Advisory Council (Russia)

On this page you will find statements and opinions by members of Rights in Russia's Advisory Council (Russia).

Lev Ponomarev on Russia’s recommendations to the UN regarding interpretations of freedom of assembly: “A serious and brazen attempt to justify absolutely anything at all.”

posted 4 Mar 2020, 11:35 by Translation Service   [ updated 4 Mar 2020, 11:42 ]

27 February 2020

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: The Insider

The Russian government has sent recommendations to the UN on how member states should interpret the right of citizens to freedom of assembly. In Moscow, “preventive detentions and searches” are considered acceptable before rallies, and “plain-clothes employees” are also used at protests. Furthermore, the responsibility for the actions of participants is to fall on the organisers of the event. The “threat of violence” is seen as sufficient grounds for banning it. In addition, the Russian authorities object to the UN's declared duty to protect protesters “from attacks caused by homophobia, sexism or gender discrimination” — in Moscow, this is considered “an attempt to create a kind of privileged protection regime for certain people.”

In a conversation with The Insider, Lev Ponomarev, chairof the NGO For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, called the proposals of the Russian authorities ridiculous and spoke about measures that can limit the arbitrariness of the authorities.

According to the Constitution, there is no reason to apply restrictions to events such as these. The Constitution is comprised of 31 articles, according to which citizens have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. It provides a general thesis, and the law already regulates this in some way. The statement that “the mere threat of violence is already grounds for imposing restrictive measures” contradicts the Constitution of the Russian Federation. But the problem is not even that the laws do not regulate it very well, but that the authorities regularly violate them.This is not just the case in the peripheries, but in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They can come up with all sorts of false information, obtained through secret means. Failure to recognise the right to participate in rallies can be considered a sign of repression.

Another big problem is that, unlike the legislation of almost every other country, Russia does not have the concept of spontaneous mass action, where people take to the streets in case of emergency events. They come out spontaneously, and no one detains them. We do have the concept of “citizens meetings”, when people take to the streets without any signs of a picket or rally, and they are detained.

As for the Russian government's proposal to include a clause placing the responsibility of participants on the organisers, I, as an organiser of very large mass actions, can say that this is definitely impossible. The fact is that determined opponents can easily commit any provocation, which occasionally sometimes. Terrorists can attack a mass event, for example, by crashing a car into the crowd, which has happened many times before. It is absurd to believe that the organisers of a mass action can prevent this or should be held responsible for it. This is the work of the security services, who should be able to prevent this from happening. Now the Russian state is signing off on the intentional inefficiency of its own special services.

The presence of plain clothes officials at mass events seems both useful and necessary, provided they are just observing. They are observing, because the grounds for detaining a rally participant include signs of violence, either against citizens or the state. There is a special law that is jokingly referred to as “mass disorder” (article 212 of the criminal code). It clearly states what mass riots are: the use of weapons, arson, disorganisation of government authority, and violence against citizens. But this does not prevent the authorities from referring to other events as mass riots, such as those in Moscow not long ago.

We are working on making changes to the legislation of the Russian Federation so that there are fewer restrictions on holding mass actions. One proposal is to ensure meetings take place between government representatives and applicants in the event of an event’s refusal, so that the region’s human rights commissioner can participate as a mediator. This would limit state arbitrariness. Taking this into account, Russia's recommendations to the UN are a brazen and serious attempt to challenge the obvious, and the UN should be involved in discussing this.

Translated by James Lofthouse

Lev Ponomarev: From Network* to New Greatness: stop the FSB

posted 26 Feb 2020, 09:24 by Translation Service   [ updated 26 Feb 2020, 09:34 ]

19 February 2020 

Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national NGO For Human Rights, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

The verdict in the Network case* brought together thousands and thousand of people. They were opposing the absurd charges, the torture used to obtain confessions and the extremely lengthy prison sentences.

And in the first days of March another verdict may be passed, in the New Greatness case. On the 20 February, at 2pm, in the Lublinsky District Court the prosecutor will request punishment for the accused.

I urge everyone to attend court and all subsequent trials in the New Greatness case, until the verdict is announced. Let’s make the most of the impetus that Russian civil society has managed to accumulate in opposing the Network case, the Moscow case, in the defence of Yegor Zhukov and Kostya Kotov, in order to protect the guys from New Greatness.

Let’s recap.

The whole country has read about provocateurs and law enforcement officers infiltrated a chat with young people. About how a special services agent wrote the order and the program, rented premises, bought office equipment and organised meetings, manipulated young people – including covert filming and audio recordings – in order to collect material for a criminal case and create evidence of an extremist organisation.

We have read of how 17-year-old Anya Pavlikova was captured by a group with machine guns, how she had to freeze for several hours in a police car in indoor clothes, and after this was tortured with night interrogations, during which somewhere nearby Ruslan Kostylenkov was being beaten, thus convincing him that he was the organiser. With our own eyes we saw Anya in a cage during the court hearings, where her detention in a pre-trial detention centre was prolonged time after time, disregarding her tears, medical certificates and the arguments of lawyers.

We were plunged into consternation by all this, we went on the Mothers’ March, crowds gathered near the FSB building on Lubyanka, we went to the courts. We rejoiced, almost celebrating victory, when Anya Pavlikova and Masha Dubovik were transferred to house arrest and, we worried when Vyacheslav Kryukov, whose illegal detention was repeatedly extended, went on a serious hunger strike in jail, and when the guys slashed their veins in court, acting out of despair.

We were furious, reading the journalists’ investigations into the provocateur Radu Zelinksy (aka Ruslan D., aka Alexander Konstantinv, a secret witness), and listening to the court’s testimony about how FSB officers quietly took notes from surveillance cameras in the rented premises, and “chatted” with the landlady so she kept quiet in court. We clenched our fists when Kostya Kotov, who came out in defence of the guys from Network* and New Greatness, was sent to prison for four years, and wished him and Anya Pavlikova happiness when they got married in the detention centre where he was being held.

And now the most dramatic, serious and important stage has begun, when a lot depends on our activity and support. And on the nature of the verdict in the New Greatness case, and on how the young people in the dock, their friends and relatives take it.

The New Greatness and Network* cases are a challenge that the FSB has posed to society. This call must be answered.

* Network is an organization prohibited in the Russian Federation

Translated by Anna Bowles

Valery Borshchev: Police officers punished for exceeding their powers at rallies, but so no one noticed

posted 24 Feb 2020, 10:14 by Translation Service   [ updated 24 Feb 2020, 10:22 ]

17 February 2020

Valery Borshchev is co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

The National Guard and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have punished law enforcement officers who exceeded their authority during the Moscow protests in the summer of 2019. This was announced on the 17th of February, 2020, by Viktor Bondarev, the head of the Federation Council Committee for Defence and Security.

Bondarev himself has acknowledged the violations on the part of law enforcement officials, and noted that many of them had ‘since experienced disciplinary action or been dismissed from law enforcement agencies.’

‘There were cases where law enforcement personnel exceeded their authority. We did, incidentally, quickly get to work on this problem: if their actions did not qualify as a violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens, their punishment was left at a verbal reprimand. If they did violate those rights, criminal investigations were opened,’ announced Bondarev.

Specific details of the violations in question have not been given. Nor has Bondarev reported the exact number of abuses of power during the Moscow protests. The senator believes that, in general, the actions of the Silovki security forces were ‘appropriate for the events and for the threats that arose there.’

The harsh arrests of protesters took place on the 27th of July and the 3rd of August, 2019, at the demonstrations in favour of fair elections. The protests took place after independent candidates were not allowed to run in the Moscow City Duma elections. One of the rally participants, Daria Sosnovskaya, was punched in the stomach by a police officer. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not yet released his name, and explained the actions of the officer by asserting that the activist herself ‘behaved emotionally and aggressively.’

Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, believes that the closed-off insistence on keeping the problem privately contained is almost instinctive for Russian law enforcement agencies.

“Even when employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are held accountable for their abuse of authority, it all takes place within closed proceedings, and punishments for such violations are negligible—the Golunov case is one example. They protect their corporate interest, which does not suggest there’s transparency or accountability for the public,” the human rights activist told SNEG.TV.

Borshchev agrees that law enforcement agencies do not, in fact, do themselves any favours by remaining closed-off and private. ‘Any open proceedings would, first of all, help to clear the atmosphere in the Ministry of Internal Affairs itself, because its employees would see that the system is fighting against ‘werewolves’ [Russian slang for corrupt law enforcement officers] and other intruders in their ranks. When everything is done behind closed doors, it’s hard to expect any systemic improvements from such private proceedings,’ says Borshchev.

Translated by Alice Lee

Boris Altshuler: Russia is on the threshold of a new Great Terror! What is to be done?

posted 23 Feb 2020, 05:47 by Translation Service   [ updated 23 Feb 2020, 06:43 ]

14 February 2020

Boris Altshuler is chair of the board of the NGO Children’s Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Scientists and scientific journalists have stated that "unlike those fictional 'terrorist attacks' that the convicts were allegedly planning, the decisions and monstrous sentences in the Network case is a real act of terror that deals a cruel blow to the foundations of Russian statehood."

However, in this case we are talking about an extended attack, rather than anything short term. Russia’s unjust courts, alongside the Federal Security Service (FSB) both fabricated the whole thing.

Throughout our country’s history there have already been periods of mass fabrication of terrible criminal prosecutions. We can only welcome the recent instructions of the President of the Russian Federation following the meeting with the human Rights Council on 10 December 2019 on the creation of the Butovsky Firing Range Museum and the formation of a unified database of victims of political repression. And it's scary to think that similar instructions will probably be issued about our time, 80 years from now.

Uncontrolled law enforcement officers are a real threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. During January’s Gaidar Forum, German Gref and Aleksei Kudrin said that the current situation in the Russian law enforcement system is a priority problem. I am sure that they are keenly aware of the situation and its scale.

At the beginning of his first presidential term, Vladimir Putin championed the dictatorship of the law: "Democracy is a dictatorship of the law, not of those whose duty it is to defend this law in office" (28 February 2000). Today, the task of practical implementation of this thesis is perhaps even more important than 20 years ago. What is to be done?

Yes, it is very important that Genri Reznik’s proposals to strengthen the independence of the courts and strengthen judicial control over investigations, expressed at the meeting of the Human Rights Council with Putin (10 December 2019) are supported. I think, however, that the problem requires an immediate solution, otherwise it will be too late.

Multi-faceted preventive surveillance of law enforcement officers is the basis for law enforcement officers in all democratic countries, from Finland to the United States: "I see why your system is stalling. Because there's nobody keeping checks on one another. Here, someone is constantly keep an eye on you. Constantly. I have 40 other detectives from different bureaus standing over me, who will put me in jail if I do something wrong. You don't have anything like that" (from a 1994 interview with Russian-born New York police officer Peter Grinevsky in ‘Moscow News’.

Translated by James Lofthouse

Related articles by Boris Altshuler:
'Attacks on the Lebedev Institute: Russia urgently needs protection from law enforcement'; 12
November 2019

'A threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation: The urgent need for restoration within law enforcement and the judicial system of the Russian Federation'; 19 A
ugust 2019

'Children in danger – Russia is in trouble (Tragedy in Kemerovo)'; 4 May 2018

Ivan Pavlov: The Network case - why Russia's courts don't believe complaints of torture

posted 21 Feb 2020, 12:43 by Translation Service   [ updated 21 Feb 2020, 13:30 ]

13 February 2020

Ivan Pavlov is a lawyer, director of Team 29 and  winner of a Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original sourceРБК]

As the “Network” case has shown, one of the problems of Russian justice is that legal practice typically focuses on the prisoner’s initial statements, which are given precisely when he is most often in a state of shock.

For quite a while now, Russian law enforcement agencies have followed the directive that all anti-terrorist cases be investigated harshly, and at times even brutally. Those charged in the Network case were victims of this directive, seven of them being sentenced on 10 February to imprisonment for from six to 18 years. I am not familiar with the case materials and cannot speak to whether or not given points in the indictment were proved; nonetheless, I am convinced that if no one suffered from the defendants’ actions, then handing down those outrageous sentences was simply wrong.

Moreover, I will note one obvious fact: the majority of those convicted complained of torture, although this in no way influenced the court’s decision. As a lawyer with extensive experience, I am seeing an ominous trend. The use of torture on persons under investigation in Russia has been expanding and is being applied more and more often not only in terrorism cases. There have been quite a few such instances. Just one example is the case of Pavel Zlomnov, who was arrested in January 2018 on charges of illegal arms sales (selling a starting pistol). He stated that violence was used against him even when he was arrested; he was beaten on the head, kidneys, and liver. Inasmuch as Pavel comes from a long line of lawyers, his father and brother did everything possible to bring the the law enforcement officers who exceeded their official powers to account. A request was sent to the Investigative Committee to open criminal cases for torture. The reply was a refusal, and the appeal of this refusal in court was also not successful. On the other hand, five criminal cases were opened against the Zlomnov lawyers during the investigation for insulting officials of investigative bodies. About 200 lawyers from all over Russia signed an open letter in their defence that was published in October 2019.

The use of torture by a public official to compel testimony is a crime under Article 286, Section. 3, of the Russian Criminal Code (up to 10 years’ imprisonment). However, the chances of the defendants (including the persons involved in the Network case) proving they were tortured are extremely slight. The problem is recognized only when the outcry around a specific case is very great and irrefutable proof reaches the media. This is precisely how the case developed around prisoners being tortured in Penitentiary No. 1, in Yaroslav region, after a video of the humiliations was published. Those who do the torturing understand all these risks, which is why those under investigation often complain of violence that does not leave marks, for example, the use of electrical current. There was such an episode in the Network case. Defendant Viktor Filenkov (he awaits sentencing in St. Petersburg) ) complained of the use of an electric shocker by FSB [Federal Security Service] personnel, but the investigation that followed deemed that there was no evidence that law enforcement committed these actions.

It is important that Russian legal practice usually focuses on initial statements, despite the defendant’s right to repudiate them later. What is important for the court is what the person says on first contact with law enforcement agencies, that is, precisely when he is in a state of shock. As a rule, it is these statements that lie at the base of a conviction. In order for the court to take statements about torture into consideration, the defendants must prove in another trial that the violence did take place, since this constitutes a crime. For this, the defendant must write a complaint in a timely fashion to the Investigative Committee saying that they were subjected to violence. The Investigative Committee must follow up with an investigation and decide whether or not to open a criminal case. Usually, the defendant is refused on his first, second, and third appeal to investigators (as, for example, in the instance with the Zlomnovs), which the court later uses to hide behind, indicating that the competent bodies did investigate and did not establish anything.

Actually, the complaints are important in any case, as is public outcry around specific cases. Lawyers for the defendants in the Network case have already declared their intention to appeal the sentence. Predictions are a thankless task, but it is clear that in the given instance a great deal depends on whether or not the public is able to present a convincing demand for a fair trial.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Lev Ponomarev on the Network case: Cruelty and Silence - the FSB Throws Down a Challenge

posted 18 Feb 2020, 07:42 by Translation Service   [ updated 18 Feb 2020, 09:47 by Rights in Russia ]

10 February 2020

By Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national civil society organization For Human Rights, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

Today, 10 February 2020, a trio of military judges in Penza pronounced the sentences in the case of the so-called terrorist organization Set’ [“Network”] (an organization banned on the territory of the Russian Federation), a prosecution based completely on torture and lies.

The procedure took half an hour altogether for all seven defendants – only the introduction and final judgment were read out.

Here are the horrific numbers:

Dmitri Pchelintsev – 18 years in a strict regime penal colony
Ilya Shakursky – 16 years in a strict regime penal colony
Andrei Chernov – 14 years in a strict regime penal colony
Maksim Ivankin – 13 years in a strict regime penal colony
Mikhail Kulkov – 10 years in a strict regime penal colony
Vasili Kuksov – 9 years in a general regime penal colony
Arman Sagynbaev – 6 years in a general regime penal colony

All in strict accordance with the prosecutor’s request – they were not even granted a traditional symbolic reduction.

We heard a detailed description, under oath in court, of the torture, of how their teeth crumbled and their mouths filled with blood. We saw members of St. Petersburg's Public Oversight Commission declare they had found evidence of torture. An independent medical expert confirmed findings of severe burns caused by electrical current.

We saw the head of the Council on Human Rights tell Putin directly that people were afraid to investigate torture, because the one doing the torturing is the FSB.

This is not only unjust and cruel, it is an open challenge to all who consider themselves thinking people. The level of cruelty has been raised to a height never seen before. What’s next? Are we going to see young people off to life sentences or the firing squad, while we freeze fast outside the court's iron fence?

Those who initiated the Network case, those who tortured the young men with electrical current, have said today: "We will do what we want. And what do you say to that? Just get lost, your shouts of “Shame on you!” count for nothing. We can torture. Resistance is impossible. If we want, we’ll give six-year sentences; if we want, we’ll give eighteen years. If we want, you will also be terrorists – you’ll confess to everything."

How did we get to this point, how did it become possible? Think about it. Each of us has a duty to do more than we have done thus far. No one has the right to stand on the sidelines, or else we will all end up in the abyss.

We have seen on a number of occasions that the authorities are forced to retreat when indignation at their actions extends beyond the citizen-activist and human rights community. When the names of political prisoners and criminal cases are discussed far beyond the country’s borders. When thousands of indignant people stand on public squares. We know that this works, so why aren't we using this?

I’m appealing to those who can reach a wider audience. Tell people about the Network case, join the civic campaign, fight for these young individuals, and fight against the use of torture and the absolute power of the security forces in general.

Electrical current and huge prison terms – that’s how the authorities fight against young people. Youth are taking to the streets, disseminating information, and going to the court in support of their peers. But where are the adults? I implore my country not to turn its children over to a monster.

The challenge must be taken up.

Translated by Mark Nuckols

Lev Ponomarev: An appeal to the citizens of Russia before the 2021 elections

posted 26 Jan 2020, 04:13 by Translation Service   [ updated 27 Jan 2020, 08:08 by Subscription Service ]

22 January 2020

Lev Ponomarev is chair of the NGO For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

I am publishing an Appeal relating to the parliamentary elections of 2021. It was prepared before the President’s message to the Federal Assembly, so it contains no reaction to the message, or to the events which followed related to it. However, the significance of this Appeal to the citizens of Russia has only increased, since all legislative initiatives of the preseident are actually aimed at taking full control of the parliamentary elections of 2021.

The public figures and experts who signed this appeal intend to distribute it as widely as possible, because ahead is a substantial task of putting pressure on the authorities with the aim of changing the law and electoral practices.

In the event that this does not happen and the parliamentary elections of 2021 follow old patterns, after such obviously unfair elections we can confidently expect real riots, not those of the kind that supposedly took place in Moscow in 2019. They are not needed either by civil society or the government.

Please read and distribute.

Appeal to the citizens of Russia on the eve of the 2021 elections

We, citizens of Russia, are extremely concerned about the state of elections in our country. We note with great regret that elections, at least in the last decade and a half, have not been fulfilling the role assigned to them by the Constitution – to be the highest direct expression of the power of the people – and have not met international democratic standards. This leads to a situation where faith in the elections and their results is rather low, and a significant section of the electoral authorities lacks legitimacy.

We do not want this to continue. We want the State Duma which will be elected in 2021 to become a legitimate and full-fledged government body, trusted and respected by Russian citizens.

We base our assessment of the elections on the Constitution of the Russian Federation and on international documents, including the Chisinau Convention, which sets forth standards for free, fair and genuine elections.

In particular, the Convention states: “genuine elections suppose equal and fair legal conditions for the registration of candidates, lists of candidates and political parties (coalitions). Registration requirements should be clear and not contain conditions that could become the basis for privileges or restrictions of a discriminatory character. Arbitrary or discriminatory applicationof the rules on the registration of candidates, lists of candidates and political parties (coalitions) is not allowed.”

We cannot consider the situation with the registration of candidates and lists of candidates in Russian elections to be in compliance with the provisions of the Convention and other democratic standards. It cannot be considered normal that in the 2016 State Duma elections not a single list of candidates was registered on the basis of voters’ signatures, and in the single-mandate constituencies out of 348 candidates only 23 were registered. Moreover, some well-known and popular candidates were denied registration, and the majority of those who were registered received fewer votes during the election than they had received signatures.

We have observed a similar abnormal situation in the Moscow City Duma elections in 2019, and at many other elections. It cannot be considered normal when representatives of leading parties are regularly denied registration. It cannot be considered normal when candidates are refused registration on the grounds of the so-called conclusions of handwriting experts, which are basically unfounded alegations unsupported by any arguments. It cannot be considered normal when candidates are denied registration on the basis of certificates from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from which it is impossible to understand what are the specific claims regarding information about the voter. It cannot be regarded as normal when a candidate is removed from the elections due to a minor shortfall in one of the submitted documents – especially against the background of the carelessly formulated documents of the election commissions and even the courts. 

In recent years, we have seen some positive developments in the transparency of the electoral process: the installation of video surveillance cameras and minimising the removal of election observers, amongst other things. However, we consider it unacceptable to reduce this level of openness by potentially reducing video surveillance, complicating access to video archives, and imposing restrictions on observers at polling stations.

The principle of voluntary participation in elections must remain unshakeable. We believe that any pressure placed on voters is unacceptable. This also applies to home voting.

There can be no justification for direct fraud in voting, or indeed during vote counting. Although this can rarely be proved in court, there is a lot of evidence available to the public. This includes direct eyewitness accounts, videos and verifiable statistical data.

We understand that these shortcomings can be addressed in a variety of ways. This includes changes to the law, tightening control over the work of election commissions, and bringing potential violators to justice. Nevertheless, we are sure that there are a number of legislative norms that require changing, if shortcomings are to be addressed. In particular, these require the abolition, or radical revision, of the so-called “municipal filter” that cut off unwanted candidates from gubernatorial elections and required a list of observers (and media representatives) to be submitted three days prior to voting.

We emphasise that any election manipulations (exclusion of popular candidates, direct falsifications etc.) aimed at ensuring that the government remains in power affect the interests of all citizens, including those who support the government. We understand that those who are in power wish to remain in office. In our opinion, the government has only one honest way to maintain the support of its voters: to pursue a policy that would meet their interests, and not simply to create favourable conditions for themselves in elections, while simultaneously making it difficult for their opponents to participate in the electoral process. This approach will lead the country towards disenfranchisement and poverty. Therefore, by seeking fair elections, citizens are seeking greater attention to their needs from the authorities.

However, we are also sure that the government itself is in need of fair elections. Falsifications hamper any attempts to ascertain the real feelings and opinions of citizens. Electoral corruption (falsifications, manipulations during registration of candidates, etc.) contributes to the development of other forms of corruption.

We have no doubt that there are people in the corridors of power who understand this. But when making decisions, tactics prevail over strategy.

By demanding changes in electoral legislation and practices, we are seeking to implement the provisions of the Constitution. By defending fair elections, we are fighting for the country's future.

In solving these tasks, we expect to rely on initiative groups that already have experience in protecting their rights and are committed to protecting them in the future. We look forward to the support of active citizens from various civil society organisations, including observer associations.

Our appeal is addressed to them, as well as everyone who cares about the fate of the country.


Akhedzhakova, Liya Medzhidovna, National Artist of the Russian Federation

Badrin, Garri Yakovlevich, cartoon animator, director, script writer, State Prize of the RF Laureate

Basilashvili, Oleg Valerianovich, National Artist of the USSR, Honorary Citizen of Saint Petersburg

Belavin, Aleksandr Abramovich, theoretical physicist, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Berger, Anatoly Solomonovich, author, member of the Saint Petersburg PEN Club, member of Memorial

Borshchev, Valeriy Vasilevich, Co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Deputy of the State Duma: 1993-1999

Buzin, Andrei Yurevich, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Candidate of Law, Co-chair of the voters’ rights movement Golos, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Bykov, Dmitri Lvovich, author, literary critic, columnist

Verkhovsky, Aleksandr Markovich, Director of the Sova Center for Information and Analysis, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

Vorobev, Nikolai Ivanovich, Candidate of Law, professor, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia, Election Commission Chair for Tambov Oblast: 1993-2003

Gannushkina, Svetlana Aklekseyevna, Chair of the committee Civic Cooperation, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights: 2004-2012

Gelfand, Mikhail Sergeyevich, Doctor of Biological Science, professor, member of Academia Europaea

Golosov, Grigori Vacilevich, Doctor of Political Science, professor, member of the Expert Advisory Council for the Central Election Commission of Russia

Gordin, Yakov Arkadevich, historian, author

Yevdokimova, Nataliya Leonidovna, Executive Secretary of the Saint Petersburg Human Rights Council, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

Katerli (Efros), Nina Semenovna, person of letters, member of the Saint Petersburg PEN Club, member of the Saint Petersburg Human Rights Council

Krivenko, Sergei Vladimirovich, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Director of the public human rights initiative Citizen and the Army, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights: 2009-2018

Kynev, Aleksandr Vladimirovich, Candidate of Political Science, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Lavrov, Aleksandr Vasilevich, Doctor of Philology, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Lyubarev, Arkady Yefimovich, Candidate of Law, Chair of the Inter-regional NGO Expert Forum: Election Laws – For the Voter, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Melkonyants, Grigori Arkadevich, Co-chair of the voter rights movement Golos, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Mintusov, Igor Yevgenevich, President of the European Association of Political Consultants, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Oreshkin, Dmitri Borisovich, Candidate of Geography, political scientist, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Podosokorski, Nikolai Nilolayevich, Candidate of Philology, literary critic, cultural studies expert, member of the Saint Petersburg PEN Club

Ponomaryov, Lev Aleksandrovich, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, chair of the national civic organization For Human Rights, People’s Deputy of the RSFSR: 1990-1993, Deputy of the State Duma: 1993-1995

Ryzhkov, Vladimir Aleksandrovich, Candidate of History, Chair of the All-Russian social movement Choice of Russia, member of the Civic Chamber of the City of Moscow, Deputy of the State Duma: 1993-2007

Svanidze, Nikolai Karlovich, telejournalist, political correspondent, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

Smirnov, Andrei Sergeevich, actor, director, National Artist of the RF

Soboleva, Anita Karlovna, Candidate of Philology, attorney, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

Sokurov, Aleksandr Nikoloaevich, National Artist of the RF, three-time Laureate of the State Prize of the RF, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

Stratanovsky, Sergei Georgievich, poet

Titov, Mikhail Viktorovich, Chair of the Election Commission for Tver Oblast: 1997-2007

Shablinsky, Ilya Georgievich, Doctor of Law, member of the Expert Advisory Council of the Central Election Commission of Russia

Sheynis, Viktor Leonidovich, Doctor of Economics, People’s Deputy of the RF: 1990-93, Deputy of the State Duma: 1993-99

Shibanova, Lilia Vasilevna, Executive Director of Golos: 2001-2013, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights: 2012-18

Translated by Anna Bowles and Mark Nuckols

Boris Altshuler: The Death of Sakharov was a Supreme Misfortune for Russia

posted 5 Jan 2020, 02:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Jan 2020, 04:10 ]

14 December 2019

On the thirtieth anniversary of Andrei Sakharov’s death

by Boris Altshuler (pictured left)

Boris Altshuler is chair of the board of the NGO Right of the Child, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and a senior researcher at the Department of Theoretical Physics of the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For more information about the author, see here.

МиниатюраA. D. Sakharov died on the evening of 14 December 1989. Today, looking back, I find it impossible not to agree with Sergei Grigoryants’ assessment of this event in his article, ‘The Death of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov’ (July 2012): ‘The main event and misfortune of Russia of that time, and indeed in all its history, was the death of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. I think this was the event of the greatest global significance of that time, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Russia, comparable only with the death of Alexander II and the outcomes of great wars - the war against Napoleon and the First and Second World Wars. Andrei Sakharov, in my view, was Russia’s only hope, at least in terms of a relative affirmation of democracy in this country, and his death (and I am convinced that he was killed) not only wiped out all these hopes, but in the final analysis exercised an irreversible and fatal negative influence on the whole of European civilisation, with the consequences of which we are trying to cope in so far as we can.’

According to the autopsy, the cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest. I shall not consider whether this happened from natural causes or whether it was artificially brought about since there is no objective, scientific evidential base for such a discussion. But in the light of Sakharov’s achievements it is both possible and necessary to assess what has happened in the thirty years since his death.

‘Might have beens’ are of little interest in history. There is hardly any sense in guessing what might have been had Sakharov lived and been active in the 1990s. The horrors and mistakes of those years have largely determined what is happening in Russia today. Of course, Sakharov’s genius, his unique ‘ability to see both sides of a coin’ 
[literally 'ability to count to two' in the original Russian - trans.], his ability to identify those special moments of the present (‘points of bifurcation’) that determine the future, moments when a historic chance must be seized (and how many chances like that were let go!), in conjunction with his enormous authority among democrats, all these are strong arguments in favour of Sergei Grigoryants’ idea that the death of Sakharov was a misfortune of global scale.

But as someone who knew Andrei Dmitrievich for 20 years I can confirm that thinking about such ‘might have beens’ was uncharacteristic of Sakharov. He did not involve himself in guessing about the future. In response to such guesses, very ordinary and typical of their kind, he would say: ‘What is important is what has already happened.’ And, indeed, facts are important as the basis on which ‘the made by all of us, step by step in our infinitely complex interrelationship.’ (A.D. Sakharov).

So I leave it to readers, as I do myself, to fantasize in the form of ‘home entertainment’ on the theme of what would have happened if Sakharov had lived. But here I shall try to talk about the facts, about ‘what has already happened.’

I shall discuss two systemic problems, misfortunes of the New Russia that arose in the 1990s and have lasted until the present, determining our present, and possibly also our future.

In economics this is a virtually total growth of monopolies, turning all the reformers’ declarations about the need to build a competitive free market into empty words. Here lies the principal difference - tragically, of the worst kind - between our economic reforms of the 1990s (the so-called ‘Gaidar reforms’, although I don’t know how fair it is to give Egor Gaidar’s name to this insult to common sense and to the millions of people who live in Russia) and, for example, the economic miracle of post-war Japan. Underpinning the Japanese reforms were the very decisive steps taken by the government to defend the free market from monopolies that would inevitably take over the free market in the absence of government measures to protect it. Which is what happened in our case.

The most recent reports by the Federal Antimonopoly Agency describe the ‘universal cartelisation’ of the Russian economy, the prevalence of anti-competition agreements that ‘are carried out with the participation of government bodies,’ accompanied by ‘every evidence of organised criminal groups and criminal communities.’ These reports also state that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is failing in its responsibility to prosecute offences under Article 178 of the Russian Criminal Code on ‘restriction of competition,’ despite the fact that the evidence is plain for all to see. Just recall the activities of the Miratorg corporation that destroyed small-scale private farming in the Krasnodar region, and similar activities all over the country. Or think of the oligarchs in the construction business based in Moscow and Moscow region who have merged with the local political leadership and engage in inflating the prices of residential accommodation. Such a concentration of economic power is absolutely impermissible in any normal market-oriented country. But we have our own special path. A path in which corruption and wholesale theft of the general public by narrow elite groups flourish with impunity.

And what has Sakharov to do with this? The point is that Sakharov was not a reformer who based his views on a formalistic or narrowly logical approach. Behind the reforms he always saw the individual. And of course he would not have remained indifferent to the suffering endured by millions of Russians in the 1990s. And he also truly was able to ‘see both sides of the coin’ 
[literally to ‘count to two' in the original Russian - trans.]: on the one side, that it was not possible to create a competitive market economy ‘from above, using the authority of the President of Russia to overcome the resistance of the ‘Red Directors’, the KPRF [the Communist Party of the Russian Federation] and so on; on the other side, that it was necessary to ensure reformers won a majority in the State Duma by putting forward slogans and programmes that would save the average voter from the suffering they endured as a result of the painful reforms. But the thing is that none of the democrats and reformers of the 1990s were able to see this ‘second side’ of the coin. As a result we witnessed their shameful and systematic defeats at all elections to the State Duma.

And here we arrive at the second systemic misfortune of the New Russia. For almost 30 years the only electorally significant opposition party in our country has been the KPRF, the same KPRF that failed to reject the cannibalistic Soviet stereotypes and that continues to bow down before Stalin, the destroyer of Russia. We remember how collectivisation destroyed 15m of the hardest working peasants, the thousands of churches blown up on Stalin’s orders, and the monthly planned thousands of executions personally ordered by Stalin (and it is quite beside the point who was shot or for what), and Stalin’s orders on the eve of 22 June 1941 (no matter that they were also signed by Timoshenko and Zhukov) ‘not to respond to provocations,’ ‘not to fire on German planes’, and on the disarming of the army (the immediate withdrawal for servicing of tanks, artillery and aviation) as a result of which Hitler reached Moscow and the Volga, and the country lost more than 40m of its citizens.

True, the KPRF has not become a ‘vegetarian’ social-democratic party along the lines of such parties in Sweden, Denmark or Norway. But no other opposition, able to withstand the ‘party of bosses,’ has come into being. The LDPR and A Just Russia are not opposition parties, while the democratic parties and associations are unfortunately only visible under a ‘political microscope.’ Why have the democrats over many years remained invisible to millions of Russian voters? The question is extremely important since without real political competition it is impossible to build a stable state, a state with a predictable future. Just as in the absence of a visible, critical opposition and genuinely elected authorities at all levels, beginning most importantly at the local level, it is impossible to resolve a single one of the very serious problems facing the country. These problems include the need to overcome corruption and monopolisation, to ensure the independence of the courts, to bring order to the law enforcement agencies that have become an uncontrolled ‘state within a state’ (and today largely ensure not the protection of the law but the interests of oligarchs and of corrupt holders of high office), to protect the environment and small business so important for society, to stop the degradation of the villages, to overcome poverty and to resolve the huge housing problems facing families with children.

The reasons for the democrats’ electoral failure could be both the lack of political professionalism of its leaders and the deference, inherited from Soviet times, shown by millions of Russians towards the executive authorities, as expressed by Yuly Daniel in his verses from the 1960s: ‘Three hundred years the Tatars bent them under their yoke / Only to find out they won’t bend. / But in fifty years we bent them down so far, / That in three hundred years they won’t unbend.’ (Petr Starchik, in his version putting Daniel’s words to music in the 1970s, sang: ‘Oh, we did not hold them down long enough, we didn’t finish them off!’ You can find an original performance from that time online here).

But we must look to the future. Twenty years of the third millennium have already passed. This means new generations, free from Soviet stereotypes, have entered adult life, generations for whom the ‘wild nineties’ are distant history. They include wonderful young people like Yury Dud, Egor Zhukov, Konstantin Kotov and others. Young people who could not watch calmly as National Guard officers beat up someone who had fallen down, and young people who, for their human sympathy, have now been sentenced to terms in prison colonies.

I shall end with Sakharov’s optimistic words about young people from a 1989 interview with the newspaper Knizhnoe obozrenie [‘Review of Books’]: ‘I believe that, taken as a whole, people always maintain their moral strengths. In particular, I believe that young people, who in each generation begin to live life as it were anew, are able to uphold high moral standards. I am not talking so much about a renaissance as about the fact that the moral strength that exists in every generation is able time and again to develop and to flourish, and will inevitably come into its own.’


Of course, in connection with the thirtieth anniversary of A. D. Sakharov’s death I could have talked in more detail about the following:

- Sakharov’s exceptional role in preventing the suicide of humanity in a thermonuclear exchange (possibly accidental - everything at that time hung by a thread) between the USSR and the USA and the affirmation of the global significance of the observance of human rights as a practical instrument to remove the threat of such suicide;

- the 
notorious ‘atom mine’ (the idea of a hydrogen bomb of extraordinary power blown up in the depths of the ocean) and ‘cannibal’ Sakharov. No, he was no ‘cannibal’ and he never wished for the deaths of millions of Americans from a manmade gigantic tsunami; people who say that about him simply do not understand the depth of the faith and conviction of Soviet people, including Sakharov when he was working on the creation of the terrible weapon, that the USSR did not intend to attack anybody, our socialist country was the most progressive in the world and a truly peace-loving power, and the task of scientists was to make the USSR so strong that no country in the world would think of attacking it);

- the slander and propaganda directed against Elena Bonner, worthy of Goebbels;

- the ‘Sakharov oscillations’ of the background cosmic radiation predicted by Sakharov in 1965 and experimentally discovered at the beginning of the 2000s (since when the internet has been full of the phrase ‘Sakharov oscillations’), and so on.

However, it will be much better to talk about all this to mark the hundredth anniversary of Sakharov’s birth on 21 May 2021. For now I shall just note one significant event: very soon the publisher AST, as part of its project ‘Anhedonia,’ will publish a 700-page volume about Elena Georgievna Bonner: ‘Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner and friends: a life typical, tragic and wonderful.’ Inevitably, this book will not be only about Elena Georgievna. I quote from the editors’ notes to the book: ‘... Most of our fellow citizens know Elena Georgievna as the wife of the scientist A. D. Sakharov, as his colleague and assistant. That is plain enough: they lived through so many hardships in the 20 years they were together. But Elena Georgievna’s life is more than that of simply the wife and colleague of a great person, and this is the subject of the current book which consists of three sections: 1) a biography, told by means of a collection of her own autobiographical texts and extracts from A. D. Sakharov’s Memoirs, 2) the recollections of E. G. Bonner, 3) a series of key documents and a number of articles by Elena Georgievna herself. Finally, this section includes ‘My Mother’s Favourite Poems,’ a selection of verse by Tatyana Yankelevich: literature, and especially poetry, played a major role in the life of Elena Georgievna.

See also:

1. 'Ability to Count to Two. Opening Talk at the Third International Sakharov Conference on Physics,' P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow, 2002

2. 'Andrei Sakharov as a physicist in all facets of his life' (2009)

3. ‘The Paradox of Sakharov...On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Thoughts on Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom’ (2018) [in Russian]

In brief:
Novaya gazeta, 30.07.2018

At greater length:
Novye izvestiya, 28.07.2018

- ‘The attack on the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences is like an alarm signal from the Emergencies Ministry: Russia urgently needs protection from law enforcement agencies’ (12 November 2019) Ekho Moskvy; Moscow Helsinki Group; Novye izvestiya

Photo of Andrei Sakharov: Website of the Sakharov Centre, © Yousef Karsh

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Sergei Lukashevsky on Andrei Sakharov: The Unheeded Russian Havel

posted 25 Dec 2019, 11:02 by Translation Service   [ updated 25 Dec 2019, 12:06 ]

Реставратор Сахарницы14 December 2019

By Sergei Lukashevsky 

Sergei Lukashevsky is director of the Sakharov Centre. By decision of the Ministry of Justice, the Sakharov Centre has been entered in the register of ‘foreign agent’ organisations. The Sakharov Centre has lodged an application against the decision at the European Court of Human Rights. 

Source: The New Times [Photo: ASI]

14 December marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Andrei Sakharov. He concluded his Nobel prize acceptance speech [read on his behalf by his wife, Elena Bonner - ed.] with a list of names of Soviet political prisoners. Sakharov showed what public politics in Russia should be and might become.

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov died thirty years ago, on 14 December 1989.

The historic distance separating us from that date allows us to say without reservation: that was another era. It was another zeitgeist – the perception of a historic watershed, of the inevitability of change, hovered in the air. The wind of change had captivated not just the USSR, but the whole world as well.

Alarm and Hope

Sakharov’s attitude can be described by two words from the title of one of his essays on current affairs: “alarm and hope.” In 1986 came the time for the fulfillment of his hopes. The Soviet Union and the United States agreed to arms reduction, the Berlin Wall – symbol of the division of the world and of the Iron Curtain – fell, and within three years nearly all political prisoners in the Soviet Union were freed. The first to be released, from internal exile in Gorky [now Nizhny Novgorod - ed.], was Sakharov himself.

Freedom, creative energy, and the absence of impenetrable boundaries were for Sakharov a natural state, fundamental properties of the Universe reflected in human civilization. Alienation, violence and oppression, on the contrary, were unnatural: they led humanity, with nuclear weapons at its disposal, to destruction.

Twentieth-century science, which Sakharov the scholar embodied, united the physics of an infinite universe and the physics of elementary particles. Sakharov the social thinker extrapolated that vision to the realm of world politics, linking international security (the survival of the entire human race) with the defence of human rights, with the fate of every individual prisoner of conscience.

Sakharov’s Nobel lecture begins with the words, “Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: it is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored.” And it ends with the enumeration of the names of 112 Soviet political prisoners. The ability to unite a global vision and an intensive, practical attention to the fate of individuals was one of Sakharov’s amazing abilities, rare among human beings and even rarer among politicians, who make decisions possibly fateful for the entire world. Decisions, one might wish to say, concerning both the world and peace, homophones in Russian [mir] that had distinct spellings in pre-revolutionary orthography. In those years, it appeared, the unity of micro- and macro-politics was confirmed.

Alone on the Battlefield

However, Sakharov's life was cut off on a tragic note. In the last months, and particularly in the last days of Sakharov's life, he was not understood in his own country and his voice was not heard there. "There will be a battle tomorrow," Sakharov said to Elena Bonner literally before he died. And in that political battle he was practically alone.

1989 was not just the last year of Sakharov's life, but also the first year of real (albeit only partially free) political life in the USSR. And it is very important, remembering the day of his death, to remember Sakharov the politician.

The canonical image of Sakharov which began to take shape immediately after his death ("He was a true prophet. A prophet in the ancient, primordial sense of the word..." - D.S. Likhachev) sets Sakharov above politics (he appealed to conscience and propagated ideals), but in so doing makes him, as it were, not of this world, remote from the "dirty" political struggle.

But in the last six months of his life Sakharov showed more than anyone else how Russian politics should and could be.

The motivation for Sakharov's participation in politics was personal and public responsibility. Sakharov didn't simply set high moral standards, but sharply raised the status of political action. "The voters, the people, chose us and sent us to this Congress in order for us to take responsibility for the fate of the country," he told the deputies during the first hours the First Congress of People's Deputies was in session. For Gorbachev the Congress was an instrument for carrying out reforms, a means to further his own political ends. Sakharov endowed the assembly of deputies with a political significance of a higher order.

Sakharov defended the basic principles of democratic culture, without which political action loses its legitimacy. At the opening of the Congress Gorbachev, in accordance with his political logic, wanted at once to strengthen his political position and introduced a vote on the composition of the presidium of the Congress with himself at its head. Sakharov protested: "There is always an order of doing things: first discussion, first the candidates present their platforms, and then there's a vote. We disgrace ourselves before our whole people - that is my profound conviction, if we act differently."

He attempted to appeal to Congress to carry out fundamental political reform, putting forward a "Decree on Power" - to assert Congress's power to appoint candidates to higher government posts, to amend Article 6 of the Constitution on the leading role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to begin work on drafting a new constitution.

At the time when the majority of "democratic" deputies, even the ones who sharply criticized the government, acted within the framework set by Gorbachev (they limited themselves to speaking of abuses, openly discussing acute problems and plans for reform), Sakharov put forward political demands that seized the political initiative and the political agenda from the government. And more than that, he sincerely offered Gorbachev not confrontation but collaboration in the implementation of his political agenda.

It seemed there was no point in preaching to the deaf ears of an "aggressively obedient majority" that obstructed him and slammed his speeches. But Congress was broadcast live, and Sakharov appealed to society for support: "I turn to the citizens of the USSR with a plea to support the Decree both individually and collectively." In the summer, striking miners include the amendment of Article 6 in the list of their demands. 

The Lost Chance

The second and perhaps main motivation for these actions was that Sakharov could see the looming crisis. Here he spoke as a fundamental research scientist, a physicist who saw that the resultant force of social, economic and political aspirations and processes would lead to the destruction of the state.

He criticised Gorbachev for inaction and appealed directly to society. On 1 December he made a public appeal for a two-hour warning strike in support of his demands. Even among the members of the Interregional Group of deputies only five supported his appeal. However, the strikes took place in many Soviet cities. On 14 December at a meeting of the Group his appeal was subjected to sharp criticism. That evening Sakharov died from a heart attack.

It is impossible to answer the question whether Sakharov could have changed the course of history. And all the same in 1991 more than half of the inhabitants of the USSR declared they shared Sakharov's social and political views.

Sakharov definitively demonstrated the qualities of a major politician. He was able to see the political process as a whole, setting concrete decisions in the context of global objectives. He identified real threats that surpassed in importance ongoing political conflicts, understood the fundamental significance of political institutions, and was able to reach out beyond the boundaries of the social groups that normally supported him (the scientific and technical intelligentsia) to seize the political initiative.

Sakharov’s fate, his historically untimely death, is the answer to the longing for a ‘Russian Václav Havel’ that has continued down to the present time. Sakharov not only could have become, but indeed was a Russian Havel. However, he was unheeded and not recognised in this capacity. In the first place not even by society, but by the elite. And, moreover, not only by the conservative part of the elite, but by the ‘democratic’ part also. 

A window of opportunity, including on such a historical scale, comes only once. We shall not now ever have "another Havel." New turning points in the road of history will look very different. What is most important is to see them and make the correct choice.

The last speech that Sakharov drafted but did not make was on  legal reform: access to lawyers for their clients and lengths of detention. These are familiar problems to us, don’t you find?

Translated by Mark Nuckols, Alissa Valles and Simon Cosgrove

Lev Ponomarev: Thirty years without Andrei Sakharov

posted 24 Dec 2019, 02:34 by Translation Service   [ updated 24 Dec 2019, 04:34 ]

14 December 2019

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: RFI]

Exactly 30 years ago, on 14 December 1989, the world said goodbye to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov – member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, creator of the hydrogen bomb, dissident, human rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In this interview with RFI’s Russian-language service, Lev Ponomarev (leader of the For Human Rights movement and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group) discusses why Sakharov become a moral authority for all of Soviet society in the late 1980s, whether he could have become a “Russian Václav Havel”, and who can be called the “conscience of the nation” in modern-day Russia.

Lev Ponomarev: I spent the last two years of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov’s life working closely together with him in the field of social activism – as fellow physicists we had previously seen each other from afar at conferences, but our professional paths had never crossed, and we would not have considered each other friends. When Memorial was set up, I asked him to become a member of its Public Council, which served as an add-on of sorts to the organisation proper. Andrei Dmitrievich himself did not set up Memorial, and he was not its leader in practical terms, but he was a member of this Public Council that we decided to set up so that Russians and people from the rest of the USSR would feel more confident about donating their money to us. Sakharov become a member of it, as did many other leaders from the Perestroika era, including Yeltsin – generally speaking, its members were individuals who had gained popularity by 1988 on the wave of Perestroika. That was when I started to work more closely with Sakharov. Then came the 1989 elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union, and I served as his aide and then worked for him until the last days of his life.

In your memoirs about Sakharov, you write that at the time – in the late 1980s and early 1990s – he shaped the nation’s opinions. Why do you say that, and how do you think he personally influenced attitudes among the Russian population?

He managed to become a leader not only of liberals, of people with the same views as him – anti-Communists, you might say – but also of the general population, because he had made a mark for himself in the Soviet era as the individual who created the fission bomb, and people loved him for it. He received the “Hero of Socialist Labour” medal three times, and he was famous for having “created the Soviet Union’s nuclear shield”, as we used to say in Soviet times. This was why his opinions – even if they did not coincide with the opinions of the average Soviet citizen – gradually percolated through to the national conscience, in a way that has never been seen before or since.

If Sakharov had been younger and a little healthier (we know that his death was completely unexpected), he could very easily have become the leader of the new Russia, as a kind of Havel Mark 2 [Václav Havel was a Czech writer, dissident and human rights activist; he served as the last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and the first President of Czechia (1993-2003). Editor’s note]. I even suggested that a new political party should be set up, with him at the helm. But he replied; “Just look at me, Lev – am I really capable of that?” No one would have said that he looked ill, but he did not have the necessary energy or political charisma, and perhaps he just wasn’t made for the job. We were unlucky in this regard – if he had been 20 years younger, he could have become a political leader, and perhaps he would have led the whole country, even if that sounds like pure pie in the sky if you think about what we have endured and the leaders we have actually had.

And if you were to fantasize and imagine him heading up a party and maybe even becoming president, how might that have changed Russian history? What mistakes would he not have made that Yeltsin did?

Well, in general, if we’re speaking more objectively, our country wasn’t prepared for such radical transformations. They happened unexpectedly because the Communists just … I’m sorry, I don’t want to speak on your French radio the way we do in Russian, but basically they lost everything. They buried the economy and therefore the transformations were forced to happen quickly. The population’s disappointment was so great that some major figure was needed who could explain somehow. Naturally, even under Sakharov we might not have succeeded at anything.

On the other hand, though, the world democratic revolution had triumphed, and who was at its head? Former Politburo member Yeltsin, with all the minuses only he could have. Although he truly was a bold person. He rose up against the diktat of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] and agreed to a multi-party system. But he still had many of the characteristic features of a party boss. He was not a man free of those views. Therefore he moved away from the democrats very quickly. In the early 1990s, I met with him many times, and he was open to interaction. Later, though, he was surrounded by various syсophants who intoxicated him, not that he himself was opposed to that. Naturally, if Sakharov had not had these minuses, there would not have been that corruption. Although Yeltsin was not inclined toward corruption, I can say that definitely. But too many people around him were bent on corruption and corrupted Yeltsin’s inner circle and his family.

What personal qualities did Sakharov have that might have safeguarded him from this?

You have to understand, the Communists, especially those who made a political career, these were people with a distorted notion of the populace, justice, and the party hierarchy. Whereas Sakharov was a very free man, he was a very democratic man. Obviously a man who thought strategically—even in science he had been a strategist, he hadn’t worked on small problems in science, he discovered new paths in new spheres of science, astrophysics, for example. He came to astrophysics in his later years, toward the end of his life. Nevertheless, he said things that defined a certain direction there. And therefore in his public activities he was free of stereotypes, and in his political activities he was free of stereotypes. He spoke honestly and candidly with people of any level, he did not resort to cunning. Whereas Yeltsin was a professional politician, and how does the saying go? - “We say one thing and think another.” Sakharov was a much more open person, and politics would have been far more open, which would have been the right way to do things.

In one interview you said that Sakharov was one of those people who can be called “the nation’s conscience.” If we were to speak about the present day, are there individuals in Russia comparable in scale and influence? Who today might be called “the nation’s conscience”?

All those myths arise after the person’s death. And rightly so. Then his contribution can be assessed more objectively. Sakharov truly could be called “the nation’s conscience.” But I would not presume to call anyone that during his lifetime. Later, people will probably speak that way about someone in the present era.

But I would say that we have a “collective Sakharov.” There is a group of people who are not afraid to speak the truth. There is a networked community, a “congress of the intelligentsia.” They do not make statements regularly, but when any especially acute events [occur], they do make statements. I believe that the “Congress of the Intelligentsia” can be called “the nation’s conscience.” When Crimea was annexed, it was the Congress of the Intelligentsia that spoke out very decisively and fairly swiftly. The most prominent individuals there are the writer Liudmila Ulitskaya, the actress Liya Akhedzhakova, the directors Andrei Smirnov and Vladimir Mirzoev, and [musician] Andrei Makarevich. Each of them, perhaps, could be reproached for something, but when they speak out together concerning these major events, then it can be said that this is “the nation’s conscience.”

Translated by Joanne Reynolds and Marian Schwartz

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