The news that a Petersburg professor of history killed his mistress in a rather Baroque manner didn’t really surprise me.
Over the past century, Russian universities, at least their humanities departments, have been acting as conduits of the dominant political ethos. Since today it has a distinctly thuggish tint, it’s no wonder that thugs are in a position to shape young minds and, on this evidence, dismember young bodies.
Putin and his flunkeys express themselves in the argot of crime-infested slums, which is par for the course considering their background (“I was a common Leningrad thug,” boasted Putin once). That mentality now pervades even academic institutions, especially Putin’s own alma mater, Petersburg University, the hatchery of the ruling kleptofascist gang.
Enter Oleg Sokolov, 63, associate professor at that university, historian of Napoleonic wars, member of the Russian Society for Military History, confidant of Culture Minister Medinsky (himself Putin’s confidant), lecturer at ISSEP (Lyon’s political institute founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s granddaughter and reflecting the family’s values), recipient of the Légion d’honneur.
Yet one couldn’t complete the list of Prof. Sokolov’s credentials without mentioning his little eccentricities: he’s a brute and a murderer.
Those aspects of his personality first came to light in 2008, when his student mistress presented at a police station with her face beaten to a bloody pulp. According to her testimony, when she tried to leave Sokolov, he tied her to a chair, beat her up and threatened to kill her:
“…When the iron got red-hot, he held it so close to my face that I could feel the heat and threatened to disfigure me for life. After that he began to punch me metronomically in the face, also hitting me in the chest and stomach. In response to my pleas to stop, he hit me even harder and then threatened to kill me and bury the corpse at a nearby building site where it would never be found.”
Sokolov was in trouble, but not for long. Putin’s jurisprudence operates on two tiers: one for his own people, the other for everybody else. Loyalty and typological affinity are the principal criteria of guilt or innocence, and by such standards Sokolov was pristine.
That little pugilistic escapade didn’t even damage his academic career, as it would have done at any other university in the world: academic authorities may overlook affairs with students, but not using love interests for punching bags.
Yet Sokolov never missed a beat, as it were. He continued to pontificate to students about 1812, sometimes sporting costumes from that epoch for the sake of verisimilitude. Alas, he tended to borrow not only his ancestors’ clobber but also his colleagues’ work.
Last year another historian of Napoleonic wars, Evgeniy Panasenkov, sued Sokolov for plagiarism, alleging, with ample justification, that the latter had ripped off Panasenkov’s theory of that period.
Although the claim was obviously true, the court found for the defendant, thereby upholding the sacred principles of Putin’s legality. The judge could have cited a precedent: Medinsky, Sokolov’s patron, put someone else’s work in his doctoral dissertation. But then a culture minister is too busy with the affairs of state to waste time on such trivia as academic work.
A little later, as Sokolov was delivering a lecture in the university auditorium, a student got up, pointed out indisputable instances of plagiarism in Sokolov’s work and asked him how he felt about it. The intrepid youngster got an instant reply.
Turning up the volume of his proletarian voice, the academic screamed: “Get lost!”. When the pedantic student balked at following that advice, the recipient of the Légion d’honneur ordered his loyal retainers to “explain to the young man what’s what.”
That they did, by punching the student and bodily dragging him along with his classmate out of the auditorium. “Like priest, like parish”, as the Russians say. (For those who are interested, the incident appears on YouTube.)
Then the libidinous scholar embarked on another affair with a student, Anastasia Yeshchenko, 40 years his junior. On 7 November, the couple celebrated the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, and the festivities turned sour – possibly because Anastasia hadn’t learned the lesson of her predecessor and announced her decision to leave.
The scorned scholar then shot her dead with a sawn-off shotgun, as one does. Quite apart from anything else, that’s not a weapon widely used in academic circles, but this is Putin’s alma mater we’re talking about.
Sokolov then hid the body in his flat and the next day resumed the celebrations, this time with more loyal friends. Once the binge was over, on 9 November he decided to dispose of the body, which had begun to smell bad.
Not being a DIY fanatic, Sokolov didn’t have the necessary tools at home, so he had to go out and buy a hacksaw. Using that implement, he carved up the corpse, sawing off the head and the limbs.
Since he was unused to that type of work, Sokolov had to fight nausea by drinking steadily and eventually getting drunk. Leaving the unused portion of the body at home, he put the other parts into a backpack and went out to the Moyka embankment.
When I told Penelope about this, she quipped, “A man of many parts,” thereby reenergising our marriage. Anyway, proceeding methodically, as befits a researcher, Sokolov then threw the girl’s legs in the river.
But then the booze caught up with him and, still holding the backpack with Anastasia’s arms, he fell into the ice-cold water. By chance, somebody fished him out and delivered him to hospital where Sokolov almost died of hypothermia.
Speaking to the police, he explained he had killed Anastasia because she disliked his two daughters. Oh well, that’s all right then.
You might say that deranged murderers can be found anywhere, including any university. That’s true. However, much as I despise our own academic life, somehow I doubt that a chap with Sokolov’s previous would continue his profitable career at, say, Oxbridge or for that matter Sciences Po.
Do you sometimes feel we’re missing out on the academic freedom of Petersburg University and ISSEP? Well, by the looks of it, there’s now an opening at both institutions — although with Putin’s courts one never knows.