Liudmila Alekseeva: I want to ask the president a question

posted 4 Oct 2015, 12:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Oct 2015, 12:33 ]
29 September 2015

Source: (info
On Monday 28th September the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Liudmila Alekseeva, received the Vaclav Havel prize. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Liudmila Mikhailovna talked about her views on the state of democracy in Russia.

DW: Congratulations on receiving the prize. What does it mean for you?

Liudmila Alekseeva: First of all, for me it means a lot that this prize is named after Vaclav Havel. I had the honour of knowing him, as he was the founder of Charter-77 which started the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Secondly the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe gave me this prize – at the very moment when our own country is moving away from Europe and the whole civilised world.

The Russian human rights movement, including the Soviet period, is 50 years old. From the very beginning I took part in this movement and I know at first hand all about the difficult conditions of work. I am sure that in giving me this prize they had in mind all those who take part in the human rights movement in our country. Am I the only one? As we know, one person can’t win a war.

- How do you see the situation of democracy in Russia? Has there been regression in this respect?

When the Soviet Union collapsed we moved towards democracy. And if we take the constitution, especially its second chapter where it talks about the human rights and freedoms, then we have rights and freedoms no less than in civilised countries.

Over the recent years we have gone back. But this can be explained, given that my country over its history has almost never known periods of freedom. This period from 1987 to the middle of the 2000s I dare say has been the longest period of this kind ever. Moreover, when the USSR collapsed, we all gained these rights and freedoms almost for free – well, the Soviet Union itself collapsed. And whatever you receive easily, you lose easily. We did not win our freedoms. And so now we will slowly and painfully gain them.

Most likely I will not live to see the day when Russia becomes a democratic state under the rule of law, but it will definitely come. Because we are a European country. In terms of geography, history, religion and culture, and the educational level of the people. And we will unavoidably become a democratic country based on the rule of law! For myself I am not really disappointed because not everyone lives to see something or other. What’s important is not to live to see something, but how one lives. For myself I have a clear conscience – for a half century I have worked hard for Russia to become a country where people are valued. And Russia will be such a country, of that I’m certain.

Photo: Council of Europe

- So it’s a mistake to say that at the end of the ‘80s and ‘90s people in Russia strove harder to reach democracy than now?

People thought at the time: well, we shall get rid of the communists and we’ll live as they do in America. The dean of the Moscow University economics faculty, Aleksandr Auzan recently said, and quite rightly: my fellow countrymen and women at that time were not aiming for democracy, but for a consumer society so that there would be no shortages. But this is still not democracy.

And so we have become a consumer society. At least we’ve stoped being hungry, standing in queues for bread, potatoes, butter – which is humiliating for people. Now it is even possible to think about freedom. It is important that people understand that the television lies, and become indignant that we, grown up people, are having the wool pulled over our eyes. This will be the way to enlightenment.


Soon I shall fly to Moscow because on 1st October there is a meeting of the Presidential Human Rights Council with the president. Such a meeting happens about twice a year. And I myself have chosen the topic I shall talk about this time – the law on foreign agents. Although the Moscow Helsinki Group, fortunately, has not been labelled as one, many very worthy organisations have appeared in this outrageous, unjust list. I want to try and convince the president to change something in this respect.

When I address the Council I want to ask this question: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, explain why, let’s say, if Gazprom or some industrialist or other finds means abroad, this investment is considered laudable. Our government also borrows money abroad, and this is also laudable. But when a non-profit organisation receives money from abroad, for some reason it is considered a foreign agent, although we are doing the same thing and also in the interests of our country. Why is there such a difference?” I cannot find any answer to this question. I do not understand why we are not trusted, why we are so suspected of being spies or traitors.


- How do you regard Russia’s participation in the conflict in the east of Ukraine?

It just makes me cry. In my opinion there is not one person among us who does not have relatives, friends, favourite places in Ukraine. It’s as if brothers and sisters quarrel amongst themselves. This is a completely incredible, unimaginable situation which should not be happening. When I start to think about what is happening or hear news from there, it makes me weep.

Source: DW

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Translated by Frances Robson