Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Human Rights: Human rights activist Lidia Yusupova on the "virus" of fear

Source: European Parliament

Lidia Yusupova is a human rights lawyer who worked for Russia's Memorial organisation. As someone who worked in Grozny in Chechnya she was in Parliament on 14 April to present a documentary on the life of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politovskaya. MEPs awarded Memorial the Parliament's Sakharov prize for human rights in 2009. Ms Yusupova is a staunch critic of the Russian state-sponsored brutality towards the people of the Caucasus and believes silence is helping it.

The presentation of "Anna, Seven Years on the Frontline" took place in the press room in the parliament' press room which is named after Anna Politovskaya. It was organised by the Chair of the Human Rights Committee and Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala and the Czech NGO "People in Need". It formed part of the "One World" human rights festival held under the Patronage of former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek.

As part of her previous work as a lawyer offering practical help to victims of abuse Lidia Yusupova collected testimonies from victims of human rights abuses, killings and "disappearances". She also provided legal assistance in claims against the Russian Army and Security Services. Lately she is working as a journalist.

Speaking to us she said that "the Chechen syndrome" has spread throughout the Caucasus and that state sponsored terror produces inevitable counter-reaction. She told us that it's not yet too late for the EU to demand the Russian government to solve the problem.

Recent explosions in Moscow and the fears created by them are symptoms of what disease?

These explosions are just a continuation of life we saw 5-7 years ago - it’s only a new branch. The situation is only seemingly under control. The actions of the regime in Caucasus give birth to the cycles of counter-reaction.

Memorial exists because it feels that Russia finds it difficult to come to terms with its past, from Stalin's repressions to the Chechen wars. Why is this?

There's a genetic disease, a virus. Since the times of Lenin, Stalin and the Bolsheviks the nation has a herd mentality - to be a part of the mass, not to have your own opinion, not to be yourself. Only a few people in Russia can afford to be themselves. Most people live in the way that is convenient to them. They will be told black is white, they will repeat it. Of course, not everyone is like that.

The current climate of fear is not really about Caucasian people. It’s the fear of politicians to lose power and the fear in which the entire Russian population lives. This fear is a virus, artificially spread by the regime because the lowest instincts of people surface the fastest. You can have psychological control over the masses by triggering fear.

Will the recent Moscow bombing change Russia's attitude towards its own history?

No, no. You know what I would have done on the day of the terrorist attack if I were the Russian nation? I would have announced civil disobedience. If you say you knew the terrorist acts would be conducted, why haven’t you protected us? If you didn't, why are you creating this precedent and why are we being blown up? I was astonished to hear an interview of a young girl: "Why are you blowing us up? Don’t kill us...we are not the ones to blame if you were harmed". That's how people think.

Nobody has to be harmed, exterminated and killed. I wanted to say to this girl – I am sorry for those who lost their lives and their relatives, but I am also sorry for those who are daily kidnapped, killed and bombed, day-in, day-out. The commanders doing this are paid with your tax money.

Then why this narrow mindedness: "we have done nothing wrong to you"? The problem is precisely that you are doing nothing. You should have demanded your government stop the war you don’t need. These people don’t even understand that Caucasus conflict is provoking counter-reaction and they become victims of this policy.

Human rights organisations have called you one of the bravest women in Europe for your courageous work in Chechnya. What seems most terrifying/frightening and desperate in your work and what gives the biggest hope?

I didn’t know (laughs). I'll start with hope. Apart from all the faith (in God, in destiny and so forth) you have to believe in yourself and your strength. I am doing it for myself, because I don’t want to put up with the things surrounding me, the way I and others are treated. I think you have to consider yourself a human being and make others reckon with you as a human.

There are no hopeless or desperate situations. You have to go and fight and not back down. You should not allow fear to approach you, it paralyses you. You must have faith in what you are doing. Of course, we are all human, there are such seconds and minutes, but I try to push it aside.

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