“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19
After a long delay on August 1, 1975, in the capital of Finland, the Heads of all European countries (except for Albania) and the United States and Canada signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The Act was equal to the national law and thus opened the legal possibility to legally and legitimately deal with human rights violations, based on domestic and international law. Prof. Yurii Orlov was the first, who understood it: he offered to implement the Helsinki Act, which was conceived as an intergovernmental, in the human dimension. For this purpose, on May 12, 1976, the Moscow human rights activists created the Moscow Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords. Then, on November 9, 1976, the writer and philosopher Mykola Rudenko, the general Petro Hryhorenko (Moscow), the public figure Oksana Meshko, the science fiction writer Oles Berdnyk, and the lawyer Levko Lukianenko (Chernihiv) established the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords. Among the founding members were also the microbiologist Nina Strokata-Karavanska (the Tarusa town, Kaluga Oblast), the engineer MyroslavMarynovych, the historian Mykola Matusevych, the teacher Oleksa Tykhyi (Donetsk Oblast), the lawyer IvanKandyba (the Pustomyty town, Lviv Oblast). They signed the Declaration on its establishment and Memorandum №1.
The Helsinki movement quickly became international: on November 25, 1976, the Helsinki Group was established in Lithuania, on 14 January 1977 – in Georgia, on April 1 – in Armenia. In September 1976, the Committee to Protect Workers operated in Poland and later converted to the Public Protection Committee; in January 1977, a group of “Charter 77” in Czechoslovakia was established. In the US a special committee of the Congress was established.
The human rights activists have made a revolution in the minds of the population, terrorized in the past decades: in the unfree country, they began to behave as free citizens, without prior arrangement to implement constitutional rights (freedom of speech, press, demonstrations, associations, etc.). So they understood the laws as they were written. The independent public opinion emerged in the society. From now on, the demagogy about “interference in the internal affairs of the USSR,” when it came to the violation of basic human rights, became untenable.
Also, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in the period of the collapse of the world colonial system reminded of the existence of subjugated Ukraine and raised the issue of its recognition by the world community. First of all, Ukraine was represented at the following meetings of CSCE by a separate delegation. It was a flash of genius: to put the Ukrainian national interest in the international legal framework in the context of the democratic West confrontation with the totalitarian Soviet Union. And the myth of Ukraine only after one and a half dozen years filled with real content: it became independent! In a sense, we can say that freedom of speech and truthful information destroyed the “evil empire.”
The Ukrainian Helsinki Group brought together people of all nationalities and views because the human rights defenders understood: human rights are out of the question in the colonial situation – all seemed the independence as possible guarantor of freedoms. All people, who lived in Ukraine, were aspired after the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. This is the first time in decades of repression when such a small group of the Ukrainian intellectuals organized and spoke to the world about bondage and injustice of his people. In this sense, the Helsinki movement was more important for Ukraine than for the nations that have their states, so it has proved most persistent. The Environment of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was very broad and heroically persistent. Among them were former political prisoners, their friends, and relatives, young people who did not want to choke more formal atmosphere of the false ideology. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its “militant vanguard” – the KGB – were confused. They wanted to save a “human face” for the world. However, they did not manage and once again showed the world its true face, using well-known methods – from arrests of the most active persons to extrajudicial repressions of all sympathizers and suspicious ones.
Forty-one persons joined the Group. Also, in 1982 two foreign members (the Estonian Mart Niklus and the Lithuanian Viktoras Pyatkus) joined UHG and at the end of 1987, another six were co-opted. Twenty-four persons were convicted of membership in the Group. They were sent to concentration camps, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and in exile for more than 170 years. Overall, more than 550 years of unfreedom are on account of the Group. The Group paid five lives: Mykhailo Melnyk committed suicide on the eve of the imminent arrest of March 9, 1979. Four prisoners of the camp of special regime VS-389/36 (Kuchino, Chusovskyi District, Perm Oblast) died in captivity: Oleksa Tykhyi, on May 5, 1984; Yurii Lytvyn, on September 4, 1984; Valeriy Marchenko, on October 7, 1984; and Vasyl Stus, on September 4, 1985.
Despite the fierce pressure, UHG has not dissolved itself; its documents were out from captivity. The Office of UHG abroad published a monthly newsletter “The Bulletin of Repressions in Ukraine,” the Washington Committee of Helsinki Guarantees to Ukraine acted, the Ukrainian publishing house “Smoloskyp” named after V.Symonenko published its documents in Ukrainian and English, all Ukraine listened to the silent radio “Liberty.”
The power and enormous moral superiority of the Ukrainian human rights activists over the totalitarian regime lay in the fact that they were not underground, and signed documents by their names, openly showed legality, appealing to the Soviet law and international legal documents signed by the USSR. They deserve due respect in the world. On September 23, 1981, in the report on the 13th National Congress of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Pacific Grove, the well-known researcher of political thought Ivan L. Rudnytskyi said: “…the facts confirm that the importance of Ukrainian dissidents are beyond doubt. The sacrifice of these brave men and women demonstrates the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian nation. Their struggle for human and national rights in line with the trend of world progress in the spirit of universal freedom. The Ukrainian dissidents believe that true freedom will win. Those, who are lucky enough to live in free countries, ought not to believe less.”
Once during the “glasnost” and “perestroika,” the Helsinki activists were released, they resumed their human rights activities, which quickly took on a political character. On July 7, 1988, the Group transformed into the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, which is interpreted as a before-party. It initiated the creation of the political system in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords is a landmark in the history of Ukrainian national liberation and human rights movements. Its work, along with other factors, led to the independence of Ukraine. The independence means an opportunity to build a legal society that meets the freedom-loving spirit of the Ukrainian people and the international regulations.
On April 1, 2004 (the day of the death of Mykola Rudenko), the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union was founded as the Association of human rights organizations. The purpose of its creation and activity is the realization and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms by promoting the practical implementation of humanitarian Articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) of 1975 and other international legal instruments, as well as other obligations of Ukraine related to human rights and fundamental freedoms. This association is the legal successor of the UHG. Today, about 30 human rights organizations are members of the Association.
Text by Vasyl Ovsiienko
Photos – “Krym Realii”, 2kurs.blogspot.com, Ukrainian Institute of the National Memory
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