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The Kremlin’s Attacks Against Dissident Voices: Gary Shteyngart in Conversation with Mariana Katzarova, Sergei Davidis, and Elena Kostyuchenko


This panel will be moderated by Gary Shteyngart and feature UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation Mariana Katzarova, co-chair of HRC Memorial Sergei Davidis, and exiled Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko. Kostyuchenko, who has criticized the invasion of Ukraine and extensively reported on Russian war crimes in the spring of 2022 is also well known for her LGBTQ+ activism. She abruptly fell ill on a train to Berlin last fall, in a case leading German authorities to investigate a suspected poisoning attempt. Shteyngart, Katzarova, Davidis, and Kostyuchenko will discuss topics of free expression, human rights, and the closing space for dissent in Russia.

RSVP will close at noon ET on October 23 or when we reach capacity.


Gary Shteyngart is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Little Failure (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist) and the novels Super Sad True Love Story (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Lake Success, Absurdistan, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (winner of the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction). His books regularly appear on best-of lists around the world and have been published in thirty countries. His latest novel, OUR COUNTRY FRIENDS, was an instant New York Times bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, Kirkus Review, and others.

Elena Kostyuchenko was born in Yaroslavl, Russia, in 1987. She began working as a jour­nalist when she was fourteen and spent seventeen years reporting for Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s last major indepen­dent newspaper.

In March 2022 she crossed into Ukraine to cover the horrors committed in Russia’s name; Novaya Gazeta was shut down in the spring of 2022 in response to her reporting. Returning home now would likely mean prosecution and up to fifteen years in prison.

She is also the author of two books published in Russian, Unwanted on Probation and We Have to Live Here, and is the recipient of the European Press Prize, the Free Media Award, and the Paul Klebnikov Prize.

Ms. Mariana Katzarova (Bulgaria) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation by the UN Human Rights Council on 4 April 2023. She officially assumed her function on 1 May 2023. Ms. Katzarova led the UN Human Rights Council mandated examination of the human rights situation in Belarus, in 2021-22. During the first 2 years of the armed conflict in Ukraine (in 2014-16), she led the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission team in Donbas as head of the regional office in Eastern Ukraine. For a decade she headed the Amnesty International investigations of human rights in Russia and the two Chechnya conflicts. With the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, she focused on the war in Bosnia and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Ms. Katzarova founded RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) in 2006 after working as a journalist and human rights investigator in the war zones of Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. At RAW, she established the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award for women human rights defenders working in war and conflict zones. She was Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on combating human trafficking, and a senior advisor at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was created by HRC Resolution 51/25 which cites concern over “the significant deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, in particular the severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association…resulting in systematic crackdowns on civil society organizations”. The Human Rights Council also expressed its concern “at the reported mass arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment of civil society representatives, the deterioration of the rule of law”, and “the mass forced shutdowns of civil society organizations and independent media outlets” among other restrictive measures.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Sergei Davidis is head of the Political Prisoners Support Programme of the Nobel Prize 2022 winner Memorial and the co-chair of the new informal formation created after the Russian authorities liquidated the Memorial human rights center by the decision of justice.

For many years Davidis has been responsible for compiling the lists of Russian political prisoners published by Memorial Human Rights Centre. He is an active participant and organizer of national and international advocacy for political prisoners.

Sergei Davidis studied sociology at Moscow State University and law at the Moscow State Law Academy. In 2019 he was a Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars.

He coordinated the report “Political prisoners and political repression in Russia in 2022” published by Memorial in English on 28 August 2023 and which main findings he will present at the event.