Dmitry Makarov: In memory of Yury Orlov

29 September 2020

By Dmitry Makarov, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

On 27th September 2020 Yury Fedorovich Orlov, founder and very first chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group passed away aged 97. He lived a long and active life, taking part in protecting human rights as long as he was still able. 

His idea that ordinary people could monitor the human dimension of the Helsinki Agreements and work together to encourage their states to follow through on their commitments was what launched the international Helsinki movement in 1976. It was this approach that would set the trajectory for increasing interaction among the governments of the OSCE. Orlov paid for his approach with a 7-year jail sentence followed by five years in internal exile and finally expulsion from the Soviet Union. He continued to research his beloved physics in the USA. 

Yury Orlov in exile. Kobyai village, Yakut ASSR, 1984. Photo by Lev Ponomarev

Human rights weren’t a new concept, but dissidents in the USSR reinvented them, and through their work gave the struggle for them a desperately needed new life. The joint efforts of the Helsinki monitors and the diplomats who sympathised with their struggle managed to report the widespread and horrific human rights violations in the USSR to the whole world. The Moscow Helsinki Group’s success led to the start of many other Helsinki Groups in different countries, who continue to work to this day. 

Alternative NGO reports, the OSCE meetings where representatives of the member states and civil activists sit at the same table to discuss the human element, recognition of the role and significance of civil society in the human rights movement – all these things are consequences of the revolutionary ideas Orlov and his comrades voiced and promoted in the 70s, at great risk to their lives and freedoms. 

Now, when that generation is passing on and political expediency is again gaing the upper hand over human rights it is important to remember that the task of civil society is to constantly remind states of their obligations in this area, and that human rights violations are a direct and legitimate concern for us all, regardless of where they occur. 

The example Yury Orlov and his comrades teaches us that even in conditions of a total lack of freedom there will always be those ready to take a stand against injustice and who need our support and solidarity. 

We wish to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Orlov and our deepest respect for his memory. 

Translated by Fergus Wright

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