President of Memorial: Russian rights activists who backed Russia’s return to PACE repeated error of liberals in 1993

Tanks of the Taman Division shelling the Russian Parliament on the orders of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Early morning of October 4, 1993, Moscow, Russia (Photo: Wikipedia)

Tanks of the Taman Division shelling the Russian Parliament on the orders of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Early morning of October 4, 1993, Moscow, Russia (Photo: Wikipedia) 

International, Op-ed

The capitulation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to the Russian Federation has taken place and, unfortunately, “with the active support of many Russian human rights activists, many but happily not all, Yan Rachinsky, the president of Memorial, says.

Yan Rachinsky, the president of Memorial, a Russian historical and civil rights society that operates in a number of post-Soviet states. It focuses on recording and publicizing the Soviet Union's totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states. (Photo: Radio Liberty (RFE/RL))

Yan Rachinsky, the president of Memorial, a Russian historical and civil rights society that operates in a number of post-Soviet states. It focuses on recording and publicizing the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states. (Photo: Radio Liberty (RFE/RL))

It seems to me, he continues, that “this is not a tactical disagreement but something much more serious, comparable in fact to the crisis of 1993, when again the issue of ends and means is at the center of things and when people must decide whether it is permissible to sacrifice basic principles in order to achieve a desired result.”

“In 1993, the question was whether it was permissible to violate the Constitution and dissolve parliament in order to build a bright future. Today, it is whether it is worth discrediting PACE and European values in order to preserve for citizens of the Russian Federation the opportunity to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Memorial before the decision at PACE expressed its opposition to giving in to Moscow there. In response, a number of other Russian human rights activists issued a joint memorandum in which they urged PACE to restore Russia to membership so that Russians would continue to have access to the European Court for Human Rights.

Rachinsky gives a devastating point by point rebuttal of their arguments, a model of the kind of argument that needs to be made when good people succumb to the carefully scripted siren song of Moscow propagandists and assume that what they are doing is a pragmatic compromise rather than an unprincipled concession.

Among Rachinsky’s numerous points are the following:

  • The authors of the memorandum speak about “a wise compromise” but in fact no mutual concessions were involved. PACE conceded everything; Russia conceded nothing.
  • The authors say that no one should give in to blackmail… before they do just that.
  • They assert that the withdrawal of Russia from the Council of Europe “would have irreversible consequences to the extent that it would put an end to the difficult struggle of Russian society for their country to become part of Europe, on the basis of common norms and values of democracy, the supremacy of law, and respect for human rights.” Moscow has no plans to leave the Council of Europe and the struggle for rights in Russia is independent of that fact.
  • The memorandum says that Russia has a right to be present to express its position as if Moscow had no other means of doing so besides being at PACE.
  • The authors assert that the sanctions were introduced somehow in violation of the rules, but the violation of the rules of the body occurred when Russia was readmitted. “If one strictly follows them and the obligations undertaken by Russia on entering the Council of Europe, Russia should simply have been excluded as a result of its seizure of foreign territory and aggression toward Ukraine.” The sanctions PACE in fact imposed were only of a “palliative” nature.

“Today, thanks in part to the authors of the memorandum and other supporters of concessions, there are neither harsh measures nor palliatives in place. The sanctions of PACE really are less effective than one would like but how is it possible that softening or eliminating them altogether “will make them more effective?”

“To say that the PACE sanctions were an imitation of a struggle could only those who are carrying out ‘a real struggle’ or who want to propose specific paths for this.” And those who think Russia will do anything but ignore any decisions it does not like are deluding themselves in the extreme.

And finally, with regard to the European Court of Human Rights, Rachinsky says that “beyond question this is a valuable and useful instrument.” But he adds, “one must have entirely lost a sense of reality to say” as the authors of the memorandum do that the situation in Russia has become better over the last 20 years because of the court. That is far more optimistic than anyone familiar with the situation on the ground can be.

The situation after PACE’s unfortunate action, Rachinsky argues, is that in order to ensure that Russian citizens will continue to have access to the European Court, PACE “capitulated before the boldness of the Russian authorities whose ultimatum was completely fulfilled.”

“And although in the memorandum of the Russian rights activists it is said that “’the elimination of all limitations for the Russian delegation in PACE would be unprincipled,’ the exaggeration of the role of the European Court has led to an inglorious end.”

“Hope that the capitulation would not be so complete did not prove out. Words about the unprincipled nature of the decision taken were not spoken after the capitulation. This decision shows the whole world,” Rachinsky continues, “that any violation of international law can remain not only without punishment but even without moral condemnation.”

And that has real and immediate consequences, the head of Memorial says. “For the Russian authorities, the capitulation of PACE means carte blanche for continuing its repressive policy inside the country and its aggressive one outside.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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