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Young Sergei Kovalev

Sergei Adamovich Kovalev (also spelt as Sergey Kovalyov; ; born March 2 1930) is a Russianmarker human rights activist and politician and a former Sovietmarker dissident and political prisoner.

Early career and arrest

Kovalev was born in the town of Seredina-Buda in Ukrainemarker, near Sumymarker. In 1932, his family moved to Podlipkimarker village near Moscowmarker. In 1954 he graduated from Moscow State Universitymarker. As a biophysicist, Kovalev authored more than 60 scientific publications. From mid-1950s, he opposed Trofim Lysenko's theories favored by the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In 1969, he founded the first Soviet human rights association, the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR, and later became the principal link to the dissident movement in Lithuaniamarker. Kovalev actively participated in publication of samizdat periodicals such as Moscow-based Chronicle of Current Events and The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.

He was arrested on December 8 1974, and tried in Vilniusmarker, charged with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (Article 70 of the RSFSR Penal Code) and served seven years in labor camps in Permmarker region and Chistopol prison, and later three years in internal exile at Kolyma. Upon his return, he settled in Kalinin (now Tvermarker).

During perestroika

During perestroika initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, Kovalev was allowed to return to Moscow (in 1986). In that period, he continued his activism and participated in the founding of several key humanitarian organizations and initiatives:
  • The human rights society Memorial, dedicated to the memory and rehabilitation of victims of political repression in the USSR. Kovalev has served as its co-chairman since 1990.
  • The Moscow branch of Amnesty International.
  • The International Humanitarian Conference (December 1987)
  • Press-club "Glasnost"

In 1989, Andrei Sakharov recommended him as a co-director of the Project Group for defense of Human Rights, later renamed into Russian-American Human Rights Group.

Post-Soviet Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kovalev turned to official politics. In January 1991, he coauthored the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights in Russia and was a major contributor to Article 2 (Rights and Liberties of Man and Citizen) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

From 1990 to 1993, he was an elected People's Deputy of the Russian Federation, and a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation. He served as the Chairman of the President's Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Commissioner for the Russian parliament, the State Duma.

From 1993 until 2003 Kovalev was a member of the Russian State Duma. From 1996 to 2003 he was also a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a member of the Assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

In 1993, he co-founded the movement and later, the political party Choice of Russia (Выбор России), later renamed Democratic Choice of Russia (Демократический выбор России).

Since 1994, Kovalev, then Yeltsin's human rights adviser, has been publicly opposed to Russia's military involvement in Chechnyamarker, cooperating with the rebels and urging Russian soldiers to give up. From Groznymarker, he personally witnessed and reported the realities of the First Chechen War. His daily reports via telephone and on TV galvanized Russian public opinion against the war. For his activism, he was removed from his post in the Duma in 1995.

Kovalev has been an outspoken critic of authoritarian tendencies in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. In 1996, he resigned as head of Yeltsin's presidential human rights commission, having published an open letter to Yeltsin, where Kovalyov accused the president of giving up democratic principles. In 2002, he organized a public commission to investigate the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings (the Kovalev Commission), which was effectively paralyzed after one of its members, Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated, another member, Yuri Shchekochikhin, allegedly poisoned with thallium, and its legal counsel and investigator, Mikhail Trepashkin, arrested.

Kovalev is a recipient of numerous awards and honorary titles. In 2005, he participated in "They Chose Freedom", a four-part television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement.


See also


  1. Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press (2004) ISBN 0-813-34280-5
  2. Terror-99
  3. BBC NEWS | Europe | Yushenkov: A Russian idealist
  4. BBC NEWS | Europe | Russian MP's death sparks storm
  5. Terror-99
  6. Агент Неизвестен
  7. The Trepashkin Case
  8. Russian Federation: Amnesty International calls for Mikhail Trepashkin to be released pending a full review of his case | Amnesty International

Further reading

  • Emma Gilligan. Defending Human Rights in Russia: Sergei Kovalyov, Dissident and Human Rights Commissioner, 1969-96 (BASEES/Curzon Series on Russian & East European Studies) RoutledgeCurzon. 2003. ISBN 0-415-32369-X Link to Internet version

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