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Lyudmila Alexeyeva Speaks Her Mind

Published: June 15, 2004 (Issue # 977)



  • Alexeyeva attending a rally protesting Mayor Yury Luzhkov's attempt to re-erect a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky in 2002.
    Photo: Igor Tabakov / The St. Petersburg Times

When human rights investigators visiting Ingushetia heard reports of troops shelling a civilian house in neighboring Chechnya, most members froze. Lyudmila Alexeyeva left the police-escorted delegation, found a car and sped to the scene.

The 77-year-old Alexeyeva, one of the few veterans of the Soviet dissident movement still active, is renowned for her energy and bravery. She received an award in Washington on Wednesday from the National Endowment for Democracy.

"This brave woman doesn't think twice of getting into a car and going there to see the situation with her own eyes and talk to the people there in person," said Alexeyeva's colleague, Alexander Petrov, of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, recalling her impromptu visit to Chechnya.

The doyenne of Russia's human rights community, Alexeyeva was outspoken even during the repression of the Stalin years. An archaeology graduate, she spent her first years out of Moscow State University teaching history at a trade school that trained metalworkers and turners.

That was the university's punishment for speaking out against the expulsion of a Jewish student, which she alleged was motivated by anti-Semitism.

After Nikita Khrushchev became Soviet leader and triggered a period of relative openness known as the "thaw," Alexeyeva was energized.

"We started feeling somewhat more free, and would spend hours and hours at each other's flats discussing everything we knew, experienced, and felt," she said in an interview.

But by 1965, the thaw was over. Khrushchev had been shoved out of power and the small dissident community was shaken by a series of arrests of intellectuals who wrote and spoke out against the regime.

Alexeyeva campaigned for fairer trials and their objective coverage in the media. She collected signatures for a petition in support of the arrested - a venture that cost her Communist Party membership and her job editing scientific magazines.

Together with friends, Alexeyeva also set up an informal Red Cross that collected money and other aid for families of the repressed.

"I couldn't live my life differently - I had to speak out if I wanted to be true to myself and my children to respect me," she said.

In 1977 Alexeyeva and her family were allowed to emigrate to the United States, after the KGB hinted that she would likely be arrested otherwise.

While her husband, Nikolai Williams, taught mathematics in U.S. universities, Alexeyeva continued her human rights activity and wrote histories of the Soviet dissident movement.

"Even in my sweetest dreams, I could not dare to hope to return home one day," she recounted.

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and Alexeyeva returned.

Since 1996 Alexeyeva has headed the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organization. She also has been president of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights since 1998.

Four years later, Alexeyeva joined a commission intended to advise President Vladimir Putin on human rights issues, a move that brought her criticism from rights activists who see themselves as permanently opposed to power.

"My job is to see to it that authorities observe human rights," she said. "Unless you come out and talk to them, you cannot make that happen."





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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