International Helsinki Group: Forty-seven years ago, on May 12, 1976, the Moscow Group to Assist Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR announced its creation

12 May 2023

by International Helsinki Group [IHG]

Source: Facebook

Forty-seven years ago, on May 12, 1976, the Moscow Group to Assist Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR announced its creation. The statement, which was given to foreign correspondents in Moscow, shared the names and addresses of the Group’s founders, as well as of its leader Professor Yuri Orlov. The Group’s goals were also outlined. 

Based on the belief that human rights and transparency are directly related to international security issues, MHG members intended to inform the governments signing the Helsinki Final Act, and the people in those countries, of direct violations in the Soviet Union of the humanitarian articles of the Final Act. It was a courageous and desperate attempt to prevent the Soviet Union from deceiving the West once again. Indeed, the Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, but the Soviets said, “You have your own understanding, and we have ours. You want people to starve to death, but with freedom of speech. For us, it’s important that everyone gets fed.” That’s the Soviet demagogy that the West more or less accepted.

Human rights activists — the founders and early members of the Moscow Helsinki Group [MHG] — said they were not prepared to live in absence of their civil rights, and that issues around observing human rights must be recognized and attempts must be made to resolve them. A few people, united by the passion of their conviction and a willingness to work systematically, began to act openly in a totalitarian country, against the odds and at the risk of personal freedom. 

The initiative to create the MHG originated among Muscovites (hence “Moscow” in the name), but Ukrainian and Lithuanian Helsinki groups appeared quickly, and similar groups were later created in Georgia and Armenia. In January 1977, Peter Grigorenko and the MHG initiated the creation of a Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes. The creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group marked the beginning of the international Helsinki movement, made up of similar human rights organizations in 37 of the Helsinki Accords’ partner countries.

Human rights activists were imprisoned quickly in the Soviet Union, and more quickly outside Moscow than within the city. The situation outside of Moscow was dire. By 1982, almost all the members of Soviet Helsinki groups had been arrested. In September 1982, lawyer Sofia Kallistratova, one of the last members of the Helsinki movement in the USSR who had not been arrested or left the country, was charged with anti-Soviet activity. The MHG could no longer remain active under these circumstances and announced its dissolution. It remained inactive until 1989. 

In the years between 1976 and 1982, no one could have imagined that one day people would listen to human rights activists, that a few dozen people — the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the international Helsinki movement — would help shape the human rights agenda throughout the post-Soviet space. Indeed, those dozens of people formulated the demand for an entirely different relationship between government and citizens. It is because of their conviction, determination, and resilience that the Helsinki Accords have long been the basis of security and cooperation among participating countries. 

During its 47-year history, the Moscow Helsinki Group has contributed greatly to Russian history and to the history of the human rights movement worldwide. And in today’s tragic climate, human rights activism persists and will persist in spite of the circumstances and regardless of the wishes of the authorities. We continue to insist that the link between peace, progress, and human rights is inextricable. This was obvious back in Soviet times, to the dissidents in the Helsinki movement. Human rights and the rule of law are a matter of collective security, and they are as important as military power and economic stability.

Human rights above all! To your freedom and ours!

Translated by Nina dePalma

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