Moscow Helsinki Committee Speech on Receiving the Vaclev Havel Award Prize: Translation

Strasbourg 28, 2015 In our country the human rights movement was born a half a century ago.  I am proud and happy that since the very beginning of this movement I took the proactive role in its development.  Human rights and protection of human dignity became my life-time project.  It is the story of my life, the last fifty years of my life.

In our country the human right movement could be cut in halves:  25 years for the Soviet and 25 years for the post-Soviet, Russian period.

During the Soviet period we didn’t reach any improvements in the sphere of human rights respect.  Human rights activists were imprisoned, closed in psychiatric institutions on the grounds of protecting their stubborn statements that a human by nature possesses dignity and has rights.  The State should respect rights of each citizen and respect their dignity.  With the time, our ideology that it is the state for the people, rather than people for the state, has gained its positions.

Our ideology was disseminating in the following way:  with the use of SAMIZDAT, using typewriters with great risk of arrests, and with the use of foreign radio stations broadcasting to the Soviet Union.  After the Soviet Union dissolution the Russian Federation Constitution grew up from our ideology “ the state for the people,” “not the people for the state.”  Unfortunately, in recent years our authorities, executive and legal, and court are more tending towards the soviet practice of the disrespect to the Constitution, international obligations, and to rights and freedoms of people.

However, the human rights movement in Russia grew up from the size it was during the Soviet times.  There were only few people back those times and almost all located in Moscow.  Today human rights organizations work in almost all Russian regions.  In 1990is the general form of our work was bro bono legal reception offices.  People gained rights but weren’t familiar neither with them, nor with ways of protecting them.  And recently we develop the enlightenment activities in the form of human rights schools of various levels.  Many specialized human rights organizations are founded:  organizations that protect soldiers’ rights, migrants’ rights, women rights, children rights, research organizations, etc.

At the beginning of 1990ies the Commission on human rights was founded after the President of Russian Federation.  Today it is called the Council. The Council is the ponderate institution in the society and in state organs.  The alike councils are created after governors of Russian regions.  In some regions public orgnaizaitons are united in to civic chambers and play noticeable role in public life.  We have the Ombudsman institute on Federal level and regional human rights Ombudsmen as well.  There is also the Child Ombudsman.  But if in the nineties and the beginning of 2000 the authorities were open for cooperation with human rights activists, in recent decade there is obvious deterioration of such cooperation and open willingness to destroy the work of human rights organizations.

In 2006 Russian legislation passed the bill on NGOs brining them under control of Ministry of Justice making all NGOs responsible for continuous reporting, making them go through audits and checks, submitting tons of sometimes unnecessary documentation.  These activities deflect us from doing the work, making respond to quite often absurd inquiries.  Passed in 2012 law on foreign agents made life of Russian human rights activists even more unbearable.  According to this law, if an NGO gets even a tiny bit of foreign money, it is announced as foreign agent with great fines imposed on the organization and its management.  Failure to pay enormous fines exposes the organization to liquidation.  Most active, effective organization are persecuted by this law.  83 organization were earmarked as the “agent of the foreign state,” which in recent history meant the spy or traitor.  Federally controlled television (other stations are absent) constantly broadcasts propagandistice information against human rights defender, ecologists, other independent NGOs.  But even today it is still better than during the Soviet era.  So we are not tenderfoot and we continue working.

To conclude I would say that I don’t really believe into fast improvement of the public climate inour country.  But my long-term forecast is rather optimistic.  Russia is the Euroepan state – geographically, culturally, religiously, historically.  That is why we will become the democratic state with respected law order and will enter into the family of the European states as the member of this family.  I believe in it with all my heart.

Thank you for your attention.

Translated by Anastastia Aseyeva