Deep respect has been paid the Russian human rights defence organisation Memorial, symbolic of all those who risk their safety by speaking out. Memorial’s leaders have received the European Parliament’s 2009 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought — in Strasbourg.
Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva are public critics of Moscow’s human rights record in Russia and its backyard. Numerous colleagues are missing.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said:
“With this prize, we members of the European Parliament honour those among us who still fight for human rights, but we also honour those who lost their lives in this very struggle: Natalia Estemirova should have been among us today, as should Anna Politkovskaya. Their killers have yet to be brought to justice.”
The annual prize is named after Soviet-era physicist-turned-dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Among friends, Memorial co-founder Sergei Kovalev struck a moral note. He said: “Today, it is becoming more and more rare for Europe to make recommendations to Russia in the field of human rights protection and democracy. Sometimes, it entirely prefers to forget it. Behind this, the futile efforts for pragmatic interests in oil and gas in fact do not matter. The duty of Europe is not to keep silent, but remind Russia, call attention to it, insist respectfully but firmly that Russia fulfill its obligations.”
The former gulag prisoner said if Europe fails to denounce rights abuses in Russia, the Kremlin will take it as a sign it accepts them.