Warmest Birthday Greetings to Sergei Kovalev!


2 March 2010 is the eightieth birthday of Sergei Kovalev, human rights defender, former political prisoner, first Russian Federation Human Rights Ombudsperson and Chair of the Russian “Memorial” Historical-Educational and Human Rights Society

Sergei Kovalev was born on 2 March 1930 in the Sumy region of Ukraine, however his family moved to the Moscow region when he was just two years old. He is a biophysicist who has published more than 60 scientific works, although he is much better known as an unwavering defender of human rights and justice.

His opposition to the hypocrisy and lies of the regime emerged in the mid-1950s with his participation in the struggle against the Lysenko doctrine which was dominant in Soviet biology and supported by the Party.

In 1966 he organized the collection of signatures to an appeal addressed to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in defence of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuly Daniel who were being tried for “anti-Soviet propaganda”.  The appeal named the conviction of the two writers for publishing their works abroad unlawful and in breach of the Soviet Constitution. Later Sergei Kovalev was to stress that this appeal to the law was no accident. “This form of protest, unlike underground and violent methods, is far more morally acceptable”.

He joined the emerging human rights movement in 1968 and in May 1969 became one of the members of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, the first human rights association in the country. From 1971 he was one of the leading figures in keeping the “Chronicle of Current Events”, the typed information bulletin of Soviet human rights defenders.

Sergei Kovalev was arrested on 28 December 1974 and sentenced, a full year later, to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 3 years exile for “anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation”.

He returned to Moscow during the years of perestroika and took part in a number of civic initiatives.

During the first years after the Soviet Union collapsed, he was active also in politics.  In 1994 the State Duma elected him the first Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson.  In December that year he sharply criticised the actions of the Federal authorities in Chechnya and up till March 1995 spent most of his time in the Republic, becoming  one of the main sources of information about the military action, bombing of Grozny etc.

His unwillingness to tolerate lawlessness and injustice made him enemies then, as in Soviet times.  This has continued to the present day, especially since the human rights situation began worsening in the early 2000s. 

This same unfailing commitment to human rights and respect for human dignity has brought him recognition and deep respect, and made him many friends throughout the world.  

We join with them in extending our best wishes to Sergei Adamovich on his birthday.

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