April 08, 2024

A Life of Protest: Soviet Dissident Arrested in St. Petersburg


A Life of Protest: Soviet Dissident Arrested in St. Petersburg
Skobov at a protest in 2018.  Vladimir Volokhonsky / BBC Russia

On April 4, when Alexander Skobov was arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with "justifying terrorism", it was far from the first time he had been detained for standing for his beliefs.

Joined in the courtroom by his friends, wife, and 90-year-old mother, Skobov was questioned in a private hearing before being sent to a pre-trial detention center until June 1. Officially, the cause for his arrest was a social media post with "justification for blowing up the Crimean Bridge." Unofficially, Skobov has been vocally and consistently anti-war and anti-regime for 50 years. 

Skobov, now 66, found himself under criminal investigation for the first time in 1978, after being caught distributing the samizdat magazine Perspectives (Perspektivy) as a university student. This was the first time he was tried for "anti-Soviet agitation." Skobov endured a cumulative seven years in psychiatric hospitals, a common punishment for dissidents in the Soviet Union which continues in modern-day Russia.

Skobov was tried again for anti-Soviet agitation in 1988. He has the dubious honor of being the last person ever to be charged with this crime in the Soviet Union. 

Vladimir Volokhonsky, a municipal deputy in St. Petersburg and the son of an old dissident friend of Skobov, said that Skobov refused to leave Russia even as arrest became more and more inevitable, "otherwise he felt his words were not as valuable." Volokhonsky continued, "Naturally, I’m scared for him. It seems to me that for him this is the most worthy and beautiful ending to his life. But I say this, and tears flow from my eyes."

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