Q: How do you remember the era of World War II?
A: The last time I saw my father was on June 14, 1941. He never returned from the battlefield. He told me before going, “My daughter, I am going to defend Soviet power.” He didn’t say that he was going to defend his motherland, Moscow or me and my mother. When people bid farewell, they don’t lie. He was an honest man, a committed Communist, a person from a poor background.
The war ended on May 9, 1945, and I turned 18 on July 20.
History at that time repeated the events of 1812, when the victorious Russian army went through Europe and saw that people there had normal relationships, while people back home were treated like cattle.
Like the Decembrists of 1825, who were brilliant people and were thinking about freedom and liberation, our veterans came back with similar sentiments. Many of my friends who participated in the war had these thoughts.
In 1937 and 1938, I was about 10 years old, and while I knew that arrests were being carried out, they didn’t touch my family. But after the war, I saw the terrible humiliation of very decent people who felt like victors and demanded respect for their victory.
Q: What inspired you to become a human rights campaigner?
A: I think that the foundation was laid during childhood. Everything you teach a child develops automatically later.
My grandmother was an uneducated women who told me a thousand times, “You must live so that you don’t do harm to any person, even the worst, because you don’t want the same to be done to you.”
Recently, I thought about that and said to myself, “I have tried to be like that.”
I believe that I probably have a civic-minded temperament. When I went to graduate school, I deliberately chose archaeology because I considered it a field of endeavor where you can lie less. I was interested in Russian history, but in Stalin’s time, you had to lie regardless of who you were. I thought that it was simpler in archaeology: You find a pot, you find an ax. But even with that there were a lot of lies.
I have already mentioned the situation after the war, but after I finished university a campaign was being carried out against “cosmopolitanism” that was essentially anti-Semitic.
I’m an ethnic Russian, I was not affected, but it was a very shameful feeling. My friends, girlfriends, respected professors were affected by this campaign.
It was a complete lie, and the authorities thought that intelligent people would believe it!
Back then, there was no term “human rights,” but the feelings that I later developed emerged during that time.
Q: Are you disappointed by Medvedev’s rule?
A: I was not disappointed because I was not charmed at the beginning. I knew that Putin had put him in place because he understood that the man could be trusted and would give him back his seat. As a person, Medvedev is certainly pleasant. Putin is a KGB-minded guy, whereas Medvedev is an intelligent man and behaves much more nicely. He is not a vengeful person. Despite being so high in the government, he had a distorted view of the world. I remember taking part in his meeting with representatives of human rights organizations from the North Caucasus. I was invited together with Svetlana Ganushkina, another human rights activist, because we were involved in the region. Local human rights activists told Medvedev about the horrors of their life, and they were grateful that the president had invited them. He listened to them all and then said, “I know what you are talking about. I know more than you do. I am just better informed because I have better access to information.”
And I thought at that moment, “Dmitry Anatolyevich, because of the fact that you are the president, you receive incorrect information. After all, you do not live the lives of these people.”
Q: How would you respond to critics who say the presidential human rights council has accomplished little even though it is composed of respected people?
A: We are an advisory body to the president, but we are not a power structure. We suggest; he listens and decides. Unfortunately, he rarely acted upon our advice, but I’ve been doing this work since the mid-1960s — almost half a century — and during the Soviet era, the effectiveness of this work usually amounted to zero. This work would bring you nothing but a prison sentence. At that time, our goal was not to press for changes. We knew that we would not be able to achieve that.
As it happened, I was born in this country and under these circumstances. I simply have had to live this life, so I am not ashamed of myself or in front of people whom I respect. And if you have to go to prison for your work, then you go to prison.
My life is coming to an end, and I’m glad that I have lived it this way. I believe that the person who defends his dignity, regardless of the circumstances, is much happier than the person who has everything and behaves like a scoundrel. It is said that the scoundrel has no feelings, but that is not true. He knows that he is a scoundrel.