After two months in prison in Russia, Greenpeace-activist Dima Litvinov has returned to Sweden. “It’s a fantastic feeling to be outside Russia. The fist knotted inside my stomach has let go,” he says.
But the anger over why he and the other activists were imprisoned in the first place, has not gone away. “They owe me an apology,” he said in an interview with Radio Sweden.
It was a typical, trademark Greenpeace action: a banner protesting against the drilling for oil in the Arctic was to be attached to an oil rig belonging to the Russian company Gazprom. In the end, the 28 activists, shadowed by two journalists, did not get that far.
Accused of “piracy”
Once detained, they were accused of “piracy”. This was later this was changed to “hooliganism”. They were only released – just before the New Year – when the Russian parliament decided they would be included in a more general amnesty.
“Amnesty is something that is given to criminals. That is basically what the Russian state said: ‘we think you are still very serious criminals but we are going to be so magnanimous that we will let you go’. And that just feels very wrong, that is not justice! They don’t owe me amnesty, they owe me an apology and maybe a medal,” says Litvinov.
He stresses that it was a peaceful protest in international waters, something that would perhaps “according to law” lead to a fine for disturbance of some euros. Instead the prison service and the legal system in Russia treated them “like a hardened criminal and a threat to Russia”.
And though the time in prison was physically difficult, it was the mental pressure that was the hardest.
“We were told we were going be sentenced to between 10 and 15 years. And for the first month we lived with that knowledge, that people are working towards locking us up for a long time. That was a very hard and pressing feeling,” he says.
Litvinov has worked with Greenpeace for some 25 years. Asked if he and the others in the so called Arctic 30 hadn’t expected something like this to happen, he says .
“Not really. As before every action, we do a very thorough analysis of possible consequences. We had 5 or 6 lawyers working on this before we sailed up to the Russian Arctic. Basically we had a lot of possible scenarios of how things could turn out, but nobody ever expected that we would get the treatment we got. Nobody ever thought we would be accused of piracy. It is an absurd accusation,” he says.
Their goal was “to tell the story about the threat that arctic drilling presents for global climate and for local environment”. Does he feel they have achieved their goal? In the end, they did get a lot of international attention.
“Certainly the exposure we got because of being locked up has created a platform for the story to be told,” he says. “That is very positive and I am very happy for that, that is not to say that we planned to pay the prize that we paid. But now that the price has been paid I am happy that the story has been told, because hopefully it will lead to a situation that Arctic oil drilling will be stopped”.
Dima Litvinov was born in the Soviet Union, his family the object of the regime’s wrath, when his father protested against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. As a result the family was sent to Siberia.
A few years later, they were expelled, and went to the US as refugees, when Dima was 12 years old. As an adult, he met his Swedish wife, and eventually settled here in 1994.
Denmark: Greenpeace Arctic oil campaign targets Danish Shell refinery, Radio Sweden
Russia: Greenpeace activists leave Russia after Putin’s amnesty, Reuters
United States: Greenpeace fined $15,000 for alleged violations while in Alaska waters, Alaska Dispatch