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'Respect your Constitution!' Sergei Kovalev on Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin (Radio Svoboda)

posted 24 Mar 2016, 03:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Mar 2016, 04:04 ]
16 March 2016 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda

Below we publish a translation of an extract from 'Уважайте вашу Конституцию!,' Radio Svoboda, 16 March 2016

Dissident, poet, philosopher and mathematician Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin, one of the leaders of the Soviet human rights movement, has passed away in the United States at the age of 92. Interfax received the news from his friends. The son of two poets, Sergei Esenin and Nadezhda Volpin, he was born in Leningrad in 1924. In 1933 his mother moved with him to Moscow, where in 1946 he graduated cum laude from the department of applied mathematics at Moscow State University. In 1949 he was placed in a psychiatric hospital for the first time for writing anti-Soviet poems. In 1950-52 he lived in [internal] exile in Karaganda. In 1959 his poetry collection Autumn Leaf, which included many poems along with his "Free Philosophical Treatise", was published in the United States. In 1965 he initiated the first human rights demonstration on Pushkin Square in Moscow. It was Esenin-Volpin who introduced the word 'glasnost', as a public demand to the authorities to obey the law and make legal procedures transparent. In 1972, Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin emigrated to the United States. Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin appeared on Radio Svoboda on several occasions. […]

Vladimir Kara-Murza Sr: Sergei Adamovich, do you think your generation, the founders of the human rights movement, succeeded in making a breach in the concrete wall of Soviet ideology?

Sergei Kovalev:
I don't think our movement was entirely ineffective, in contrast to the majority of people who now express themselves on the subject. Alas, the era is passing, it is being replaced by a new era, perhaps of a larger number of people pressing for social and legal progress, but deprived, it seems to me, of a certain historical platform. And it was Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin who was part of the platform's foundation. It should be said that before him, nothing existed in the Soviet Union. There were plenty of small circles, and there were attempts to apply Marxism in a humane way, as if it were possible to apply it humanely. Well, so that was the basic tendency. Of course there were people whose thinking went deeper. For example, Mikhail Mikhailovich Molostvov, an old prisoner, naturally had no time for primitive sociological models. Even so, that's how it was.

Volpin laid the ground for the understanding of the law, the rule of law, that lies at the heart of civil responsibility. In this lies the importance of this figure. And developing his first slogans in later publications, Aleksandr Sergeevich quite frequently gave examples from life. For example, his well-known publication on how to behave during an interrogation. The principle was - never to lie. But that doesn't mean you have to answer every question you're asked. Generally speaking it's a very difficult thing, not to lie. Soviet life was based on the daily lie. Socialist competitions, all those 'I approve's, all those hands raised at meetings - we all remember it. That's why a strict demand to observe the law, to hold to the rule of law and to the truth - I'd say in that development of civil activity that came after 1965, there was a clearly accepted foundation, a signpost to the road ahead. [...]

Vladimir Kara-Murza Sr: Sergei Adamovich, why does our country, both in Soviet times and now, treat its sons of genius so recklessly? Just as they poisoned his father, so they let Aleksandr Sergeevich himself rot in psychiatric wards, then forced him out of the country.

Sergei Kovalev: Alas, that's how it is. It's the tradition of our Fatherland. I won't say that Russian history, Russian culture can simply be reduced to this. But this side of our national life affects our whole culture. And of course in Soviet times someone of his stature couldn't... Very important scientists, very important cultural figures adapted to Soviet rule, and went along with it, they survived. They paid heavily for it. And people pay for it now. You think Oleg Pavlovich Tabakov doesn't understand what price he has to pay for being so close to the president? After all he’s one of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's ‘trusted persons’. He knows. He's prepared to pay the price, I assure you, not for some personal rewards but for the sake of his theatre. Many of our major thinkers and scientists have traded their conscience for the sake of science, for the sake of art, for the sake of culture, for the sake of peace and quiet, for the sake of peace on Earth. But a man of the stature of Aleksandr Sergeevich could not pay that price. He was organically incapable of it, he refused to and insisted on having another ground to stand on in life, another foundation for living. So it's clear enough, people of that stature and with those principles just wouldn’t be able to get along here.

Translated by Alissa Leigh-Valles
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