Something’s happening thanks to Nadezhda’s “prison diary”

The letter has worked, in a way: several member of the presidential human rights commission have visited the IK-14 penal colony where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot is serving her two-year term. One of them, Ilya Shablinsky – a professor of constitutional law at the Higher School of Economics, perhaps Russia’s best university – says he has met some of the inmates and their accounts were hair-raising.

What’s sad is the number of ugly comments to the Guardian piece. Some of them are by Putin’s paid scribblers, others by misguided Russians; yet others by guardianistas who just cannot stand ‘America’ and rush on an impulse to defend dictators who appear to be ‘standing up against’ its ‘imperialism’. The most common method, accounting for 70-80% of the nasty comments, is whataboutery: “Guantanamo is as bad! US jails are as horrible!”


  1. I’m not going to defend any particular comments on that piece, but whataboutery has its place. I think “а у вас негров вешают” has become a punchline, but if American anticommunists had condemned lynchings with the same zeal as Soviet abuses, they might have done more good.

  2. Agreed, some anticommunists used horrors of communism to advance their domestic agendas. It was a bugbear to scare voters and a sort of tar and feathers to smear opponents with.

    But I also believe that by the time the true magnitude of Soviet repression – from the Civil War to Stalin’s death – became known in the West, that is by the 1960s, lynchings had all but stopped in the South.

  3. I see your point, though I think there was racist violence in the US in the 1960s, as well as condemnations of Soviet abuses in the 1950s.

    I guess all I’m saying is that “forget Guantanamo, don’t get distracted from Russian prison conditions” is the same form of objection as “never mind Russian prisons, what about Guantanamo?” and we’d all do well to work to end “our own” side’s abuses, however we define that. But by that I don’t mean to defend either Russian prison policy or any false equivalences made by “what about” commenters.

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