Friday, July 26, 2013

In U.S.-Russian Relations, Another Desperate Struggle over the Rights of Political Dissidents

Remember 1989?  I technically wasn't born yet, but I hear there was some killer pastel spandex going around and some rockin' electric synthesizer music.  It was also a year in which the United States was offering political asylum to Russian soldiers who broke the technical law of their nation in favor of the higher law of conscience by deserting its armed forces in Afghanistan.

The Soviets wanted them to come home, but many of the deserters, understandably enough, had other plans.  As the New York Times tells us: "They recall[ed] the fate of deserters in the early days of the war. A helicopter pursuing one would not capture him, they said, it would machine-gun him [...] In the past, Soviet governments have accused returning prisoners of war of collaborating with the enemy. After World War II, Soviet citizens who were held prisoner were often shot or sent to labor camps on their return."

In other words, they were wary of returning to the Soviet Union because it seemed likely that they would be tortured or summarily executed or disappeared to a labor camp.  But the Soviets did the best they could to reassure them: "It has offered a general amnesty to all deserters."

Fast-froward to 2013.  The Russians and the United States are arguing once again over the human rights of dissidents. A civil servant uncovered an illegal domestic surveillance program and disobeyed the laws of his country by leaking this information to the foreign press.  He sought asylum elsewhere while his home country begged for him to be returned with promises that they no longer torture or disappear or summarily try and execute people-- or at least not people in whom the media takes a sufficient interest.  However, they are not willing to go as far as they did in 1989 by offering an outright amnesty or pardon.  The most they are wiling to grant the exile is a fair trial, and perhaps the retention of a lawyer to speak in his defense.

Those Russians are at it again.  I guess they have no regard for human life.

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