Podcast: Then & Now #13 – Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Lev Ponomarev

24 December 2023

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the thirteenth edition of our Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas. 


My guest today is Lev Aleksandrovich Ponomarev. Lev Ponomarev trained and worked as a physicist in the USSR before devoting more time and energy to issues of human rights in the Soviet Union and subsequently in the Russian Federation. He was one of the founders of  « Memorial » in 1988, and soon became one of the foremost figures  in human rights in Russia. In the dying days of perestroika, Lev Ponomarev went into politics and in 1990 co-founded the opposition movement « Democratic Russia ». He was a People’s Deputy at the end of the Soviet era and a deputy of the first convocation of the State Duma in the new Russia after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. In 1997 he founded the not-for-profit « For Human Rights » and in 2007 he set up the « Foundation in Defence of Prisoners’ Rights ». He was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group from 1996 until its closure last year. In 2019 his organisation « For Human Rights » was shut down by the authorities. On December 28, 2020, Lev Ponomarev’s name was in the first list of individuals designated as ‘media foreign agents’ by the Russian Justice Ministry.

The recording was made on 22 December 2023.

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My questions include:

  • Lev Aleksandrovich, where were you when you learned that Russia had launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine? Do you remember how you felt at that moment?
  • If I’m not mistaken, you now live in Paris. Could you tell me how this came about?
  • Your NGO « For Human Rights » was closed down in 2019 and a year later you yourself became a “Media – Foreign Agent”. How did you feel when all this was happening and why did the authorities do this?
  • You have always been someone who warned about the dangerous developments of the Putin regime. Do you think you had insights that others did not? Does everyone agree with you now?
  • What do you think was Boris Yeltsin’s biggest mistake?
  • Presidential elections are scheduled for next March – although we already know that they will not be “free and fair”. What do you think civil society should do in the run-up to the election – and during the election itself?
  • To what extent do people in emigration perceive things differently from those who stayed in Russia? Is this difference noticeable to you? How do you think it affects relations between those who have left Russia and those who remained?
  • It is hard not to be pessimistic about human rights in the near future, not least because Russia’s war against Ukraine is still ongoing.  But in the longer term, are there grounds for optimism?

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