Streetwise Professor

December 6, 2007

Cool Hand Luke Reprise

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:40 am

My post likening the statements of Oleg Shvartsman to the Captain’s “Get Your Mind Right” speech from “Cool Hand Luke” elicited a couple of comments. James ( of says “good call.” Timothy Post, on the other hand, says “I know not of what [I] write.”

It is self-evident that James has his mind right, and Timothy doesn’t;-) but self-evident or no, I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Post’s comment on my post. Timothy says: “In the West, corporations are expected to be socially active and philanthropic. We see this often with sponsorship of various cultural events. Putin was reminding the country’s oligarchs (aka “Khordokovskies”) that are other stakeholders in addition to shareholders. Fair point Mr. Putin.”

Huh? A couple of things. First, the owners and managers of a corporation in the West that don’t act philanthropically run no risk of being sent to Siberia (even figuratively, let alone literally) on facially implausible charges after a travesty of due process. Second, Shvartsman said that the “FSB decided that an organization must appear that will incline, bend, torment, and lead the various and sundry Khordokovskies toward social activeness.” In the US, the CIA, the FBI, BATF, DoJ, or any other law enforcement or intelligence organization does not take it on itself to “bend” or “torment” people to act according to its view of appropriate social activism. And thank God for that. Mr. Post, do you truly believe that it is appropriate for those who wield the coercive power of the state to employ this power against anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas of philanthropy? Jail for those who don’t “sponsor various cultural events” of the right type? You really think that? If so, I don’t want to live in your world. Third, I’d love to know about all the wonderful things the Sechin/Rosneft clan did with those Yukos assets, all the wonderful Russian folk music festivals they’ve sponsored, all the little people they’ve helped. (And starving bankers in Switzerland, Cyprus, Lichtenstein, etc., don’t count.)

Lastly, whatever one thinks about Khodorkovsky’s origins, history, or motives, it is gobsmackingly obvious that it was precisely his social activism, his support of civil society NGOs, and his political ambitions that led to the state’s assault on him. So, to say that Khodorkovsky was targeted because of his lack of “social activeness” is to turn the truth on its head. In this sense, Shvartsman’s statement is truly Orwellian.

In sum, insufficient “social activeness” is no justification for imprisonment, and in any event, it is not the true reason for Khodorkovsky’s incarceration.

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