On Sept. 19, 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists were arrested in Russia for protesting at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, where gas giant Gazprom hopes to become the first company to extract oil from the Arctic. One of the arrested activists is Dima Litvinov ’86 who, along with the other “Arctic 30,” remains detained in Murmansk on charges of piracy, which can carry a sentence of up to 15 years of jail time.
“When they got to Murmansk there was quite a large gathering of international diplomats there because there were 18 different nationalities on board,” said Greenpeace representative Keiller MacDuff. “They were allowed to meet with the crew, the activists, and the two independent journalists who were on board.”
MacDuff noted that Dima Litvinov is in a unique situation, particularly given that his family members formerly fled Soviet Russia as dissidents. His father, Pavel Litvinov, also has a history of activism in Russia and was involved in the 1968 Red Square demonstration in Moscow during the Prague Spring.
“I think he’s in an interesting situation because even though he’s lived [in the U.S.], he’s [also] lived in Russia, [and] he has a Swedish passport as well,” she said. “He’s kind of like an international citizen, but at the same time he has very intricate historical ties to Russia and to the politics of it.”
Dima Litvinov attended the University from 1980-1986 and graduated with a BA/MA in anthropology. His classmate Kelly Washburn ’87 recalled his history of involvement with social activism.
“Dima was political and concerned with social justice when we were at Wes, but it was not the center of his life as it was for me and many of our friends,” Washburn wrote in an email to The Argus. “You would not have pegged him as the one to dedicate his life, and risk it over and over, for some 20 years now. But he was always passionate, adventurous, and jumped in the deep end of any pool with both feet.”
Shortly after graduation, Dima Litvinov became involved with Greenpeace as a campaigner and project coordinator. Until his arrest, he worked in the Greenpeace office in Stockholm, Sweden.
Pavel Litvinov said that he finds the situation unlawful.
“Russia is a country which I hope will change from Soviet times when I was an active dissident, and they are not supposed to put people in prison for speaking out their mind,” Pavel Litvinov said. “It’s definitely a violation of the law, and it shows that Putin and the Russian oil giant Gazprom are trying to shut off all the people who criticize their politics and global warming.”
Pavel Litvinov recalled an earlier instance of his son’s activism, when he participated in a similar protest in 1990. Greenpeace sent a ship to the storage location of the Soviet Union’s nuclear bombs and suggested that Dima Litvinov, who spoke Russian, be on board.
“Of course, Dima was hasty to do it, because it was adventure and interesting and so on, and he went on that Greenpeace ship,” Pavel Litvinov said. “On the way back they were arrested. Because it was different times, they didn’t put them in prison. [Then Soviet statesman Mikhail] Gorbachev personally sent a telegraph saying ‘Release the Greenpeace activists,’ so they left as victors.”
Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated at a Sept. 25 forum on Arctic affairs that the Arctic 30 should not be facing charges of piracy.
“I don’t know the details of what went on, but it’s completely obvious they aren’t pirates,” Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax Information Services Group.
MacDuff said that Greenpeace was surprised when Putin’s public statement did not result in the detainees’ release.
“I don’t know a great deal about Russian politics, but I’d always figured that someone like him would run the country with an iron fist, and what he says goes,” she said. “A lot of people were surprised a couple of days later when they ordered everyone detained for two months, until Nov. 24.”
Though Greenpeace maintains that the Arctic 30 are being charged unfairly, the organization is not hopeful that they will be released soon.
“What we want to happen is that they are released immediately,” MacDuff said. “As of [Oct. 14], there have been nine bail hearings; all of them have been refused. We have no reason to believe that the other 21 will be any different. I don’t think we’ll see them home any time soon.”
Washburn noted the complexity of the matter.
“There are multiple strands to be untangled here,” she wrote. “There is whether or not Greenpeace did something illegal. They are saying publicly that they are willing to face any warranted charges. Piracy is not a warranted charge by Russian or international law. There have been accusations that drugs were found on the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, but Greenpeace has a private Norwegian company search their vessels before going out on an action, so that they can verify that they are carrying nothing illegal, including drugs or arms.”
Along with Pavel Litvinov, Washburn believes that Dima Litvinov and the rest of the Arctic 30 are being held as scapegoats.
“The willingness to even raise this as a possible issue tells me that the Russian authorities are not concerned with law, but making an example of this crew, even by outright fraudulence,” Washburn wrote.
Pavel Litvinov emphasized the importance of awareness of this issue and hopes that University students will rally on behalf of the alumnus.
“Dima is in the Wesleyan tradition of liberal politics, and he dedicated his life for many years to fighting for those ideals,” Pavel Litvinov said. “If Wesleyan can get together and do some demonstration or letter or something to the American government—I think the government has to increase pressure and Wesleyan can help it. I would appreciate it if they do.”
Washburn similarly expressed her opinion that students should become educated about and involved in protesting the Arctic 30’s detainment.
“I ask every Wesleyan student, whether you agree with Greenpeace’s goals and tactics or not, or just aren’t sure, to take the time to think and talk about the role of non-violent confrontation, dissent and the law and social justice,” Washburn wrote. “Ask your professors to take some time in class to help explore the complexities. If you feel that the Arctic 30 are being unjustly persecuted, please take action. And then there is the simple concern of friends and family worried about the safety of one incredible person.”