Where Russia's Honest Ones Go to Die: Dolmatov's Suicide

On the morning of January 17, 2013, Russian political refugee Alexander Dolmatov was found having hanged himself in a solitary cell of a Dutch deportation center. Dolmatov left Russia last summer [ru], believing himself to be under observation by Russian security forces and in danger of arrest for participation in a May 6, 2012, Moscow rally that turned violent. He was also a long-time natsbol—a card-carrying member (card #3056 [ru]) of the National Bolsheviks, Eduard Limonov's radical opposition party. Although National Bolshevik political activity has been banned for several years, many former members participate in Limonov's current project, Other Russia.

January 18, 2013 — Other Russia members picket in front of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow. YouTube screenshot. January 26, 2013.

Dolmatov's involvement with the opposition, as well as his day-job as a rocket engineer at a military plant, make the case murky, to say the least. The actions of the Dutch authorities are unclear, but there has clearly been a lack of oversight on their part [ru]. Dolmatov's original petition for refugee status in the Netherlands was denied, and his lawyer was in the middle of an appeals process. Nevertheless, after the denial he was moved to a deportation center, where he was kept in isolation. While in the Netherlands, Dolmatov apparently attempted suicide twice, prior to this third, successful effort. 

The news and the somewhat mysterious circumstances of Dolmatov's death quickly captured the attention of Russian netizens, not in the least because much of the story developed online. On the morning of January 18, Dolmatov's former natsbol colleague, the writer Sergey Shargunov, tweeted [ru] that he was with Dolmatov's mother and they had just read his suicide note. Shargunov continued [ru]:

Его довели до самоубийства. Если это было самоубийство. Пишет, что уходит, чтобы не выглядеть предателем.((

He was driven to suicide. If this was suicide. He writes that he is leaving so as not to appear a traitor.((

Popular journalist Oleg Kashin immediately requested [ru] a picture, repeating Shargunov's emoticon-punctuation:

@shargunov Сфотографируй текст(

@shargunov Take a photograph of the text(

Shargunov complied, and Kashin posted the photographs as an album on his Facebook account [ru], leaving out a page for privacy's sake. According to Kashin [ru], Shargunov saw a copy of the note—a scan that a Dutch lawyer had emailed to Dolmatov's mother. The text of the note was also posted on Facebook [ru] by Denis Solopov, another Russian political refugee living in the Netherlands:

Мама мамулечка! Я ухожу, чтоб не возвращаться предателем, опозорив всех. весь нашь род. Так бывает. Выдержи. Я прошу тебя. Я с тобой тот, что был раньше. [Page missing] что довело меня до бегства из России. лень и разгильдяйство не дали изучить новые законы. Я предал честного человека, предал безопасность Родины. Пусть М(…) переезжает к нам. ничего, вы выдержите. Это лучший вариант. Живи с ним. В России скаж(…) что просто несчастный случай. Покеда. Верьте в Бога. Не слушайте всякий деятеле(..) Россия сильна, как ни одна другая страна и будет только сильней. Жить в России гораздо лучше чем где бы то нибыло. Если это возможно отправти моё тело в Россию.

Mother, mommy! I'm leaving so as not to return a traitor, having shamed everyone. our entire kin. It happens. Stay strong. I ask this of you. I'm with you, the same as I was before. [Page missing] what lead me to escape Russia. laziness and carelessness kept me from studying the new laws. I betrayed an honest man, betrayed national security. Let M(…) move in with us. it's ok, you'll be fine. This is the best option. Live with him. In Russia say that it was just an accident. Bye-bye. Have faith in God. Don't listen to any “figures.” Russia is strong, stronger than any other country, and will only get stronger. Living in Russia is much better than living anywhere else. If it's possible, send my body to Russia.

Domlatov's note is strange, even haphazard. His talk of betraying national security, a strong Russia, shame, and patriotism has struck some people as particularly odd. Of course, in the current climate of suspicion and paranoia, there is but a short jump from suspicion to accusations of Kremlin involvement. One of Kashin's readers commented [ru]:

Мне кажется, в случае с Долматовым тоже есть рука спецслужб, по крайней мере предсмертная записка оставляет такое впечатление. Я не верю, что человек может изменить свои взгляды настолько быстро, поэтому возможно ему в этом помогли.

It seems to me that the security forces also had a hand in Dolmatov's case—at least the suicide note leaves this impression. I can't believe that a man can change his views so quickly, so, maybe someone helped him in that regard.

Another reader, Svetlana Chulkova, just couldn't believe [ru] that someone with such a pleasant face could write the note. Journalist and blogger Alexander Archangelsky also thought, based on the “style” of Dolmatov's language [ru], that the note was dictated to him or someone forged it.

Oleg Kashin, on the other hand, reminded [ru] everyone that Dolmatov's language fits in with National Bolshevik ideology:

Дорогие креаклы, имейте все-таки в виду, что у нацболов лозунг “Россия все, остальное ничто” […] если нацбол пишет в предсмертной записке, что любит Россию – это не потому, что его пытали, а потому, что он ее действительно любит.

Dear creacls [ru], bear in mind that the natsbol slogan is “Russia is everything, the rest is nothing” […] if a natsbol writes in a suicide note that he loves Russia—it's not because he was tortured, but because he actually loves it.

Statements from Dolmatov's mother appear to support this interpretation. In a conversation with journalist and blogger Oksana Chelysheva, she mentioned that [ru]:

Понимаете, он там, в Голландии, последнее время очень просился домой. Говорил мне: “Мама, я приеду. Хочу домой”. Я говорила: “Саша, не смей. Тебя тут схватят”.

You see, there, in Holland, he has recently been very homesick. He told me: “Mom, I'll come back. I want to come home.” I told him: “Sasha, don't you dare. You'll be arrested here.”

Meanwhile, Eduard Limonov, Dolmatov's ideological leader, seems less sure [ru] about the note:

Записка видимо частично подлинная, но какие.то странички, по моему мнению, дописаны.

The note is probably partially genuine, but, in my opinion, some of the pages have been added to.

This hasn't stopped Limonov from publishing half a dozen blog posts, claiming that pressure from western security forces to divulge national security materials caused the suicide. Limonov believes Dolmatov's rocket engineering background was key [ru]:

После опубликования предсмертной записки Саши Долматова стало ясно что его допрашивали голландские а возможно и натовские спецслужбы. 

Sasha Dolmatov's suicide note makes it clear that he was interrogated by Dutch and perhaps NATO secret services.

Limonov later elaborated [ru]:

Дебрифинг- это серия допросов осуществляемых спецслужбами, для выкачивания информации. Этот метод тяжелой обработки применяют к разведчикам, военнослужащим или обладающим секретной информацией. Долматова подвергли именно такой обработке.

Debriefing is a series of interrogations performed by secret services to pump for information. This method of heavy handling is administered to intelligence officers, the military, or those who have secret information. Dolmatov was subjected precisely to this handling.

As a consequence, Limonov has declared that Dolmatov is the thirteenth member of the National Bolshevik party to die by “homicide.” [ru]

Although some other bloggers [ru] and human rights activists [ru] agree with Limonov's reading that Dolmatov was pressured to give up state secrets and was not willing to comply, others have pointed out that he couldn't really have had access to any such secrets. According to blogger Valera Streltsov [ru], Dolmatov had the lowest level [ru] of security clearance possible, which did not even preclude him from traveling out of the country:

Я сам учился по данной специальности в МАИ. Так вот, всей нашей группе автоматом давали третью степень секретности. При ней совершенно свободно можно выезжать за границу и загранпаспорт не забирают на работе. […] На данном заводе, только два цеха секретные. Работа на них – автоматом присвоение второй степени секретности. Следовательно, Саша там не работал.

I myself specialized in the same field at MAI. And guess what? Our entire group was automatically given third level security clearances. With that, you can freely travel outside of the country and no one takes away your foreign passport at work. […] At the given factory, there are only two secret departments. If you work in one of them—it's an automatic second level security clearance. This means that Sasha did't work there.

If it wasn't the pressure from the NATO intelligence, why did Dolmatov kill himself? Isolation from friends and family, pessimism about the chances of getting refugee status, and the ineptitude of emigration bureaucracy are probably enough reasons to make a man despair. But, even if his story was less Bond and more Kafka, it is no less tragic for it. Eurosocialist blogger Pavel Pryanikov thinks [ru] that the tragedy is a teaching moment for the Russian opposition:

Забудьте вы о том, что “заграница нем поможет”. Может, Чичваркину, банкиру Бородину, ворам из ЮКОСа и пр. из этой когорты она и поможет. Но не вам – честным людям.

Forget about “help from abroad.” Maybe there will be help for [former cellphone tycoon Yevgeny] Chichvarkin, the banker Borodin, the thieves from Yukos, and the rest of that gang. But not for you—not for the honest folk.


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