Yelena Bonner's Plea: Never Subordinate Human Rights to 'Practical' Politics

The Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 1995 | Go to article overview

Yelena Bonner's Plea: Never Subordinate Human Rights to 'Practical' Politics


MANY Russians have spoken out against the war in Chechnya, a war in which an estimated 24,000 civilians have lost their lives. Among the critics is Yelena Bonner, widow of the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov. During her recent visit to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Mrs. Bonner spoke with Monitor Radio's John Rudolph.

Does your recent resignation from President Boris Yeltsin's Human Rights Commission indicate that you don't have much hope that his government will meet human rights standards?

Today I feel the chance that Russia will live up to certain human rights standards has sharply decreased. This is so not only in the case of the violations of human rights of the population in Chechnya, but also along the lines of the relationship between the state and society. In particular, we are very much concerned by the fact that the now debated election law, if passed, will destabilize us in the sense that we will not any longer be able to influence our representatives.

You and your husband spent many years in exile because of your opposition to the policies of the Soviet government. Are you more, or less, optimistic about the Yeltsin government?

My concern has to do mainly with the fact that the government which has started a war against a particular part of its population, in this instance it's the Chechen people, can very easily switch its attention to other parts of the country and to other groups of the population in the very same manner.... I'm particularly concerned about the amount of pressure that's being brought on the mass media, which brings about the decrease in openness, in the amount of truthful information that the population can get from the media. In the official statements of various government officials a concern is voiced incessantly in the recent times that the mass media refuse to promote the governmental or the official point of view, and instead continue to present truthful information and independent opinions. I find this a cause for serious concern.

But do you worry that by resigning from the Human Rights Commission, by criticizing the government so strongly, you're simply giving comfort to the forces that you oppose, the forces of fascism?

First of all, I'm not too sure where the present president is trying to take Russia. But, above all, my position, my stand, cannot be dictated by the political concerns, ... this very moment's concerns of a political nature. …

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