The Magnitski list as a wake-up call

Vasario 06, 2013

The Magnitski list becomes much more than merely a benign and disconnected political fantasy. After the United States Congress adopted this law, with its clear legal and political implications, Russia retaliated by prohibiting American citizens from adopting Russian orphans – a mean, regrettable, and ugly move from Russia’s side with a total confusion of political and humanitarian agendas. Now it is a decisive time for the EU to take a stand.

That Sergei Magnitski posthumously became a litmus test of our political sensibilities and moral commitments is obvious. A brave and conscientious Russian lawyer, who exposed shocking corruption of a cleptocratic regime, and who refused to abandon his struggle by cooperating with high-ranking officers involved in this money-laundering enterprise, Magnitski reached out to the world paying the highest possible price – his own life.

The Magnitski list of the aforementioned officers, whose bank accounts and assets would be frozen, who would be denied the EU entry visa, and who, in effect, would face charges and legal prosecution for a crime, appears as a slap in the face to Putin and his regime. The official Russia is quite used to EU lecturing on the grounds of its deteriorating human rights record and severe human rights violations, as if to say that these are parallel realities – you can talk as much as you wish, yet when it comes to oil and gas, just calm down and make up your mind.

This time things stand in a different way. The visa ban and the freezing of bank accounts do come as an unpleasant move for the Kremlin, as it shoots between the eyes to anyone whose dream is to have a mansion in Nice or Monaco, to let their offspring be educated at British, German, and French universities, to lead a dolce vita in the EU while securing a safe position in Russia’s power structure, business, or bureaucracy – which, ultimately, are the same, as Putin himself uniquely embodies the fusion of the three, for he is a political hegemon, a businessman, and a long-term state official (moving from the president’s to the prime-minister’s office) at one and that same time.

It would be a delusion to think that the Kremlin is hostile to Europe in all respects. It is very much so with regard to European democracy, EU human rights standards and policies, and Brussels role in distancing Russia’s former colonies and satellite states – first and foremost, the Baltic States – from its reach and direct control. Russia cannot and will never forgive the EU for disrupting an imperial and time-honored logic of the exercise of power in its bilateral relations and diplomacy with such small neighboring countries as Finland and the Baltic States.

Yet it has nothing to do with Europe’s luxury, education, culture, museums, beauty, standard of living, and bliss of spending a weekend in a paradise of gourmands, such as Brussels, Palermo, or San Sebastian. The Magnitski list would strip part of the Russian elite of a blessing to live inside Europe while remaining far beyond it in terms of its liberal values and democratic practices. For this they will fight back and hard – without a shadow of a doubt.

An initiative to establish the Magnitski group as an inter-parliamentary assembly to support the Magnitski cause and to fight against corruption came from Canada. As I have joined this group myself as an MEP on behalf of Lithuania, I firmly believe that a principled and firm stand of the Baltic States on this matter is of utmost importance.

First and foremost, it sends a message to the EU and Russia that the choice has been made and that this is the point of no return. Killing lawyers, journalists, civil activists, and human rights defenders will never be accepted as a minor issue in an otherwise modern and advanced state – that’s why China and Russia would like to have it watered down, or even washed away.

There was a time when assassination of dissenting minds, writers and journalists was not regarded as a major obstacle toward a trade agreement or a political and diplomatic settlement of a serious problem. Blessed will be the moment when it becomes not only an obstacle to Realpolitik, but also a major criterion to assess our partner’s credibility. For how was it possible to marginalize the cynical and sinister assassinations of the best of Russia’s dissenting elite and civil society – the fearless and noble-spirited women, such as Galina Starovoitova, Anna Politkovskaya, and Natalia Estemirova?

Secondly, we have to put it black on white that killing an opponent or showing forgiveness to those who premeditated and orchestrated political assassinations will never be accepted in the countries where civilized politics, freedom of expression, pluralism, and human rights are not empty phrases. We should not be confined to futile, albeit beautiful, rhetoric or lecturing on human rights while pursuing Realpolitik for the benefit of our oil and gas interests. There should be an instrument found not only to shame the Russian elite for a failure to stick to the rules of a civilized game, but also to preempt such a sinister practice as methodical incarceration, intimidation, or even killing of the opposition and dissenting citizens.  

And here I am getting to the point: the Magnitski list appears as a wake-up call and as nearly a perfect tool to fight the terror and crimes organized and committed without impunity or with the authorities’ eyes shut and turned blind. I have just recently heard a Chinese dissident say that crimes against humanity in China, such as live organ harvesting among the Falun Gong practitioners or torturing and killing of dissidents in labor camps and prisons, call for a similar action.

For countries like Russia and China badly need the list of their state-sponsored criminals.


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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