I should have been more guarded and explicit still and added in my quote: “the former Russian oil mogul who, according to Kremer, is arbitrarily…” but then, this was meant as an Amazon review, not a publication in the New York Times.

By the way I think YOUR political analysis of the “vertical of power” in Russia may be a bit simplified as well. It’s not like Putin and the Russian judicial system are prosecuting ALL the moguls that plundered Russia in the Yeltsin years. They seem to be very choosey. So there does seem to be a measure of arbitrariness indeed in the decisions of the Russian judicial system, and you still need to demonstrate to me that they are in any way independent of the injunctions of the political power. So, reflecting again upon it, I don’t think the sentence “arbitrarily jailed by Putin and his judicial henchmen” calls for so much dispute.

An element in the debate is also that people like Kremer should be promoting this “angelic” and “western” view of Khodorkovsky as well. Why do they have (or promote) that perception? What is there specifically with Khodorkovsky that he should attract that kind of support?

18 October 2011 (edited 14 May 2012), Discophage adds:

I was sent back to Mr. Hoffman’s post by two articles I read recently in the newspaper. One is already a few months old and is about the declarations of Natalia Vasilyeva, the assistant of the Moscow judge Viktor Danilkin who in December 2010 sentenced Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev to 14 years of imprisonment. In April 2011, Mrs Vasilyeva revealed that “the judge had been monitored by senior judicial officials who dictated his major rulings”. Ms. Vasilyeva said it was widely known in the judicial system that the case was rigged from the start.” “The judge denied that he had been pressured, and said Ms. Vasilyeva’s comments were slanderous” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/world/europe/15russia.html?ref=mikhailbkhodorkovsky). However Danilkin later said he would not seek the prosecution of the aide (http://en.rian.ru/russia/20110328/163246455.html), and her declarations were later confirmed by another court official, Igor Kravchenko (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/16/world/europe/16russia.html?ref=mikhailbkhodorkovsky).

The other article reports that Vasily Alexanyan has just died. He was the former vice-president of Yukos oil company. He was arrested in 2006. The arrest was based on the testimonies of Svetlana Bakhmina, a subordinate of Aleksanyan arrested in 2004. According to Aleksanyan, Bakhmina’s testimonies were false, and were taken from her under pressure.

While kept in custody on the Yukos trial Aleksanyan discovered he had AIDS (no, he wasn’t gay, it was a result of an emergency blood transfusion), developped various AIDS-related illnesses, became nearly blind, developped liver cancer and tuberculosis.

Despite the grave medical situation demanding urgent antiretroviral treatment and chemotherapy in a hospital, he was denied both. The prosecutors also ignored three injunctions by the European Court of Human Rights on 27 November 2007, on 6 December 2007 and on 20 December 2007. According to Aleksanyan, the prosecutors were demanding false evidence against other Yukos executives from him before starting his medical treatment. His cell was glacial and damp. Finally he was transferred to the prison department for infectious illnesses – strange, in view of the fact that he suffered immune deficiency. Only in 2008, almost two years after his arrest, was he transferred to an oncological clinic – and handcuffed to his bed. On December 8, 2008 Moscow City Court decided to release Alexanyan under a bond of 50 million rubles (approximately $2 million). He was to be released after the money was paid.

On December 22, 2008 European Court of Human Rights made its decision over the Aleksanyan v. Russia case. The court found Russia in violation of four articles of European Convention on Human Rights and obliged Russia to release Alexanyan immediately without any bond.

On January 12, 2009, after a bond of 50 million rubles was paid, Aleksanyan was released. But he was repeatedly summoned to attend six-hour long court hearings, where he wore a face mask and could barely stand up during the proceedings. The case against him was only dropped last year as the statute of limitations ran out. He died on October 2, at his home.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights is available online, http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?action=html&documentId=844609&portal=hbkm&source=externalbydocnumber&table=F69A27FD8FB86142BF01C1166DEA398649. Here is the conclusion:


1. Dismisses the Government’s objection as to the abuse of the right of petition;

2. Declares the application admissible;

3. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the lack of proper medical assistance in the remand prison;

4. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 3 of the Convention on account of the failure of the domestic courts to adduce relevant and sufficient reasons to justify his continuous detention;

5. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention on account of the searches in the applicant’s premises;

6. Holds that there is no need to examine the remainder of the applicant’s complaints;

7. Holds that the State failed to meet its obligations under Article 34 of the Convention by not complying promptly with the interim measures indicated by the Court in November and December 2007;

8. Holds that the applicant’s other allegations under Article 34 of the Convention have not been substantiated;

9. Holds that the applicant’s detention on remand should be discontinued.”

What exactly is Mr Hoffman defending? I regret that he didn’t respond to my previous post, and hope he does this one.

Comments are welcome