Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Russia’s grand dame of human rights turns 90

For much of her life, Lyudmila Alexeyeva has been a voice for human rights in Russia. As the activist turns 90, she tells Deutsche Welle about her country’s long road to democracy.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva is an icon of Russian civil society – a survivor of the first generation of Soviet dissidents who emerged in the Thaw of 1960s. Her circle cut their teeth on campaigns in support of writers and intellectuals who had fallen foul of Soviet authorities. Alexeyeva’s activism would see her expelled from the Communist Party and lose her job.

Anxious that human rights abuses were going unreported, Alexeyeva and her colleagues set up their own, underground publication in 1968. Produced on a manual typewriter by a handful of activists, the Chronicle of Current Events nevertheless provided a crucial record of the Soviet state’s treatment of dissenting voices.

Repeated questioning by authorities and raids on her home followed, but Alexeyeva was never jailed. However, by the mid-1970s the Soviet authorities’ patience was coming to an end. In 1976 Alexeyeva joined the newly-founded Moscow Helsinki Group, which sought to hold the Soviet government to its international commitments on human rights given as part of the Helsinki Accords. Within a year, Alexeyeva was forced to leave the country for the United States, where she would spend the next decade-and-a-half.

Returning to Russia in 1993, Alexeyeva rebuilt the Moscow Helsinki Group’s campaigning activities across the country.

Already in her 80s, Alexeyeva joined protests on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square every 31st day of a month in a nod to the 31st article of the Russian constitution that guarantees freedom of assembly.

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