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St Peterburg Times, December 11, 2003

Civil Rights Advocates Rue Duma

By Irina Titova

Participants in the annual Sakharov hearings, held in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, criticized the results of the elections to the State Duma and expressed their concern about human rights in Russia.

"On Monday we woke up the the Fourth Reich in its Russian variant," said Alexander Grigoryants, a St. Petersburg theater director, commenting the results of the Duma elections.

"If the election results were falsified - then we'll have to fight," Grigoryants said. "If not then we'll be facing up to long and hard work with the souls of those people who've been indifferent to what's going on."

The hearings, marking Sakharov Memorial Day and celebrated on the same day as International Human Rights Day, were dedicated to the discussions on human rights and freedom, and the elections. Russian physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 1975.

Two days before Constitution Day on Friday they also discussed how much the state was fulfilling the obligations that it has in the Constitution, which was ratified on Dec. 12, 1993.

Many people who came to discuss the problems of democracy in Russia showed their surprise and irritation that two parties - the Union of the Right Forces or SPS and Yabloko - which historically had opposed the government, didn't gain enough votes to get seats in the Duma.

However, a number of participants also criticized SPS and Yabloko for their own mistakes.

"The fall of SPS's and Yabloko's popularity is a result of the fall of its leaders' popularity," said Alexander Bogdanov, independent journalist.

Igor Zhordan, a St. Petersburg a SPS member, suggested that both parties probably needed such a shock to review their policy.

"Because sometimes it seems that SPS activities turn into PR for their leaders," Zhordan said.

Andrei Alekseyev, candidate of social science at St. Petersburg Sociology Inistitute, agreed with that position saying that the personal failure of SPS leader Irina Khakamada against Gennaday Seleznyov in St. Petersburg's election district 209 was more proof of that.

Andrei Polonsky, a journalist from Novy Petersburg newspaper said he felt sorry for people who voted for the Communist party and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party.

"They voted like that because of their terrible standard of living," Polonsky said.

"For them Chubais symbolizes an enemy, while Yavlinsky is a man who they think has nothing for them and hasn't even promised to do anything," he said. "But Zhirinovsky promised."

"Russia has the right to strive for an authoritarian regime," because for many people it symbolizes the relative stability that they had during the Soviet times, Polonsky added.

Many participants also said that the low turnout to the elections indicated that many people are indifferent to events in the country.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Baranyuk, member of the Ukrainian Council in Russia, said that Russia "has never had and still doesn't have democracy."

He complained that many people of Ukrainian nationality, who live in Russia, suffer from not having Ukrainian newspapers, TV, and schools in this country.

Bogdanov said Russia lost a lot of its democratic image when it sent troops to Chechnya.

Antuan Arakelyan, head expert of St. Petersburg center Strategia, said that human rights are violated in Russia in many respects.

"For instance, residents of Russia's territories of Kalmykia and Buryatia, many of whom worship the Dalai Lama, cannot see him on their lands, because he is prohibited from visiting Russia due to a certain agreement between Russia and China," Arakelyan said.


See also:

the original at

State Duma elections 2003

St Peterburg Times, December 11, 2003

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