Lev Ponomarev: A human rights organization is obligated not to be on friendly terms with the State, but rather to make demands of it

posted 22 Nov 2019, 14:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Nov 2019, 08:50 ]
14 November 2019

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Nastoyashchee vremya]

On 1 November, Russia’s Supreme Court closed down For Human Rights, which had been operating for more than 20 years, since 1997. The movement was headed up by Lev Ponomarev, a well-known Russian human rights activist, an associate of Academician Sakharov, and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. The Supreme Court cited as its reason for closing down the organization “violations of legislation.” 

During the Free Russia forum in Vilnius, Lev Ponomarev talked to journalists from Nastoyashchee vremya about the discussion within the opposition’s ranks and about the creation of a new human rights organization. 

On the role of human rights activists 

“If we’re talking about the essence of the discussion, where our main contradiction lies, then, of course, those radical political views held by some draw a black-and-white picture. Especially when people live abroad. 

“I’m a human rights activist, I live in Russia, and I have two positions: on one hand, I’m in Russia, and this is a little different; on the other, a human rights organization is obligated not to get along with the state but to interact and make demands of the state. That is what we do. 

“And reproaching human rights activists for interacting with the state is like saying, ‘You’re not needed, you’re just not needed.’ But we are needed. We know we are needed by Russia’s citizens. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that human rights activists have played a huge role in the country creeping toward a peaceful resolution of the contradictions there are in the country. 

“There are many enthusiasts who would truly like to push the country toward conflict among its citizens. Not people and the state, but so that citizens [come into conflict] with each other, as happened in Ukraine. In Ukraine, that is what happened in part. And I must say that I also consider the role of radicals in Ukraine destructive. Although, they were waging a war, of course. 

“But I know that when the peaceful Maidan happened, I was there in Kyiv, the very first Maidan, and I know that a group of young people rushed and attacked the police right before my eyes. And hit them with Molotov cocktails—it wasn’t the police who attacked. This is something that cannot be allowed during a peaceful protest. That is, a group of radicals infiltrated, and they created a harsh confrontation, attacked the police. And of course, this is what benefits the state, too—so that people get radicalized, so that there’s violence. 

“There was no violence during the peaceful protests in Moscow. But a few participants in our march said they saw people like that, who [created provocations]. But for some reason they aren’t being tried now. The same thing happened on Bolotnaya Square. There were people there who tried to incite violence against the police. And later they weren’t tried—others, who were innocent, were tried.” 

On the prospects for human rights in Russia 

“They remain fairly positive. Moreover, they are increasing because we, at least, my organization, not only defends people in court, but we are engaged in creating non-profit organisations, in bringing people together, in creating civil society as such. This is part of my work. It’s not quite standard human rights work. I can see civil society being created right before my eyes. In some places I helped, in some places people have done it themselves. 

“I want this work to continue. And I will continue it. Therefore, if they eliminate our organization, we will create a Russia-wide non-profit organization. It will be of a different form, it will not be a movement, it will not be registered as a legal entity. And we will function as long as the state allows us to. Until they squeeze us again such that we search for a new organizational form.” 

Translated by Marian Schwartz

See a video in Russian of the interview by Nastoyashchee vremya with Lev Ponomarev here