Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#5 - JRL 7226
Wall Street Journal
June 17, 2003
Vladimir Potemkin
Ms. Bonner, chairwoman of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, is the widow of Dr. Sakharov.

It is not easy to manage the legacy of a great man, especially when the evil that he had fought, and often defeated, returns with a vengeance after his death. Which is why it was both in sorrow and in anger that I refused recently to endorse the plan to erect a monument to my late husband, Andrei D. Sakharov, in his hometown, Moscow. For I know that Andrei would have turned in his grave if I'd allowed his name and his likeness to become a part of the Potemkin village that the Russian government is trying to erect before the complacent West.

When I watched Western leaders toast Vladimir Putin -- who used the occasion of St. Petersburg's tricentennial earlier this month to highlight the West's acquiescence in his policies -- I felt grateful that no one had thought of bringing the official party to the Sakharov statue that had been put up there. Having President Putin take his guests to Andrei would have been a mockery of his memory, for every policy of the Putin administration is anathema to what Sakharov believed in and fought for.

For the past three years I have witnessed the systematic dismantling of democratic institutions, the suppression of independent media and the instigation of nationalism and xenophobia. But the gravest crime perpetrated by the government is the ongoing genocidal war in Chechnya. Stalin said that the death of one person is a tragedy, while the death of a million is statistics. The grim statistics of Russian policy in Chechnya is 180,000 dead and 350,000 displaced, which is nearly 50% of the prewar population. Western leaders may not to be bothered by these statistics; but for me this is not only a threat to the Chechen people but a symptom of a grave disease affecting both Russia and the West.

It is a penchant of oppressive regimes to decorate themselves with fake attributes of democracy -- sham elections, a servile judiciary, manipulated media. In today's Russia the masquerade is called "managed democracy." To have the West call a surrogate the real thing is a particular ambition of such regimes, and sometimes a reason for staging a quasi-democratic exercise. Thus, the recent Chechen "referendum" that was no referendum, and the "amnesty" that was no amnesty, led Western leaders to speak in support of a "political process" in Chechnya that is not a political process.

As I write this, another falsification of Moscow's "managed democracy" has been unfolding in a London court where a moderate Chechen leader, Akhmed Zakayev, is fighting extradition. That he is innocent was established in December when Denmark threw out fake Russian charges. Moreover, there is ample evidence that Russian courts are not independent, that investigation is based on torture and that the network of prison camps -- the present day Gulag -- is inhumane. This alone should disqualify Russia from being granted any extradition request. But this is precisely the reason why the Kremlin needs Mr. Zakayev so badly: to put Russian and Western justice on the same footing. I was shocked when the British Home Office found merit in Russia's demand for Mr. Zakayev's head -- thus awarding legitimacy to a fake justice system.

I am told that the appeasement of "managed democracy" is the necessary evil needed to keep an important ally within the coalition against terror. But Russia's only participation in this war has consisted of supplying arms and material and providing diplomatic and moral support to Iraq, Iran and North Korea; not counting the genocide in Chechnya. Legitimizing false democracy, false justice and a make-believe war on terror casts doubt on the real things, particularly for those who, like myself, continue to value them. For this reason I cannot agree to have my husband's monument rise in today's Russia lest it too becomes a fake.

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