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Dissident movement in Ukraine

To mark the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group


This was the letter we sent out to people directly involved in the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and / or the dissident movement.

On 9 November 2006 it will be thrty years since the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, The level of awareness of the UHG and the dissident movement in Ukraine is on the whole low, and virtually non-existent in many other countries which probably only learned to differentiate between Ukraine and Russia in autumn 2004.  For the 30th anniversary of the UHG we would like to prepare a series of interviews and other interesting and topical material on the UHG and the people who during those times resisted the totalitarian regime and asserted their rights.

The material will be placed on the Internet in both Ukrainian and English, and circulated among the Ukrainian and western media, and we are planning to also publish it

We hope to stimulate discussion as to how civic society and resistance to the regime arises (including the roots of Maidan 2004), and to then prepare material for schools on the dissident movement, and the role of the individual in civic society. We believe that there is great potential interest for these important issues, but there is a lack of material which is interesting, especially for young people.

We are writing to you in the hope that you can help us. We know that you are extremely busy, however your participation is extremely important.  If it is too difficult to find time, perhaps you would agree to answer just two questions:

1.What would you like people to know about the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, and more generally about the dissident movement?

2 One often hears people who were on Maidan in November – December 2004 say that they simply had no choice.   For you in those earlier years, was there a choice?

There is a longer list of questions below.  We would be enormously grateful if you could give us just a little more time and answer those questions which are of interest to you.

Yours sincerely,

Yevhen Zakharov

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

3  How would you explain the term “dissident movement” to young people? Did you consider yourself a dissident?

4  The word “inakodumets” [“somebody who thinks differently”] is difficult to translate into English. Is this a purely linguistic issue, or is such a concept inappropriate in a pluralistic society?

5  The demand of the dissidents of the 1960s – 1980s “Obey your own laws!” has been interpreted by many people as a ploy, since nobody believed that it was possible. There is a view however that the members of the UHG did in fact hope for some kind of dialogue with the regime. What is your opinion? How relevant in today’s Ukraine is the demand that the law be respected as a foundation for defending human rights?

6  What, if any, events and / or views prompted you to oppose the Soviet regime?

7  You opposed a powerful and repressive regime. One finds all too often in life that people let us down even when little is effectively at stake. In those days it was even dangerous to help a person out of favour with the regime. How much support did you have? Was it of importance to you (in fact did you know) that there were campaigns in other countries in defence of political prisoners?

8  For young people in Ukraine and people in the West it’s hard to understand the fear that reigned in society, what it could cost a person to put his or her signature to an appeal or even simply to write to political prisoners. Is such knowledge needed?  Is there any chance that such knowledge could at least a little act as some kind of “vaccination” to prevent the loss of freedom? What in your view creates and strengthens immunity both of the individual, and of society as a whole?

9  How do you feel about people who collaborated with the punitive bodies?

10  What objectives did you set yourself at the time?  Has your idea of freedom changed since then?

11  What advice would you give a “new” generation defending human rights?

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