An Open Letter to Vladimir Putin

October 7, 2013
Vladimir Putin. Source: Time.

Today is Vladimir Putin’s 61st birthday. As such, we have decided to republish this article, originally published on June 3, 2013. – Ed.

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,

I’m 29 and I’ve been living for 14 years with the depressing thought that there will be nobody except you to rule the country forever.

When thousands of Russians were shouting in the center of Moscow “Putin is a thief,” I was among them and I suddenly understood that our collective grievance was not only about the money stolen from the Russian budget.

Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, you’re a thief. Because you’ve stolen my hope and faith in a better future, at least for the next few years.

The truth is, I never had illusions even before, at the beginning of 2000.

When I was 16, I was just starting out as a journalist. And I should be grateful to you.

In 2000, I arrived at a polling station to do a story about how the elections were being conducted in Russia. There was a grave military man there, a colonel perhaps. The only question I was asking everybody was :  “How was it to choose a new president?”

The colonel started to speak freely: “It’s easy,” he laughed. “Yesterday I gathered all my soldiers, and I read them Vladimir Putin’s biography  and I asked them if they understood for whom they should vote.” For a moment I was speechless. After I came back to the office, waiting for the time when we could officially announce the election results, I put this interview on the air.

The next day, my editor-in-chief was summoned to City Hall and the program was shut down 24 hours later. That was my first collision with what we later called Putin’s “regime.” It was not even censorship, it was violent force. It’s what you now do better. I will remember you for this.

Years later, I am now asking myself what was in your biography at that time that pushed people to choose you.

But I can say what I would do if I had to read your biography to someone. I would never remember the day of your birthday if the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya had not been killed that very day.

I will always remember you for government corruption at every level of your power and for posthumosly prosecuting Sergei Magnitsky who was killed in prison.

I will remember you trying to use Interpol for politically motivated cases.

I will remember you for the persecution of NGOs and polling and research organizations. If the Cold War is over, then why the need for this new and growing Russian McCarthyism?

I will remember you for hating the Americans and punishing children.

It’s important for you that Russian orphans remain in Russia, but it’s important for us that Russian orphans have a home and a family.

Where were you, Mr Putin, and where was the Russian ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov, when small children were beaten by several women at the Amur Boarding School?

Don’t answer, we all know : Astakhov likes France and spends a lot of time there with his wife and his children. It’s understandable. But why condemn other children to death in Russia then? And you’re asking for abolition of visas in order for Russians to come to Europe. But Russian officials must stay in Russia. Or do you think they’ll be treated better than orphans?

I will remember you for keeping young women, mothers of small children in prison for a song.

I would say that you think you’re fighting for the defense of traditional Russian values, but you are not capable of seeing that Russians’ values are different from yours.

The president is a president for everybody and not just for those whose financial interests go in the same direction.

I will remember you for homophobic laws and for people who already lost their life because of being gay. I will remember you for escalating hatred originating in the Duma, which is your rubber-stamp.

You will never be a symbol of the fight for justice and dignity. We have other heroes, but most of them have been killed or are in prison.

I will remember you at least for one legacy: you have united the Russians against the regime.

I was told that you were not a “bad guy,” that you were just “misunderstood.” Maybe you’re one of the last dreamers and romantics, akin to Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.

I will keep your name in my memory close to theirs.

Elena Servettaz