Staunton, July 20 – Today is the 90th birthday of Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the irreplaceable president of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a pioneer in Soviet and Russian human rights activity, and a historian of that movement. Praise for her work has come in from her allies and beneficiaries.
But perhaps the strangest although certain to be the most marked was praise that she has received from someone who has never been her ally or beneficiary but rather an open opponent, Vladimir Putin, who as president of Russia has done more than anyone else to suppress the rights that Alekseyeva has always defended.
Earlier today, the Russian president visited Alekseyeva in her apartment on the Staraya Arbat, a place that was once the communications center for Soviet dissidents and has since been one that has helped coordinate the human rights efforts of people throughout the Russian Federation (kp.ru/daily/26707/3732158/).
Alekseyeva said Putin’s visit was completely unexpected. “Earlier there was nothing like this,” she remarked, to which Putin responded “Earlier were other times. You have occupied yourself with the main thing: Solzhenitsyn spoke about saving the people. He did it in his way, but you have done it in yours.” He said he wanted to thank her on behalf of the people.
Putin then presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a picture of her birthplace, Yevpatoria, which is in Russian-occupied Crimea and accepted a glass of champagne to drink in honor of her birthday.
It is a wonderful thing that the Russian president should honor Alekseyeva given all she has done for Russian and their rights. But his one-time action in this regard should not detract attention from the fact that he continues to be proud to have been an officer of the Soviet KGB, the organization that persecuted and then drove her out of the Soviet Union for 15 years.
And it should not detract attention either from all the steps Putin has taken against the human rights of Russians since becoming Russian president 17 years ago, steps that Alekseyeva has consistently protested and helped others to protest as well. Truly, she has helped preserve the Russian people. At best, Putin has only helped to save the Russian state.
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