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Vladimir Kara-Murza, Courage and the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
5 min read
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Courage and the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
"Stone Poppy" at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by author. 

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We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more. Nikolai Krylenko
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In the glossary of my book The Tall Poppy Syndrome: The Joy of Cutting Others Down I define tall poppies and short or dwarf poppies.  One of my blogs discusses a Matilija TP because of its height and sturdiness. The following is an example of a Stone Poppy - one that cannot be cut down and will live perpetually.

Vladimir Alexeyevich Kara-Murza, the father of Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza, was born in 1959. He graduated from Moscow State University in 1981 and joined the faculty to teach history.  He refused state employment because he opposed and was a critic of the Leonid Brezhnev regime during the 1980s.

In 1992, he became a journalist-editor-correspondent on Russian TV under Boris Yeltsin's regime whose reforms he supported. One year later he joined the first independent (free-to-air) TV station, NTV, which the Russian government subjugated because of its content. In 2001, Kara-Murza joined TVS which was the first commercial TV station. The government seized this station a year later only to be reborn as TVS and shut down a year later by the Press Ministry.

In 2003, Kara-Murza finally found a stable home at RTVi - a private, global Russian-speaking multi-platform media company. He advocated for democratic reforms, human rights, and the rule of law in the country. Although he died from multiple medical complications in 2019, his legacy continues through his son,   Vladimir.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza was born in Moscow in September 1981 into the Kara-Murz family, descendants of a Tatar aristocrat who converted to Christianity in the 15th century AD. He is Jewish as is his mother who later remarried to an Englishman and moved the family to England. Kara-Murza received BA and MA degrees in history from Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

After obtaining his degree Kara-Murza stayed in London for several years. He worked as a London correspondent for a succession of Russian media outlets that focused on promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Russia during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In April 2004 Kara-Murza became the Washington bureau chief of the RTVi television network (a company his father worked for), which he held for the next nine years. On 1 September 2012, he was dismissed from this job.

In July 2012, Kara-Murza was denied access to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The ambassador claimed that Kara-Murza was no longer a journalist. The September 2012  dismissal as Washington bureau chief of RTVi was made public and he was on a "blacklist" and could not be employed as a journalist by any Russian media outlets. The reason for this ban was his advocacy for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act which the U.S. Congress was considering. Later, he would pitch similar laws to Canada and Europe.

On 25 July 2012, Kara-Murza testified before the U.S. Congress about human rights abuses in Russia. In a December 2012 article co-written with Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza reiterated their support for the Magnitsky Act. Later, both would pitch similar laws to Canada and Europe in 2012 and 2013.

The Magnitsky Act was signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 14, 2012. The act is officially known as the "Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012." It was named in honor of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who uncovered a massive corruption scheme involving Russian officials and was subsequently arrested, tortured, and died in custody in a Moscow prison in 2009.
The Magnitsky Act imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials believed to be responsible for human rights abuses and acts of corruption. It has been a point of contention between the United States and Russia and criticized by the Russian government.

The peripatetic Kara-Murza had also returned to Russia to continue his political activities despite the risks in the early 2000s. He became actively involved in various opposition movements and organizations, including the People's Freedom Party (PARNAS) and Open Russia, created to promote civil society and democracy in Russia while revoking Putin's grip on power. He headed their Open elections project designed to promote free and fair elections.

In early 2014 Kara-Murza stated that the average Russian opposed intervention in Ukraine by the Russian government, and that the world should respond by imposing sanctions against its perpetrators (Magnitsky-type sanctions). On 27 February 2015, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated near Red Square. Because Russia's law-enforcement agencies declined to investigate the killing, Kara-Murza in April 2015 presented a list of eight suspects to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the US Congress who were then added to the Magnitsky List.

In May 2015, Kara-Murza became ill in Moscow during a meeting in which he had eaten lunch. He was taken to a hospital where he went into a coma and kidney failure. Poison was a possibility and later confirmed by Western laboratories. He eventually recovered aided by a year of rehabilitation in America.  He returned to his work in Russia.

In February 2017, Kara-Murza was hospitalized with similar symptoms to his 2015 illness. He was treated at the same hospital by the same medical team who had saved his life. Poison was again suspected. Later he was flown to a hospital in Spain for further care. During his recovery, he also spent time in the United States and received support from U.S. officials and human rights organizations.

In April 2018, United States Senator John McCain messaged Kara-Murza about his brain cancer diagnosis and requested that he be a pallbearer at his funeral. They worked together on Russian issues for nearly a decade. He would join fourteen other pallbearers at McCain's funeral at the Washington National Cathedral on 1 September.

On Monday 11 April 2022, Kara-Murza was arrested for disobeying police orders. The real reason for the arrest was his denouncement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a March 15 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives. Charges of treason were eventually added. On 17 April 2023, he was convicted on charges of treason and spreading disinformation about the Russian military, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was sent to Omsk in Siberia, around 1,700 miles from Moscow.

Kara-Murza's future is bleak. The 42-year-old still suffers the effects of his two poisonings. He is repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. Medical care is most likely mediocre.

Kara-Murza sent a March letter from prison to the Wall Street Journal  (April 12, 1944 - "Another Russian Dissident Puts Like on Line" by Matthew Luxmoore). He stated: "If you're calling on your fellow citizens to stand up to the system, you have to lead by example, and share the risks." He added that three things keep him going: his Christian faith, a sense he is on the right side of history, and a strong conviction that Putin's government will collapse.

WOW! He sounds like an American from the bygone era of the Greatest Generation.

Kara-Murz and Navalny knew they could be tall poppied - through murder or deplorable conditions in distant prisons for challenging Putin's authority. Both had the courage, fortitude, selflessness, justice and moral courage to return to Russia after their poisoning.

While Russia makes Tall Poppies (Stone Poppies) and heroes America makes equity, runt poppies and self-righteous hypocrites.

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.