This is the second in a series of five blog entries from the “Symposium on Human Rights in Russia: The Life and Legacy of Lyudmila Alexeyeva,” which took place on November 15-16, 2019 on the campus of Indiana University—Bloomington. The blog entries were written by graduate students who come from a variety of disciplines at IU—anthropology, sociology, law, and REEI—and all of whom encounter or focus on Russia in their research. Each student wrote about the panel differently, sometimes reviewing the entire panel, sometimes addressing individual panelists’ presentations, other times reflecting on how Lyudmila’s legacy has informed the world in which they currently do research. Put all together, this series intends to not only convey what happened during the panels themselves, but also to give a sense of what these five students in particular took away from this symposium.
Panel 2, Freedom of Assembly. This was a lynchpin of Alexeyeva’s work from 1976 to the end of her life. In 2009 for instance, Alexeyeva was an active and visible participant in “Strategy-31,” the regular protest rallies in Moscow defense of the 31st Article (On the Freedom of Assembly) of the Russian Constitution. Panelists: Cathy Fitzpatrick, William Pomeranz, Dmitrii Makarov, Lynne Davidson (chair)
By Clare Angeroth Franks of REEI
Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s legacy in the sphere of human rights in Russia resounded loudly during the second panel of the Russian Studies Workshop conference, “The Life and Legacy of Lyudmila Alexeyeva: A Symposium on Human Rights in Russia—Past, Present and Future.” An optimist, Alexeyeva strove to maintain hope, dignity, and humanity in Russian affairs. She was an adamant proponent of non-violence and held the radical belief that all groups, even those that affirm violent measures, should have the right to peacefully gather and protest. As Cathy Fitzpatrick, consultant to human rights organizations, translator, and writer, remarked, Alexeyeva was always an advocate for open dialogue, including with those she did not agree with. She believed that protesting benefited both the powerful and the powerless. Protests allow citizens to air grievances and authorities to become aware of how they can better serve the public. The second panel of the conference focused on Alexeyeva’s efforts towards realizing freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia.
Freedom of assembly was a cornerstone of Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s work from 1976 to the end of her life. Alexeyeva was an active participant in “Strategy-31,” a series of protest rallies in Moscow in defense of the 31st Article of the Russian Constitution. The article establishes the right to assemble peacefully, but due to constitutional amendments and other laws, authorities can change the time and location of protests, indefinitely delay the protests, or as William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute, noted, enforce other restrictions. At the end of every month with 31 days, Strategy-31 protesters would gather to protest on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square in defense of people’s right to peacefully protest.
On December 31, 2009, Alexeyeva dressed up in the traditional Snegurochka, Grandfather Frost’s helper, costume and joined protesters on Triumfalnaya Square. The 82-year-old Alexeyeva, along with about 70 other protesters, were arrested for their unsanctioned assembly. Panelist Dmitri Makarov, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told of how the head of Moscow police had to come to the police station where Alexeyeva was being held. The two sat drinking tea together as Alexeyeva explained to him that she would not leave the station until all of the Strategy-31 protesters were released. The head of Moscow police pleaded with her, calling officers at other stations to assure her that her fellow protesters had been released. However, Alexeyeva had her own line of communication and would not budge until she had been notified by the protesters themselves that they had been released. Alexeyeva was respected by top ranking and lowly officers alike. All of the Strategy-31 protesters were released that night from police custody thanks to Alexeyeva’s actions.
Lynne A. Davidson, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, was chair of the panel. She closed the panel by echoing Alexeyeva’s beliefs that human rights are more than legal guidelines, but are a humanistic, compassionate way of governing. Davidson advocated for the need to maintain dialogue and to make free, peaceful assembly a right for all.