Human rights defenders on Nelson Mandela

posted 9 Dec 2013, 11:38 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Dec 2013, 11:45 ]
6 December 2013

Source: (info)
"...To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." (Nelson Mandela).

Nelson Mandela, one of the most prominent fighters against apartheid and a long-term political prisoner who became President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has passed away at the age of 95.
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Ludmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki group: "It is a great loss for all humanity, for he was a man ahead of his time. Еven for us, back in the Soviet era, Mandela was a symbol of the long-term prisoner. He served an incredibly long sentence, 27 years. This made him close and understandable for us, since we had long-term prisoners of our own, such as Anatoly Marchenko.

In the difficult conditions of the arduous struggle against apartheid, he recognised only peaceful methods and tried his utmost to convince his supporters, who were inclined to use violence, to employ only peaceful methods. That, too, was very much akin to our human rights movement.

In 1989, three years after the death of Marchenko in Chistopolsky prison, the Council of Europe awarded its Sakharov Prize to Marchenko and Mandela simultaneously. That was very significant for us.

If a figure such as Mandela was possible in Russia during the Soviet era, then one is possible now as well.

It is hard to say what young people today know about him. Much of it is down to how things are taught. They explain to them that Stalin was an effective manager, yet they have a very poor memory of who Sakharov was, for example. If they do not remember their own great people, then I very much doubt that they know about the great people of other countries."
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Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of the Memorial Human Rights Centre: "It is hard to find anyone who combined all of these roles in a comparable way: from someone accused of terrorism to someone who led the non-violence m ovement and the transition of the country from one set of conditions to another.

In this sense Mandela is unique: the path he took, and the necessity and inevitability of non-violence, if you want to achieve success, rather than spinning endlessly in the same vicious circle.

When it comes to Russia, we must construct such a character from various figures, for instance from the revolutionaries, from the members ofNarodnaya Volya members, Socialist revolutionaries, those who served time in the camps, dissidents, publicists and philosophers, and the intellectual giant Andrei Sakharov.

Except we have never had a President Mandela. That is the issue, and therein lies the problem.

At this point we need to talk about not Russia but the various liberation movements in the Soviet Union. There are people worth remembering in this connection.

The experience of the Lithuanians, who also underwent a transition from war and terror in the 1940s to the very essence of a non-violent liberation movement by the 1990s. I could bring to mind Balis Gayauskas, a Lithuanian who spent a total of 37 years in prisons and camps and whose fate reminds us, to some extent, of that of Nelson Mandela.

One might recall the Crimean Tatar national movement, which also witnessed a transition to a non-violent stance, and the figure Mustafa Dzhemilev.

The question that remains for many people, and for us too, is how to regard that period of history, of which Nelson Mandela is a part?

Here, as Anna Akhmatova put it, two Russias crossed paths: one that put people in prison, and one that was put in prison, and they cannot be reconciled.

This question of coming to terms with one's past - not parting from it, since you cannot be parted from your past - but coming to terms with the past, perhaps brings us closer together.

Having a figure such as Nelson Mandela - whether living or now deceased - probably makes this task easier for South Africans.

The Russian authorities regard Mandela in much the same way as they regard Mahatma Gandhi: a figure from another world and from another time.

What does the legacy of Mandela mean for today’s Russia? To a certain extent, it is part of that experience that we must understand and acknowledge in order to change something in ourselves and in our country.

This publication was prepared using material from the BBC and Wikipedia.

Translated by Lindsay Munford