Russian Opposition Now Not Heir to the Soviet Dissent It Believes Itself to Be, Podrabinek Says

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, April 1, 2019)

Last Friday and Saturday, a group of civic activists met in Moscow to honor the memory of the late Arseny Roginsky, a dissident and political prisoner who served as chairman of the board of Memorial. Many of those attending believe that they are the heirs to the Soviet dissidents; but tragically few of them are, Aleksandr Podrabinek says.

Russia and the Russian opposition need to learn the lessons of the Soviet dissident movement, the human rights activist says; but unfortunately, not only is there little social demand for that, but those who claim to be its heirs accept only “the most superficial and formal” aspects of that experience, not its essence (

“The people in Russia today to a great extent are politically inert, fear change and cower before the bosses, acknowledging if not their right to rule then acknowledging as inevitable their power to direct people and events.” There are some exceptions to this pattern, but they are few and far between both among the opposition and the population.

According to Podrabinek, “the cultural elite in the main as was the case earlier remains servile and indifferent to freedom.” It submits without complaint and accepts the baubles from the powers that be. And most of those who can’t simply exit by emigrating, something that is now more possible than it was in Soviet times.

Those who identify as the political opposition aren’t able to adopt the dissident experience because they are “engaged in a game, the main prize of which is power” even though they haven’t won and cannot win “because it interacts with the crooks in power” and believes that the game itself gives meaning to and justifies their existence.

Even those who view themselves as defenders of glasnost and freedom of speech “accept censorship is an inevitable evil and humbly subordinate themselves to the demands of the procuracy and media control structures.” This is a complete contrast with the way those who circulated anti-Soviet samizdat behaved.

But what is especially unfortunate, Podrabinek says, is that those engaged in human rights work have ignored the dissident experience of resistance. They take money from the regime, they sit on its “human rights” councils, and “they consider it normal to cooperate with the powers that be which is the only source of the violation of human rights.”

One can’t imagine dissidents in Soviet times doing anything similar, like taking money from the KGB or the CPSU Central committee. But now that is the norm. The Moscow Helsinki Group, the For Human Rightss Movement, Agora, Golos the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, Imprisoned Russia, the Sakharov Center and Memorial all do so.

“Dissidents in times of harsh Soviet totalitarianism were incomparably more free and responsible people than the present social activists living under conditions of a relatively soft authoritarian regime,” the rights activist says.

“Thank God,” Podrabinek continues, “not all present-day human rights activists, journalists and opposition figures or cultural leaders conduct themselves so shamefully. There are worthy people, but unfortunately, they are a minority.” But even those who behave well do so because of their own ethical principles rather than because they have mastered the past.

To assimilate the experience of the Soviet dissidents means, the longtime rights activist says, to “be informed by the spirit of resistance, to recognize one’s own personal and civic dignity which already will not allow one to take money from tyrants, to participate in dishonest councils or put up with the censors.”

Today, he says, rights activists and oppositionists justify what they are doing by saying that “politics is the art of the possible. That may be. But dissent is the art of the impossible. And today in Russia, unfortunately, has been lost.”

[Article also appeared at]