Remembering Mikhail Timenchik

14 June 2013 

Nikolai Gladkikh

Seven years ago Mikhail Davidovich Timenchik left us. Director of the Fulcrum Foundation, he was one of the activists of the Russian-American Project Group on Human Rights. He was only 54 years old when he died suddenly on 14 June 2006 ...The words of Larisa Bogoras about Misha come to mind: "He was a rare combination of business efficiency and personal kindness ...”

Mikhail Timenchik was born on 1 June 1952 in Riga. For one year (1969-1970) he studied at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics in the University of Tartu. He then returned to Riga and from 1970 to 1981 he worked as an electrician at the Riga experimental factory "Impulse". In 1981, he moved to Moscow. He worked as a technical staff member in a copying center, a senior engineer in the project department of the Giproteatr State Planning Institute of the USSR Ministry of Culture. He developed technical props and scenery for film and theatre (for example, an old telephone that travelled on the floor for the Riga Film Studio; a device to make soap bubbles for the Hermitage Theatre, and so on). In 1991 he was working as a software engineer at the Memorial Society in Moscow. From the mid-1990s he was the outstanding organizer and director of a small grants programme to support civil society at the Russian-American Human Rights Group, and from 1999 he was the founder and director of the Fulcrum Foundation.

He did translations for the publisher of the Moscow Patriarchate. He wrote an introduction to a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle by J. Carr (1989). He participated in the publication of biography in photographs of Anna Akhmatova (Moscow, 1989). In 1994 he published a translation of The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes (1994). He translated Amanda Haight’s book Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage. He took part in the preparation of a five-volume edition of Anna Akhmatova’s work. He died unexpectedly on 14 June 2006.

June 2006
: A great many people came to the Vvedenskoe Cemetery to bid farewell to Mikhail Timenchik. Together with members of Mikhail’s large family, more than 200 people gathered there: friends, children of friends, and colleagues. Among them were the poets Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Anatoly Naiman and Mikhail Eisenberg; researchers Victor Zhivov, Nikolai Kotrelev, Aleksandr Ospovat, Nikita Okhotin, Aleksandr Parnis, Marietta Chudakov and Aleksei Shmelev; the writer Liudmila Ulitskaya; journalists Masha Slonim and Zoe Svetova; the critic Andrei Nemzer; sculptors Andrei Krasulin and Dmitry Shakhovskoi; the artist Petr Pasternak; and the publisher Dmitry Itskovich. Among human rights defenders and members of Memorial present were Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Boris Belenkin, Yuri Dzhibladze, Larissa Eremina, Tatiana Lokshina, Lyudmila Vakhnina, Svetlana Gannushkina, Valentin Gefter, Aleksander Daniel, Elena Zhemkova, Sergei Krivenko, Oleg Orlov, Arseny Roginsky, Nikolai and Yulia Sereda, Lyudmila Kabanoav, Maria Chertok and many, many others. For nearly three hours, while the ceremony lasted, those present stood in silent grief. Although at times there was a light drizzle rain, in the cemetery grove birds sang continuously. The funeral service in the Orthodox rite was conducted by Father Stefan. Mikhail’s tomb was completely covered with flowers: white carnations with a cross of red roses. 

Marietta Chudakova spoke words of farewell at the graveside: "Everything that we feel and think can be seen in our faces. There are many clever people, many wonderful people, but few add to this what Misha had – an amazingly kind and warm character that conquered the heart and the soul. From an early age, since boyhood, when I saw him for the first time, and until the end of his life. What brings us together today, apart from love for his family, is this amazing quality of his that he radiated every day, every hour, every minute – at every meeting. We all loved him, and that is why it is so sad that he has left us before his time." 

"When I first met him, he was 13 years old,” said Natalia Gorbanevskaya. “And he remained for the rest of his life as young as that boy. When he was already a grown and fully independent person, we did not notice this for a long time, he still seemed to us to be Roma’s younger brother. And then we discovered that indeed he was he was a very independent person. During his last years, when I began to spend some time in Moscow, when he and Marisha visited Paris, we became very good friends. And I am saying farewell to a very close friend. But I think that many of those who did not know him so long can also say the same thing. Very close and very dear, smiling and laughing - let's remember Misha like that." 

After the service, a wake followed at the offices of Memorial. Below we cite a number of the short speeches given in memory of Mikhail. 

Literary critic Nikolai Kotrelev: "The longer this day goes on, the more we understand that in the world – in my world, and I think, in the world of each of us – something irreparable and irrevocable has happened. I walked around the photos of Misha here and I realized how much we have lost. I realized this not there, at the cemetery, but here. 

I recognize everyone or almost everyone here. If not because I know everyone, but because I recognize in the faces that I see that this is someone’s son, and that is someone’s daughter. And by the general impression of the faces that makes all of us friends and people on the same circle. The more we say goodbye to people, the more we realize that we ourselves are diminished. We understand that we are moving in a space in which you remember a person, we remember their smile, we are grateful that they came, and are glad to have met. We cannot escape this, and it is called: THE WAY OF ALL EARTH. And all that remains is to say to ourselves that now that person has a place in our memory, and God willing, we have a place in that person’s. God rest his soul!"

Poet, translator and memoirist, Anatoly Naiman: "The deceased does not completely lend himself to the words that are usually spoken at funerals. Of all the people I've met in the world in all the years of my life, Mikhail was the only person who was just what his first name and family name meant: he was simply Misha Timenchik. And then, with what dignity he was simply Misha Timenchik, and how that distinguishes him - I will say from me, but I think from all of us. I remembered how on television once they showed one of the anniversaries of Memorial and suddenly he was in the camera. As soon as he saw the camera, he immediately disappeared altogether from the screen. I would say that this was some kind of mission of his - he was nowhere in sight. And at the same time, he was the very centre of what was happening – and I can say in my life as well." 

Aleksei Korotaev, the International League for Human Rights: "We knew each other over the last ten years. And our first acquaintance was purely business in nature, but gradually I fell under the spell of his personality. Mikhail was perhaps the most unpretentious man of all the people I have met, if not in life, then in the field in which I have worked. He was someone who just cringed when some kind of presentation had to be made, something had to be performed or represented. But notwithstanding, he really did a very great deal. He created a whole network throughout Russia, he brought people together, working as he did in the field of human rights education. I would also like to point out that he translated a great deal. 

I'll tell you a story. We were in England at a symposium by the Ford Foundation. They kept us busy strictly until six in the evening, and then we went for a walk around the college. But at six everything was closing. We were walking along, and on an arch was written: the college garden is open to visitors until 6pm. We looked at each other: "But we don’t understand English, do we? - No, we don’t understand!" - And off we went to visit the gardens! One evening we were walking along a narrow street when Misha suddenly said: ‘There they are, damn them!’ ‘Who?, I asked. ‘Look!’ he says. ‘Where?’ I ask. ‘Look on the roof!’ ‘I can only see chimneys…’ The thing was that in England on roofs there are traditional brick chimneys. And there are a dozen clay chimneys hidden inside them, each one from a separate fireplace. ‘Oh, how much trouble those chimneys gave me!’ he said. ‘I was translating John Dickson Carr. You see, each of these chimneys has a different name. And the covers on the chimneys also have their own names. I had so much troublt trying to come up with a Russian word for each chimney. But in the end I think I managed OK. And here they are, the bastards!" 

Photographer Nikolai Sereda, Ryazan Memorial: "I want to say something as one of the grantees of the wonderful Fulcrum Foundation. One of first grants our organization received came via Misha from the Project Team on Human Rights, and the latest, on which we are working at present, also has his support. Thanks to him, we started a whole new direction of work - a photo exhibition on human rights. On one of them I'm working right now, about political repression in the Soviet era in Ryazan region. His grants literally acted as a fulcrum for our work, and for many other Russian organizations, for which we are infinitely grateful." 

Historian Arseny Roginsky: "In the spring of 1964 I went to Riga and visited Roma at home. I remember what we talked about. I talked about what bothered me then – that I did not understand at all what people at the beginning of the XIX century were like, and whether or not a person like me, with roots in the small Jewish towns in the Pale of Settlement, could at all hope to understand Russian aristocratic culture? Roma was explaining something to me. And at that moment a boy burst into the room who began squabbling, on the defensive, with his ​​mother. She shouted something at him, and he back at her - in Yiddish, "my" very own language from the shtetl, and also completely incomprehensible to me. Roma grabbed his head, and I did the same, although I did not understand what was going on, and that is how Mikha, Mishka - Mikhail Davidovich Timenchik – came into my life, one of the people best loved by all of us. I was 18 years old then, and he was 12.

And the second thing I would like to say. Many of the people who knew Misha in completely different circumstances and times have come together here today. My friends, with whom I have spent the last 10-15 years, have no idea that Mikhail Davidovich Timenchik was someone or other’s younger brother. Whilst our old circle of friends have no idea what Mikhail achieved over the past 15 years.

Did you know that Mikhail founded one of the most stable NGOs, which for a long time now has been supporting civil society in the Russian regions – something that half of those present do not believe in? In a huge range of cities the name "Misha Timenchik" is well-known and has a symbolic significance ... He obtained money from various foundations to support civic initiatives throughout Russia. Not in Moscow! – That was his principle.

I remember how he persuaded people: we must support those people who are fighting around the Techa River. Do you know what the Techa River is? Yes, this river is a horror of our first nuclear accident near Chelyabinsk, poisoning, genetic mutations ... The environmentalists there had never been supported by anyone until Misha gave them some money. Over the years he obtained and distributed millions! So that there, in the provinces, the first signs of independence could sprout . Independence from the bosses of the past and the present. This was the idea to which he was fanatically devoted. He did an extraordinary amount, as very few people have done! These people who came to him from the provinces as their only hope still do not know about his death. And how hard this death will be for them.

The third thing, is about myself. In Misha’s presence it was impossible to be false. Not because he was a truth-seeker or something like that. It was just that he had so much taste, that next to him it was impossible to articulate some pathos, some nonsense such as "long live" or "down with."

And the fourth. Today, all the time I am thinking about it. There was a man next to us, among us, and which I and many others loved infinitely, and whom Misha infinitely loved. It Dima [Vadim Borisov]. There was Felix [Svetov]. There was Valya Ashkenazi. They died in recent years. One of the boys (children) today said to me, 'This is probably sacrilege, but I think it’s very good for them there together nowadays, they have something to say to each other.'  

Let's drink to the memory of all of them." 

Part of Arseny Roginsky’s toast on the attitude of the late Mikhail Timenchik to pathos was continued by Aleksandr Daniel : "I never heard Misha utter the words ‘human rights’ without adding after that, ‘pardon the expression’. "

Olga Rozpravkova
, chief accountant at the Fulcrum Foundation: "I worked with Misha from 1994 until 14 June this year, when this terrible event happened. We had so many plans!

We had no bosses or subordinates, we were all friends, and all our work was built on friendship. Misha had a very special sense of humor. I'm an emotional person, if I had any problems, I could come in to the office and start raising my voice. He always turned situations like that into a joke and we would begin to laugh together. He gave us all nicknames. He called me "Olgendra" Lena Knyazeva he called "Pimpedokla", and Elvira, whom many human rights organizations know as a very strict and meticulous accountant of whom they are very scared, he called "Elkondiya." We loved him so much that it would have been impossible to love him more. Probably the gods envied us."

Anna Borisova, daughter of one of Mikhail’s his close friends, the historian and contributor to the collection From Under the Rubble, Vadim Borisov: "Misha wrote amazing, subtle, poignant poems on whatever came to hand: on napkins, on scraps of paper. Yesterday I started to call everyone and ask who had any of his poems? I have something of them here. These poems sometimes are ironic, and sometimes lightly sarcastic, but deep and real, by a sensitive, vulnerable man. I'll read two of them.

The first is an SMS. I got it when travelling by bus from Riga to Moscow. Later I copied it out on paper. Yesterday rummaged through all my cupboards, and found it.

How much does a word on a beach weigh?
No more than a handful of sand.
It’s life is no longer than a ball thrown in the air.
But it has something special
For memory surreptitiously
Pours into it the Book of Job
Two or three favourite psalms
And the Book of Genesis.

And at the end he wrote: If this was rewritten, it could be a poem. 

And this one many know by heart, and for many of us it is, above all, the song for which Misha composed the lyrics and Sasha Doroshevich the music: 

Like a pronoun of time
An interjection of space
The village runs to the rhythm of dance
Along the pathway between the pines.

And there is no reason to lament,
That life’s fury is fading,
And to quietly wander back from the beach
To the melancholy clink of coins.

And looking from the dunes to the distance
Of past years, of course it is sad,
But let the sadness become thin
With the thickness of this white sand. 

Enough of acting the foreigner,
Who has seen this, is saved.
After all we can revisit the past,
As a child dreams sweetly.

Let the waltz take over from the tango,
Other winds are blowing us now,
But yet memory holds carefully 
The slightly distorted 'Labrit.'
 " *

Viktor Dzyadko:
"My friends are leaving, leaving, leaving. The fact that Misha left is impossible! For me, the chief quality he had was a fantastic tenderness. He found unusually warm words, his handshake, his voice on the phone, emitted an incredible kindness. And at the same time he was someone with so many talents: he translated, wrote poetry, he even made things out of pieces of wood that could be replicated and mass produced. He was like a Renaissance genius, and what an emptiness he has left behind…" 

Source: Institute of Human Rights

*'Good morning' in Latvian