Tuesday, 21 September 2010

03. October 16, 2008

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

Thank you for the reply written on the eve of court. Now, at this very moment, a court hearing is taking place, and in the evening we will hear the news on the radio - almost certainly not joyous.

Your letter astounded me. It plunged me into a different reality: as if we are in different corners of the universe. But there is one substantive thing we have in common - a conscious attitude towards our own path in life. The place where this consciousness takes place so productively, in your situation, is a jail squared. What else can you call a dungeon in places of deprivation of liberty? You can't sink any lower. Simultaneously there is the unexpected elevation of an unbroken spirit and of a mind, working intensely. This is how the Tibetan monk sits in the icy wilderness, heating the meadow around himself with his warm bottom, or by some other method unknown to us, so that grass and little flowers start to grow. And there grow on this glade rare fruits of awareness of oneself and of the world around, of compassion, of patience. And verily, those lads up above (in both senses!) are making for you not only renown, various kinds of fame - whether good or bad is unimportant in this respect - but with you is taking place a process which could be directed by a wise guru, a spiritual teacher, some kind of elder or whoever is appointed to do this.

I have always been fascinated by that current in which a person finds himself from birth to death. The current carries you, and you drift with the current, pre-guessing its turns, sometimes ending up in the middle of the current, sometimes making independent movements, in order to change the direction somewhat. And here there is always a starting point, when you become aware of your life inscribed into the general current and all subsequent moments of “reorientation”. This is a very fascinating history - each human fate. I think that you can say more than many people, to whom life had not given such an extreme and diverse experience. They have given you the time to think. Forcibly. But you have turned out to be a good student. This is what I want to talk about.

Let’s take a reference point: childhood, family, guidelines and intentions. How did you plan your life at the age when we have such thoughts?

For me it happened very early: my parents were more or less scientists. Traditional emeneses, [9] albeit with degrees. And I was pointed into a science - this was biology. I had ideas on “serving humanity” and satisfying my ambition, I also thought, quite wrongly, that scientists were freer. Naturally, all those illusions eventually crumbled.

Tell me, just how you saw your future as a boy? How did you plan your life as a young man? I know, of course, that you were in the Komsomol [10], and even functioned well in that environment which for me (I am 15 years older than you) was thoroughly unsuitable. You probably felt yourself to be one of them or at the very least mimicked being a “Komsomol leader”, then you turned out to be “one of them” in the milieu of the “oligarchs”, with your interesting life, so attractive to the popular masses. You clearly exceeded the boundaries of what was allowed, you violated some kind of unwritten rule (deliberately or not), you crossed the boundary of what was “permissible” in that upper circle that I've ever entered and, to be quite honest, never even wanted to. And this is exactly what I want to talk about.

Each of us chooses for himself his own boundary, which we will not step over. For example, my girlfriend Natasha Gorbanevskaya went out into the Red Square in 1968 with a three-month-old child [11] and then got into the “loony bin”. Her self-preservation instinct, if not completely absent, was obviously weakened. I would not have come out even without a child. Simply out of animal fear. But I could not vote “for condemnation” at a general meeting in the Institute of General Genetics, where I worked at the time, I stomped right out of the hall under the astonished gazes of co-workers at the moment when I should have been raising my hand. This was my boundary. A very modest one. I did not pay dearly - at the first opportunity they dismissed me. Eventually I started writing books.

The demonstration on the Red Square (1968)

Where did your ethical boundaries lie in your youth? How have they changed over time? I am absolutely certain that you have given this some thought, and I have even read some of your statements on this subject. But for our conversation to be productive, we need to move step by step to the present day. By the way, I simply must tell you that today we heard on the radio that they had not given you conditional early release on parole.

The court knows its business. We did not expect anything else. So now we have an unspecified amount of time to talk about this abstract but interesting topic, and we will be able to continue our dialogue.


Lyudmila Ulitskaya


[9] "emenes" comes from the Russian abbreviation “MNS”, or “Junior Scientific Fellow”, a low rank in the research institute hierarchy.

[10] Komsomol served as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the youngest members being fourteen years old, the upper limit for an age of rank and file being 28.

[11] Natalya Gorbanevskaya (°1936) is a Russian poet and one of eight protesters to demonstrate on the Red Square in Moscow on 25 August 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Having recently given birth she was not immediately tried with the other demonstrators. She was arrested in December, 1969 and imprisoned in a Soviet psychiatric prison until February, 1972.

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