I have no regrets the truth is on our side

“I have no regrets, the truth is on our side.” Orlov, the dissident biologist who challenges Putin in court

“This process began the day Russia and the world were shocked by the terrible news of Alexei Navalny's death. I too was shocked and had decided to give up this last chance to talk. But then I thought: These are all links in a chain: the death or murder of Navalny, the legal persecution of other dissidents, including myself, the suppression of freedom in the country, the invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine. I haven't committed a crime. They are putting me on trial for a newspaper article in which I described the established political regime in Russia as totalitarian and fascist, an article written over a year ago. Some of my acquaintances at the time thought I was too dark. But now I think it's clear that I wasn't exaggerating at all.

In the classroom

He appeared at every hearing and read Kafka's The Trial. But Oleg Orlov is certainly not Josef K., who is being pursued by the authorities without knowing why. Instead, he is one of those Russians “with a hint of madness in his eyes,” as Enzo Bettiza now classically defines it. In 1979, when he was 26 years old, he was considered one of the most promising biologists in the USSR. He worked at the Moscow Institute of Plant Physiology. But at night he photocopied self-made leaflets against the war in Afghanistan and pasted them in bus stations and telephone booths. He escaped with a warning from the Brezhnev authorities. Two years later he repeated himself, protesting against the ban on Solidarity. He hasn't stopped since then. In the late 1980s, he was among the founders of Memorial, the organization created to keep alive the memory of the victims of Stalinist repression, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 after being declared banned by the authorities. “My problem,” he once told us, “is that I belong to the category of Russians who themselves 'feel' the injustices of the world and simply cannot remain silent.”

In the spring of 2023 the inevitable tile will fall on his head. Orlov wrote an article for the French website Mediazone discussing the causes of the special military operation. Title: They wanted fascism and they got it. He is accused of “discrediting the army,” according to the article of the criminal code adopted after the invasion of Ukraine. This letter is clear evidence of “ideological hostility to traditional Russian spiritual, moral and patriotic values.” He refuses to actively participate in the negotiations because the Justice Department has now declared him a foreign agent and Orlov fears that this status could harm the witnesses called by the defense. So he sits on the benches and reads Kafka. In July, the Golovinsky Court in Moscow fined him 150,000 rubles. As salty as it may be, it's still better than prison. He has no great illusions about the outcome of the story. He's not wrong. The public prosecutor's office lodges an appeal, a rather rare occurrence. And in his appeal he demands that the fine be replaced by a prison sentence. Two years and eleven months in prison were requested yesterday.

The Prophecy

In 1990, he left the profession of biologist to join the newly formed Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights established by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. These were the turbulent years of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika. Orlov was reluctant to become an official representative of the state. However, he was convinced by his teacher Sergei Kovalev, a historical dissident and political prisoner from 1974 to 1987 who spent years in the penal colonies of Siberia and Tatarstan. “You have to take advantage of this opportunity,” he told him. “Because it won’t last long.” It’s a prophecy that still rings in his ears today. Orlov manages to pass the laws for the rehabilitation of Gulag victims and refugees. After almost four years he is leaving. Yeltsin's Russia is changing, but not in the way he hoped.

“Kafka's protagonist doesn't even know what he is accused of.” However, we understand why they stop us, judge us, arrest us, sentence us and kill us. They punish us because we allow ourselves to criticize power. This is now banned in Russia. Let's remember Aleksei's appeal: “Don't give up.” For my part, I would like to add: don't lose your optimism. The truth is on our side. Those who brought our country to this pit represent the ancients. They have no picture of the future, only distorted images of the past, mirages of “imperial greatness”. I have no regrets and I have no regrets. The verdict against Oleg Orlov is expected today. Ten days ago he told us that he thought it had already been written. And being very afraid of prison. But yesterday he uttered these words.