Friday, March 30, 2012

Taking a Stand and Making a Difference When it Really, Really, Really Hurts

From the April issue of Vanity Fair magazine and an article called "The Wrath of Putin." The photo is of a man called Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Reading about someone willing to go to prison because he's taken an ethical stand fills me with awe. Rare as it is, when I see it, I cheer on the valiant one, while at the same time I wonder if I could--or would--ever do likewise.

Thus is the story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the only man who has stood up to the thuggish, corrupt, evil Vladimir Putin and is alive to tell the tale. Alive. But in the darkest prison in the depths of Russia.

Khodorkovsky's story appears in the latest issue of Vanity Fair--which some of my friends, by the way, find frivolous because it combines tales of complex issues, like this one, with reports on the latest fashions from Paris. And that's wrong because?

My own interests being eclectic: I have no problem with this. Information is information to me--be it cultural, political, or technological. I like knowing about both Paris and about Putin. About both feast and famine.

It has been in Vanity Fair that I have read the best coverage of the Bernie Maddoff scam, the most details on the cause of the 2008 (and ongoing) financial meltdown, and the widespread extent of the wickedness of Rupert Murdoch--the man who set out to own a government, and just about did.

Which leads me back to Russia, where one man does own the government.

Inside the April Vanity Fair.

Russia may no longer be run by the Czar, or the Soviets, or the KGB; but, it is run by a crooked mob headed by the most brutal of bosses, Vladimir Putin. He and his pals divided up the remains of the Soviet Union's industries and those they weren't able to own outright they took pieces of--or else.

Putin has built himself s a nine million square foot palace from his take of the take.

Disagree with him or, for example, write a blog like the one I'm writing now and you end up dead. If you are lucky, you flee before his assassins find you.

All except Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who once was one, among many, who made himself incredibly rich when the Soviet Union dissolved, but who then began to give back with his vast wealth. To modernize his industry, to educate his fellow citizens, to pass billions of rubles in benefits on to those without his resources. At one point, he was the largest single NGO in Russia.

When Putin called together the richest in the country, Khodorkovsky came. He had a Power Point presentation ready, which he showed Putin, on the costs of corruption in Russia.

Putin, who was very well aware of the costs of corruption in Russia because he is the primary beneficiary, was not amused.

Khodorkovsky was arrested. His assets were taken from him. He was put in prison. There was a show trial. But that was just to keep the West from yowling.

As sometimes happens in cases like this, his martyrdom has had an effect opposite to the one Putin intended. Khodorkovsky, living in a dark cell with a hole in the floor for a toilet, is now the most revered man in Russia.

He is a Jew in a nation where Jews can't get elected to office. He believes in honorable capitalism in a country where only a corrupted form of it is practiced.  He is an idealist in a world that destroys men like himself.

I am wowed by him and what he has done. 

I've given up expecting to see any justice in this world. Too many heels prevail: too many wonderful people suffer.  But every now and then, for a couple of tiny ticks of the eternal clock, a good guy stands up and gives us a little preview of heaven.

Because that's what ideals are. A gleaming little piece of the best in our eternal souls.

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