Staunton, February 5 – Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a longtime defender of the rights of her fellow citizens against Moscow’s violation of their rights, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, an award many believe she should win and one that they believe could protect her in the face of the increasing repression by the Kremlin.
Yesterday, Moscow’s “Novyye izvestiya” reported Alekseyeva’s nomination – the deadline for doing so was January 31 – and interviewed her about that and about her current concerns (www.newizv.ru/politics/2013-02-04/177074-presedetale-moskovskoj-helsinkskoj-gruppy-ljudmila-alekseeva.html).
Alekseyeva, 85, said she was “grateful” for this nomination but said she did not “particularly believe” that she would win the prize “because there are many candidates. Among them are many worthy people, and [she said she was] not sure that [she has] a serious chance.” But she said she was grateful to those who had put forward her name.
Instead, she talked about the difficulties she and other human rights organizations face in the Russian Federation as a result of the 2012 law requiring that they declare themselves to be foreign “agents,” a word she pointed out that in Russia is equivalent to “spies,” if they accept assistance from abroad.
The Moscow Helsinki Group head then expressed as she often does optimism about the future. She noted that “the reaction of society to the Pussy Riot case, the mass meetings in Moscow and other cities all took place under human rights slogans: for honest elections, for the freeing of political prisoners, for the improvement of the judicial system.”
But at the same time, she said she is worried by the direction the Russian government is taking on many fronts. As she put it in a recent interview to the Voice of America, Moscow’s recent actions have put Russia “at the border of totalitarianism” (www.golos-ameriki.ru/content/interview-ludmila-alekseeva-hrw-report-human-rghts/1595144.html).
US Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, who chairs the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was among those nominating Alekseyeva for the Nobel Peace Prize. In his January 29 letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, he noted that Alekseyeva is “fondly referred to by many as the Dean of Russia’s human rights corps” and that “her work over a half-century helped bend the arc of history toward justice.”
“Alekseyeva’s effort remain contemporary and needed in a Russia where some in positions of power seek to circumscribe the universality of human rights even as they work to undo the gains made since the collapse of communism,” the US senator wrote, adding that Alekseyeva “continues her life’s vocation of holding a candle to the darkness and inspiring a new generation of activists to defend the freedom and democracy that is their birthright.”
At 85, he continued, “she remains undaunted by threats and harassment, constructive in her willingness to engage authorities to advance the good, and ever the optimist for Russia’s future.” As such, Alekseyeva “is more than a human rights defender, she is a peacemaker,” and deserves recognition as such by the Nobel Committee.
Alekseyeva has had a remarkable life. Born in Crimea on July 20, 1927, she grew up in Moscow and graduated from Moscow State University in 1950 as an archaeologist and from the Moscow Economic Statistics Institute in 1956. She taught history in a Moscow teacher training school and as an editor at the Academy of Sciences publishing house and the Institute of Scientific Information on the Social Sciences (INION) and was a member of both the Komsomol and the CPSU.
Beginning in the 1960s, however, her apartment became the unofficial headquarters of the emerging distant movement, and she took part in protests about the trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel and others. In 1968, she was excluded from the Communist Party and fired from her government jobs. That allowed her time to become the typist for “Chronicle of Current Events,” the first samizdat human rights bulletin.
In 1976, she helped to form the Moscow Helsinki Group, but less than a year later, she was forced to emigrate from the USSR. She settled in the United States – in 1982, she became an American citizen -- and prepared her fundamental history of the dissident movement in the USSR, worked with Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, and participated as a member of the US delegation to OSCE conferences in Rekjavik and Paris.
In 1993, Alekseyeva returned to Russia, and three years later was elected chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Between 1998 and 2003, she also served as president of the International Helsinki Federation. Beginning in 2002, she served as a member and then as an expert advisor to the Russian Presidential Commission on Human Rights. But at all times, Alekseyeva has been an outspoken defender of the human rights of all citizens of the Russian Federation and an equally vocal critique of the violation of these rights by Moscow.
For that, Lyudmila Alekseyeva deserves the gratitude of all people of good will and selection as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
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