Ildar Ildusovich Dadin is a hero.
He risked his life exercising his rights to free speech and peaceful demonstration in modern day Russia and paid for it with nearly three years in prison during which time he was tortured both mentally and physically.
Ildar Ildusovich Dadin is still alive. Yet many like him, journalists, activists, people of conscience, have wound up dead at the hands of the Russian state. Here are just some of the names of recent victims: Sergei Yushenkov, Anna Politkovskaya, Galina Starovoitova, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, and, perhaps most famously, Boris Nemtsov. There are many more names that could be added.
Yes, the human rights situation in Russia is deplorable. Frequently, the Western media is wont to point out that business, criminal, political, and intelligence communities are one and the same. I think that this equation is warranted. However, let’s point the mirror towards ourselves and ask: “Is it not the same with us?”
As frequent readers of CounterPunch are aware, the nexus in America and Europe between organized crime, political enablers, interested business parties, corrupt media outlets, and the secret services is an old one. The West, too, then is not clean. Perhaps, though, they are just better at hiding it; more adept at using coercion/persuasion rather than resorting to the last instance: murder. Although such highly interconnected, well organized, and well funded elites would long since have been able to have their way without leaving a discernible print.
Is this to say that present day Russia and the West are the same? No. But it would be naive of us to think that there are no structural parallels in their day to day functioning. Political manipulation, media disinformation, criminal infiltration is at much at home in the West as it is in the East even though it may be, ironically, harder to prove.
This brings me back to a reassessment of today’s Russia and the case of Ildar Dadin.
Obviously we are not arguing that the situation in Russia is better than the West; in many aspects it is decidedly worse. However, I think it would be more appropriate to compare the current Russian situation not with that of an idealized West, as is promulgated by Western media, but rather to compare present day Russia to its past forms.
Compared to its totalitarian past, one could argue that Russia has made some progress, even on the human rights front. In the not too distant past, a person like Ildar Dadin would either be shot on the spot, or sentenced to death in a mock trial. In the Brezhnev era, conceivably, he would be under house arrest and would certainly be given little or no access to Western media. This, however small, is a glimmer of progress.
Yes, so that there be no mistake in interpretation, Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian dictator but he is an authoritarian dictator with relatively wide spread support among the population. This, in itself, is somewhat of a novelty in Russian history (As far as we can be certain, only Stalin enjoyed a similar level of widespread popularity and that during the war years).
Russia was a society in chaos in the 1990s. It can and has been argued that Putin prevented a much worse scenario of destabilization both domestically and internationally. In this sense, he is a transition figure from a strongly totalitarian past to what might in a generation or two be a much more open society. There have been changes in Russian society. Outside influences, diverging opinions, and access to alternative ways of thinking exist that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. Authoritarian ways of existing cannot be overturned overnight; especially in a country like Russia with a long and specific history of despotic rule.
So, yes, Ildar Dadin is a hero in a changing Russia and he should be supported as much as possible by those in the West willing and able to do so. But for the moment, at least, Ildar Dadin is also alive which gives a gleam of hope that however dim, the light of peaceful dissent will continue to burn inside a tumultuous, transformative Russia.