Hundreds of St. Petersburg Residents Pay Last Respects to Renowned Lawyer and Human Rights Defender

16 January 2013

Source: (info)

St. Petersburg & Leningrad Region

Anna Plotnikova: The funeral of lawyer Yury Schmidt, who died on 12th January 2013 at the age of 76, took place at Architects’ House in St. Petersburg. The first-floor room set aside for the ceremony was too small for all those wanting to pay their last respects to the renowned lawyer and human rights defender. 

The neighbouring room also filled up, and many people, carrying flowers, stood in the staircase leading down to the ground floor, with the essence of the proceedings relayed in hushed voices from one person to another. 

Arseny Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Human Rights Society, recalled how Yury Schmidt used to talk to him about his teachers – Sofiya Kalistratova, Boris Zolotukhin and Dina Kaminskaya, lawyers who defended Soviet dissidents. 

“He felt like the mantle of their cases had fallen onto him, and I remember how at the end of the 1960s we read their speeches quite a few times. All the details and minutiae were left to one side, and truth and justice took centre stage” said Roginsky. 

And as proof of Yury Schmidt’s social adeptness, Roginsky recounted how in 1981 the lawyer had visited him in a cell in Kresty Prison in Leningrad, simply to cheer him up. 

Vladimir Yaroslavtsev, a Judge at the Russian Constitutional Court, expressed his hope that Schmidt’s pupils, with whom he most notably dealt in the Captain Nikitin case, would continue his work. 

“He believed he was right, trusted in his professional knowledge, and he won. Sometimes he didn’t, but his spirit was never defeated. And we will always remember this”, Vladimir Yaroslavtsev stressed. 

The US Deputy Chief of Mission in Russia, Sheila Gwaltney, said in her speech: “We will always remember him as a dear friend and as a person of extremely strong principles. His passing is a great loss for world society, and for those people, both in Russia and abroad, who hold dear the universal values which he defended all his life”. 

Ms. Gwaltney called Yury Schmidt “a person of great wisdom and bravery” who had called on “the government of his country to meet the standards they had promised to abide by”. 

The American diplomat also noted that Schmidt was defending dissidents even before Perestroika. For that reason, the ceremony was attended by many people who were prisoners of conscience under the Soviet regime. 

One of these was Yuly Rybakov, later a Deputy in the first three terms of the State Duma. In an interview with a correspondent from Voice of America, he said: “Yury Schmidt was a very objectionable lawyer. Objectionable for the prosecution and for the system which served itself, rather than humanity. But at the same time he was an extremely reliable lawyer for those that he chose to defend.” 

“And when he decided to defend someone (and this was far from a given, as he was rather pernickety), that person would be safe in the knowledge that their defence lawyer would do everything he could, drawing on his professional experience, his conscience and his internal spiritual strength. He was a trustworthy person, truly an archetypal human rights defender”, Yuly Rybakov concluded. 

Some of the people that came to Architects’ House brought with them a book dedicated to Yury Schmidt from the Advocates of Freedom series, published in 1998. 

Boris Zolotukhin (one of the people Schmidt considered a teacher) wrote in the foreword: “Yuly Schmidt’s presence in modern legal practice and his fearless and selfless fight for justice inspires confidence that the proud traditions and strong moral principles of the Russian Empire’s legal profession will re-emerge in a new, democratic Russia”. 

A similar point was made by Vladimir Bukovsky, who in a short afterword noted that Yury Schmidt was “a lawyer by profession and a human rights defender by conscience, a role which given the state of the Russian justice system is hard to over-value”. 

And fifteen years later, in the hall where Yury Schmidt’s funeral took place, Aleksei Simonov, President of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, struggled to hold back the tears. All he managed to say, in a short comment for Voice of America, was: “Unfortunately, we are living through sorry times. And lawyers are the most important people in times like these.” 

“Now the greatest lawyer of these sorry times, who did not let the times get the better of him, has passed away”. 

Source: Voice of America