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Civil society grows from human rights protection organizations

Interview taken by Vladimir Verdashko, editor-in-chief of the magazine ‘Pravozashchitnik’ from Sergey Kovaliov

Question: Sergey Adamovich, what is Russian human rights protection movement today? What is its composition and the number of members?

Answer: I am not an expert in these questions. I have never had organizational talents. your questions shall be better addressed to Ludmila Alekseyeva and Lev Ponomarev. Besides, there are specialists in the ‘Memorial’, who monitor the structure and composition of human rights protection organizations.

I shall only tell that the number of human rights protection activists is much greater than in the Soviet times. I think that the number of human rights protection organizations is in hundreds, or maybe more than a thousand. Their quality varies very much. There are such organizations that work on the high international professional level. For example, ‘Memorial’ is not worse then most respected International standards of ‘Amnesty International’. The latter is certainly more numerous, but I speak about professionalism.

Certainly, there exist human rights protection activists and organizations, that have rather naive and not very profound beliefs, sometimes not without, I will say, pecuniary interests. There are people who look important and regard their human rights protection activities like an element of their career, as a method to inflate their self. And their number is rather large, to my pity. In general, the human rights protection activities are always connected with a special opinion, often contradicting the official views. And certainly not anyone feels oneself comfortable, standing in opposition tot he state machine.

This demands certain properties of one’s character. It happens so that this activities make one to reveal such properties of one’s character that makes a human rights protection activist to be in opposition not only to the authorities, but to one’s neighbors and friends.

For example, there are human rights protection activists, who like to take part in court trials, and that is good. But some of them do it, for example, in order to accuse the judge of incompetence and do it in the inadmissible form.

Q.: At what extent the Russian human rights protection community is capable to unite their actions in order to express their attitude to some social or political problem? Is it possible for them to shape a single united position?

A.: The great variety in the structure and large differences in the professional level make the task of uniting human rights protection organizations rather difficult. Many human rights protection organizations with a rich experience show the lack of enthusiasm to the risk of the possible loss of independence. That is why the attempts to unite and blend are not so necessary. Nevertheless, some joint actions are taken. For example, the association ‘Common action’ has been created in Moscow. Its members are used to gather in the A.D.Sakharov museum to discuss and plan joint actions. These actions, in particular, are aimed at exerting pressure on the authorities. Alas, such attempts often appear inefficient. The present period of development of Russia is characterized, among others, by the attempts of the authorities to get rid of the public pressure, but our society is not ripe enough to exert necessary pressure. Generally speaking, the discussion about the ideology of the human rights protection movement in the recent time rose rather often and sometimes became very sharp. What must be the aims of human rights protection? And for what purpose do the activists of this movement toil?

Every serious and honest person would answer: I need this activities myself. Naturally, it is pleasant to comprehend that something depends on you. An honest person clearly understands that human rights protection activities are what he internally needs. But I also think that human rights protection organizations and activists have two socially important functions.

The first one: human rights protection activists are ‘geese’. Like those who saved Rome. They raise noise when the danger is near. This is a very important function. One must understand that the personnel of human rights protection organizations are not professional lawyers, they cannot function as lawyers or legislators — this is not their work. There are professionals for this. But when there appears a danger for the rights of minorities or some other groups or individuals, they raise the noise, and they can do it very well.

Q.: Do they do it well at present?

A.: I would say rather well. Not always professionally and convincingly, but loudly. As I have said, the authorities have learned to damp and ignore this noise, and the wide public have not yet learned to pay much attention. Well, the process is continuing and, by and by, both the authorities and the public will learn. Without this noise the public apathy would grow.

And I want to say about the other function of human rights protection organizations. This function is very important, although little noticeable: human rights protection organizations are the cells of the civil society. Such civil society cannot be established by edicts, it develops from inside. This structure and common understanding that we are the civil society must be hammered into the consciousness of people by long and repeated efforts. It seems to me that human rights protection organizations are crystallization centers of the civil society.

Here is an example about the ‘Memorial’, well-known to me. This is an impressive imprint of the civil society to be. Representatives of all branches of the social thought come to it, except fascists. Yet, there are anarchists, monarchists, communists and, which is natural, many liberals and social democrats. And these people belonging to so different public tendencies, which have rather varying convictions, are capable to work jointly to go in for right protection activities or to study our sad and bloody history, or to go in for other kinds of public activities, such as charity or education.

How can it be that these people, having so different outlooks and convictions, are capable to work together? The answer is very simple: in ‘Memorial’ democratic procedures domineer, as well as the understanding that the democratic procedure is ultimately important in our life. Every member is sure that he has guaranteed opportunities to develop his idea, suggest it for discussion to his colleagues. His ideas may be not accepted, but they always will be respected.

This is the model of the civil society: toleration of various beliefs and respectful attitude to anyone’s opinions, at the same time comprehending themselves as something pulled together.

Q.: Sergey Adamovich, name please the obstacles for development of human rights protection movement in Russia? Both internal and external. If one judges by the number of organizations, one can conclude that the circumstances are favorable, are not they?

A.: Nothing of the kind. Recently we have observed rather strong negative reaction on the side of the state. Here is an example: a registration of public organizations was started, and rather difficult situation has been created. The thing is that human rights protection NGOs on their statutes write the following: the aim of the organization is the protection of human rights. But the Ministry of Justice and its branches below state the following: human rights are protected by state bodies, and you may only support this activity. It seems to me that this is a discrimination, becoming an element of the state policy. In my opinion, this attitude of the state contradicts the right.

There is another external obstacle. I would call it the most important. The thing is that our mass media, being free in principle (censorship does not exist in our country), is not actually independent. That is why we, human rights protectors, cannot squeeze onto the pages of more or less influential press or on the screens of TV channels with large audience.

As to the external obstacles, they always existed and exist, and I would not like to dramatize the events. In my opinion, the highest obstacle is some internal brake, some, I would say, loss of humor, too seriously inflated cheeks, absence of self-irony. Many human rights protection activists are deeply mistaken thinking that they are authorities. We are not, but our self-respect must not suffer. Many activists do not understand that second function, of which I have named — the function of building the civil society. Less declarations, less appeals, we must just do real deeds and thus promote the construction of the fundamentals of the civil society.

It is quite understandable that many of us loose heart when there is no reaction to their actions, when their appeals are not heard. ‘Why do we need to do all this?’, that is the question which many activists put to themselves. That is a pity that they do not recollect a well-known fable about two frogs in the pot of cream.

The fable is that two frogs got into a pot of cream, and after several attempts to get out one of them drowned. But the other frog, having no visible chances to get out continued to jerk the legs; at last it made a clump of butter, got onto it and jumped out of the pot.

We, in a sense, must behave ourselves like the latter frog. They do not print your articles, they do not react to your appeals — disregard it and do what you should. Our motto must be: ‘Do what you should and see what will happen’.

If we understood that we make the basis of the future civil society, then there will be less pessimism in the human rights protection movement and more realistic comprehension of the problems that we encounter.

Q.: How do you assess the situation in the country?

A.: The Chechen knot will not be untied soon and this topic deserves a special discussion. Now it is important to understand that the Kremlin policy in Chechnya is but a reflection of some other features of this policy.

One of them is very alarming. The main factor of our political evolution is that the country obeys, as before, the Soviet nomenclature tradition of administration. I affirm this with the full responsibility. As you know, in recent years I had to touch many various structures, including those of the authorities. An I do not repent, I remember well and understand numerous reproaches that I heard from my friends and colleagues. Nonetheless I believe that human rights protection efforts are not out of place even among the authorities. Such efforts educate the authorities, as well as human rights protectors. Politically, I am an idealist, but anyway I am not so far from reality and I understand that interaction with the authorities is a necessary and useful activity. One should understand those people on whom you want to apply pressure.

In this connection I would like to deviate from the topic and speak about recent history: I want to put the question about when and how nomenclature tendencies began to restore (if they were interrupted at all).

After the defeat of the putsch in August 1991 many people, including me (though I was not the most active), addressed Boris Eltsin and Ruslan Khazbulatov: let us gather the Congress of peoples’ deputies, let us do it without delay.

It was obvious that this had to be done, because, as we said, we could elaborate a good Constitution instead of a correction of contradicting each other stupid norms. We could be able to get what we openly declared: a transparent open policy.

But those in power said: ’No, because’, they said, ‘the time works for us and we need to prepare well’. And most went to their summer leaves.

I do not know exactly what was Eltsin thinking, but I am almost sure that the flow of his thoughts was as follows:

‘And what is open policy, can I use it and what is this transparency? It means that I must tell everybody WHAT I decided and WHY? I did not make my career on this open policy, I made it on normal well-known obkom personnel intrigues. And with whom I was making my career? With these strange people, who speak the language unknown to me? No! I made it with Korzhakov, Lobov, Soskovets and the like. I know them like the palm of my hand. I know when they will defend me like themselves, and I know when they will betray me.’ And so on and so forth.

I am quite sure that similar considerations enabled the old nomenclature — maybe not of the first rank, but of the second and third — to occupy key positions in the country. This also explains why, after many speeches about reorganization of the KGB, that now our security services are different, and solve different problems, these services remained intact, including the personnel. Three recent Prime-Ministers: Primakov, Stepashin and Putin, have come from the KGB and other security services. During his long career in the communist party our President has got the habit of communicating with the Soviet security services. These services are retained and these habits are retained too.

The situation explains in particular the deteriorating climate of secrecy around the questions, which long ago had to become the object of the public oversight. This is ecology, ability to defense, the situation in security services, demography and statistics.

The first commandment of the nomenclature is: ‘Guess what wants the leader’. Both in 1994 and in 1999 it was extremely simple to guess what President Eltsin wanted. He wanted war, hence they recommended war.

We have it now.

(This material is kindly permitted to be used by the editorial board of the magazine ‘Pravozashchitnik’ and sent by the group ‘Human rights protection network’)

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