On “Hope”: Khodorkovsky’s Letter From Jail

It is Kafka-esque, the Letter from Krasnokamensk Jail, circa 2010: The New York Times has run the Russian oligarch’s statement, the statement he delivered in front of his judge, and in front of the Times’s Joe Nocera, yesterday. It is bone chilling. It has precedence. The man who has spent time considering not only his own fate but that of a nation while sitting in jail alleged to have done one thing or another: this has precedence. It is not necessary to compare Khodorkovsky, or his letter, to other human and civil rights leaders; in fact, to do so would be incorrect. Khodorkovsky is not a peacemaker; he is a businessman. But the historical and literary parallels his letter draws on are compelling.

It is not the color of his skin. It is not the religion he practices. In Khodorkovsky’s case, the crime is that a man has been put in jail for having been an entrepreneur; a man with an idea. In his letter he condemns a mind-set, one he feels keeps his country behind in the world. Is it valid? Here is an excerpt from his statement/letter; it falls a few paragraphs after the line, “I want to talk to you about hope. Hope—the most important thing in life.”

I will not be exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes throughout Russia and the world are watching this trial. They are watching with the hope that Russia will still become a country of freedom and law, where the law is above the bureaucrat. Where supporting opposition parties is not a cause for reprisals. Where special services protect the people and the law, and not the bureaucracy from the people and the law. Where human rights no longer depend on the mood of the czar, good or evil. Where, on the contrary, power truly depends on the citizens and the court, only on law and God. Call this conscience, if you prefer.

I believe this will be. I am not a perfect person, but I am a person with an idea. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to die there. But if I have to, I will. The things I believe in are worth dying for. I think I have proved this.

And you, my opponents? What do you believe in? That the bosses are always right? Do you believe in money? In the impunity of “the system”

Khodorkovsky claims what was done to him is a symbol, one that will go down in history as something actively suppressing the “hope” of the Russian people. The best line of all was his last, one that could have come as easily from Ibsen as from Kafka, and which both writers would have appreciated. With only the subtlest hint of threat, the prisoner confronted his Judge:

Your Honor, I can imagine perfectly well that this must not be very easy at all for you, perhaps even frightening, and I wish you courage!

According to The Moscow Times, they were crying in the courtroom. The verdict will be delivered on December 15th.


LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
  • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
  • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Keep reading Show less