Boris Altshuler, Larisa Miller: In Memory of Liudmila Alekseeva

posted 27 Jan 2019, 03:17 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Jan 2019, 03:33 ]
17 December 2019

By Boris Altshuler and Larisa Miller

Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva has died. My heart aches. The entire context of our life is so grievous. And this death seems like the result of that context, although to die at age 91 is natural, of course.

Liudmila Mikhailovna and I did not cross paths during the Soviet era, although we knew many of the same human rights activists. I was not a member of MHG [Moscow Helsinki Group], which was created in May 1976, although after the arrest of three of its founders--Yuri Orlov, Aleksandr Ginzburg, and Anatoly (now Natan) Shcharansky--I wrote an open statement in their defense, “Eurocommunism and Human Rights,” which brought out each voice. The idea of rallying Western ideological allies of the Soviet party apparatus to the defense of human rights in the USSR was not mine; it was in the air at the time and was applied very effectively. Even the French Communist Party spoke out in defense of Shcharansky, who was threatened with execution, thereby, to all appearances, saving his life. Interesting and perhaps even paradoxical is the modern continuation of those long distant cases. I’m thinking of the three-hour dinner tête-a-tête in the Kremlin in early September 2000 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Israeli Interior Minister Natan Shcharansky, the continuation of which, one might assume, was the historic visit to Moscow in January 2001 by Israeli President Moshe Katsav and the agreement reached between Russian and Israel to collaborate in the fight against international terrorism.

I met Liudmila Mikhailovna after her return from emigration in 1993. In 1996, she became chair of the reconstituted MHG—after Larisa Bogoraz (former MHG chair, 1989-1994) and Kronid Liubarsky (MHG chair, in 1994-1996), who died tragically in Indonesia on 23 May 1996.

There is so much to remember here. I will say only that after every MHG meeting in which Liudmila Mikhailovna participated, in recent years in her home, one was always left with a joyous feeling. “It’s not night yet,” as Vysotsky put it—naturally, thanks to her unfailing positive mood.

Now I will tell the story of what was probably the gayest MHG meeting ever, in January 2013.

This was a special meeting which Liudmila Mikhailovna convened for one sole reason: for us to decide whether to keep her on as MHG chair or replace her with someone else—as required by the notorious “Dima Yakovlev law” of 28 December 2012, No. 272-F3. Part 2, article 2 of that law says: “A citizen of the Russian Federation who holds citizenship of the United States of America cannot be a member or leader of a nongovernmental organization.” There is the assumption that the law was written to target Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva, who, upon restoring her Russian citizenship in 1993, retained the US citizenship she had acquired in emigration. According to the MHG charter, Liudmila Alekseeva herself could not decide the question of her chairmanship herself, the decision about the group’s chair, again according to the charter, being the prerogative of the group’s general assembly. Now Liudmila Mikhailovna had assembled us to decide this question.

I repeat, we were very gay, as was Liudmila Mikhailovna. Of course, we heard the obvious argument that the “Dima Yakovlev law” contradicts the Russian Constitution (as was stated by the Presidential Human Rights Council on 26 December 2012, that is, before the final vote on this law in the State Duma). I remembered a joke told by some masters of ceremonies back in Stalin’s time that for some reason I’d remembered since I was a child: “The English have sent us a sealed ultimatum: we stitched up the ulti and we’re going to answer them with the matum.” That’s approximately how we unanimously replied to the authors to the “Law of Scoundrels.” Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva did remain MHG chair until that terrible day this year, 8 December.

Boris Altshuler


Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva has died. My heart aches. The entire context of our life is so grievous. And this death seems like the result of that context, although to die at age 91 is natural, of course. Nonetheless, thinking about Lev Ponomarev and everything else, it seems to me that LM was tired of living and fighting with no result.

To Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva on her birthday, 20 July 2017

It all came before me, I am not responsible.
I write no laws, crown no man’s head.
The idea was someone else’s, not mine,
That a noose looks good on an unbowed neck.

The idea wasn’t mine, nor is the fault.
That dungeon belly is forever hungry.
But it seems I must be sternly asked 
To answer for those murdered. 
For everyone without a roof.

Larissa Miller

[In the original Russian:

Людмиле Михайловне Алексеевой
в день её юбилея 20 июля 2017 г.

Все было до меня, и я не отвечаю.
Законов не пишу. На царство не венчаю.
Придумала не я, придумали другие,
Что хороша петля на непокорной вые.

Придумала не я, и я не виновата,
Что вечно не сыта утроба каземата.
Но чудится: с меня должны спросить сурово
За убиенных всех. За всех лишенных крова.]

Translated by Marian Schwartz