Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent his 50th birthday — June 26, 2013 — in a prison cell in Karelia, a northern Russian republic bordering Finland. The former oil tycoon was arrested in October 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion. In 2010, while serving out his first sentence, he was charged and convicted on charges of embezzlement from his oil company Yukos. Khodorkovsky maintains that the charges against him are politically motivated.
In a long interview that The New Times released to commemorate his birthday, Khodorkovsky, due to be released in 2014, was not optimistic about his chances for freedom [ru]:
А вообще мне уже трудно представить возможность освобождения: десять лет тюрьмы — не шутка.
But in general it is difficult for me to imagine the possibility of release: ten years in prison is no joke.
One commenter noted [ru]:
Непонятно, чего они боятся, почему не хотят их выпускать. Ходорковский, при всем уважении, никогда не собирался быть героем-освободителем.
I don’t understand what they [the authorities] are afraid of, why they don’t want to release them [Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev]. Khodorkovsky, with all due respect, was never going to be a hero-liberator.
Meanwhile, a poll recently released by Levada Center [ru] found that 33% of Russians support an early release. When asked why they thought Khodorkovsky remained in prison, 47% of respondents thought it was because the authorities did not want him freed. However, Levada also reported that nearly 90% of Russians are not interested in and do not care about Khodorkovksy.
In Moscow, a group of approximately 200 gathered with placards to celebrate Khodorkovsky’s birthday, and draw attention to his imprisonment. Police later detained and promptly released more than 40 participants for holding an unsanctioned rally, a charge the organizers denied. Another protest in Tomsk attracted a paltry 40 people in total.
Many people sent Khodorkovsky online birthday messages. His press service gave people the opportunity to post messages of 140 characters online. It also published video messages from around the world.
Opposition blogger Alexey Navalny wished Khodorkovsky “health & freedom” [ru] for his birthday.
Navalny’s short LiveJournal post garnered 881 comments, some of which were critical:
не нравится мне выделение ходорковского из кучи других несправедливо осужденных. Мы его хотим поздравить потому что он богатый?
I don’t like singling out of Khodorkovsky from the many others wrongfully convicted. Are we congratulating him because he is rich?
Пусть сидит. И всех его бывших товарищей-олигархов к нему туда.
Let him [remain in prison]. And all of his other fellow oligarchs can join him.
There were also some well-wishers, however:
C днем рождения! Здоровья и сил! И свободы, конечно. Не только внутренней
Happy Birthday! Health and strength! And freedom, of course. Not only internal [freedom].
Каковы бы ни были реальные грехи Ходорковского, желаю ему стойкости и веры в то, что правосудие свершится.
Whatever the real sins of Khodorkovsky, I wish him strength and faith that justice will be done.
Nearly 10 years after his arrest and conviction, Russian society remains largely apathetic about Khodorkovsky. Those who do care are divided about both his guilt and its consequences.