Leonid Nikitinsky: Every nation has its own heroes. The Moscow Helsinki Group presented its last (for now) legally-permitted awards.

27 April 2023

by Leonid Nikitinsky, 2011 MHG award laureate 

Source: The Moscow Times [original source: Novaya Gazeta]

On the eve of the expected decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to dismiss the Moscow Helsinki Group’s appeal (the Moscow City Court having decided to liquidate the group on 25 January), the MHG held its last legally-permitted event under the current regime. In keeping with the tradition established 15 years ago by the legendary Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva, the MHG announced the winners of its annual human rights awards on 26 April.

Not all winners were able to receive their award in person. In the most prestigious category – “For courage shown in defending human rights” – the award was given to Dmitry Ivanov, creator of the Protest MGU Telegram channel. Ivanov served more than 100 days in jail on administrative charges from 2020 to 2022, and was detained upon leaving his last exam at the Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics at Moscow State University on 8 May 2022. On 7 March 2023 he was sentenced to 8.5 years in a prison colony for “spreading misinformation about the Russian armed forces”. His mother accepted the commemorative plaque on his behalf.

Even if they had wanted to, it is unlikely that those not in attendance would have been able to get to the centre of Moscow. The other laureates had been included in various proscription lists and subjected to humiliating searches, attacks by thugs, and even put on the wanted list:

  • “Artdocfest” creator Vitaly Mansky [a ‘foreign agent’] (nomination “For the defence of human rights through culture and art”)
  • Elena Nemirovskaya, founder of the famous Moscow School of Civic Education [formerly known as the Moscow School of Political Studies – translators note] (nomination “For contributions to human rights education and development of human rights traditions among young people”),
  • Agora founder Pavel Chikov [a ‘foreign agent’] (nomination “For success in the development and management of human rights organisations),
  • Sarkis Darbinyan, activist with the unregistered organisation “Roskomsvoboda” [a ‘foreign agent’] (nomination “For expert and academic work in the field of human rights”).

For various reasons, the awards for Katerina Gordeeva [a ‘foreign agent’] (“For journalistic efforts promoting human rights values”) and Olga Sadovskaya from the Nizhny Novgorod “Committee against Torture” were presented to representatives [a ‘foreign agent’]. 

Awards collected by the actual recipient:

  • Yan Rachinsky, one of the founders of the Memorial Society [a ‘foreign agent’ since liquidated] (“For historical contributions to the defence of human rights and the human rights movement”),
  • Lawyer Tatyana Okushko, who gave up the tranquil and satisfying life of a civil lawyer in exchange for hopeless human rights work under the present-day conditions (“For championing human rights in court”)
  • and Aleksandra Krylenkova, organizer of the “Open Space” venues.

The awards were presented in a Moscow cafe by Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Valery Borshchev, Dmitry Makarov, Genri Reznik and Aleksei Simonov – those members of the MHG’s governing bodies who remain in Russia and came to the ceremony. 

Georgy Vasiliev, member of the duet “Ivasi”, interrupted his vacation, realizing that 26 April would be the last chance for him to “legally” sing to his MHG friends. As he sang his light-hearted songs, those who were seated in the hall kept looking at the door.

Didn’t they already talk enough about the article here? Would the special operations police burst in and force everyone to lie with their faces to the ground? Would the “patriots” spill crap?

No, the omniscient “authorities” reacted to our meeting charitably. After all, when stood against the wall, the condemned are also allowed to smoke their last cigarette, as is the tradition.

Why is it important to catalogue this list of awardees, one full of ‘foreign agent’ labels? This is a historical document that illustrates two different views on love for the fatherland and for the people inhabiting it. Just a few years ago, when Liudmila Alekseeva passed away, the president personally came to honour her memory. And today the decision to liquidate the MHG ‘entered into force.’

Sounds like mockery. This is mockery. This is why, from a legal point of view, we will not comment on the Supreme Court’s decision. Let’s wait – there’s yet more to come.

Translated by Tyler Langendorfer

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