Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 14

More than 1,000 human rights activists gathered in Moscow over the weekend for an All-Russian Emergency Congress in Defense of Human Rights. Sergei Kovalev, the State Duma deputy, Soviet-era dissident and human rights activist who is currently chairman of Memorial, delivered the congress’s keynote address on January 20, during which he warned that human rights in Russia were under assault. By way of evidence, Kovalev pointed to–among other things–the ongoing war in Chechnya; the lack of civilian control over the Prosecutor General’s Office, Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service; the Putin administration’s policy of “rapprochement with the nondemocratic regimes existing in the world;” pressure on the independent media.

Kovalev also noted how Orwellian language was creeping back into the vernacular of Russia’s political elite. “In our new political terminology there has also appeared the notion of a ‘guided democracy,'” Kovalev said. “Tell me please: what is a ‘guided democracy’? Or… what is ‘information security’? Does anybody know what that is? Colonel Putin’s closest aide, General Ivanov [Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council] has written a whole concept of ‘information security.’ If you wanted to translate this into normal language, you would have to say, ‘Control of the press.'” Kovalev said that while he did not see Russia returning to a full-blown dictatorship on the lines of the Soviet Union, he did believe that the authorities might resort to “selective, ‘precision repression.'”

Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told the assembled human rights activists said that a new system was being formed in Russia, which he described as kind of “national Bolshevism” founded on “total bureaucratism.” Yavlinsky said the policy of the authorities today resembled a “special operation,” in which “some are recruited, and active measures are carried out against those who defy recruitment.” The Yabloko leader said that people were beginning to understand that “we have pretend freedom of speech, pretend independence of the judicial system, pretend elections and a pretend multiparty system.” Yavlinsky said he was convinced that the criminal prosecution of the heads of the Media-Most group was being carried out for political reasons.

Last week, Sergei Ivanenko, the deputy head of Yabloko’s Duma faction, charged that the government was essentially aiming to nationalize NTV, Media-Most’s television channel. Ivanenko’s comments followed the arrest of Anton Titov, Media-Most’s chief financial officer, and a suit filed by Gazprom, Media-Most’s main creditor, aimed at gaining control of an additional 19 percent of NTV. The 38-percent state controlled gas giant already controls 46 percent of the channel’s shares. Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov and Pavel Barkovsky, deputy head of the office’s department for high-priority investigations, arrived in Spain early today, where Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky remains under house arrest awaiting possible extradition to Russia to face charges of large-scale fraud. The two prosecutors reportedly brought documents necessary for both extradition and impounding Gusinsky’s property in Spain.

During the weekend human rights congress, both Yavlinsky and Kovalev also took aim at the Kremlin’s plans to call a constitutional assembly with the apparent ultimate aim of amending the constitution. According to a bill submitted by Boris Nadezhdin, a State Duma deputy with the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), the constitutional assembly would include the president, the Federation Council, 100 Duma deputies, top judges and 100 lawyers appointed by the president. Kovalev, who is also an SPS member, spoke out strongly against Nadezhdin’s bill, which is reportedly backed by the Kremlin administration, saying that it could become an instrument in establishing a dictatorship, given the control the Kremlin would exercise over its members. Kovalev also criticized a draft law the Kremlin recently submitted to the Duma, which would require political parties to have at least 10,000 members nationwide and chapters in forty-nine regions with no less than 100 members each in order to be registered, and would establish federal funding of registered political parties.

Oleg Mironov, the government’s human rights commissioner, also addressed the congress, calling the current human rights situation was “unsatisfactory” and a cause for “alarm and concern.” Also among the organizers and participants in the weekend emergency congress were Sergei Grigoryants, chairman of the Glasnost Foundation, Lev Ponomarev, co-chairman of the movement Of Human Rights, Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, and Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Yelena Bonner, the congress’s honorary chairwoman, could not attend because of illness, but she sent a statement that was read by Yuri Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Center. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky called on the assembled human rights activists to participate in a national conference this spring “at which all the democratic forces will be represented without rank or title” (Vremya novostei, Izvestia, Segodnya, Moscow Times, Russian agencies, January 22; NTV, January 21, 17; Radio Liberty, Associated Press, January 20; Gazeta.ru, January 16).