Igor Sutiagin: Halfway to the Siberian mines


This is the title of a book of short stories by political prisoner Igor Sutiagin who is spending his TENTH year imprisoned in the Russian Federation. The book was published by the Moscow publishing company “Prava cheloveka” [“Human Rights”] and presented at the Central House of the Journalist on 22 September.

The well-known writer Viktor Shenderovich writes in his preface to the book: “A book is born when there is a fate. All else, we will correct Verlaine, is dross.”

The fate of scientist Igor Sutiagin changed dramatically early in the morning of 27 October 1999.  He was arrested and charged by the FSB [Federal Security Service] with State treason through espionage. And then the “Basmanny” Justice system came into force [named after the Basmanny Court in Moscow which has, in recent years, obliged with very dubious rulings – translator].

“A person in captivity is a specific phenomenon. A scientist in captivity is an abnormal phenomenon, something unacceptable for civilized society especially when his guilt has not been proven. Yet fate and specific Russian Justice rule in their own way”, scientists and members of the Academy of Sciences Vitaly Ginsburg and Yury Ryzhov write in the second preface to the book.

Igor Sutiagin’s path to “beyond the fence” [“zazaborye”] as he calls this place in his short stories, has continued for ten years already and been through five prisons and three penal colonies.

His literary work is about overcoming external captivity, moving in space, in choice of occupation, circle of people he communicates with, food, clothing – through inner freedom. The book involves imagined meetings with his family, contact with nature which he writes about vividly and with emotion, as well as reflections about events and those who’ve fabricated this shameful prosecution.

The presentation was attended by members of Igor Sutiagin’s family, his lawyers as well as many prominent human rights defenders.

“The book is a way of fighting the lawlessness he encounters”, Ernst Cherny from the Public Committee in Defence of Scientists put it.

The battle continues on both sides of the prison walls. The Public Committee in Defence of Scientists was formed a year after Igor Sutyagin’s arrest.

The human rights defenders however are forced to acknowledge the lack of results of their efforts. According to Alexei Simonov from the Committee in Defence of Glasnost, “All our attempts have come up against the total indifference of people in power to those repressed by the regime”.

In the last short story, entitled “Do not be silent!”, Igor Sutiagin writes:

“There is nowhere to gather strength from in prison. You can find it only at liberty. From those continuing to live there, beyond the fence, from memories. From oneself, at that time, free. And also from the support of those who are at liberty. …

… Please do not be silent. Do not fear possible repression for the prisoner – they will not be by any means as terrible as if surrounded by ferocious silence. And there probably won’t be any. With your words, your concern, you will defend a person from a distance. And most importantly you will give him strength, badly needed beyond the fence in order to stand firm. When there is strength, you can already “recognize inevitability” – and in that way return the freedom taken away. And without freedom it is very hard to live, especially in prison. Therefore, for the sake of all those who are imprisoned in the cases at present (and there are already many of us, alas), please be with us – and don’t be silent. Do not be silent!”

from a text by Vera Vasilyeva
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