With thanks to Valery Fedorovich Abramkin

21 January 2013

By Yury Samodurov 

Source: HRO.org
Yury Samodurov: On 25 January the life of dissident, human rights defender, public figure and, in the eyes of many, legendary person, Valery Fedorovich Abramkin came to an end. To those who knew him throughout the years, all that remains is the chance to pay a debt of gratitude and to write about the important things that Valery Fedorovich did in his life, to which we bore witness.

I would like to share two memories connected with Valery Fedorovich Abramkin. The first is the emergence in 1997, led by Lev Ponomarev, Valery Abramkin and Yelena Bonner, of the pressure group The Association for the Protection of the Civil and Economic Rights of Russian Citizens (its short title - the Common Action pressure group). This group existed and met regularly in the Andrey Sakharov Museum and Public Centre from 1997 to around 2006-2007, once or twice a month at first, less often later.

For several years, most of the heads of the Moscow human rights organisations and well-known human rights defenders of the older and middle generations, from Moscow and elsewhere, attended the group’s meetings. Such open and, most importantly, regular meetings and discussions of the situation in the country among people with a genuine desire to cooperate with one another as much as possible, and with such a diverse association of human rights defenders, had never existed until the founding of Common Action, and indeed may never subsequently have been matched.

To talk of this on the death of Valery Abramkin is important because the primary impetus to educate of the Common Action pressure group, and the way in which group members inspired and motivated one another in its meetings during the first years of its existence, it seems to me, was not only connected with the times, but was also due to the fact that Valery Fedorovich Abramkin was among the three founders of the group. Abramkin, who enjoyed full recognition in the human rights community and, at the same time, demonstrated leadership in this field, never fighting and never competing with anyone in the Common Action group.

Another idea along the same lines, which can probably be attributed to Valery Fedorovich Abramkin, is the emergence and existence over several years of the tradition of the human rights community publicly presenting the results of its work over the past year, along with an account of major issues and plans for the following year.

These meetings took place in the early 2000s (I do not know whether they still happen) and took the form of Old New Year celebrations in the Andrey Sakharov Museum and Public Centre attended by human rights defenders and their friends. Up to 100 people took part in such meetings and, I believe, one or two were led by Valery Abramkin.

Acting as master of ceremonies, once or twice he (if I am not mistaken) even suggested and organised a secret vote for the Human Rights Defender of the Year, an informal summation of the activities of those present and an honest evaluation, in which the whole audience gladly participated.

Valery was not just a man I often met in the Sakharov Museum and Public Centre over several years, but a legendary person, who never disappointed me, though I knew him fairly well.

Although many people, myself included, knew that from the late 1980s Valery Fedorovich's heart and strength were steadfastly and unremittingly given over to resolving the ‘acute’ problem of humanising the very cruel Russian penitentiary system, for many years, due to his personal qualities, he was among those who brought together a considerable number of human rights defenders in a more or less distinct and united group.