My friend Sergei Guriev is an excellent economist and scholar. He is also a very affable fellow–a true gentleman. He is also a very brave man, as evidenced by his scathing “J’accuse” editorial (co-authored with Aleh Tsyvinsky of Yale) condemning the Russian government for torture in the death of Sergei Magnitsky:
After President Dmitry Medvedev’s state-of-the-nation address, we were planning to write about whether it is possible to carry out modernization in Russia without political liberalization. But last week’s tragic death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a pretrial detention facility pushed all other issues aside.
We know that readers have been given exhaustive information about this incident in recent days, but we cannot refrain from writing about it because it would be absolutely pointless to discuss any other aspect of modernization without first addressing Magnitsky’s death. What difference does it make if the stock market is up or down or what is happening with interest rates and exchange rates if no value is placed on human life? Does it make sense to speak about honoring contractual agreements if one side can take the other side’s lawyer hostage? Why discuss ownership rights when owners are denied the right to life?
. . . .
You can talk all you want about trying to halt Russia’s brain drain or how to convince Russian specialists working abroad to return home. But the fate suffered by Magnitsky and former Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan, a Harvard Law School graduate, sends a clear signal to all professionals: Russia can be a very hostile, if not dangerous, place to work. Will current or future Russian students enrolled in top foreign university and graduate programs want to return to this country after graduating? And yet this is the talent base that Medvedev wants to tap to carry out his modernization program. The parallels with the 1930s are uncanny: The Soviet Union also invited foreign specialists to help modernize its industrial base, and many of them later became victims of Stalinist repression.
Magnitsky was a citizen of Russia. We don’t know whether he voted for Medvedev in 2008, but only a few days before Magnitsky died, the president said during his state-of-the-nation address: “In the 21st century, our country once again needs to undergo comprehensive modernization. This will be our first ever experience of modernization based on democratic values and institutions.”
The president probably wanted to highlight the difference between current plans for modernization and Josef Stalin’s ruthless industrialization program. But after learning about Magnitsky’s death, it is difficult to avoid the fact that today’s Russia evokes disturbing memories of 1937.
Quite stinging, and quite true. And a devastating call out of Dmitry Medvedev. This article sheds a very harsh light on the yawning void between Medvedev’s crypto-liberal words and the Chekist actions of the government that he putatively leads.
I have a question for the self-styled Russophiles on this site, who constantly moan about Russophobia–including mine: do you consider Sergei and Aleh Russophobes? Traitors to narod and nation? On what basis? And if they are not Russophobes, why do you consider me one? Accidents of birth?
Or, do you, like me, consider them true patriots who are pained and outraged at what is done on a daily basis to ordinary Russians in their name, for the alleged glory of the state?
I consider it an honor to know Sergei, and wish him Godspeed.