Rights Activists In Putin’s Russia Increasingly Resemble Soviet-Era Dissidents – OpEd


Given the rising tide of repression in Russia today, human rights activists now increasingly resemble Soviet-era dissidents in terms of their activities; but they do enjoy the enormous advantage of being able to move abroad far more freely and to use the Internet to coordinate work of their colleagues even when their organizations are banned.

Oleg Orlov, a leader of the Memorial Human Rights organization that the Russian authorities liquidated on April 5, says that in addition, the ability of those working in the human rights field to keep a step ahead of the Russian legal system is no small advantage (kavkazr.com/a/my-proydem-putj-sovetskih-dissidentov-oleg-orlov-o-novom-memoriale-/31904904.html).

The old Memorial is no more, but the people who were part of it are still around, some in emigration and some inside Russia; and they are in the process of forming a new organization, the Memorial Center for Human Rights, a group the authorities have not banned although it is entirely possible that they will.

“The new structure, formed without the establishment of a legal status, will document and publicize information about violations of the rights of Russians and help political prisoners and other victims of repression,” he says, precisely what the now-banned Memorial had been doing. And it will work via the Internet with émigré leaders as well as those inside Russia.

All this recalls the situation dissidents in Soviet times faced, Orlov continues. But “Soviet dissidents have many fewer opportunities that we have now.” Like them, we rely on publicity; but unlike them, we  can continue to work within the legal field that Russia tries to suggest it has. The country isn’t a legal state, but there are legal possibilities – and activists can use them.

Many human rights activists are pessimistic, but they shouldn’t be, Orlov says. “The struggle of the Soviet rights activist sin the 1960s, 1970s and even the beginning of the 1980s seemed absolutely meaningless and hopeless. But in the end, it led to victory.” Something similar is again possible.

“In Russia today,” he concludes, “we must follow the path of Soviet dissidents,” using all their tactics and taking advantage of all the new possibilities the current situation offers.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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