Zeman, who called Khodorkovsky a thief rather than a former political prisoner, suggests the extent of Russia’s clampdown on dissidents is overblown
Prague, Nov. 12 (ČTK) — The recent decoration of the late Russian dissident Natalya Gorbanevskaya by Czech President Miloš Zeman was probably dishonest in a situation where he is unable to say a single sentence in support of Russian political prisoners, her son told a video conference in Prague today.
Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček told the Czech News Agency that Zeman had sent an open letter to Gorbanevsky a few days ago, in which he commented on the question of political prisoners and asked Gorbanevsky to give him information about “possible political prisoners” in Russia.
Gorbanevskaya (1936–2013), a poet and translator, was among the “Magnificent Eight” that protested against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on Moscow’s Red Square in August 1968.
Zeman decorated her in memoriam with a Medal of Merit Oct. 28, the national holiday marking the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
In the wake of the awards ceremony, her son, Yaroslav Gorbanevsky, asked Zeman to call on Russia to release its political prisoners.
Zeman reacted to the request in his regular radio interview Nov. 2, in which he condemned the existence of political prisoners in any country, including Russia, but he expressed doubts on whether some Russian prisoners who present themselves as political are really political prisoners.
As an example he gave the imprisonment of former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Zeman called a large-scale thief [rather than a persecuted political activist].
“If I mind something about [Russia’s] Putin regime, it is the fact that it jailed only Khodorkovsky and not other oligarchs,” Zeman said.
Zeman also made obscene comments about the Russian female punk band Pussy Riots, whose members, too, had been imprisoned for their activities.
In reaction to him, Gorbanevsky, now in Paris, said today Zeman uttered a lot of words in his interview on Czech Radio but said practically nothing in defense of political prisoners in Russia.
“In a situation where he fails to say a single sentence in defense of Russian political prisoners, it was probably false of him to decorate [my mother],” Gorbanevsky said.
In his Nov. 2 radio interview, Zeman also reacted to a previous statement by another of the “Magnificent Eight,” Viktor Fainberg. He said Fainberg suffers from obsession when he views Vladimir Putin’s present Russia as identical to the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev.
Fainberg, who attended the video conference today, Monday dismissed Zeman’s assertion that he considers the two regimes identical. He said he only emphasizes their similarity, the cruelness, perfidiousness and hypocrisy of both.
Apart from Gorbanevskaya and Fainberg, the Magnificent Eight included Pavel Litvinov, Konstantin Babicki, Tatiana Bayeva, Larisa Bogorazova, Vadim Delone and Vladimir Dremlyuga.
Fainberg and Litvinov have also criticized Zeman for his approach to the conflict in Ukraine.