This article is dedicated to the people who aren’t going to read it: Messrs Orbán, Trump, Zemmour, our own Hitchens, Liddle and all other Western admirers of Putin, some of whom call themselves conservatives.
To be fair, even if they read it, the experience wouldn’t make one bit of difference. Ideology, especially if fortified by ignorance and atrophied moral sense, is impervious not only to reason but even to empirical evidence.
But those who do read the piece, and especially look at these video links (https://gulagu-net.ru/Torture_in_Russia), will be horrified and disgusted. Even I was shocked, and I’ve been around that particular block a few times.
The videos document the universal pandemic of beatings, torture and punitive rape in Russian prisons. The latter is done not only in the usual way, but also with household objects not manifestly designed to act as sex aids. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that I’ll never again look at a broom handle the same way.
There are more than 1,000 such videos, all heroically smuggled out of Russia by the young Belarusian Sergey Savelyev. His saga began in Saratov some eight years ago.
Sergey received a parcel containing several pounds of drugs. No sooner had he opened the box than police thugs burst in, savagely beat him up and clapped him into a remand prison.
There Sergey stayed for several months, where the investigators demanded he confess to crimes he hadn’t committed. To jog his memory, his inquisitors beat Sergey up once a week, on cue, with the kind of punctuality Russians seldom display in other areas.
Finally, he was sentenced and spent the next eight years in prison, where the warders made a bad mistake. Since, unlike them, Sergey was computer-literate, they put him to work in the prison office.
They didn’t realise that their computer was networked with all other Russian prisons. And everywhere the inmates were being abused with the same stomach-churning sadism.
In the good tradition of the Gulag (and Nazi concentration camps, come to think of it), it’s not just the warders themselves who committed those crimes but also the trusted prisoners co-opted for that purpose.
Torture and rape have to be a gift that keeps on giving. Hence the sadists, either officers or their stooges, record their shenanigans on bodycam videos. That doubtless provides most satisfying material for their viewing pleasure at a later time, to be shared with friends and families.
Fortunately, not only for that. For Sergey kept copying those horrific videos, risking his life every moment.
Luckily, his conspiratorial gifts were of a high order. Sergey survived his eight years and, upon release, began to upload, to shattering effect, some of the videos he had smuggled out.
The website he was using, Gulagu.net, was started some 10 years ago by Vladimir Osechkin, another hero. The name of the website literally means ‘no to the Gulag’, shocking the Russians into recalling the calamity they thought they had left behind.
It’s not as if they didn’t know about the endemic sadistic abuse going on at every stage of their law enforcement. But, as Sergey rightly points out, knowing is one thing, and seeing is quite another. He enabled the people to see, and they shuddered with horror and revulsion.
As a result, some film critics in plain clothes waylaid Sergey at a airport and explained in simple words what awaited him if he didn’t desist. He’d be charged with treason and put away for 20 years. But he wouldn’t serve the full term: soon after his incarceration, he’d be found dead in his cell.
His only salvation, he was told, was to cooperate with the FSB, helping them identify the foreign provenance of Gulagu.net. You know, CIA, MI6, that sort of thing?
Those who wish to trace this recruitment technique to its original source should read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn – or any other book of the thousands written on this subject.
Savelyev signed the required Faustian transaction, then quietly slipped across the border to his native Belarus. There he embarked on a flight to Tunisia and then on to France, where he has requested political asylum. He is fully aware that, asylum or no asylum, he’ll be looking over his shoulder for as long as he lives.
What he has done is comparable to the heroism shown in the 1960s by another Russian dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky. Bukovsky blew the whistle on the Soviets using psychiatry for punitive purposes. He too smuggled out the documentary evidence of what we all knew but, until his death-defying act, couldn’t prove.
Sergey Savelyev has provided an invaluable service to the world. Yet the world, outside Russian dissident circles, shrugged its shoulders with indifference.
The West’s nerve endings were long ago cauterised like wounds. Now the scabs have grown over, and old traumas no longer interfere with sound sleep and digestion.
So yes, by all means, let’s mention the sadistic abuse sanctioned or at least tacitly encouraged by the Kremlin. But let’s not make a bit deal of it, what? Let the Russians use broom handles in their baroque ways – as long as the gas keeps flowing through the pipes.
Hence our media carried the story, but they buried it underneath a pile of news about the imminent climatic catastrophe awaiting the world in the future. The present moral catastrophe goes unnoticed.
But it’s not all gloom: something welcome has happened too. Hitchens has made a polite pause in his panegyrics to Putin’s Russia as the last bastion of Christian and conservative values. Even he must have sensed that Savelyev’s videos would make such effluvia even more putrid.
P.S. Speaking of Zemmour, who is emerging as the flag-bearer of the Right in the upcoming French presidential election, he happily combines admiration of Putin’s Russia with hatred of England, which he identifies as France’s “historical enemy”.
As befits a fellow writer, he provides a welcome historical perspective, going back to the Hundred Years’ War and, closer to our own time, the Napoleonic Wars. It’s true that, in the latter, France and England found themselves on opposite sides. But does Zemmour think Russia was France’s staunch ally? Has he heard words like ‘Borodino’ and ‘Berezina’?
Even closer to our time, the last (latest?) time Germany defeated France, in 1940, Stalin was Hitler’s faithful ally and therefore France’s enemy, whereas England… well, you know. But does Zemmour?