Библиотека Бориса Акунина
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Russian political prisoners answer 13 questions from Boris Akunin


First published in Russian by G.Sh. Chkhartishvili (Boris Akunin) on his website (, October 2023 English translation, edited and updated by Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formozov, March 2024

There are many political prisoners in Russia, and their number is only increasing. It’s axiomatic: the less freedom there is in a country, the more people are imprisoned for their beliefs. Before February 24, 2022, the authorities usually sentenced political prisoners on far-fetched criminal charges. Now political repression has become blatant. People are jailed for speaking out, for writing on social networks, for any form of civil protest. The security services have become very active, and in order to demon-strate vigilance and distinguish themselves before their superiors, they often grab random people and fabricate a “case”. 

This is all some kind of perennial Russian déjà-vu, a recurring bad dream. 

The only thing that can counteract the onslaught of the “arrestocracy” in a police state is solidarity with those who are behind bars. 

There are a few political prisoners who are remem-bered, whose names are on everyone’s lips. But there are a hundred times more who are little known or not known at all to the public. For these people it is especially hard. They 3 feel isolated, abandoned, forgotten. 

We can’t let that happen. 

Russia would not be Russia if there weren’t people who, despite all the risks, help political prisoners: they send food, clothes, books, and, most importantly, support them morally and correspond with them. 

A group of such volunteers asked me to write a letter to be sent to prisons and pre-trial detention centers. Their idea made sense: a letter from a famous person is proof that people care about your fate, that the world has not forgotten you. I wasn’t the only one who was approached and who agreed to take part in this campaign. But I came up with a counter proposal. 

At the time, I was conducting an AUTO-GRAPH survey of creative people. Thirteen simple yet difficult questions that reveal personality. I planned to publish an e-book of 13 chapters and all proceeds would go to a children’s hospice (Dom s mayakom) in Moscow. The book appeared and, I think, turned out to be very interesting. Some seemingly well-known people revealed themselves in an unexpected light.

Then it occurred to me that the same questions should be put to political prisoners, so that readers would see not some abstract “prisoners of conscience,” but real people. Readers would learn what they think and feel. And want to support them.

Boris Akunin