Speech on receiving the Lev Kopelev Award ‘For Freedom and Human Rights’
On April 19 in Cologne the 2015 Lev Kopelev Award “For Freedom and Human Rights” was received by Ukraine’s Ruslana Lyzhychko and Yevhen Zakharov, and Russia’s Andrei Makarevich and Edward Uspensky.
Speech given by Yevhen Zakharov
A sincere thank you to the Lev Kopelev Forum! It is a great honour for me to receive an award named after this great writer, humanist and human rights defender. His ideas and views remain especially relevant at the present time. For example, we’re trying in Ukraine to work out how to fight dishonest Russian propaganda which constantly calls black white and vice versa. And Kopelev asserts that “Lies can be conquered only by the truth”. And indeed, there is no better weapon against lies than the truth.
In his essay “What history has taught me”, Lev Kopelev writes: “The main lesson of modern history for me is very simple although it is learned with particular difficulty. This is the lesson of truth and tolerance! Without these all our life on earth will perish Unconditional truth and the broadest tolerance, love for our fellow man overcoming all forms of hatred and enmity. These are needed for humanity to continue.”
Indeed, tolerance is extremely vital for Ukrainian society, part of which has become brutalized and thinks that all means are acceptable against separatists and Russian aggressors. This rising hatred of separatists, triumph when militants are killed, the circulation in the social media of photos of enemies’ bodies – these are the soil in which torture and other forms of violence thrive. In the political arena this leads to false ideas that you can resolve difficult problems through simple methods, by using force and hounding your opponents. As a result parliament, despite good motives, passes laws which can only be called a mockery of the law. This tendency is extremely dangerous for the country’s future.
At the present time Ukraine is waging a war with a Russian aggressor for its freedom and independence. However we should realize that this conflict is about civilization and that in this war Ukraine is not just fighting for itself, but for the entire western world. Nonetheless hatred for Putin and the top echelons of the Russian state must in no way turn into hatred for ordinary Russians, chanting that “Crimea is ours” and conned by propaganda. Ukrainians should always remember the 15% of Russian citizens who supported Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and speak out against Russian aggression. It is our duty to help them, and the best help will be the success of our actions in Ukraine, the growth of a middle class, truly democratic transformations and the affirmation of rule of law. For the development of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine is the prerequisite for the preservation and development of a free Russia.
I would also like to say that I consider this award to be recognition of the Ukrainian human rights community that started virtually from scratch in 1991 when the number of human rights activists could be counted on the fingers of one hand and has grown into a large, by Ukraine’s standards, and influential group of organizations and people. I see this award as recognition of the human rights spirit on the Ukrainian Maidan when Ukrainians yet again demonstrated that for many of them freedom, justice, honour and dignity mean more than their own life. As recognition of the shared aspiration for those values regardless of language, ethnic or religious affiliation, for the amazing phenomenon of volunteer initiatives where 77% of Ukrainians are helping the army, the injured, their families, displaced persons. And where 20% of the population took an active part in the events on Maidan, in the volunteer movement.
I am proud to be a part of my people.