Defence of human rights has become one of the most important aspects of the struggle for democracy

May 16, 2017

This speech was given by Mikhail Khodorkovsky on May 13 during Open Russia’s Human Rights, Freedom and Justice conference in Berlin.

In contemporary Russia serious human-rights activities are perceived primarily as the politics of the opposition.

People’s human rights are systematically violated by the very nature of the current regime.  It is pseudo-democratic, operating on a sophisticated form of imitation, and is fundamentally corrupt.  The restoration of human rights in the form guaranteed by the Russian Constitution and Russia’s international treaty obligations would lead very quickly to the fall of today’s regime.

Corruption is the lifeblood of the extralegal control that elites exercise over government apparatus, and thus eliminates equality before the law.  The falsification of elections and violation of electoral laws allows the formation of a state Duma that is wholly subservient to the Kremlin.

The destruction of an independent judiciary and the absence of the right to a fair trial allows for the repression of the regime’s opponents, thus eliminating competition from the electoral field and legalising the extrajudicial activity of the state.  Restrictions on freedom of speech and the use of coercion through the state’s media monopoly demoralises society and creates the impression that there is simply no alternative.

This situation has been exacerbated recently by a long period of crisis that has led to a significant decrease in living standards and the belief that the regime has past its peak and is on its last legs.  This view has also seized large parts of the government bureaucracy.

Many intellectual centres, among them Open Russia, are already working out the details for transitional reforms.  As the situation worsens, the Kremlin is adopting ever increasing criminal practices, in particular with the help of Kadyrov’s neo-feudal regime in Chechnya and its private army.

The resource deficit — a result of poor management of the economy and the increasing demands of state-criminal groups — is pushing us towards the destruction of the private property laws, affecting all citizens.  All of this is done in the interest of groups whose support the Kremlin relies on.

Therefore, the defence of human rights is one of the most important aspects in the fight for democracy in contemporary Russia.  Along with thousands of other civil initiatives (social, ecological, educational) which represent hundreds of thousands of people, it’s a fundamental requirement to forming a working civil society.  These are the people whom I call “Russian-Europeans.”

Open Russia, as part of a common project, along with participation in electoral, informational and educational projects, focuses its limited resources on providing support to political prisoners who are willing to continue the struggle for democracy.

We will also continue to provide legal assistance to civic groups who are fighting against state bureaucracy and monopolies.  We are supporting those who fight, those who take on the risk.  And we are taking on that risk ourselves.  Those who are opposing the Kremlin in Russia are of course taking the bigger risk, but even here I have stopped paying attention to the constant threats.  Being called a “personal enemy of Karydov”, “personal enemy of Sechin”, and “personal enemy of Putin” long ago lost its effect on me.  This risk is a daily reality, and you get used to living with it.

There is a lot of work to be done, and we need to constantly coordinate our strengths.  The government is fighting hard to divide us.  We can and should oppose this with the understanding that this is a common task that concerns us all, and so we must learn to work together with our allies.

Our goal is not only to see that Putin is replaced.  He will leave one way or another in the foreseeable future.  We simply believe that it would be better for this to happen during the course of normal elections in which he refuses to stand.

We must prevent the reestablishment of a personalistic regime that is above the law.

Our common goal is a state governed by the rule of law, and the way to achieve this is through a system of checks and balances.  Such a system has already been established, it simply requires implementation.

We need to develop the habit and wisdom to build coalitions in order to solve problems, rather than simply having a monopoly of power over politics, human rights and other forms of civic engagement.

The new Russia needs new, young leaders on every regional and federal level.  Leaders who are independent, well-known, experienced in organising society to fight for their rights and who have the wisdom to cooperate.

That is how I see my main task and the main task of Open Russia.