Solidarity Stronger Than Repression: The Case of Boris Kagarlitsky

Against the Current No. 230, May/June 2024

Suzi Weissman

READERS ARE URGED to sign a petition to free the prominent leftwing sociologist and writer-activist Boris Kagarlitsky and other Russian political prisoners and circulate it widely.

Kagarlitsky has been designated as the Daniel Singer Foundation’s first recipient of its “Prisoner of Conscience” award.

Boris is now in his “permanent” place of detention after having been moved twice during the so-called quarantine period. The Russian state’s murder of Alexei Navalny highlights the need for a global campaign for the release of all imprisoned critics of the Putin regime.

Kagarlitsky had an unexpected “appeal” trial on February 13, 2024, where prosecutors were demanding to overturn the results of his two day trial in December 2023. At that time Kagarlitsky had been released with a fine after serving 4.5 months in pre-trial detention in the Komi Republic, 1,000 kilometers north of Moscow (about 800 miles).

He was facing 5.5-7 years imprisonment on a charge of “justifying terrorism,” but was released with a fine of 609,000 rubles, about $6500. The charge was absurd on its face, part of a generalized attack on the Russian Left movement as a whole, Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor media outlet in particular, and a warning to anti-war and anti-regime critics that breaking silence on the war would have dire consequences.

Indeed, by the time of Boris’ arrest, some 21,000 people had already faced reprisals for opposing the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, including more than 2000 jailed, according to Amnesty International.

In Kagarlitsky’s case, the charge of justifying terrorism was for ironic remarks he made in a social media video “Explosive Greetings from Mostik the Cat.” The authorities did not get Boris’ joke and argued that Kagarlitsky was justifying the Crimean Bridge explosion.

In the video Boris noted that on the eve of the attack congratulatory wishes from Mostik the cat to President Putin circulated on Russian social networks. Since the cat was the mascot of the sabotaged bridge, Kagarlitsky joked that Mostik had acted as a provocateur with his congratulations. Boris later remarked that it was probably a poor joke, but hardly sufficient grounds for arrest.

In response to Boris’ detention in Syktyvkar, far from Moscow to prevent rallies on his behalf, a huge “Free Boris” movement arose internationally, and more importantly, all across Russian cities and towns. There were spontaneous demonstrations held, online protests, Free Boris graffiti painted on walls, and coordinated international actions on Kagarlitsky’s birthday in August.

Thousands of signatures were collected from prominent intellectuals, activists, and politicians. Brazil’s President Lula criticized Kagarlitsky’s detention, as did leaders in other “BRICS” countries who Putin counts as allies. When Boris was released December 13, 2023, it was a demonstration that international pressure and solidarity works.

The “appeal” trial, which Boris expected to affirm the verdict from December, ended with the December verdict being overturned, and a sentence imposed of five years in a general regime penal colony. Boris was taken into custody from the courtroom.

The Pretext

The prosecution argued that Boris was going through bankruptcy proceedings and could not pay the fine imposed in December — so he had to serve the original sentence.

Both are untrue: Rabkor held a crowdfunding the day following Kagarlitsky’s release, and 700,000 rubles were collected within an hour. (Boris told me in a December 31, 2023 Jacobin Radio interview that two large checks for his fine came from within the Kremlin bureaucracy, indicating divisions at the highest level.) Subsequent legal costs and fines imposed another 710,000 rubles to the amount Kagarlitsky was to pay. Again, Rabkor’s crowdfunding raised the required amount, totaling 1,410,000 rubles ($15,270.00)

In an almost comic move, the bank tried to refuse the money when Boris paid the fine. He was required to pay in person, but his name was on the list of “extremists and terrorists” prohibited from conducting any financial transactions. In the end he was able to pay the fine, undercutting the prosecutors’ arguments.

As Ilya Budraitskis said, “it is hopeless to discuss legalistic arguments, there is no legality in Kagarlitsky’s case, Navalny’s case or that of the many others in custody for their views. There is no legality, just political decisions coming from the top to courts which have no independence.”

The appeal trial result was unexpected, brutal, and significant. Three days later, on February 16th, Alexei Navalny died in the harsh Arctic Circle penal colony where he was being held. These events occurred in the context of the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, just before the rubber-stamp presidential election for Putin’s fifth term, as the Kremlin looks to portray Russians as united behind him.

Kagarlitsky, for his part, was allowed to make a statement after the decision, and showed his characteristic optimism and his resolve. He thanked Rabkor, asked for more solidarity, but was not discouraged. He said,

“I am as always, in high spirits. I continue to collect data and materials for new books, including descriptions of prison life — now in Moscow institutions. Anyway, see you soon! I am sure that everything will be fine eventually. We will see each other again both on the channel and in person. We just need to live a little longer and survive this dark period for our country.”

Kagarlitsky’s media outlet Rabkor issued an appeal for support, stating:

“Boris came to the (court hearing) with his bag already packed. Alas, not in vain. He was arrested right in the courtroom.

“Boris Kagarlitsky is neither an extremist nor a terrorist, although he is included in the list of terrorists and extremists by Rosfinmonitoring. Boris Kagarlitsky never justified terrorism, including in that video and post in his telegram channel, which, at the will of the state prosecution, formed the plot of the criminal case.

“If you want to help, you can use Patreon…. Any help is welcome.”

Kagarlitsky’s daughter, attending an impromptu gathering for Alexei Navalny, made this statement about his murder at the hands of Putin:

“And for all of us, this is a special sign, especially for those who have relatives, friends, associates, in the hands of Putin’s regime, we are all not safe. Now, when Boris is behind bars, it is especially important to understand how dangerous his hands are, and to show even more solidarity around Boris, around his case and around other political prisoners. Many condolences to Alexey’s family. It is very difficult for me to imagine what they are going through now, and it is very difficult for all of us.”

A statement issued by the Russian Socialist Movement reads in part: “The case of Boris Kagarlitsky is a mockery of justice. This is also a slap at the thousands of people who expressed their solidarity with him: they wrote letters, made broadcasts, put up posters. As soon as this becomes possible, our editors will publish new ways to support Boris Yulievich. #Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky! #Freedom to all political prisoners!”

The number of political prisoners grows as the Russian Federation represses dissent. Vladimir Kara-Murza is serving 25 years for treason; OVD-Info counts 19,855 antiwar activists detained. Those behind bars include members of left organizations, Socialists, communists, anarchists and unaffiliated left democrats. Boris Kagarlitsky has penned a letter in support of a solidarity campaign for all who are speaking out for social and democratic rights, and against militarism and authoritarianism. They need to be released immediately and unconditionally.

May-June 2024, ATC 230

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