Staunton, Dec. 20 – When future historians examine the history of the last century of Russian life, they will have many events to choose from when they trace the trajectory of hope for a better future from the late Brezhnev era to the Putin years. But perhaps no one institution captures the beginning and end of that era than the Moscow Helsinki Group.
It began in 1976 as an effort by a handful of dissidents to force the Soviet government to live up to its commitments to human rights as enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act; and it is ending now that the Russian justice ministry today has called on a Russian court to close the group (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=63A1B8F03770E).
This latest move, a profanation of even Russian justice, destroys an organization that began with so much optimism that the people of the Soviet Union could live according to the principles of universal human rights and that they could by their own steadfast actions force Moscow to abide by those principles.
The Moscow Helsinki Group achieved much but it did not achieve all of its goals, and now it is being destroyed by a Kremlin that does not believe in human rights or the integration of Russia into the broader international community but instead wants to complete the reversal of the progress the Helsinki Group did so much to promote.
One of the greatest participants in the Moscow Helsinki Group was the late Lyudmila Alexeyeva. She wrote one of the great books about the early years of this effort, Soviet Dissent (1987). One can only hope that at some point in the future, others will take up the Helsinki Group’s mantle and that successors to both her movement and that book will appear.