Sergei Kovalev
Sergei Kovalev is a Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 activist and politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

 and a former Soviet dissident
A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. When dissidents unite for a common cause they often effect a dissident movement....

 and political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....


Early career and arrest

Kovalev was born in the town of Seredina-Buda in Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, near Sumy
* 1897 - 70.53% Ukrainians, 24.1% Russians, 2.6% Jewish, 2.67% others* 1926 - 80.7% Ukrainians, 11.8% Russians, 5.5% Jewish, 2% others* 1959 - 79% Ukrainians, 20% Russians, 1% others...

. In 1932, his family moved to Podlipki
Podlipki is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Krynki, within Sokółka County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, in north-eastern Poland, close to the border with Belarus. It lies approximately south-west of Krynki, south-east of Sokółka, and east of the regional capital Białystok.The...

 village near Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

. In 1954 he graduated from Moscow State University
Moscow State University
Lomonosov Moscow State University , previously known as Lomonosov University or MSU , is the largest university in Russia. Founded in 1755, it also claims to be one of the oldest university in Russia and to have the tallest educational building in the world. Its current rector is Viktor Sadovnichiy...

. As a biophysicist, Kovalev authored more than 60 scientific publications. From mid-1950s, he opposed Trofim Lysenko
Trofim Lysenko
Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist of Ukrainian origin, who was director of Soviet biology under Joseph Stalin. Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of the hybridization theories of Russian horticulturist Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, and adopted them into a powerful...

's theories favored by the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...


Kovalev was one of a group of about 14 activists who constituted the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR in 1969. The group composed a first samizdat
Samizdat was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader...

(self-published) human rights bulletin, the Chronicle of Current Events
Chronicle of Current Events
The information bulletin Chronicle of Current Events was one of the longest-running and best-known samizdat periodicals in the USSR dedicated to the defense of human rights...


He was arrested on December 8, 1974, and tried in Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

, charged with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

" (Article 70 of the RSFSR Penal Code) and served seven years in labor camp
Labor camp
A labor camp is a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons...

s in Perm
Perm is a city and the administrative center of Perm Krai, Russia, located on the banks of the Kama River, in the European part of Russia near the Ural Mountains. From 1940 to 1957 it was named Molotov ....

 region and Chistopol
Chistopol is a town in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia, located on the left bank of the Kuybyshev Reservoir, on the Kama River. Population: It is served by the Chistopol Airport.-History:It was first mentioned in chronicles at the end of the 17th century...

 prison, and later three years in internal exile
Internal Exile
Internal Exile was Fish's second solo album after leaving Marillion in 1988. The album, released 28 October 1991, was inspired by the singer's past, his own personal problems and his troubled experiences with his previous record label EMI.The album's music reflects Fish's indulgence in the vast...

 at Kolyma
The Kolyma region is located in the far north-eastern area of Russia in what is commonly known as Siberia but is actually part of the Russian Far East. It is bounded by the East Siberian Sea and the Arctic Ocean in the north and the Sea of Okhotsk to the south...

. Upon his return, he settled in Kalinin (now Tver
Tver is a city and the administrative center of Tver Oblast, Russia. Population: 403,726 ; 408,903 ;...


During perestroika

During perestroika
Perestroika was a political movement within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1980s, widely associated with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev...

 initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

, 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
    Memorial (society)
    Memorial is an international historical and civil rights society that operates in a number of post-Soviet states. It focuses on recording and publicising the Soviet Union's totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in post-Soviet states....

    , 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
    Amnesty International
    Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

  • The International Humanitarian Conference (December 1987)
  • Press-club "Glasnost
    Glasnost was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s...


In 1989, Andrei Sakharov
Andrei Sakharov
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was a Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident and human rights activist. He earned renown as the designer of the Soviet Union's Third Idea, a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov was an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the...

 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 dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

, Kovalev turned to official politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

. 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
State Duma
The State Duma , common abbreviation: Госду́ма ) in the Russian Federation is the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia , the upper house being the Federation Council of Russia. The Duma headquarters is located in central Moscow, a few steps from Manege Square. Its members are referred to...


From 1993 until 2003 Kovalev was a member
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 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
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe is an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation...

 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
Democratic Choice of Russia
The Democratic Choice of Russia was a Russian political party that existed from 1994 to 2001.-Background and Establishment:...

(Демократический выбор России).

Since 1994, Kovalev, then Yeltsin's human rights adviser, has been publicly opposed to Russia's military involvement in Chechnya
The Chechen Republic , commonly referred to as Chechnya , also spelled Chechnia or Chechenia, sometimes referred to as Ichkeria , is a federal subject of Russia . It is located in the southeastern part of Europe in the Northern Caucasus mountains. The capital of the republic is the city of Grozny...

, cooperating with the rebels and urging Russian soldiers to give up. From Grozny
Grozny is the capital city of the Chechen Republic, Russia. The city lies on the Sunzha River. According to the preliminary results of the 2010 Census, the city had a population of 271,596; up from 210,720 recorded in the 2002 Census. but still only about two-thirds of 399,688 recorded in the 1989...

, he personally witnessed and reported the realities of the First Chechen War
First Chechen War
The First Chechen War, also known as the War in Chechnya, was a conflict between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, fought from December 1994 to August 1996...

. 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. In 1994, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award
Homo Homini Award
The Homo Homini Award is given annually by the Czech human rights organization People in Need to "an individual in recognition of a dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts"...

 for human rights activism by the Czech group People in Need
People In Need (Czech Republic)
People in Need is a Czech nonprofit, non-governmental organization that implements humanitarian relief and long term development projects in crisis regions all over the world, while working to defend human rights and democratic freedom....


During the Battle of Grozny (1994–1995) Kovalyov offered Russian soldiers to give up. He promised that their life, health and honor would be preserved. But most of those who gave up were martyred and killed. The mother of Yevgeny Rodionov
Yevgeny Rodionov
Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Rodionov was a Russian soldier who was taken prisoner and later executed in Chechen captivity...

, Lyubov Vasilievna, asked help Kovalyov in finding her kidnapped and later killed son in 1996, but he roared in response: "Why did you come to me? You raised the murderer."

Kovalev has been an outspoken critic of authoritarian tendencies in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

. In 1996, he resigned as head of Yeltsin's presidential human rights commission, having published an open letter
Open letter
An open letter is a letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a letter intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally....

 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
Russian apartment bombings
The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing 293 people and injuring 651. The explosions occurred in Buynaksk on 4 September, Moscow on 9 and 13 September, and...

 (the Kovalev Commission), which was effectively paralyzed after one of its members, Sergei Yushenkov
Sergei Yushenkov
Sergei Yushenkov was a liberal Russian politician well known for his uncompromising struggle for democracy, rapid free market economic reforms, and higher human rights standards in Russia...

, was assassinated, another member, Yuri Shchekochikhin
Yuri Shchekochikhin
Yuri Petrovich Shchekochikhin was a Russian investigative journalist, writer, and liberal lawmaker of Russian parliament. Shchekochikhin made his name writing about and campaigning against the influence of organized crime and corruption...

, allegedly poisoned with thallium
Thallium is a chemical element with the symbol Tl and atomic number 81. This soft gray poor metal resembles tin but discolors when exposed to air. The two chemists William Crookes and Claude-Auguste Lamy discovered thallium independently in 1861 by the newly developed method of flame spectroscopy...

, and its legal counsel and investigator, Mikhail Trepashkin
Mikhail Trepashkin
Mikhail Ivanovich Trepashkin, is a Moscow attorney and former FSB colonel who was invited by MP Sergei Kovalev to assist in an independent inquiry of the Russian apartment bombings in September 1999 – the atrocities that followed Dagestan war and were one of the triggers for the Second Chechen...

, arrested.

In 2005, he participated in They Chose Freedom
They Chose Freedom
They Chose Freedom is a four-part TV documentary on the history of political dissent in the USSR from the 1950s to the 1990s. It was produced in 2005 by Vladimir V...

, a four-part television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement.

In March 2010 Kovalev signed the on-line anti-Putin manifesto of the Russian opposition "Putin must go
Putin must go
"Putin must go" is a website and a public campaign of the same name organised for the collection of signatures under an open letter demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin...


Kovalev is a recipient of numerous awards and honorary titles.

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

External links

Bio at Bio at 2001 Interview 2002 Interview 2004 Interview
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