Vera Vasilieva, 20/06/11
· Human Rights Defenders
The dissidents of those days – unlike us today – were not risking prestigious jobs or tickets to concert halls, VIP passes, or flashing blue lights. They were in truth risking their freedom and their lives. And, while fighting the dragon, they didn't imagine themselves to be so many Lancelots. Instead, they did what they did because they couldn't have acted in any other way.
Elena Georgievna Bonner has died. I always knew that someday I would write those words. But, nonetheless, the e-mail from Tatiana Yankelevich and Aleksei Semenov, which I found in my inbox on the morning of 19 June, caught me off-guard.
“With great sorrow we are informing you that our mother Elena Georgievna Bonner died today, 18 June 2011 at 1:55 in the morning.
I felt a gaping and ringing emptiness. And all the words from my pen (or, more precisely, the keyboard) seemed clunky and awkward. But to be silent is impossible. When one is in pain, all one’s thoughts and feelings seek expression.
For me, Elena Georgievna Bonner has been and will always remain the epitome of the dissident movement in the USSR. She was one of those, who, by herself, spoke out against the cruel totalitarian machine in defence of human rights. The dissidents of those days – unlike us today – were not risking prestigious jobs or tickets to concert halls, VIP passes, or flashing blue lights. They were in truth risking their freedom and their lives. And, while fighting the dragon, they didn't imagine themselves to be so many Lancelots. Instead, they did what they did because they couldn't have acted in any other way.
But to speak of Elena Georgievna, using only the past tense and references to the Soviet past, is impossible. Not only because she is alive in our hearts and memories, but because up until her very last days on earth she generously and utterly selflessly dedicated herself to helping those who needed protection and support. And alas there are still many people like that, since the dragon is still alive, though he has changed his appearance.
I never had the chance to speak with Elena Georgievna in person, but we corresponded several times by e-mail and spoke once on the phone. I was struck by her astonishing modesty, her ability to communicate, her complete lack of self-importance.
But the most striking thing about Elena Georgievna was her ability to respond emotionally to another person’s suffering.
Elena Georgievna was a constant advocate for political prisoners in today’s Russia. I am particularly grateful for the fact that she was one of a small number of people who spoke up, not only for those political prisoners of whom everyone has heard, but also for those who have no place in media reports.
For example, Elena Georgievna constantly reminded people everywhere, in Russia and on the International stage, about the fate of Aleksei Pichugin, whose case I, as a journalist, have been covering for more than five years. She never forgot Aleksei’s birthday and, without any prompting, always sent him her congratulations in prison.
Elena Georgievna's departure is a terrible loss, and one that we have yet to fully understand.
May her memory live long.
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