vendredi 12 juillet 2013

You can choose to be free, but it's the last decision you'll ever make*

Mr. Kryuchkov
By Rachel Burton
This is the story of Nikolay Kryuchkov, a Russian dissident, who has been stateless for 12 years. He has been seeking the Status of Stateless Person in Luxembourg since February 2008.

“How old do you think I am?” I guess 50. Smiling, Mr Kryuchkov corrects me, “I’m 66”.

“And for how long have you been stateless?” I ask.

“12 years.”

When still in Moscow, Mr Kryuchkov’s modest existence of an onion a day, Kasha (a porridge-like Russian dish), no drinking, no smoking and no drugs, may give the impression of a man younger than his years.  Though now he does not have even this, often surviving on just a cheese sandwich and a few cups of tea a day. However, here is a man who for over a decade has lived in limbo to the world with no country to call his own, no legal stance to make money, no home.

His story

It is extremely hard to reduce a lifetime to just a few words.  As Mr Kryuchkov says himself, his life story would make an excellent novel: both shocking and entertaining for others to read, a hell to live.

It is his parentage that adds another interesting layer to Mr Kryuchkov’s story. He was born in 1946 in Moscow to famous soviet film star parents. His Father, also named Nikolay Kryuchkov, was Comrade Stalin’s favourite actor. His mother Alla Parfanyak, a popular Soviet actress, remarried to his step-father, Mikail Ulyanov, one of the most recognizable Soviet actors and an important political figure as Permanent Member of the Central Revisional Committee of the Communist Party. 

His father, the famous soviet actor Nikolay
Kryuchkov, appears on stamps in Russia.
Unlike his model Soviet family, from an early age Mr Kryuchkov openly challenged Soviet authority. In school he refused to join the communist youth group (KOMSOMOL) and later began campaigning for Human Rights. In 1975, alongside Andrei Tverdokhlebov, co-founder of the Soviet branch of Amnesty International, and Vladimir Khlebanov, he was in the process of setting up an Independent Labour Union. This action was the first of its kind and provoked the Solidarity movement in Poland 5 years later. However, before this could take off, Mr Kryuchkov was severely beaten and hospitalized for over 2 months. His colleagues were both arrested, with one being exiled and the other sent to a mental institute. Mr Kryuchkov avoided arrest as it would have been a terrible scandal to arrest the son of this famous Soviet family. This still did not prevent the abuse and espionage that shrouded his life in the Soviet Union.

Appalled with the treatment of citizens in the country where he was born and raised; in 1974 Mr Kryuchkov first requested to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet that his Soviet citizenship be taken away from him. However, this was not granted until much later on in Mr Kryuchkov’s story.

The price he has had to pay for denouncing inhumane treatment in his native country is a life of unrest.

With the promise of eventually going to the USA, in 1987 he was invited by friends at Radio Liberty in Munich to move to Germany with his 7 year old son. After 2 years of difficulty and initial rejection from the visa department, Mr Kryuchkov and his son were eventually granted permission in 1989. Mr Kryuchkov immediately applied for political asylum in Germany and for a visa to the USA. Both were rejected. After nearly 7 years living in Germany, the final 2 clandestinely, Mr Kryuchkov was arrested and then sent back to Moscow in 1996. His son was allowed to stay in Germany and was adopted by one of his school teachers.

When back in what had now become Russia, Mr Kryuchkov’s troubles with the FSB (secret police) continued and he was under constant surveillance.

Early in 2000, he wrote a statement to the General Prosecutor, in which he described all of the violations against him by the FSB and requested that his case be investigated and the FSB punished. Nothing happened.

"I consider it impossible to be a citizen of such lawless secret service state!"- Mr Kryuchkov's statement to Putin in early 2000, one month after he became President.

In early 2000, Mr Kryuchkov wrote to Mr Putin requesting that his Russian citizenship be revoked, citing the violations committed by the FSB and stating “I consider it impossible to be a citizen of such lawless secret service state!” This was granted in 23rd December 2000.

Mr Kryuchkov's Residence Permit
for Person Without Citizenship
After becoming stateless, Mr Kryuchkov lived in terrible poverty. Between 1998 and 2005, he tried to leave Russia 3 times visiting every single embassy and requesting a visa. It was only in 2005 after he sold his flat in Moscow that he finally succeeded.

Georgia was the first (and what would be the only) country to welcome Mr Kryuchkov and provide him with a visa. He arrived in October 2005 and during the 4 months of living there visited every single embassy requesting a visa. He was rejected by everyone apart from Iran. His ticket to Iran made a stopover at Amsterdam. Never having the intention of making a life for himself in Iran, Mr Kryuchkov immediately requested political asylum in Amsterdam airport. He spent 8 months in a closed camp for asylum seekers where he was held in prison-like conditions and was not permitted to leave the premises. His asylum plea was rejected and Mr Kryuchkov was given 24 hrs to leave the country. Little did he know that this was just the start of his Kafkaesque odyssey across half of Europe.

Since then he has been shipped between Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, no country prepared to grant him status as a stateless person. No one knowing exactly how to handle this particular case of a stateless person. More often than not, the solution would be to arrest Mr Kryuchkov.

“I would be transported unwillingly, sometimes forcefully, to the border. Border police would be there waiting for me and would immediately arrest me for ‘illegal entrance’”

During the last 7 years, Mr Kryuchkov has been imprisoned 11 times in the following countries: Germany (x1), Holland (x4), Luxembourg (x4) and Switzerland (x2). He has been expelled from Luxembourg to Holland alone 4 times.

Mr Kryuchkov has had to endure an endless cycle of seeking the status of a stateless person, then rejection, ejection and, more than likely, imprisonment. He has spent most of this time homeless, sometimes living in airports or in the ‘fresh air’, shunned from refugee centres for not being a refugee and not entitled to stay in homeless shelters because he has no social rights.

“My civil rights were violated in Russia, that’s why I rejected my Russian citizenship, but here, I have no rights at all. Nothing to reject.”

What are you to do when the world won’t accept you as a citizen and permit you to have a home, an income, a life of your choosing? Mr Kryuchkov jokes “I have no place on this… planet.”

Mr Kryuchkov is still seeking the Status of Stateless Person in Luxembourg (since February 2008). He would like to write a book about his life, but his ‘living’ conditions at the moment make this practically impossible.

*Quote by Franz Kafka

What is stateless? –definition according to the UNHCR
Nationality is a legal bond between a state and an individual, and statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any state.
Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights.
(Stateless individuals) are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they could be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment.


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