The Last Word of Olga Misik
On May 4, 2021, in Moscow, the prosecution requested a year and four months to two years of penal colony for teenage activists for attaching a banner and dousing the building of the Prosecutor General’s Office with pink paint.
Olga Misik, Ivan Vorobievsky, and Igor Basharimov will be sentenced on May 11, 2019. Olga is known for reading the Constitution to riot police and was the leader of a group of 45 teenagers protesting in August 2019. She wrote a remarkable last statement, translated below.
I was often asked if I was scared. More often they ask me about this abroad, not in Russia. Abroad, they do not know about black KGB prison vans that arrive after midnight, detentions, and prison sentences without any rhyme or reason. They do not know that we drink the feeling of futility and hopelessness with our mother’s milk. This very feeling of hopelessness paralyzes all manifestations of fear; it infects us with the acquired inability to act. What is the point of being afraid if your future does not depend on you?
I’ve never been scared. I felt despair, helplessness, hopelessness, loss, anxiety, frustration, burnout, but neither politics nor activism ever made me feel fear. I was not afraid when at night armed cops/bandits raided my place and threatened me with prison. They wanted to scare me, but I was not scared. I joked and laughed because I knew that if I stopped smiling, I would lose.
When I rode with these cops/bandits through Moscow in their black prison-van, the same type that came for people during Stalin’s purges, I thought that this could be the last dawn that I’d see in years. I remembered my father, whom I saw crying for the first time; my mother who whispered in my ear: “Don’t confess,” and my brother, and my boyfriend Igor, on the floor, silent during the interrogation. I was sad and hurt, but not scared.
I was not scared when they put me in the temporary detention center. […] Perhaps it was some kind of defense mechanism. I have not felt any fear at the time.
I remember well how I went to the protest. I promised myself that it would be the last protest in my activist career; that I would stop protesting and just study. […]
But the last nine months, after the raid, I feel fear all the time. Since that night in jail, I have never slept normally. Every night, I wake up from any rustle, I hear footsteps in the hallway all the time, and I panic when I hear the crunch of gravel under the wheels of cars outside my window.
And it seems to me that all the fear that has accumulated in me over the past nine months is all here and now, condensed in my last word because public speaking for me is much more terrible than the sentence itself. My pulse is now one 151 beats per minute, and it feels like my heart is about to burst into pieces. I feel goosebumps even on my scalp.
They say that it is impossible to be afraid when you know that you are right. But Russia teaches us to be afraid all the time. It’s a country that tries to kill us every day. And if you are outside the system, then you are already dead.
And, perhaps, after all, I was scared when I went to that protest. Yet, I knew that I could not do it. I understood that it was impossible not to. If I didn’t say anything at the time, I would never be able to justify myself — to myself. When my children would ask me where was I when it all was happening, how could I allow this to happen, and what did I do to fix it, to change somehting, I would have nothing to answer them. What would I answer? That I came out with a solitary protest with a poster, to stand in front of the FSB building? That’s ridiculous. It would be sweet self-deception that I couldn’t afford.
What about your kids? When they ask you where you were when this all happened, what will you answer them? What were making the convictions, writing sentences?
Of course, I was at this protest. I do not regret it, and moreover, I am proud of my deed. In fact, I had no right to choose and because of this, I have no right to regret it. And if I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would do it again. If I was threatened with the death penalty, I would do it again. I would do it over and over, over and over again, until it would affect the situation. They say that repeating the same actions in anticipation of a different result is madness. In this case, hope is madness. However, stopping to act because everyone around considers your actions useless is learned helplessness. And I’d rather be insane in your eyes than helpless in mine.
Addressing the prosecutor and judge:
When you are living inside the fascist regime, it never looks fascist. It seems that this is some petty censorship, some targeted repressions that will never affect you.
But I am not the defendant here today. Today you decide not mine, but your own fate, and you still have a chance to choose the right path. Because you cannot deceive yourself anymore. You know what’s going on here. You know what it’s called. And you know that there is good and evil, freedom and fascism, love and hate, and to deny the existence of the opposite sides would be the greatest deception. And those who have now chosen the side of evil have booked their seats on the bench for the accused in this future trial. A Hague trial awaits everyone who is involved in this lawlessness.
I do not promise that we will win tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in a year or ten years. But one day we will win because love and youth always win. I do not promise that I will live to this moment, but I really hope that you will live to see it.
You know what I’m being tried for. For reading the Constitution of the Russian Federation in public. For my civil position. For being recognized as the Person of the Year. For my principles. For performances.
I insist on full and unconditional acquittal, without taking any half-measures like termination of the case with a court fine. I am convinced of my innocence and am ready to defend it uncompromisingly.
…from the moment I took the Constitution in my hands, my future was already predetermined, and I accepted it with courage.
I made the right choice, and the right choice in a totalitarian state always entails dire consequences.
I always knew that I would be imprisoned, when exactly was only a matter of time. I’m reading a book by Markus Zusak, about life under a fascist regime. A quote, “You claim that this is bad luck, but you knew all the time that it would happen”, and this phrase perfectly describes my criminal case. This is not stupidity, not bad luck, not an accident, and even less it is a crime. I always knew this would happen, and I was always ready for it. You won’t surprise me with anything.
My lawyer talked about Sophie Scholl today, and her story resonates strikingly with mine.
[Sophia Scholl, a German student and anti-Nazi political activist, was convicted of high treason for distributing anti-war leaflets and executed by guillotine in 1943 at the age of 22.]
Sophie Scholl was tried for flyers and graffiti, and I am tried for posters and paint. In fact, of course, we are both on trial for a thought crime. My trial is very similar to that of Sophie, and today’s Russia is very similar to Nazi Germany.
Even when facing the guillotine, Sophie did not give up her beliefs. Her example inspired me not to agree to the termination of the case. Sophie Scholl is the personification of youth, sincerity, and freedom, and I really hope that I am like her, too.
The fascist regime eventually fell, just as the fascist regime in Russia will fall. I don’t know when it will happen — in a week, a year, or a decade. But I know that one day we will win because love and youth always win.
I want to end my last word with quotes from two wonderful people: Albus Dumbledore [a fictional character in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the headmaster of the wizarding school Hogwarts] and Sophie Scholl. Today, I talked too much about fear, so both of them are about light. I start with fear and end with hope.
Albus Dumbledore said during the war: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if you remember to turn to the light.”
Sophie Scholl’s last words before her execution were: “The sun is still shining.”
The sun is really still shining. It was not visible through the window of the jail cell, but I always knew that it was there. And if now, in such dark times, we are able to turn to this light — well, maybe this is not much, but yet it will bring our victory closer.