Moscow Helsinki Group

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The Moscow Helsinki Group (also known as the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, Russian: Московская Хельсинкская группа) is an influential human rights monitoring non-governmental organization, originally established in what was then the Soviet Union;[1] it still operates in Russia.

It was founded in 1976 to monitor the Soviet Union's compliance with the recently signed Helsinki Final Act of 1975, which included clauses calling for the recognition of universal human rights. Its pioneering efforts inspired the formation of similar groups in other Warsaw Pact countries and support groups in the West. In Czechoslovakia, Charter 77 was founded in January 1977; members of that group would later play key roles in the overthrow of the communist government in Czechoslovakia. In Poland, a Helsinki Watch Group was founded in September 1979. Eventually, the collection of Helsinki monitoring groups inspired by the Moscow Helsinki Group formed the International Helsinki Federation.


Helsinki monitoring efforts began in the Soviet Union shortly after the publication of the Helsinki Final Act in Soviet newspapers.

On May 12, 1976, physicist Yuri Orlov announced the formation of the "Public Group to Promote Fulfillment of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR" (Общественная группа содействия выполнению хельсинкских соглашений в СССР, Московская группа "Хельсинки") at a press-conference held at the apartment of Andrei Sakharov. The newly inaugurated NGO was meant to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. The eleven founders of the group also included Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Mikhail Bernshtam, Yelena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Pyotr Grigorenko, Alexander Korchak, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, Gregory Rosenstein, Vitaly Rubin, and Anatoly Shcharansky. Ten other people, including Sofia Kalistratova, Naum Meiman, Yuri Mniukh, Victor Nekipelov, Tatiana Osipova, Felix Serebrov, Vladimir Slepak, Leonard Ternovsky, and Yuri Yarym-Agaev joined the Group later.

The group's goal was to uphold the government of the Soviet Union to implement the commitment to human rights it had made in the Helsinki documents. Their group's legal validity was based on the provision in the Helsinki Final Act, Principle VII, which establishes the rights of individuals to know and act upon their rights and duties.

The Soviet authorities responded with severe repression of the group's members over the following three years. They used tactics that included arrests and imprisonment, internal exile, confinement to psychiatric hospitals, and forced emigration. On 18 October 1976, 13 Jewish refuseniks came to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet to petition for explanations of denials of their right to emigrate from the U.S.S.R., as affirmed under the Helsinki Final Act. Failing to receive any answer, they assembled in the reception room of the Presidium on the following day. After a few hours of waiting, they were seized by the agents of militia, taken outside of the city limits and beaten. Two of them were kept in police custody. In the next week, following an unsuccessful meeting between the activists' leaders and the Soviet Minister of Internal Affairs, General Nikolay Shchelokov, these abuses of law inspired several mass demonstrations in the Soviet capital. On Monday, October 25, 22 activists, including Mark Azbel, Felix Kandel, Alexander Lerner, Ida Nudel, Anatoly Shcharansky, Vladimir Slepak, and Michael Zeleny, were arrested in Moscow on their way to the next demonstration. They were convicted of hooliganism and incarcerated in the detention center Beryozka and other penitentiaries in and around Moscow. An unrelated party, artist Victor Motko, arrested in Dzerzhinsky Square on the account of wearing a woolly black beard, was detained along with the protesters in recognition of his prior attempts to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. These events were covered by several British and American journalists including David K. Shipler, Craig R. Whitney, and Christopher S. Wren. The October demonstrations and arrests coincided with the end of the 1976 United States presidential election. On October 25, U.S. Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter expressed his support of the protesters in a telegram sent to Scharansky, and urged the Soviet authorities to release them. (See Léopold Unger, Christian Jelen, Le grand retour, A. Michel 1977; Феликс Кандель, Зона отдыха, или Пятнадцать суток на размышление, Типография Ольшанский Лтд, Иерусалим, 1979; Феликс Кандель, Врата исхода нашего: Девять страниц истории, Effect Publications, Tel-Aviv, 1980.) On 9 November 1976, a week after Carter won the Presidential election, the Soviet authorities released all but two of the previously arrested protesters. Several more were subsequently rearrested and incarcerated or exiled to Siberia.

On 1 June 1978, refuseniks Vladimir and Maria Slepak stood on the eighth story balcony of their apartment building. By then they had been denied permission to emigrate for over 8 years. Vladimir displayed a banner that read "Let us go to our son in Israel". His wife Maria held a banner that read "Visa for my son". Fellow refusenik and Helsinki activist Ida Nudel held a similar display on the balcony of her own apartmemt. They were all arrested and charged with malicious hooliganism in violation of Article 206.2 of the Penal Code of the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Group protested their arrests in circulars dated 5 and 15 June of that year. ([1]) Vladimir Slepak and Ida Nudel were convicted of all charges. They served 5 and 4 years in Siberian exile. ([2], [3])

The Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry For Political Purposes[edit]

In January 1977, Alexandr Podrabinek along with a 47 year-old self-educated worker Feliks Serebrov, a 30 year-old computer programmer Vyacheslav Bakhmin and Irina Kuplun established the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes.[2]:148 The Commission was formally linked to[2]:148 and constituted as an offshoot of the Moscow Helsinki Group.[3] The commission was composed of five open members and several anonymous ones, including a few psychiatrists who, at great danger to themselves, conducted their own independent examinations of cases of alleged psychiatric abuse.[4] The leader of the commission was Alexandr Podrabinek who published a book Punitive Medicine[4] containing a ‘white list’ of two hundred of prisoners of conscience in Soviet mental hospitals and a ‘black list’ of over one hundred medical staff and doctors who took part in committing people to psychiatric facilities for political reasons.[5]:15

The psychiatric consultants to the Commission were Dr Alexander Voloshanovich and Dr Anatoly Koryagin.[6]:153 The task stated by the Commission was not primarily to diagnose persons or to declare people who sought help mentally ill or mentally healthy.[2]:150[7]:26 However, in some instances individuals who came for help to the Commission were examined by a psychiatrist who provided help to the Commission and made a precise diagnosis of their mental condition.[2]:150[7]:26 At first it was psychiatrist Aleksandr Voloshanovich from the Moscow suburb of Dolgoprudny, who made these diagnoses.[2]:150 But when he had been compelled to emigrate on 7 February 1980,[8] his work was continued by the Kharkov psychiatrist Anatoly Koryagin.[2]:150 Koryagin's contribution was to examine former and potential victims of political abuse of psychiatry by writing psychiatric diagnoses in which he deduced that the individual was not suffering from any mental disease.[2]:179 Those reports were employed as a means of defense: if the individual was picked up again and committed to mental hospital, the Commission had vindication that the hospitalization served non-medical purposes.[2]:179 Also some foreign psychiatrists including the Swedish psychiatrist Harald Blomberg and British psychiatrist Gery Low-Beer helped in examining former or potential victims of psychiatric abuse.[2]:150 The Commission used those reports in its work and publicly referred to them when it was essential.[2]:150

The commission gathered as much information as possible of victims of psychiatric terror in the Soviet Union and published this information in their Information Bulletins.[9]:45 For the four years of its existence, the Commission published more than 1,500 pages of documentation including 22 Information Bulletins in which over 400 cases of the political abuse of psychiatry were documented in great detail.[2]:148 Summaries of the Information Bulletins were published in the key samizdat publication, the Chronicle of Current Events.[2]:148 The Information Bulletins were sent to the Soviet officials, with request to verify the data and notify the Commission if mistakes were found, and to the West, where human rights defenders used them in the course of their campaigns.[2]:148 The Information Bulletins were also used to provide the dissident movement with information about Western protests against the political abuse.[2]:148 Peter Reddaway said that after he had studied official documents in the Soviet archives, including minutes from meetings of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it became evident to him that Soviet officials at high levels paid close attention to foreign responses to these cases, and if someone was discharged, all dissidents felt the pressure had played a significant part and the more foreign pressure the better.[10]

Over fifty victims examined by psychiatrists of the Moscow Working Commission between 1977 and 1981 and the files smuggled to the West by Vladimir Bukovsky in 1971 were the material which convinced most psychiatric associations that there was distinctly something wrong in the USSR.[9]:245

The Soviet authorities responded aggressively.[9]:45 Members of the group were being threatened, followed, subjected to house searches and interrogations.[9]:45 In the end, the members of the Commission were subjected to various terms and types of punishments: Alexander Podrabinek was sentenced to 5 years’ internal exile, Irina Grivnina to 5 years’ internal exile, Vyacheslav Bakhmin to 3 years in a labor camp, Dr Leonard Ternovsky to 3 years’ labor camp, Dr Anatoly Koryagin to 8 years’ imprisonment and labor camp and 4 years’ internal exile, Dr Alexander Voloshanovich was sent to voluntary exile.[6]:153

In the autumn of 1978, the British Royal College of Psychiatrists carried a resolution in which it reiterated its concern over the abuse of psychiatry for the suppression of dissent in the USSR and applauded the Soviet citizens, who had taken an open stance against such abuse, by expressing its admiration and support especially for Semyon Gluzman, Alexander Podrabinek, Alexander Voloshanovich, and Vladimir Moskalkov.[11]

By the end of 1981, only Elena Bonner, Sofia Kalistratova and Naum Meiman were free, as a result of the unremitting campaign of persecution. The Moscow Helsinki Group was forced to cease operation.

The dissolution of the Moscow Helsinki Group was officially announced by Elena Bonner on 8 September 1982.[12]:35 According to Sergei Grigoryants, Elena Bonner announced the dissolution of the Helsinki Group not only because of the direct threat of an arrest to the 75-year-old Sofia Kalistratova, against whom legal action had already been taken, but also because of the fact that the Helsinki Group became a channel for the emigration of those who wished to go abroad and, in some cases, apparently, for the penetration abroad of the KGB agents who had the image of "dissidents".[13]

Rebirth of the group[edit]

In 1989, with the atmosphere of glasnost, it was re-established. A group of nine human rights activists, led by Larisa Bogoraz, the widow of Anatoly Marchenko, formally restarted the group on July 28, 1989. Included among the re-founders were Yuri Orlov and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, both part of the original group. Other prominent members are Sergei Kovalev, Viatcheslav Bakhmin, Lev Timofeev, Henry Reznick, Lev Ponomarev, Gleb Yakunin, and Aleksei Simonov. According to Sergei Grigoryants, instead of the heroic and sacrificial Helsinki Group, they created an intelligentsia-oriented elite club, which was forgotten by all while its president was Kronid Lyubarsky and which after his death, when Lyudmila Alexeyeva appeared there, changed into the most servile and pro-government organization among all of them that exist in Russia.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Moscow Helsinki Group 30th Anniversary: From the Secret Files" (a selection of translated KGB/CPSU documents discussing MHG)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n van Voren, Robert (2010). Cold War in Psychiatry: Human Factors, Secret Actors. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. ISBN 90-420-3046-1. 
  3. ^ Burns, John (26 July 1981). "Moscow silencing psychiatry critics". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "The spread of Soviet suppression". New Scientist 78 (1104): 493. 25 May 1978. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Brintlinger, Angela; Vinitsky, Ilya (2007). Madness and the mad in Russian culture. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-9140-7. 
  6. ^ a b Medicine betrayed: the participation of doctors in human rights abuses. Zed Books. 1992. p. 153. ISBN 1-85649-104-8. 
  7. ^ a b van Voren, Robert; Bloch, Sidney (1989). Soviet psychiatric abuse in the Gorbachev era. International Association on the Political Use of Psychiatry. p. 26. ISBN 90-72657-01-2. 
  8. ^ "Dr Alexander Voloshanovich: A Critic of the Political Misuse of Psychiatry in the USSR" (PDF). Psychiatric Bulletin 4 (5): 70–71. 1980. doi:10.1192/pb.4.5.70. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d van Voren, Robert (2009). On Dissidents and Madness: From the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev to the "Soviet Union" of Vladimir Putin. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. ISBN 978-90-420-2585-1. 
  10. ^ Moran, Mark (19 November 2010). "Former Soviet Dissidents Believed APA Pressure Forced Change". Psychiatric News 45 (22): 11. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  11. ^ "Autumn Quarterly Meeting 1978" (PDF). Psychiatric Bulletin 3 (1): 5–7. 1979. doi:10.1192/pb.3.1.5. Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  12. ^ Nuti, Leopoldo (2009). The crisis of détente in Europe: from Helsinki to Gorbachev, 1975-1985. Taylor & Francis. p. 35. ISBN 0-415-46051-4. 
  13. ^ a b Григорьянц, Сергей (2001). Прощание: Гибель правозащитного демократического движения в России [Farewell: The death of human rights democratic movement in Russia]. Index on Censorship (in Russian) (16). 


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