“Silence is the real crime against humanity.” This is what Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote about the silence of Russia’s intellectuals during Stalin’s years of oppression.
We can, I hope, be proud of the Riigikogu today. We have decided not to be silent. Sixty-six members of the Riigikogu have submitted a Draft Statement demanding the release of Ukrainian officer, and our parliamentary colleague, Nadiya Savchenko.
Silence is too often the convenient choice. Silence may also seem the safe choice. If we are silent, then maybe tomorrow’s newspaper or some political opponent will leave us alone. Silence may sometimes even be tactically cunning. But as a price for abandoning justice, it is always strategically wrong, short-sighted and dangerous.
In his sermons after the war, German pastor Martin Niemöller often characterized German society during the Nazi years in words that sound almost like a poem:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I am sure there are those among us who are not familiar with the details of Savchenko’s case. There may also be those among us who doubt if Savchenko really is a so-called “clean case.”
the absurd accusation that Savchenko killed the journalists is both disgusting cynicism and plays on the subconscious of the people in the West.
After all, she is accused of killing two journalists. Komsomolskaya Pravda has written about her that she is a “killing machine in a skirt,” and Tvoi Den has called her “Satan’s daughter” and said that she obviously is an “anti-Russian zombie.”
Today, I won’t go into the details of Savchenko’s case. I will just touch upon three moments.
First, Savchenko is an officer of the Ukrainian armed forces who was captured, wounded, on the battlefield. Thus, pursuant to international military law accepted by all civilized nations, she is a prisoner of war and her captor has to behave according to the Hague and Geneva Conventions. I will not speak of the prohibition to take away the badges of rank of a prisoner of war, or of maintaining the income she receives from her native armed forces and for which her homeland later has to compensate the detaining power.
I am speaking mainly of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which has been signed also by Russia, and according to which fighters of armed forces who are captured in the region of conflict, even if one side does not recognize it as a war, are prisoners of war.
Russia made a significant contribution to establishing the principles of treatment of prisoners of war at the first Geneva Conventions in 1899 and 1907. At these conferences, the Russian delegation was led by Friedrich Martens, Professor of International Law at Saint Petersburg University. And let us recall that it was Martens who worded the famous Martens Clause which is applied in cases where Great Powers do not want to consider combatants of other countries as lawful combatants:
“Until a more complete code of the laws of war is issued, the High Contracting Parties think it right to declare that in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, populations and belligerents remain under the protection and empire of the principles of international law, as they result from the usages established between civilized nations, from the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience.”
It is sad that Russia is more and more abandoning its own good traditions and giving the worst ones pride of place.
Second, Savchenko is accused of “killing” two journalists who perished in a mortar strike on a separatist checkpoint near the battle zone. Allegedly, Savchenko had intentionally directed fire at them. Those of us who have closely seen a battle know how unbelievable this statement sounds. Not to mention that, according to the positioning data of her mobile phone, Savchenko had already been a prisoner of the separatists for an hour when the journalists were killed.
The third, and maybe the most important point: the absurd accusation that Savchenko killed the journalists is both disgusting cynicism and plays on the subconscious of the people in the West. Russian powers have to be allowed to investigate the death and killing of Russian journalists, don’t they? But let us think for a moment. Since 1992, more than a hundred journalists have been killed in Russia. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who collects relevant information, has ascertained that in at least 56 cases the killing was directly caused by the work of the journalist. In around 60% of those cases, the killers had been Russian military, or security or government officials. And 11% of these cases have been solved.
Savchenko’s case was investigated and Savchenko is accused by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. The same committee that investigates all cases that are politically important for the Kremlin. According to the Russian press, in 2012 its head, Alexander Bastrykin, the same man who is investigating Savchenko, drove Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor-in-chief of the only opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, to a forest, threatened to kill him and promised that he would afterwards investigate the circumstances of Sokolov’s death himself. In 2013, Sokolov was beaten in the centre of Moscow by unknown persons who stole his computer.
The same separatists who imprisoned Nadiya Savchenko in June 2014, imprisoned a journalist of Novaya Gazeta at the end of last year, beat him and against his will returned him to Russia. So much about the concern of Russian authorities for journalists.
Russia’s rather skillful information policy has been aimed at forcing the Russian press, the Russian people, Ukraine and the Western world into silence. Not only in Savchenko’s case, but also in regard to the Kremlin’s aggressive wars, acts that violate human rights or international law, and on the issue of corrupting politicians in the West. Russia’s propaganda wants to soothe us, to make us doubt, to make everything relative; it tries to make us think that there is no truth, that everybody is in the same way bad, dirty lies. It tries to make us lose the ability to distinguish good from evil.
Today we are making a small, but still a significant step which shows that we still have this ability. Good and evil exist, and in Nadiya Savchenko’s case we have to be against the evil. Being silent would mean accepting humiliation by Moscow. The humiliation and degradation not only of Nadiya Savchenko, not only of Ukraine, but of all countries and nations that honor freedom and humanity.
The Parliament of Estonia is the first national parliament to adopt a statement in support of Nadiya Savchenko and demands that her persecutors are sanctioned. Hopefully we will not be the last. But even if we are to be the only ones, everybody who votes to adopt this statement can one day tell our grandchildren that when they came for Savchenko, we spoke out.