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Liudmila Alekseeva answers your questions (Ekho Moskvy)

posted 12 Jan 2015, 08:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jan 2015, 08:39 ]
9 January 2015

Source: Ekho Moskvy

Contributor: Bez Kupiur

Question 1


What does God mean to you?


I believe in God the creator who made the miracle that is life on earth.
But I don't think God is following our every deed, punishing us for bad behaviour and rewarding us for good.

Question 2

Liudmila Mikhailovna! May God grant you a long life.
Which era was more difficult for human rights defenders, the Soviet period or the current one we are living in?


Definitely the Soviet period. 

There's no comparison. Back then, we called ourselves "human rights defenders" but we were totally unable to defend the rights of our fellow citizens. We weren't even able to defend ourselves and were savagely persecuted. Although of course now it's very difficult to carry out our work, and with each passing year it's getting more difficult. But at least we really are defending human rights. Firstly, this is because there are more of us. Secondly, we have gained a certain amount of experience. Thirdly, our fellow citizens have changed. Most of them are conscious that they have rights and are ready to defend them. And it is much easier to help defend a person who is fighting for their rights themselves than someone who does nothing and expects you to do everything for him.

Question 3
Alex, Аngestelte, Germany, Leipzig

What is your attitude towards the sanctions and counter sanctions? What is your view on eastern and western Ukraine?


I don't fully understand your question regarding eastern and western Ukraine.
Ukraine is a single unified state. And this is how one should relate to it. I wish that both Russia and Ukraine would end this completely absurd, tragic brawl, which neither we nor they need - and that we behave, as we should do, like fraternal peoples with a similar culture and history and become good neighbours. I look with horror at what is going on now between us and Ukraine.

Question 4

Dear Liudmila Mikhailovna! Tell me, do you have any favourite books or music?


Thank you, Natalya Dmitriyevna Soloveva.

There are a lot of them. Well, anyway here are a few of them. Books such as Tolstoy's "War and Peace", "The Enchanted Soul" by Romain Rolland and Pushkin's "The Tales of Belkin" I often reread and each time at different periods of my life they give me a different sort of pleasure, but a great deal of pleasure nevertheless. The emotions evoked by music are of less importance to me. I love string music the most, violins. Which is why I love musicians such as Ravel and Vivaldi…

Question 5

What suggestions do you have for creating an opposition in Russia that would be able to attract the people?


This is the only question of all ten which I can't answer. That is because I am not a politician, but a human rights defender. And what the opposition should look not a question for me.

No doubt it has to find its own path, but it is not my job and I really cannot answer this question. I understand human rights work, but as for the opposition...

I wish them the best of luck, but I... This is not for me.

Question 6
Vladimir, pensioner from Moscow.
Please tell me whether you have in mind a person on whom you can fully rely and to whom you could pass on your authority over time?


When I am no longer able to lead the Moscow Helsinki Group due to my health or because of my death ...

We have 26 members in the Moscow Helsinki Group. Our statute lays down that they elect the person who will be chair after me. Perhaps even during my lifetime. In line with our statute, the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group is elected every two years. But the number of times that one can be elected is not limited. That’s because this position, thank God, does not have any powers, so you don’t have to put limitations on it.

I must say that I am very proud of the fact that since 1996 I have been re-elected unanimously every two years. It has never been the case that anyone has…

Believe me when I say that I don't pressurize them, nor do I frighten them. It’s free choice. Of course they will choose someone. I hope someone who is already a member of the Group...

In our most recent meetings we discussed the fact that I am already old and that we have to think about the future of the Group, so that it won’t happen that it is left unexpectedly without a leader.

And we decided to change our statute, and we’ve already informed the Ministry of Justice about this (which has approved the changes). According to the change, we shan’t have just one chair, but three co-chairs. The Ministry has only just approved those changes and at our next meeting the Group members will choose from among our number the three who are to be co-chairs. I hope that I will be chosen as one of them. That means there will be two others. And which of them will later be...?

Well, I shall no longer be with them. And they will elect a third additional person, if I’m elected as one of the three now.

Question 7

What is the most useful thing you have done in all of your long life? Could you give me a concrete example, please?

This question has puzzled me a lot.

Just because it is difficult to single out any one thing. However, in the coming year, 2015, it will be exactly 50 years since I started working on the protection of human rights. Over this period a lot of different things have happened. Thankfully I have managed to do a lot. Personally, I most value those times when someone has been freed from a prison camp, from a prison, or an innocent person has been released. Thank God there have been such instances. Probably there were two or three times when, thanks to immediate intervention, we managed to save someone’s life. This was during the Chechen war. And of course, this was also an important matter…..

But perhaps, if my colleagues were to make an assessment, they would put more value on those successes that were achieved through organized efforts.

Let’s say the Moscow Helsinki Group itself. This was my idea and has been existing all this time under my chairmanship. We, the MHG, played a big role in the creation of a human rights community in Russia which spread to all our regions. Though we need to say that the recent laws directed against NGOs, the 2006 law and the recent laws regarding the infamous foreign agents have to a significant extent destroyed what we were able to do, and now this human rights community, which previously spread to all regions, has significantly decreased and has become significantly less active.

So, on the one hand, we have done this. But it needs to be said that it wasn’t just me. We did this all together. I did not take part in this on my own…

But to say now that this has been the most useful think, when now it has been significantly destroyed – well, that’s rather complicated…

It is difficult to answer this question.

Question 8

Do human rights organisations have the right to work with such odious figures as Putin?


I can answer this question very easily.

Because human rights activists, as distinct from opposition groups and generally from any politicians, should work with whatever kind of government there is. The worse the government, the more necessary and important is the work of human rights activists. Therefore …. look at Andrei Dmitrievich Sakaharov in the Soviet era, when it was practically impossible for human rights activists to work, when they generally did not even acknowledge our existence, he wrote a letter to the Soviet authorities.

He wrote: “Dear Leonid Ilyich!…. “ And then went on to suggest introducing an amnesty, freeing political prisoners etc And when these things – well not really even successes– well, when they managed to do something at all… in general, this was extremely rare. And now, in spite of all the difficulties, nonetheless we are tangibly protecting human rights, and it has to be said that I have more than once personally appealed to president Putin with requests. First of all regarding people who have ended up in custody through a miscarriage of justice. And there have been cases when this has actually helped to bring about someone’ss release. So it is very easy to answer this question here. It’s not just a right – I am convinced: human rights activists have got to co-operate with the current president and with any other person – with anyone who holds the fate of others in their hands.

Question 9 

How did you manage to avoid prosecution in the USSR and escape abroad?

That is a very funny question!

How did I manage to avoid criminal prosecution? Well, probably, by good luck! Because there are so many times when ... well, by sheer luck. Because if it hadn’t been like that…

In 1974 they summoned me to the Lubyanka and officially warned me that they, the KGB, already had prepared a case against me under Article 70, that’s anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, although I definitely had never been engaged in such matters. But that was how KGB officers called our human rights activity. And the maximum sentence under this law was seven years imprisonment and five years in exile. What about that?...

But that’s it: I was lucky, in a word. I really can’t put it down to anything else, because then, in 1974, they warned me that they had already drawn up a case under Article 70 and, if there isn’t anything else for us to add, and if you don’t stop your activities, you will be arrested under Article 70, the case is already complete. After this I worked for three more years before emigrating. In 1976 I was among the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group, at that time, the only independent human rights organization in the whole country. Nonetheless, for some reason, I was not arrested.

I didn’t flee abroad: after 1974 my husband and my son really insisted, they simply demanded that we leave. Then emigration was the only possibility, it was very hard to get permission, and far from everyone got exit permits to go to Israel, for Jews. Our family was not Jewish. But I had friends in Israel who ... Yulius Telesin, who went there himself, my friend, sent me what was really a fraudulent invitation to come as his cousin.

Why am I so against that word “flee”? I didn’t want to leave. I lived a full life, and as strange as it sounds now, it seemed to me then that it is easier to serve seven years in prison and five years in exile, and to continue to do what I do at home rather than go somewhere else, because what was there, but on the other side of the Iron Curtain, was completely unknown and it was unclear how to live and what to do and why. That seemed like the end of life.

But I made my mind up to do this in 1977 because there was a real risk of the arrest of my husband and son, who were not dissidents at all, but … just helped me. Well it we’d been unlucky at that time, not only would I have served sentences of 7 and 5 years, but they would too. And the fear that they would be put in prison when they wanted to leave, and they would serve time just because, especially my son, just because he's my son ...

If he had had a normal mother and lived like a normal person he would not have been dragged off to the “Gulag Archipelago" and he wouldn’t have been involved in any other matters...

So I thought that I should make sacrifices for their sakes and so I agreed to submit the application for our exit to Israel, and, can you believe it, they allowed us to go. It happened quite a lot at that time because sometimes they preferred to let people go abroad, thinking…Well, who am I? What will I do abroad? After all in those days people left forever, sadly, it was especially awful. Because there was no hope of their ever returning. But they not only granted us permission but did their utmost to ensure that we went quickly. So that is how it was.

Of course, as soon as it became possible to return, I did return to my country and I certainly will never leave now.

Question 10 
Aren’t you tired of banging your head against a brick wall for so many years?


I don’t consider this as “banging my head against a brick wall.”

You see, if we consider the question: “What do you consider the most useful thing I’ve done…?” Well I can recollect an awful lot. You understand? At the moment human rights work is also a difficult business. Say, out of 10 cases which I take up, 7 or 8 don’t work out. Perhaps you could say that this is banging one’s head against a brick wall? But you know, when something does work out - helping another person, helping some group of deserving people – you feel such joy, suck a surge of energy, that it compensates for all the 7 or 8 failures. And it’s not a case of a head against a brick wall, but it’s more like ants: work, work, work. And I simply cannot imagine what I would have done in my life if I hadn’t been doing this …..

I have been so lucky that 50 years ago I found such an occupation, such an aim in life, thanks to which life has been worthwhile. Working hard every day. And I believe I have had a very successful life, quite without any banging my head against a wall. No, I am not tired. It’s a different matter that now I have less energy. But as much as I have ….

As I have lived the past 50 years, that is how I shall live to the end.

PS Your interest, your questions mean a great deal. In Soviet days, the overwhelming part of our citizens – the overwhelming majority! - did not even know who human rights activists were. But now….

Different people from different countries ask me questions. They are interested in what I think and do. This is enormous progress not only for our movement, but for all of our civil society, and for our whole country. We have begun to look in a new way at ourselves, at other people, at our rights and at our human dignity. It is for the sake of this that I have been working – and I haven’t been the only one. What after all could I have done on my own? So thanks to you, thanks to Ekho Moskvy. And thanks to all those who have asked me questions.

Thanks to Eva Cukier, Simon Geoghegan, Graham Jones and Frances Robson for each translating sections of this text