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Rachel Sharansky Danziger
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The world saved my father, Natan Sharansky; now another needs that rallying cry

Vladimir Kara-Murza's stand against Russian tyranny got him a sham trial for treason. His only chance of survival is Western pressure
Opposition politician and publicist Vladimir Kara-Murza makes the sign of the cross at the place of Boris Nemtsov's death in Moscow. 27 February 2021. Michał Siergiejevicz, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Opposition politician and publicist Vladimir Kara-Murza makes the sign of the cross at the place of Boris Nemtsov's death in Moscow. 27 February 2021. Michał Siergiejevicz, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I am sitting in my parents’ Jerusalem yard, and my parents are across the table.

Irwin Cotler, who represented my father, Natan Sharansky, in his tireless work as an international human rights lawyer, is by their side.

The trees are in bloom above us.

A voice emanates from the phone on the table.

The voice is calm and collected. Incongruously so: the speaker, Evgenia Kara-Murza, has every reason to be distraught and distressed. Her husband, Vladimir Kara-Murza, is standing trial in Moscow for opposing Putin’s regime, or, as Putin’s Russia calls it, treason. The prosecutor gave his final remarks last Friday, declaring that “Vladimir Kara-Murza is our enemy, and must be punished.” He requested that Kara-Murza be sentenced for 25 years in harsh conditions, a term so extreme it hasn’t been used since Stalin’s era.

For Kara-Murza, a man whose health was already irreparably damaged by two suspicious poisonings in 2015 and 2017 (poisonings have been a hallmark of Putin’s regime), 25 years in prison might as well be a death sentence.

Yet Evgenia Kara-Murza sounds calm and determined.

“This is an act of vengeance,” she says.

While the official cause of her husband’s arrest on April 19, 2022, was his outspoken public remarks against Russia’s war in Ukraine, Vladimir Kara-Murza has long been a central figure in the opposition to Putin’s regime. For more than a decade, Kara-Murza has fought for a free and democratic Russia on many different fronts. As a politician, he played important roles in the opposition to Putin. As an activist, he serves as a coordinator of the Open Russia Foundation, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky to promote civil society and democracy in Russia. As a journalist, he produced films about the regime’s atrocities, spoke out in the West, wrote extensively in the Washington Post and other outlets, led campaigns on behalf of Russian civil society, and generally shed light on the regime’s darkest secrets, earning international acclaim, the Civil Courage Prize in 2018, the Axel Springer Courage Award in 2022, and a personal invitation from Senator McCain to serve as a pallbearer at the senator’s funeral.

Even more unforgivably, from the regime’s perspective, Kara-Murza was a central and vocal promoter of the US Congress’ Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability in 2012, which barred US visas and access to US based assets from Russian citizens who were “responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky” (an anti-corruption lawyer), as well as the “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Like other supporters of a free Russian society, Kara-Murza believed that this act would force Russia to assume a level of accountability that its corrupt system would never have adopted of its own accord: “The prospect of losing access to the West and its financial systems… may well be, for now, the only serious disincentive to corruption and human rights violations by Russian officials.”

Yet now, three of the men who are sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act are directly involved in Kara-Murza’s trial. One of them is the judge himself. “It’s a very cynical act of vengeance,” says Evgenia. “They don’t even try to hide it.”

Under these circumstances, the prosecutor’s declaration that Kara-Murza is “our enemy” makes an awful sort of sense.

* * *

Evgenia doesn’t wallow in bitterness. She addresses my mother, Avital Sharansky, instead. “I read your memoir and it kept me going,” she says. Forty-five years ago, my mother, too, awaited her husband’s — my father’s — sentencing. Like Evgenia today, my mother campaigned, demonstrated, and lobbied her way through those harrowing days, fearing for her husband’s life, yet keeping her eyes on the goal.

“When it all started a year ago,” Evgenia goes on, referring to her husband’s arrest, “I worked in his home office, because it gave me comfort. Your memoir was on the shelf. I read it, and it helped me very much.”

I listen to the voice on the phone. I look at my parents’ faces, here in their Jerusalem yard. I look at Irwin as he jots down notes, ideas, lists. I listen to my mother’s voice, as she answers.

History seems to loop and fold into itself.

Once upon a time, it was my father in a prison cell in Moscow.

Once upon a time, it was my father who was accused of treason, because he stood up against a dictatorial regime.

Once upon a time, it was my father who became the target of a government’s outrage over Western policies that tried to prevent human rights violations in Russia by withholding economic benefits. My father’s prosecutor was enraged by the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment (an amendment that made trade agreements with the US dependent on the USSR’s policies on human rights), much as Kara-Murza’s prosecutor is enraged by the Magnitsky Act.

And once upon a time, it was my mother who faced an impossibly difficult task: keeping the world interested in her husband’s plight, so the Soviet authorities wouldn’t feel free to simply make him disappear.

But my parents won, didn’t they, I think, as I look at them and Irwin — my parents and the other refuseniks and dissidents and prisoners of Zion, and all the millions and millions of people who, like Irwin, poured their all to help them from afar. The iron curtain fell and the prisons opened, and Russia was to be a different place.

Yet here we are, witnessing a variation on the same familiar story. A man is facing his sentencing for so called “treason” in a Moscow cell, a woman is fighting for his life, and Russia casts a dictatorial shadow on the world at large.

My parents fought against great odds and won their happy future. Will the determined woman on the phone and the brave man in the Moscow cell, win theirs?

* * *

Like my mother before her, Evgenia isn’t merely fighting for her future with a loved one. Nor should Vladimir Kara-Murza interest us simply because of his tragic circumstance. Vladimir Putin dragged Russia back into its past dictatorial darkness, and, as he amply demonstrated with his cruel invasion of Ukraine, this Russia threatens far more than its own citizens’ liberties. What began as attacks against civil society and dissidents within Russia has already evolved into bloodshed and devastation for millions of innocents in Ukraine and beyond. If Putin successfully crushes Russia’s “Kara-Murzas” and disposes of them, who will be left to lead Russia down a different path?

“My husband stands for the values that the free world should protect,” says Evgenia. “I believe that if the world wants to see Russia as a democratic country one day, these people — the people who will rebuild Russia from the ruins — need to survive. It is in their interest to have someone like my husband Vladimir free and alive.”

Evgenia fights for this better, hoped-for future. By fighting for her husband, she is fighting for the people oppressed by Putin’s regime in Russia, Ukraine, and beyond.

But she won’t succeed alone.

When my father was arrested, it was the world’s attention that kept him alive in prison, and eventually pushed the Soviet authorities to release him. Those who did not receive attention were often killed in the Gulag, allowed to die from preventable illnesses, or simply made to disappear.

By raising our voices in support of Evgenia and Vladimir Kara-Murza, all of us can make a difference. Write to your elected officials and the editors of different newspapers. Share new information about the case on social media. And most importantly, keep writing and sharing over time, because by keeping the name Kara-Murza on our lips and in the public discourse, we can literally safeguard his life as he goes into prison, and stand with Evgenia in her fight for her husband, Russia, and a better future.

* * *

The sun is setting in Jerusalem.

My parents’ faces are set in determination, in sympathy, in remembered pain.

Evgenia speaks about advocacy and organizations and legal recourse.

In Moscow, Vladimir Kara-Murza delivers his final remarks to an unjust court, and faces his sentencing. He doesn’t ask for an acquittal. Rather, he expresses confidence in the future of the country that has done him wrong.

…I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when at the official level it will be recognized that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who kindled and unleashed this war, rather than those who tried to stop it, will be recognized as criminals.

This day will come as inevitably as spring follows even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf…. from this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path toward the recovery and restoration of Russia, its return to the community of civilized countries, will begin.

God, may he come home to his family soon, alive and well.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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