Sakharov Freedom Award speech

On 21 May this year, the centenary of Andrei Sakharov’s birth, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, announced that it had awarded its prize to Russian historian Yury DMITRIEV. The award ceremony took place on 29 October in Oslo. The award was received on Dmitriev’s behalf by Anna Yarovaya who read out the following speech.

Dmitriev Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and colleagues,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address like-minded people, who understand the importance of working daily to implement the rights embodied in the Helsinki Accords. Each of us implement these rights and freedoms in our countries in accordance with our understanding of the tasks with which our time confronts us.

For me personally this task took shape thirty years ago thanks to the fantastic coincidence of several basic rights: the individual’s right to аn unsullied reputation, to a fair trial, to his or her own grave (if not buried at sea), the right to be remembered, and the right to receive and circulate information.

All those years, so far as I was able, I have restored the names and reputations of the numerous victims of the lawless communist regime that ruled my country in the 20th century. I searched for and found the graves of the victims of political repression and turned them into commemorative sites. I restored to people now living in various countries the names and memory of their relatives and dear ones who vanished during the gloom of the Communist period: I told the story of their fate and tragic deaths and of the places where they lie buried. I wrote books to preserve this memory.

It then seemed that those dark times lay in the past. However, history as some rightly said develops as a spiral. Repressive measures are again being applied in Russia. Once again people who do not agree with the policies of those in power are being arrested and thrown into jail. Once again charges imagined by a frightened regime are used as an excuse for these arrests. Again, newspapers and magazines, TV and internet programmes are being closed as the regime’s wishes. More and more people are leaving the country, fearing for their lives and for those of their children, relatives and dear ones.

Yet however difficult the human rights situation in my country may be, we are sure that our efforts are not in vain. We know that the entire international community is watching with alarm what is going on in Russia. The usurpation of absolute power by a single person, a puppet parliament and tame prosecutors and courts do not indicate a country where human rights take precedence.

There are people who are fighting for those rights. A few weeks ago, my compatriot Dmitry Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the highest award of a thankful humanity. Now another Russian name, Yury Dmitriev, is on people’s lips.

This means that not everything in Russia is so hopeless or pessimistic. I believe that Russia will become a free and democratic state. A state in which there is no need to defend human rights because they will be observed without reservation.

I’d like to thank you for this high assessment of my activities. So far as is possible in my present position, I shall continue my work to restore names, to restore our tragic history and to educate people.

Yury Dmitriev
Detention Centre no 1, Petrozavodsk

The Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award

The Sakharov Freedom Award came into being in 1980 with the agreement and support of Academician Sakharov. Its purpose is to help people who are persecuted or imprisoned for their opinions or beliefs. It has been awarded by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee since 1984.

Speech published in full on Sever real website (29 October 2021)