The Russian human rights defence organisation Memorial and its three leading representatives are being awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, this Wednesday.
Memorial was created to expose the crimes of the Stalin era, then it enlarged its scope. Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva have been fighting repression for decades.
Memorial says it set out to kindle and preserve awareness of the severe political persecution of the recent past of the Soviet Union. Yet the dissidents publicly criticise the current regime’s performance on human rights in Russia and its backyard.
In the past year, government critics have fallen victim to a series of killings. Human rights worker Natalya Estemirova was murdered in July. Memorial’s Orlov said Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was responsible. A Moscow court ordered him to retract. He is appealing.
He said recently that rights activists like Estemirova face more danger in modern Russia than they did under communist rule.
The namesake of the European Union’s top human rights prize, the late Andrei Sakharov, converted from fathering the Soviet H-bomb to cold war soldier of conscience. He wrote: “I hold fast to my belief in the hidden strength of the human spirit”.