Ludmila Alekseeva calls the accusations against Memorial Human Rights Centre madness
Diana Evdokimova interviews Liudmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group
The General Secretary of the Council of Europe, Mr Tjorborn Jagland has called on the Russian authorities to protect the Memorial Human Rights Centre, it was reported on Wednesday. Earlier, Memorial had received by post an official notification of the outcome of a regular inspection by the Russian Ministry of Justice which accused the NGO of undermining the foundations of the Russian constitutional order, inciting the overthrow of the existing government, and replacing the political regime in the country. After this, Russian human rights activists signed a statement in support of Memorial. One of those who signed the declaration was Liudmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group. In an interview with Novye Izvestiya she expressed her opinion that the Ministry of Justice should justify such serious accusations and talked about the plans of the human rights community to support Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Diana Evdokimova: What do you think of the conclusions to which the Ministry of Justice came after its scheduled inspection of Memorial Human Rights Centre?
Ludmila Alekseeva: The accusations are unprecedented. This really is some kind of madness. The Ministry of Justice, which ad infinitum contravenes the law with regards to human rights activists and other NGOs, suddenly comes up with the accusation that the Memorial Human Rights Centre is violating the constitutional order. How could they in principle allow such accusations to be made? In essence, they are claiming that Memorial has committed a really serious criminal offence. Is that what they want to do, bring criminal charges against human rights activists?
How possible is it that they are indeed planning to bring criminal charges against the staff of the Memorial Human Rights Centre?
I don’t know what the Ministry of Justice is trying to do. But if that happens, then it will be possible to talk about the renaissance of Stalinist times, of repressions.
Along with a number of other human rights activists, you have signed a statement in support of Memorial Human Rights Centre. Aren’t the human rights activists afraid that similar inspections will now be launched against them?
No, if you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go into the forest. If the Ministry of Justice really does consider Memorial guilty of such crimes, then we are guilty as well. We are all doing one and the same thing. We are defending human rights. If this is a violation of the foundations of the constitution, then, along with Memorial, we are violating them. But we just don’t know what is going on in the crazy minds of the officials. We shall defend ourselves in accordance with the law. We are not going to abandon our comrades just because the Ministry of Justice has attacked them.
What else are the human rights activists planning to do to help Memorial Human Rights Centre?
The day after tomorrow we’ll hold a meeting of the Council of Human Rights Defenders on this issue. All its members will be there: me, Lev Ponomarev (executive director of For Human Rights), Valery Borshchev (co-chair of the Association of Independent Observers), Sergei Kovalev (chair of Memorial Society) and others. Apart from this we really want Aleksandr Cherkasov (chair of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre) to be there. He should attend this discussion so that we do not do anything that Memorial does not want to be done. On the whole we intend to undertake the most decisive actions that we are capable of.
Will you be making any particular suggestions yourself?
I will be suggesting that we take the Ministry of Justice to court, to demand they give the basis for such accusations, and that they apologize. For the moment, we haven’t worked out a general strategy.
Won’t this provoke yet another increase in pressure on NGOs?
It’s highly likely that there will be repressions, but we are ready for such a turn of events. In any case, the human rights activists will resist them. I know one thing – there is a civil society in our country. NGOs are the backbone of this civil society, especially the human rights activists. Once we have come into existence, it is impossible to annihilate us by force. The Soviet government tried it. The Moscow Helsinki Group, of which I have the honour of being chair, was founded in 1976. They also told us that we were violating the foundations of the Constitution. Members of the Helsinki Group received heavy sentences and did time in the camps.
Nevertheless on 12th May next year the Moscow Helsinki Group will be marking its 40th anniversary. And where is that Soviet system which fought against us? It will be just the same with this Ministry of Justice which is accusing Memorial Human Rights Centre of violating the constitution. While I don’t know where they will be – but I do know that we shall survive! Because we are civil society. Human rights activists survived the Soviet period, and now they have turned into a great force. There is no region where there is not at least one NGO. What’s there to be afraid of? They are the ones used to sleeping on soft beds, and eating well. We live in a different way, we are not afraid of any persecutions.
What will Russia lose if the Memorial Human Rights Centre ceases to exist?
Well, it won’t cease to exist. What can they do? Take away our registration? Well, so what? The Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976 did not have any registration. We registered in 1992 when we were already known all around the world. What else can they do? They can’t ban us from working. Others will take our place. Their actions are just pointless.
What sort of role does this NGO play in our country?
You have to remember that Memorial Human Rights Centre is an absolutely invaluable organisation. It concentrates its efforts on regions where there are conflicts, of which, alas, there are so many in our country. It is a huge, difficult and dangerous work. Thanks to the fact that Memorial works in such hot spots, other human rights organisations have the chance to work in all the remaining regions of Russia. After all, human rights violations happen everywhere.
Memorial does the work that Russia’s post-Soviet authorities should, but do not, do. I’m talking about the preservation of the memory of the real, tragic history of the Soviet period, about the millions of people who were shot to death and suffered in the camps, those who died as a result of the repressions and injustice. Many organizations are engaged in this work, but Memorial here plays a key role.
It is enough to remember their outstanding projects. On the initiative of Memorial, the Solovetsky Stone was established on the Lubyanka as a monument to the victims of political repression. Just recently, on 30th October, there was the day of remembrance for these people. But on 29th October Memorial held a commemorative reading of the names of those who were executed. And every year there is a queue of those who want to take part in this event. Memorial publishes wonderful books. In a word, this is a splendid organisation. For me it is obvious that Russia should be proud that an organization like this exists on its territory.
Translated by Frances Robson