Moscow Helsinki Group

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Moscow Helsinki Group
Московская Хельсинкская группа
Formation 12 May 1976; 46 years ago (1976-05-12)
Founder Yuri Orlov and others
Type Non-profit
Headquarters Building 22/1, Bolshoy Golovin Lane, Moscow 103045, Russia
Fields Human rights monitoring
Chair from 1976 to 1982
Yuri Orlov
Chair from 1989 to 1994
Larisa Bogoraz
Chair from 1994 to 1996
Kronid Lyubarsky
Chair since 1996
Lyudmila Alexeyeva
Publication A Chronicle of Current Events
Parent organization
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Subsidiaries Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes

The Moscow Helsinki Group (also known as the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, Russian: Моско́вская Хе́льсинкская гру́ппа) is the leading and the oldest human rights organisation in Russia[1] created to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Accords[2] and to report to the West on Soviet human rights abuses.[3]:414 It still operates as a major human rights organization in Russia.[4]

The Moscow Helsinki Group inspired the formation of similar groups in other Warsaw Pact countries and support groups in the West. Helsinki Watch Groups were founded in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia, as well as in the United States (Helsinki Watch, later Human Rights Watch). Similar initiatives sprung up in countries such as Czechoslovakia with Charter 77. Eventually, the Helsinki monitoring groups inspired by the Moscow Helsinki Group formed the International Helsinki Federation.

Founding and Goals

On 1 August 1975, the Soviet Union became one of the 35 nations to sign the Helsinki Accords during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, Finland. Although the Soviet Union had signed the Accords primarily due to foreign policy considerations, it ultimately accepted a text containing unprecedented human rights provisions. The so-called "Third Basket" of the Accords obliged the signatories to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." The signatories also confirmed "the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights and duties in this field."[5][6]:99-100

The Moscow group for facilitating the implementation of the Helsinki Accords was the idea of prof. Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov, based on previous one-and-a-half-decade-old experience of the dissent; the project of the group made it possible to discover to the world lies and hypocrisy of the communist regime, for which documents signed by it always meant nothing but the opportunity to get something without giving anything in return.[7]

Taking advantage of international publicity and contacts to Western journalists, on 12 May 1976 physicist Yuri Orlov announced the formation of the Moscow Helsinki Group at a press-conference held at the apartment of Andrei Sakharov. The newly inaugurated "Public Group to Promote Fulfillment of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR" (Общественная группа содействия выполнению хельсинкских соглашений в СССР) was intended to monitor Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. In addition, the Group announced its goal to inform the heads of the signatory states as well as the world public "about cases of direct violations" of the Helsinki Accords.[8]

Apart from Yuri Orlov, the Group’s founding members were Anatoly Shcharansky, Lyudmila Alekseeva, Alexander Korchak, Malva Landa, Vitaly Rubin, Yelena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Anatoly Marchenko, Petro Grigorenko, and Mikhail Bernshtam.[9]:58 Ten other people, including Sofia Kalistratova, Naum Meiman, Yuri Mniukh, Viktor Nekipelov, Tatiana Osipova, Felix Serebrov, Vladimir Slepak, Leonard Ternovsky, and Yuri Yarym-Agaev joined the Group later.[10]

The composition of the Moscow Helsinki Group was a deliberate attempt to bring together a diverse set of leading dissidents, and worked as a bridge between human rights activists, those focused on the rights of refuseniks and national minorities or onreligious and economic issues, as well as between workers and intellectuals.[9]:58-59


Yuri Orlov, a founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, 24 November 1986
The Moscow Helsinki Group members Yuliya Vishnevskya, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Dina Kaminskaya, Kronid Lyubarsky in Munich, 1978

Western radio stations such Voice of America and Radio Liberty helped disseminate news about the creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group, leading to broad awareness throughout the Soviet Union. The Group would accept written complaints of human rights violations submitted directly by Soviet citizens. Many Soviets who knew of its existence found a group member to report a firsthand case of abuse when in Moscow. Group members also traveled throughout the Soviet Union to conduct research on compliance with the Helsinki Final Act.

After verifying the complaint, when possible, the Group would issue reports on the violations they observed. The reports typically included a survey of a specific case, followed by a discussion of the human rights violations relevant to the Helsinki and other international accords as well as the Soviet constitution and law. The documents closed with a call for action by the signatory states.[11]:150

The Helsinki Group would then campaign internationally by publicizing the reports on the violations abroad and calling for intervention by the other signatory states. The Group's strategy was to make thirty-five copies of each document and send them by registered mail to the thirty-four Moscow embassies affiliated with the CSCE and directly to Leonid Brezhnev. Moscow Helsinki Group members also met with foreign correspondents to reach audiences beyond the Soviet Union. Western journalists, in particular those posted to Moscow bureaus or working for the Voice of America or Radio Liberty, also disseminated the information and were essential to the development of a broader Helsinki network.[9]:63 The CSCE translated all documents it received and forwarded them to other CSCE states and interested groups.[9]:65 The Group's complaints would also be forwarded for review at the international follow-up meetings to Helsinki, including the 1977 Belgrade meeting and the 1980 meeting in Madrid.[11]:149

In addition, the documents and appeals were circulated via samizdat. Many documents that reached the West were republished in periodicals such as the Cahiers du Samizdat and the Samizdat Bulletin.

In the six years of its existence in the Soviet Union, the Moscow Helsinki Group compiled a total of 195 such reports. Between 12 May 1976 and 6 September 1982, when the last three members who were not imprisoned announced the Group would discontinue its work, the Group also compiled numerous appeals to the signatory states, trade unions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the world public.[11]:150

Over time, the Group's documents focused on a wide range of issues, including national self-determination, the right to choose one's residence, emigration and the right of return, freedom of belief, the right to monitor human rights, the right to a fair trial, the rights of political prisoners, and the abuse of psychiatry.[9]:63

Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes

In January 1977, Alexandr Podrabinek along with a 47-year-old self-educated worker Feliks Serebrov, a 30-year-old computer programmer Vyacheslav Bakhmin and Irina Kuplun established the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes.[12]:148 The Commission was formally linked to[12]:148 and constituted as an offshoot of the Moscow Helsinki Group.[13][14] The commission was composed of five open members and several anonymous ones, including a few psychiatrists who, at great danger to themselves, conducted their own independent examinations of cases of alleged psychiatric abuse.[15]

The members of the Working Commission were subjected to various terms and types of punishments.[16]:45 Alexander Podrabinek was sentenced to 5 years' internal exile, Irina Grivnina to 5 years' internal exile, Vyacheslav Bakhmin to 3 years in a labor camp, Dr Leonard Ternovsky to 3 years' labor camp, Dr Anatoly Koryagin to 8 years’ imprisonment and labor camp and 4 years’ internal exile, Dr Alexander Voloshanovich was sent to voluntary exile.[17]:153


Members of the Moscow Helsinki Group were threatened by the KGB, imprisoned, exiled or forced to emigrate.[18]:7858 The KGB head Yuri Andropov determined, "The need has thus emerged to terminate the actions of Orlov, fellow Helsinki monitor Ginzburg and others once and for all, on the basis of existing law."[9]:73

Yuri Orlov was sentenced on 18 May 1978, to seven years in strict regimen camp and five years of internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"; Vladimir Slepak was sentenced on 21 June 1978 to five years of internal exile for "malicious hooliganism" (Article 206, RSFSR Code); Anatoly Shcharansky was sentenced on 14 July 1978, to three years in prison and 10 years in strict regimen camp for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" and "treason" (Article 64-a, RSFSR Code) (sentenced in October, 1981 to return to prison for three years); Malva Landa was sentenced on 26 March 1980, to five years of internal exile for "anti-Soviet slander"; Viktor Nekipelov was sentenced on 13 June 1980, to seven years in labor camp and five years of internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"; Leonard Ternovsky (also a member of the Psychiatric Working Group) was sentenced on 30 December 1980, to three years in general regimen camp for "anti-Soviet slander"; Feliks Serebrov (also a member of the Psychiatric Working Group) was sentenced on 21 July 1981, to four years in strict regimen camp plus five years exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (sentenced in 1977 to one year in camp); Tatiana Osipova was sentenced on 2 April 1981, to five years in general regimen camp and five years of internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (Article 70, RSFSR Criminal Code); Anatoly Marchenko was sentenced on 4 September 1981, to ten years in special regimen camp plus five years of internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"; Ivan Kovalev was sentenced on 2 April 1982, to five years of strict regimen camp plus five years internal exile for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda".[19] Soviet authorities offered some activists the "opportunity" to emigrate. Lyudmila Alexeyeva emigrated in 1977. The Moscow Helsinki Group founding members Mikhail Bernshtam, Alexander Korchak, Vitaly Rubin emigrated, and Pyotr Grigorenko was stripped of his Soviet citizenship while seeking medical treatment abroad.[9]:75

In the following year, a number of members were sentenced to prison camps, incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, and sent into exile. The KGB under the personal direction of Yuri Andropov picked off members of the Moscow Helsinki Group one by one for violating restrictive Soviet laws on political protest and public speech.[20] By the early 1980s, the Moscow Helsinki Group was scattered in prisons, camps and exile.[20] By the end of 1981, only Elena Bonner, Sofia Kalistratova and Naum Meiman were free, as a result of the unremitting campaign of persecution. The dissolution of the Moscow Helsinki Group was officially announced by Elena Bonner on 8 September 1982.[21]:35 According to Sergei Grigoryants, Elena Bonner announced the dissolution of the Helsinki Group not only because of the direct threat of an arrest to the 75-year-old Sofia Kalistratova, against whom legal action had already been taken, but also because of the fact that the Helsinki Group became a channel for the emigration of those who wished to go abroad and, in some cases, apparently, for the penetration abroad of the KGB agents who had the image of "dissidents".[22]

Rebirth of the group

In July 1989, the Moscow Helsinki Group was re-established by human rights activists Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Larisa Bogoraz, Sergei Kovalev, Alexey Smirnov, Lev Timofeev, and Boris Zolotukhin.[18] Other prominent members are Yuri Orlov, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Henri Reznik, Lev Ponomarev, and Aleksei Simonov.


According to human rights activist Sergei Grigoryants, instead of the heroic and sacrificial Helsinki Group, the re-established Moscow Helsinki Group was created as an intelligentsia-oriented elite club, which was forgotten by all while its president was Kronid Lyubarsky and which after his death, when Lyudmila Alexeyeva appeared there, changed into the most servile and pro-government organization among all of them that exist in Russia.[22]


  1. Bowring, Bill (2008). "European minority protection: the past and future of a "major historical achievement"". International Journal on Minority and Group Rights. 15 (2): 413–425. doi:10.1163/157181108X332686.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Selim, Jamal (2015). "Global civil society and Egypt's transition: the dynamics of the boomerang effect". The international dimensions of democratization in Egypt. Springer International Publishing. pp. 105–122. ISBN 978-3-319-16699-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. McMahon, Robert; Zeiler, Thomas (2012). Guide to U.S. foreign policy: a diplomatic history. CQ Press. p. 414. ISBN 1452235368.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Moscow Helsinki Group 30th anniversary: from the secret files (a selection of translated KGB/CPSU documents discussing MHG)". The George Washington University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Helsinki Final Act, Section VII".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Thomas, Daniel (2001). The Helsinki effect: international norms, human rights, and the demise of Communism. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691048592.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Светов, Феликс (2001). "В одну реку дважды…" [Into the same river twice…]. Неприкосновенный запас (in Russian). 3 (17).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. “Ob obrazovanii obshchestvennoy gruppy sodeystviya vypolneniyu khel’sinkskikh soglasheniy v SSSR – The Formation of the Public Group to Promote Observance of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR” of the Moscow Helsinki Group, reprinted in Dokumenty Moskovskoy Khel’sinkskoy gruppy, 1976-1982, eds. G. V. Kuzovkin and D. I. Zubarev (Moscow, 2006)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Snyder, Sarah (2011). Human rights activism and the end of the Cold War: a transnational history of the Helsinki network. Human rights in history. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 1107645107.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Moscow Helsinki Group (Public Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR, Moscow Group "Helsinki")". Moscow Helsinki Group.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Wawra, Ernst (2010). "The Helsinki Final Act and the Civil and Human Rights Movement in the Soviet Union". Human Rights And History: A Challenge for Education. Berlin: Stiftung "Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft". pp. 142–154. ISBN 9783981063196.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Voren, Robert van (2010). Cold War in psychiatry: human factors, secret actors. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. ISBN 90-420-3046-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Reddaway, Peter (23 February 1978). "More psychiatric terror". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Burns, John (26 July 1981). "Moscow silencing psychiatry critics". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "The spread of Soviet suppression". New Scientist. 78 (1104): 493. 25 May 1978.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Voren, Robert van (2009). On dissidents and madness: from the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev to the "Soviet Union" of Vladimir Putin. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. ISBN 978-90-420-2585-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Medicine betrayed: the participation of doctors in human rights abuses. Zed Books. 1992. p. 153. ISBN 1-85649-104-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Smith, Christopher (8–17 May 2006). "Thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group". Congressional Record. Vol. 57, Part 6. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 7857–7858. ISBN 0160862205.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Appendix B. Imprisoned members of the Helsinki monitoring groups in the USSR and Lithuania". Implementation of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: findings and recommendations seven years after Helsinki. Report submitted to the Congress of the United States by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. November 1982. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1982. p. 249. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Shanker, Thom (1 October 1986). "Bitter Siberian ordeal ends at last for Yuri Orlov". Bangor Daily News. p. 9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Nuti, Leopoldo (2009). The crisis of détente in Europe: from Helsinki to Gorbachev, 1975-1985. Taylor & Francis. p. 35. ISBN 0-415-46051-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 Григорьянц, Сергей (2001). Прощание: Гибель правозащитного демократического движения в России. Index on Censorship (in Russian) (16). Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading