The guiding principles of human rights defender Andrei Yurov: "I try to protect people from their governments wherever possible" [7x7]

posted 1 May 2018, 12:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 May 2018, 07:04 ]

9 April 2018 

Andrei Yurov, human rights activist and social philosopher, advisor to the Moscow Helsinki Group, advisor to the Council of Europe, celebrated his 50th birthday on 9 April. The on-line magazine "7x7” has publishes his guiding principles, collected from interviews and public appearances over past years.

— I am a patriot of the world who protects people from their governments wherever possible.

—A characteristic of life in the 21st century is the regular clash of languages and semantic interpretations. This this has been a struggle which the concept of human rights has formally won because even dictators themselves now use human rights rhetoric, but in reality a struggle hopelessly lost, precisely because the dictators are now using "human rights" rhetoric.

— As far as I’m concerned, a human rights activist is somebody who has chosen to change the world. But to do this, they must actively dislike what is happening in the world. For example, I don’t like what is happening now in Syria, in Istanbul, in Chechnya…It is essential that we are not indifferent to what is happening, that we hold the desire to change it and the belief that it is possible.

I am an ethnic Scythian! And at the last census, I described myself as “Scythian”. I feel like one. I am interested in the theme of who we are and what determines our modern ethnic identity. How much of it stems from blood and soil, or is it a social preference or some anthropological construct...

It’s impossible to explain my engagement in human rights work. It gives me nothing but a huge amount of unpleasantness, grief and threats. A pseudo-psychologist defined this very well during the Pussy Riot trial: "A personality disorder in the guise of actively taking a public stand." I have precisely the same "personality disorder" and I cannot explain my choice.

— I am an opponent of the concept of natural rights. Human rights are unnatural!

- I’m naive and therefore I cannot keep silent about what is happening, though I know that something truly positive is unlikely to happen. And yet, I am so naive that I believe that sooner or later people who respect the importance of human rights in all regions of the world will be able to unite and translate the ideas of international solidarity into a system that protects every human being on the planet from the arbitrariness of the authorities and armed groups. After all, this is not an "internal" affair, but a universal matter concerning all mankind, and flowing through the blood of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, atheists and all others, through our blood. Otherwise humanity will not exist at all.

While a meeting remains peaceful and does not violate the work of the most important public services (e.g. firefighters, ambulances), the authorities are obliged to do only one thing: not to prevent it, not to "disperse" it, not to detain the participants, not to beat them and quietly stand aside and guard those assembled from non-peaceful provocateurs and hooligans. Yes, it is difficult (in general it is difficult not to beat people, if you exercise a monopoly on violence, and even more so when people go out and "affront" authority) but it is absolutely necessary, if the universally recognized international norms of human rights have not yet become a hollow sound.

Permanent appeals to traditions and traditional values are the cornerstone of rightwing populism (note in parentheses, that in many cases these have never been "traditional values", but have been invented by the rightists on the hoof). Rightwing populism aims to announce eternal and inviolable "traditions", beneficial to them at any current juncture. Sometimes they descend into the ridiculous. For example, a rightwing populist in the Netherlands has declared: “In our culture there has always been a tolerant attitude towards LGBT people, but immigrant Islamists do not respect our gays.

To implement a true policy for civil society, groups of civic activists are obliged to forge their own, very special metaphysical "weapon". It must be non-violent, effective and, if possible, good humoured. Otherwise they will lose out to the politics “of the usual” everywhere and forever.

· On 27 February, 2014 I was accidentally in the Crimea. I saw what happened happening before my very eyes. Regrettably, I saw something slightly different from that which was shown here on television. I witnessed my acquaintances, my friends being dragged into the cellars by the so-called self- defence organisations and saw the state in which they emerged, simply, for example, because they dared to put flowers on Shevchenko’s statue... So when my parents tell me stories about Crimea, I am not amused, I am very bitter.

Human rights are the crap which prevents the state from doing what it wants. They hinder the existence of prisons, as in Chechnya, the building of walls on Mexico’s border, and the barring of immigration by Muslims into a country merely on the grounds that they are Muslims... But it's not just the state. It's a lot more complicated now.

The way forward is to focus on the individual. I am convinced that society thrives where individuals are protected. As Le Bon said, a crowd of janitors behaves the same as a crowd of academics. History is made by individuals and creative groups, not by crowds and masses. Houses are built by organized teams of builders. The crowd can only destroy the house, but not build it. For me, the concept of human rights is, first of all, not about rights, but about human beings. To have regard for everyone as a person, even if they seem unpleasant to you, whether they sit on a throne or in prison...

The idea of human rights is not only something geopolitical. It is actually not about geopolitics at all, it is about our personal relations. Can we, for example, build horizontal solidarity? Can we sit down and talk without waiting for the rulers to do it. Anyway, they won't. We need to grow up, stop hoping for kings and heroes. Why do we say "...we have never lived so badly as we did under Obama? " It’s time now to stop living "under Obama," It’s time to start living for ourselves.

Translated by Graham Jones