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The Dauntless Girl With the Constitution: Nothing You Do Will Surprise Me

Photo by Vera Oleinikova

Amidst a widening Russian crackdown on dissent, 19-year-old Olga Misik - who two years ago was infamously arrested for reading aloud her country's constitution to a phalanx of glowering riot police at a pro-democracy rally - was sentenced Tuesday to two years of "freedom limitation" for vandalism at a protest with two other activists. Now a journalism student at Moscow University, Misik became a Tiananmen-Square-like symbol of resistance during 2019 protests against the barring of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and other dissidents from city elections when she sat on the pavement before rows of Terminator-looking special forces and calmly, defiantly read from the Russian Constitution. For many, the startling sight of a slight 17-year-old girl in sneakers and bullet-proof vest arrayed against Putin's thugs was instantly iconic, and she became known as the girl with the constitution; her fame spread when she was arrested in chilling video. It was then she met the two other activists - Ivan Vorobyovsky, now her best friend, and Igor Basharimov, now her boyfriend - with whom she's been on trial. During a subsequent protest last August against Navalny's arrest and abuse in prison, all three were charged with vandalizing a government building after they hung a banner and splashed red paint on a security booth outside the Prosecutor General’s Office. Prosecutors said they caused 3,500 rubles ($47) in damages; the defense argued the paint was water-soluble, no damage was done, and, in Misik's words, the case "is punishment for our thoughts."

This week, the court found the trio guilty. Basharimov and Vorobyovsky were sentenced to 21 months of "freedom limitation," while Misik was sentenced to two years; their curfews range from 10 or 11 at night to early morning. On April 29, Misik gave a blistering final statement to the court; widely shared on Russian social media, it prompted St. Petersburg artist Yuly Rybakov to write, "With such children, Russia does have a future!" In an English translation by Bard College student Yolka Gessen, Misik poignantly argued, "My future was already predetermined...I made the right choice, and the right choice in a totalitarian state always entails dire consequences." In sharp contrast, she blasted the court's cowardice: "When you sentence me, you are sentencing yourself...You know what goes on here. The Hague awaits all who had a hand in this chaos." Even with all her restrictions and detentions, she noted, "I'm going to keep saying and doing what I think is right, while you, sadly, lack that freedom. I always knew this would happen and was always prepared. Nothing you do will surprise me." Misik also confronted harsh life in Russia: "The knock on the door in the middle of the night, the arrests and imprisonment without reason or cause,” citing "the feeling of despair (that) is passed on to us through our mothers’ milk...Russia teaches us to always be afraid." She ended with two quotes about light - "I started with fear and will end with hope" - from Albus Dumbledore and Sophie Scholl, a German student executed by the Nazis: "The sun still shines." "The Nazi regime eventually crumbled, as will the fascist regime in Russia," she declared. "You will never prohibit freedom. You will not suppress the truth. I am not promising victory tomorrow, the day after, in a year, or 10. But someday we will win."

Золотая медалистка, 17-летняя Ольга Мисик. Как похорошела Москва при Сергей Семеныче Собянине

— Виталий С. (@vits2014) July 31, 2019

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet, Further columnist

Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, thinning the carrots, hauling too much water, experiencing true if ragged community, and writing. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

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