The way the story broke was interesting. This afternoon I escaped early from yet another conference of seminar about what eurosceptics should do now or this time next year (can't remember) and went to London Library (after conferring with the Boss who is snowed in up north), checked my e-mails and went on Facebook to see if there was anything interesting happening in the world. There I found several postings from Russian friends or British friends who follow Russian affairs that were wondering if Berezovsky was dead. Apparently, some Russian outlets were saying it, at first cautiously then more boldly that they had heard from Berezovsky's son-in-law who posted the information on Facebook that the old man was dead. Others referred to some telephone call from London to Moscow, yet others quoted people "close" to Berezovsky.
By this time it was about half past four in the afternoon, several hours after the body had been found. Or so it seems.
Meanwhile the western media was desperately trying to confirm the story and were, therefore, keeping quiet. I am delighted to say that I tweeted about it a while before the Wall Street Journal came up with "Breaking: Boris Berezovsky dead". Before confirmation came and the police said "in a statement they had launched a "full inquiry" into what they described as "the unexplained death" of a 67-year-old man at a property near London" the Russian media started saying that this was definitely a suicide, that he had been depressed, was facing bankruptcy and was, in general, feeling that he was a failure. Presumably, this was an effort to get in there first as most of us thought of some other explanation when we first heard the news. (Jokes about ice picks have already been made.)
There have also been news from Russia and not just about the Cyprus shenanigans. Readers of this blog might recall last year's law that "foreign-funded non-governmental groups (NGOs) involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" in Russia". The term has a very special and sinister sound in a country where not so long ago you were imprisoned for many years at best if you were named a "foreign agent".
A number of NGOs that could be said to have some foreign funding and foreign links have been raided by the police and tax inspectors. Among these were Memorial that tries to reconstruct what happened to the millions of victims of the Soviet system and also deals with human rights issues since its collapse.
Memorial says inspectors returned to its Moscow offices on Friday, having already seized 600 documents including accounts on Thursday.Helpfully, as the picture in the story shows, somebody (could one possibly guess who) has written a graffiti on the wall of Memorial offices, describing them as "a foreign agent".
A statement on the Memorial website said the inspections were directly linked to the new law on NGOs and the targeted groups' compliance with it.
Memorial director Arseny Roginsky, quoted by the Russian news website Vesti, said it was "a complete check on everything concerned with our sources of funding".
He insisted that the NGO law "will not change our position at all". "We won't refuse foreign donations, nor will we register as a 'foreign agent'," he said.
The legislation against NGOs that get foreign funding and have foreign links is seen as a response to the agitation around the Magnitsky Act that was signed into law by President Obama in December of last year and campaigns against so-called foreign agents have intensified.
Meanwhile, the Russian investigation into Magnitsky's death in prison has been dropped.
The committee posted a statement on its official website on March 19 saying Magnitsky was placed legally in pretrial detention and died there from heart complications in 2009. The committee said there was no evidence of a crime.Indeed, how could there be a crime? The man was arrested for trying to find out what happened to the companies he was supposed to be working for that had been stolen in order to claim enormous tax rebates by people linked to the security services, kept in appalling conditions for a year without any charges, denied medical attention, evidently tortured and was eventually found dead in his cell. All very normal.
However, the Magnitsky case is not dead even if the man is. His posthumous trial has opened in Moscow but has been adjourned till the 27th. Gogol, the author of Dead Souls, should be alive now. He, alone could do justice to this tragic farce.