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Glossary

MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP

19.11.2006

The Moscow Helsinki Group (in full, the Moscow Public Group on the Assistance of the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR) was the largest dissident and human rights organization in Russia during the 1970s. Its formation was announced at a press conference in Moscow on 12 May 1976 by its organizer and the first head of the Group, Yury Orlov. The other original members were Ludmila ALEXEEVA, Mikhail Bernshtam, Yelena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Pyotr GRIGORENKO, Alexander Korchak, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, Vitaly Rubin and Anatoly Shcharansky.

The Group’s objectives were to gather, verify, systematize and publicize information about violations of human rights and other humanitarian aspects (the “third basket”) of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (the Helsinki Accords), signed by the heads of European governments, the USA and Canada in Helsinki on 1 August 1975 (equality of nations and their right to self-determination, freedom of choice of place of residence, freedom to leave a country and to return to it, freedom of conscience, the right to know your rights and act in accordance with them, the rights of individuals deprived of their liberty, particularly, political prisoners, the right of contact between people, the right to a fair trial, socio-economic rights).

The main way that the MHG chose for publicizing the information gathered was through the issuing of information documents sent to the governments of signatories to the Helsinki Accords and passed to the mass media. Over 6 years the Group collected and processed an enormous amount of information, issued 196 documents providing information and several reviews, as well as, together with other human rights organizations, a number of announcements and formal statements. MHG documents were notable for their high level of reliability and the comprehensiveness of their testimony, as well as their rejection of publicist rhetoric and political declarations. The MHG united the human rights traditions of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR and the commitment of the Human Rights in the USSR Committee to a professional level of analytical work, becoming the first professional human rights organization in the Soviet Union. In the winter of 1976/77 two specialist human rights organizations appeared, attached to the MHG: the Working Committee against Psychiatric Abuse for political purposes and the Christian Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Believers in the USSR.

The emergence and the work of the MHG sparked off the creation of similar groups in several Soviet republics. In less than half a year the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was formed (9.11.1976), then the Lithuanian HG (25.11.1976), The Georgian HG (січень 1977), and the Armenian (1.04.1977).   From September 1976 the Committee for the Defence of Workers was active in Poland, this later becoming the Committee for Civic Defence, while in January 1977 the “Charter-77” Group was formed in Czechoslovakia.

Monitoring groups and committees in support of Soviet Helsinki Groups were formed abroad, with these groups later extending their activities and gathering information about human rights abuses not only in the USSR but in other countries as well. These united in 1982 to form the International Helsinki Federation which is now one of the most influential and authoritative human rights organizations in the world.

The activities of all these groups, in the opinion of a number of researchers, had a marked impact both on the development of the “Carter Doctrine” (the statement made by President Carter that human rights issues are not the internal matter of individual countries, but the subject of international efforts, and that US foreign policy would be based on the priority of these human rights over “national interests” throughout the world), as well as on the general process of reaching an understanding of the concept of human rights and their place in international politics.

Repressive measures against individual members of the MHG and other Soviet Helsinki Groups began almost immediately. From the beginning of 1977 the KGB set out to destroy the Helsinki movement in the Soviet Union following a plan drawn up and presented by the Head of the KGB Yury Andropov in January 1977 in several notes to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Pressure was exerted on members of the MHG to force them into renouncing their participation in the Group or emigrating from the USSR. (resulting in the following leaving: M. Bernshtam, V. Rubin, L. ALEXEEVA, P. GRIGORENKO, and from later members of the Group: Yury Yarim-Agayev, Yury Minyukh and Sergei Polikanov). From 1977 – 1981 the following were arrested and convicted: Alexander Ginzburg, Yury Orlov,  Anatoly Shcharansky, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, and from later members: Ivan Kovalyov, Viktor Nekipelov, Tatyana Osipova, Felix Serebrov, Vladimir Slepak and Leonard Ternovsky. In autumn 1982, under threat of a court trial of one of the three members of the MHG remaining at liberty in the USSR, 75-year-old Sophia Kallistratova, the Group, at the suggestion of Yelena Bonner, was forced to announce that it was terminating its activities.

In 1989 the Moscow Helsinki Group was recreated with new members. At first it functioned largely as a public political club of former dissidents which made statements on various topical issues. Later Larissa BOGORAZ , after joining the Group, organized a regular educational seminar for regional activists from human rights organizations.  In 1996 the new leader of the MHG Ludmila ALEXEEVA (one of the original members in 1976) transformed the Group into an active human rights organization. At the present time the Moscow Helsinki Group is one of the most prominent and successful human rights organizations in Russia.  

 

Based on material from “Memorial”, Moscow 

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