by Greg Moses
First they called on Georgia to stop the military assault on South Ossetia, then they denounced Russian aggression in Georgia. Human rights activists in Russia are speaking up for peace and justice in the Caucasus region.
Writing for the August 11 edition of the Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jonas Bernstein reported that, “Some veteran Russian human rights activists have criticized Russia’s attack on Georgia unequivocally.” Bernstein sourced his report to the Russian news site grani.ru, which may be the most balanced news agency to report on the conflict.
Working backward from the reports at grani.ru, we find an August 7 statement posted at memo.ru, the website for the Memorial International Society founded by Sergei Kovalev. The statement was apparently composed in the first hours of military outbreak, while the Georgian army was advancing northward toward the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.
The Memorial statement reminded readers that the territory of South Ossetia was officially under the peacekeeping purview of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).
“Georgia, as an OSCE member, has an obligation to resolve conflicts with peaceful measures,” said the Memorial statement. “Restoring the territorial integrity of the government cannot be grounds for the dismissal of such responsibilities. War operations in South Ossetia should be rapidly halted. The path of negotiations will be long and difficult, but this is the only way can lasting peace be attained.”
Of course, the statement did not stop the Georgian attack, and Russia soon entered the battlefield of South Ossetia from the north.
As soon as Russia expanded its military operation beyond South Ossetia, Kovalev joined a coalition of human rights activists in Georgia to denounce the aggression in strong terms.
“We call for the immediate stop of aggression against Georgia,” said the statement of August 10, translated into English two days later by theotherrussia.org. “We consider that Russia’s leadership, having set another bloody stain to the country’s reputation, finally made its presence in the Group of Eight unacceptable from a moral point of view.”
On August 11, another statement denouncing Russian military actions came from a Russian opposition party led by Garry Kasparov.
“Today, it is short-sighted to concentrate solely on criticism of [Georgian President] Saakashvili,” said the statement by the United Civil Front (again translated by theotherrussia.org). “To demand an immediate cease-fire and start of talks is correct, but insufficient. If we want to eliminate the risk of repeating similar tragic situations in the future, the Russian authority must bear responsibility for its actions before its citizens.”
Kasparov’s party wants to hold Moscow accountable for longstanding policies that have served to perpetuate a conflict in South Ossetia.
“As a first step,” says the party statement, “the president and prime-minister would do well to explain why the government is issuing tens of thousands of Russian passports in the territory of a neighboring country, with which we maintain normal diplomatic relations? Why are the key posts in the South Ossetian government and security services occupied by career Russian civil servants and military personnel? Why, after an attack on Russian peacekeepers by the superior forces of the opponent in Tskhinvali, did the official establishment stand in a state of stupor for several hours, and didn’t rush to provide military assistance? What does the Kremlin want to achieve by escalating the conflict with Georgia and expanding the theater of military operations?”
These critical words from Russian human rights activists offer a framework for peace activism in the USA. As we read the Russian activists’ recollections of Russian mistakes and crimes, we may find ways to join grievances against the misadventures and illegalities of our own aggressive state.
As the USA prepares to introduce a militarized humanitarian mission into Georgia, the words of Russian dissidents apply: “Historical experience shows that the interference of our country in someone else’s affairs inevitably, and contrary to any claims of ‘assistance,’ leads to innumerable misfortunes.“
Isn’t there an eerie echo for American activists in the following paragraph by Russian human rights activists?
“The incursion into Afghanistan led to many years of unceasing widespread violence and human rights abuses, as well as flare-ups of war again and again. The historical development of Afghanistan turned completely around: from a secular government it turned into a theocratic one. The actions of the Soviet leadership led to a sharp rise in the popularity of Islamic fundamentalism not only in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and Arab countries as well. (Remember the alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda).”
As our nationalist media on both sides whip up the fighting spirit in terms of either/or, Russia or USA, the level voices of Russian activists remind us: “Politics not based on the principles of international law does not serve the true interests of the Russian people and can in no way work to resolve national-territorial conflicts in this region.”
From a perspective of USA peace activism, can’t we say “ditto” to much of this?