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Statement for Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament on the situation in Russia

Statement for Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament on the situation in Russia
Article by: Robert van Voren

humanrightsProf. Dr. Robert van Voren
Postbus 1282
1200 BG Hilversum (NL)
tel.:+31-651534123 / e-mail [email protected] /
Chamber of Commerce Hilversum, NL No. 53660994 – BTW/VAT No. NL0034521059

Statement for European Parliament
Sub-Committee on Human Rights

April 1, 2014

Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the former Soviet Union is again daily front-
page news. The rapid sequence of events has led to an atmosphere that is very
reminiscent of the heydays of the Cold War. In Russia itself it has led to a hunt for
“national traitors” and “foreign agents” and observers both inside the country and
abroad fear for a return to full-scale Soviet repression. For the outside world this may
come as a surprise, human rights activists have been ringing the alarm bells already for
quite a few years. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin took power, the human
rights situation deteriorated and more and more liberties were curtailed. One of the
warning signs was the return of the use of psychiatry for political purposes to “prevent”
social or political activism or to ostracize an activist from society.

In my report to the European Parliament of July 2013, I have indicated that the number
of individual cases of political abuse of psychiatry has increased significantly over the
past few years, in particular in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. So far it appears not to
be yet a systematic repression of dissidents through the mental health system. In most
cases, citizens fall victim to regional authorities in localized disputes, or to private
antagonists who have the means to bribe their way through the courts. However, the
resumption of individual cases of political abuse is closely linked to the deteriorating
human rights situation, and the fact that as a result lower-level authorities feel much
more freedom to clamp down on undesired elements than previously.

On March 25 of this year, a Moscow court rejected the judicial appeal of Moscow citizen
Mikhail Kosenko. Kosenko, one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya trial, was last year
found to be guilty of having participated in “mass disturbances” and sentenced by a
court to undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment in a mental institution. The court
used the fact that Kosenko had a history of mental illness, and although no proof of any
violence was provided the court decided that he was dangerous to himself and his
environment and should be locked up. By coming to such a conclusion in a highly
political case, the court clearly sent a warning to the human rights community in Russia:
beware, the times are back that you can wind up in a mental institution.

Only few people in the West fully realize to what level a national hysteria has been
created in Russia proper. Rock musician Makarevich, who dared to take a stance against
the occupation of the Crimea, is now a “people’s traitor” and might loose all his awards
and prizes as a result. A professor at Moscow University was fired for criticizing the
occupation, and the colleague who defended him was dismissed as well. Elena Tkach, a deputy in the Moscow city council, has called upon the authorities to take away Russian
citizenship from all “people’s traitors” with the words: “People who hate Russia are not
entitled to be its citizen. Everybody knows that it is time to punish those who have
issued anti-Russian statements in the press and internet… […] Insulting Russia and its
people should be completely wiped out…”

The current atmosphere is worse than during Brezhnev years. It is worse, because then
people didn’t believe in what they said. People then knew it was a collective theatre-
play, but now they actually believe, just like they did in the 1930s under Stalin, another
“great leader”. People truly believe the things they are continuously brainwashed with.
They believe Russia is under threat by Western pedophiles and homosexuals, and some
are even sure the Russian nation has a mission and are a chosen people.

This is a situation that is worrying and dangerous at the same time. It is also a situation
in which the human rights committee in Russia needs our utmost support. One concrete
step the European Union could take is easing the criteria for funding of human rights
activities in Russia, or activities focusing on Russia. Currently, funding is provided on
the condition that an NGO is Russia is either main applicant or partner in a project.
However, one thing is clear: under the current circumstances no sensible NGO in Russia
will agree to be part of such a project: being part automatically means one is considered
a “foreign agent”, and being a “foreign agent” immediately means strict screening by the
secret agency FSB, and almost invariably to being forced to close down the organization.

The human rights community in Russia is facing one of the biggest challenges in its
existence. We remember what happened to the dissident movement in the 1980s, when
KGB-chief Yuri Andropov almost succeeded in wiping it out. I ask you to help to prevent
former KGB-agent Vladimir Putin to succeed in where his intellectual godfather failed:
to wipe out the human rights movement in his country, and to rid himself of the few
critical voices left in his country. The human rights community in Russia needs your

Robert van Voren,
April 1, 2014

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