The Council of Europe has honored Ludmilla Alexeeva, one of Russia's oldest human rights activists. She told DW about the state of democracy in Russia and revealed the one question she plans to ask President Putin.
Deutsche Welle: You have just received the Vaclav Have Human Rights Prize. What does it mean to you?
Ludmilla Alexeeva: First, it means a lot to me that the award is in Vaclav Havel's name. I had the honor to meet him in person. He founded Charter 77, which started the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Secondly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe handed me the award at a time when our country is moving away from Europe and the entire civilized world. This year, the Russian human rights movement turns 50, and that includes the Soviet years. I've been active from the start and I know from experience under what difficult conditions we work. This prize is for everyone who is involved in the human rights movement in our country. After all, I don't stand alone.
How do you rate the state of democracy in Russia?
When the Soviet Union collapsed, we were on our way to democracy. If you look at Chapter 2 of the Russian Constitution - which outlines human rights and basic freedom - you'll find that we don't have fewer rights and liberties than the developed nations. But in recent years, there has been a regression, the reason being that my country has known almost no times at all marked by freedom in its history. The era from 1987 to mid-2000 may well be the longest such period. When the USSR collapsed, we got all rights and liberties almost for free, since the Soviet Union broke down of its own accord. Easy come, easy go: we hadn't fought for our freedom. Now we'll have to wage that slow and agonizing battle. I don't think I will be around to see Russia as a democratic state of law. But it will happen, because we are a European nation, geographically, historically, by religion and our people's culture.
So it's wrong to say that the Russian people's pursuit of democracy was stronger in the late 1980s than today?
Back then, people thought we'll chase out the communists and live like in the US. Alexander Ausan, dean of the Economics Department at Moscow State University, was right when he said recently: "My fellow countrymen didn't want democracy, they wanted to be consumers, they wanted the supply shortages to end." Today, we're a consumer society. At least we don't have to suffer hunger anymore, and stand in line for bread, potatos and butter, which is humiliating. Now we can also think about freedom.
In 2012, you left Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights. Later, you returned - why was that?
I returned because human rights activists always have a difficult time in our country. The Council for Human Rights is one of the few platforms where you can take action and at least find someone to listen. I'll be heading to Moscow soon for a session planned for October 1 in the presence of the president. The Council usually convenes twice a year. This time, I want to raise the issue of the legislation on foreign agents. Luckily, the Moscow Helsinki Group doesn't fall under that law. But many highly reputable organizations are on this scandalous and unfair list. I want to convince the president to do something about it. I want to ask him: "Vladimir Vladimirovitsch, why is it praiseworthy when Gazprom or an entrepreneur gets money from abroad, which is regarded as an investment. Our country lends money abroad, too, which is also commended. Why then is a charitable organization regarded as a foreign agent when it receives money from abroad and acts in the interest of its own country. I can't find an asnwer to this question. I don't understand why we are mistrusted.
Ludmilla Alexeeva, 88, is a historian, human rights activist and former Soviet dissident. She was a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976. A year later, she was forced to leave the Soviet Union, but she continued her human rights work from the US. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexeeva returned to Russia in 1993. She has served as chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group since 1996 and is regarded as one of the most outspoken critics of the Kremlin.