Today, the Special Representative of the Federal Government for the OSCE Chairmanship and Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, Gernot Erler, is taking part in an event in Berlin to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the international Helsinki movement. The co‑founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, is expected to attend the event, which is being organised by the EU‑Russia Civil Society Forum in cooperation with Human Rights Watch and the German‑Russian Exchange.
In his address, Erler acknowledges the significance of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the international Helsinki movement it inspired in enforcing human rights and fundamental freedoms, overcoming the division of Europe and in the reunification of Germany. At the same time, Erler expresses his concern about the increasing restrictions on the scope for action of human rights groups and civil society in various OSCE participating States.
One of the most important contributions of the Helsinki Groups to the peaceful revolution in Europe in 1989 and 1990 was to overcome divisions in people’s minds as a prerequisite for political change. Yet unfortunately, we have to concede that in recent years we have moved away again from the idea of a common humanitarian space between Vancouver and Vladivostok. It is therefore not only necessary, but a matter of urgency, that we put a stop to restrictions and attacks on human rights defenders and address differences of opinion regarding the significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for our common security.
Erler also specifically honours the role of Lyudmila Alexeyeva and the Moscow Helsinki Group which she co‑founded.
When the 1990 Charter of Paris for a new Europe states, “The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe”, it is also and specifically referring to Lyudmila Alexeyeva and her group.
The Moscow Helsinki Group was established on 12 May 1976 by a group of Soviet dissidents and human rights activists to promote and monitor observance of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. A large number of groups and associations in Eastern and Western Europe forming an international network are modelled on the Moscow Helsinki Group. They continue to compile information on the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, co‑founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has been a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights since 2002. Between 2009 and 2011, she co‑founded and played a leading role in organising Strategy‑31, a civil rights movement defending freedom of assembly. In 2009, Alexeyeva received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of her committed work for democratic values and human rights as well as her contribution to ending the Cold War and developing German-Russian relations. Last year she was presented with the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for her engagement to defend human rights.