Posts Tagged ‘former soviet union’

Human right defender Sergei Kovalev died

August 19, 2021

One of Russia’s most famous human rights defenders and former Soviet dissident, Sergei Kovalev, died aged 91 on Monday 9 August 2021 his family said. He won 9 international human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7B15D0E9-FDB2-4727-B94F-AA261BDB92D9

Kovalev was a biologist who became one of the leading members of the USSR’s pro-democracy movement. He was held for years in Soviet labour camps for his activism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a fierce critic of Moscow’s war in Chechnya and warned against democratic backsliding when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

His son Ivan Kovalev said on Facebook that his father died “in his sleep” in the early hours of Monday morning.

Russian rights group Memorial, which Kovalev co-founded, said he was “faithful to the idea of human rights always and in everything — in war and peace, in politics and every day life”.

The leading rights organisation — which has been labelled a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities under a controversial law — said Kovalev had campaigned for human rights since the 1960s. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/04/26/russia-pursues-its-policy-of-labeling-human-rights-defenders-as-foreign-agents/

As a biology student, Kovalev had dreamed of devoting himself exclusively to science.

But he changed his mind after the arrests of dissident writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky.

“I then understood that it was not possible to only be in science,” he said. “It would have been shameful.”

In 1968, Kovalev was fired from his job at a Moscow university laboratory for joining the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR — considered to be the Soviet Union’s first rights group.

He then grew close to the dissident academic Andrei Sakharov.

Kovalev was part of a group of dissidents writing the “Chronicle of Current Events”, an underground typed bulletin that reported on human rights violations in the USSR.

It reported the arrests and psychiatric internments of the Soviet regime’s opponents and on the situation in its labour camps.

He was arrested in 1974, accused of spreading “anti-Soviet propaganda” and sentenced to seven years in a Gulag camp, followed by three years of house arrest in the icy Siberian region of Kolyma.

He was only allowed to return to Moscow in 1987, thanks to the perestroika reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He went on to help found Memorial, which recorded testimonies of Soviet political repression.

Kovalev was one of the few Soviet dissidents that entered post-USSR politics.

He contributed to writing Russia’s new constitution and was elected a parliamentary deputy twice.

In 1994, he was appointed as chairman of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission in 1994. But he was forced to give up the post two years later for his outspoken criticism of Russia’s brutal intervention in the Chechen conflict.

Kovalev also criticised the political system created by Putin, from the beginning of the former KGB spy’s long rule. “A controlled democracy is being created in our country that seeks to create problems for ‘enemies inside as well as outside’,” he said in 2001, a year after Putin was inaugurated as president.

In 2014, he called on Western countries to “stop Russian expansion” into Ukraine after Moscow annexed Kiev’s Crimea peninsula.

According to Kovalev, the West had made “too many concessions” to Russia.

He also criticised Russian opposition leaders, whom he accused of being pragmatists without strong moral convictions. “I belong to the camp of idealists in politics,” he said.

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210809-soviet-dissident-sergei-kovalev-dies

https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1768110.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/09/human-rights-watch-mourns-death-sergei-kovalev

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/sergei-kovalev-soviet-dissident-who-clashed-with-yeltsin-putin-dies-aged-91

History writing in Russia suppressed

June 10, 2021

A new FIDH report published on 10 June 20212 finds that human rights abuses targeting historians, activists, journalists, and NGOs working on historical memory of the Soviet past have become systematic since at least 2014. Legal impediments and implementation of laws designed to stifle free speech and freedom of association, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, censorship, public smear campaigns, and failure to provide effective remedies for past abuses are just some of the violations detailed.

In recent years, control over the historical narrative of the Soviet past has become an essential tool for consolidating authoritarian rule. Building Russia’s collective identity around Soviet victory in the Second World War, the current regime attacks historians, journalists, civil society activists, and non-governmental organisations that work to keep alive a historical memory of the Soviet past that focuses on identification of the perpetrators and victims of the likes of the Great Terror, Joseph Stalin’s 1937-38 campaign of deadly political repression.

The new FIDH report, Russia: Crimes Against History, catalogues these violations, analyses them from the viewpoint of international human rights law, and makes recommendations to national authorities and international organisations on how to improve the situation of so-called “history producers.”

Our report is the first comprehensive analysis of the issue of manipulation of historical memory in Russia from the vantage point of human rights law,” said Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk who conceived and co-authored the report. “Our findings show that the authorities have created a climate of fear and repression for all independent voices working on historical past in Russia, reminiscent of the worst practices of the Soviet period.”

Specifically, the report details how, in recent years, the government has methodically attempted to discourage independent work in the historical field while actively promoting its own “historical truth” that centers on Soviet victory in the Second World War.

In 2020, the official historical narrative was set in stone in the Constitution, which was amended contrary to domestic and international law. In the Constitution, Russia is presented as the “successor” regime of the Soviet Union, which must “honour the memory of the defenders of the fatherland” and “protect the historical truth.” This narrative is actively promoted by government institutions. On the other hand, the authorities have stigmatised and penalised internationally supported civil society organisations, such as International Memorial, with the likes of foreign agent laws; it has criminalised interpretations that diverge from the state’s interpretation of history through the adoption of “Exoneration of Nazism” and other memory laws; and it has organised show trials against independent historians like Yuri Dmitriev, who received a draconian 13-year sentence for his tireless work to identify and commemorate victims of the Great Terror. Seae also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/dunja-mijatovic-calls-on-russia-to-end-judicial-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

“The report is important not only for Russia,” remarked Valiantsin Stefanovic, FIDH vice president. “Its findings and recommendations could be applied to other countries in the region and around the world that manipulate historical memory. In Belarus for instance, we see a similar use of memory laws to crack down on the pro-democracy movement.”

The report formulates a number of recommendations, such as the establishment of legal guarantees and protections to safeguard the independence of historians’ work. It also proposes the official recognition of historians as human rights defenders by United Nations special procedures, in addition to the creation of a “historians’ day” by UNESCO.

The new Prague Civil Society Centre explained

February 23, 2015
On 23 February 2015 Radio Prague reported that a new centre designed to promote civic engagement in post-Soviet countries has formally begun operating in Prague. The Prague Civil Society Centre seeks to cultivate values such as openness and human rights in countries such as Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine.  Download MP3  for the full interview by Dominik Jun with Rostislav Valvoda, head of the new centre.

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