Markelov: A Hero of our Time

Alexander Cherkasov
3 March 2009

Time passes by without your noticing.

It's 40 days since they died.

At first it didn't seem possible. Stas and death - somehow they didn't connect.  He was far too alive...

Now it's time to sum things up. Old friends were reminiscing -amazingly they'd known each other for more than 15 years.   These memories leave a strange feeling - pity, rather than regret. Because if you look back on the life of Stas Markelov, you see quite how much he achieved.

In this new perspective Stas takes his place in the ranks of the Russian liberation and Soviet democratic movement. 15 years of active participation in public life - his predecessors didn't get that chance. They also left the scene when they were young - some to labour camps, others emigrated. But Markelov found professional fulfillment as a barrister. He took on cases A leading light of Memorial celebrates his friend Stas Markelov, the human rights lawyer gunned down in the centre of Moscow on 19 January that matched his convictions, which were essentially antifascist. A new feeling and a new understanding have emerged over the past few weeks. 

Suddenly it turned out that my friends and acquaintances who belonged to seemingly quite different circles had met Stas - and not just socially, but to discuss serious matters.

One of my friends is an elderly Ossetian who has fought in many wars, and knows the price of life and death. Last August, he defended his city, as he had to. Then at the first opportunity he put down his weapons, and began to help the living - Ossetians, Georgians, it didn't matter... In September he went to a forum in Malmo - his friends from the "left" invited him. On 21 January - the third day! - Timur Ivanovich rang me. "Sasha," he said, "I was supposed to meet Stas today. He and I spent a week together - we went to various places together and became friends... He suggested that I organize a human rights centre, and we had agreed to meet today. I didn't know anything.  I arrived in Moscow, opened the newspaper - and what did I see!..."

Viktor Shenderovich, who was "far from Moscow" in January, replied to the text message with the tragic news in bewilderment: "How can that be?" Just the day before they had talked on the telephone and agreed that Stas would defend him in court...

Another journalist from among his friends said that Stas figured in almost every issue of their newspaper for some reason or another. He was always being asked for information and comments.  He was happy to help, and didn't just deal with his own cases. His comments were always informative: he never just gave any old answer. This openness was not at all characteristic of the barristers' world, the journalist said.



But that's just it - Stanislav Markelov was not "typical".

He didn't become (didn't even try!) a "fashionable" lawyer, the glamorous host of a TV show, or as the crown of his career, a member of the Public Chamber. Though Stas Markelov looked good on court programmes, for example one about Colonel Budanov on TV-Centre... But neither the topic nor his position during this trial helped him towards a glamorous TV career.  Sergei Pashin didn't make it on TV. He wasn't a judge for long either. Neither of these men, Markelov and Pashin, were able to (wanted to, tried to) become part of the special "legal community, the "corporation", where you have to behave like "part of the family". Where to succeed you need an uncle as a prosecutor, a mother-in-law as a judge, and a nephew as an investigator.

But this feature of Russian life should probably not be considered the norm. There have been other pages, other traditions, in the history of Russian advocacy...

At first glance, you get the feeling that he was "unique", a one- off who did not fit into the system. Then this apology can be turned into an invective: there simply were no other lawyers like him. Markelov took on such different cases only because people had no one else to go to. Just as there were no journalists apart from Anna Politkovskaya who were prepared to write about dangerous topics...

This impression is not quite fair. There were and are other journalists - although not many of them. And there are still brave lawyers, although only a few - in both Moscow and the Caucasus.

It's just that it's hard for the man in the street to hang onto more than one name at a time. For poets, it's Pushkin...

Turning someone into a hero saves people from looking at them seriously. I think that Stanislav Markelov was exceptional and untypical.

Markelov was successful as a lawyer. But as I said above, he was not a typical lawyer, he was a "human rights lawyer". Stas represented the interests of injured parties - journalists, ecologists, anti-fascists, working activists, victims of terrorist acts and war crimes...

He continued the tradition of Russian advocacy, both pre-revolutionary and Soviet.

Markelov was a noted figure in the field of human rights - although here too he was not typical. Not only because he was a lawyer, i.e. a professional among "amateurs" - people recruited into public life from other professions. It was no less important that Stas tried to combine "human rights" with "social justice", an idea which is not particularly popular in this circle.

Finally, he kept up his connections with the "left", "informal" environment - old anarchists and new anti-fascists. But in this too Stas was not like others. He made fun of the glorification of legal ignorance which his regular clients raised to the level of a principle.  If the anarchists were being screwed, who would go to the cops? Markelov, who else... As a lawyer, he knew how to deal with the cops...

This was probably the essence of Stanislav's "non-typical and exceptional" nature: he belonged to different circles, and linked communities which would normally have had nothing in common


Stanislav Markelov came from the "left", "informal" environment of the 1990s. Did he leave - or keep his links to these circles?

In 2007 Stas went to Pryamukhino, to Bakunin's estate, where new Russian anarchists have been working as restoration volunteers for more than 10 years. Every summer they'd go there to work. They started with cleaning the pond, and took it from there...

Besides working, they also hold "readings" - lectures and debates. Stas took part in these discussions quite seriously, not just out of habit.

Stanislav Markelov's interest in Russian history was not just idle curiosity.  He quite consciously aligned himself with the tradition of the Russian liberation movement.

Last summer, one of my friends (or one of our mutual friends) who at one time was a serious student of 19th century populism, pointed out an interesting feature of the populists. Many, though not all, did not fit the label of "fiery revolutionary".

Could there be anything drier and more lifeless than a name and bibliographical index in a biographical reference to a historical figure? Not at all! One look at these references tells you a lot about a person, about his activity, interests, and also his personality. But if we compile references about our contemporary human rights advocates, won't the name indexes be short and repetitive? (See highlights of Markelov's biography below - Ed).

"Every age is an age of iron" - the same can be said of many Soviet dissidents. Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Kovalyov or Kronid Lyubarksy lived several "lives", fulfilling themselves in each one.

"He was our common denominator, our common multiplier! It's just a shame that we only notice this when he's already outside the brackets..." the sad sage Felix Krivin said many years ago.

Anyone who stands above the crowd in the most varied circumstances and societies is to be envied. 

This is what we can say about Stanislav Markelov on the 40th day after his death.

           Highlights of a life given to human rights

1997- the first lawyer to take on people accused of acts of terrorism (explosions and attempted explosions in central Moscow and in Krasnodar Kray). All defendants were cleared

1997- Defence of those accused of taking part in mass uprisings in Belarus

1997 Defended environmental protesters at Rostov atomic power station

1999 Defended Ufa's Radio Titan after it cited articles in Moscow press about corruption of head of Bashkortostan Republic.

1999 Defended workers who resisted privatisation of Vyborg pulp factory

2000 Defended Novaya Gazeta after it published the story of a soldier who uncovered FSB involvement in bombings in Ryazan in 1999

2001 Defence lawyer for family of Elza Kungaeva, raped and killed by Colonel Budanov. Budanov was accused of committing grave crimes against civilians in the Chechen Republic. He was the only lawyer not living in the Chechen Republic to have an ongoing commitment to the defence of civilians there.

2002 Defence lawyer for several people falsely accused of cooperation with the Chechen terrorists who beseiged a Moscow theatre in mid-performance

2004 Defended victims in a criminal case against the police in Blagoveshchensk following a ‘crime prevention' attack which left 342 people injured

2005 in Grozny he led the successful criminal prosecution of OMON (special police unit) officer S.V.Lapin, who had committed a series of atrocities on civilians. This was the first such successful prosecution in Chechnya. Lapin was sentenced to 11 years.

-2006 Until her death, he handled every case re Chechnya opened as a result of Anna Politkovskaya's investigations of abuses

2008 Handled case of Mikhail Beketov, editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda and tireless critic of the corrupt local authorities, who was attacked and left for dead.




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