Kovalev, Sergey (Russia)

Sergey Kovalev is a Russian biologist, and human rights advocate. His advocacy for human rights began in the late 1950’s when he participated in protests against the Soviet’s military intervention in Hungary. Ten years later he helped in the founding of the first human-rights organization in the Soviet Union, the “Initiative Group for Human Rights.” As a result he lost his job in 1970 and four years later was imprisoned in Siberia for “anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda.

After his release, Kovalev made his way back into political life with the approval of the new Russian regime. Under the new political theme of "Perestroika" he became Gorbachev’s General Secretary and in 1994 he was chosen by President Yeltsin to be the head of the Human Rights Commission of the government. While being interviewed about the Bruno Kreisky Award, he claimed that nobody should be fooled by his position in Yeltsin’s government. Yeltsin’s intention was to prove to the West that he was creating a democracy, by appointing someone who was imprisoned for many years by the previous un-democratic regime. Mr. Kovalev became a critic of President Yeltsin after he ordered a military intervention in the Caucasus region of Chechnya. In the 1990’s Kovalev spoke out against the atrocities in Chechnya, as well as trying to expose the undemocratic nature of the Russian government. Kovalev claimed that Russia was modeling itself after the Asian concept of an all-powerful state. He warned the West about the dangers Russians faced when criticizing their own government, and how Russia was “slowly but surely” becoming a police-state.

After receiving the Bruno Kreisky Award, Kovalev continued to speak out against the violence in Chechnya. When the conflict was resumed in 2001 after a standstill, Kovalev wrote a critical book titled “Putin’s War”. Kovalev is still a prominent figure in Russian politics and remains a critic of government policies especially in regard to their intervention in former Soviet territorities. He is currently working with the organization “Memorial,” which he co-founded, to acquit Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. On November 2, 2010 they held a press conference to discuss the trial proceedings and described how the “Stalinist show trial” was detrimental to the “future of free Russia.” In addition to this undertaking, the organization has also recently been drawing attention to unexplained disappearances of citizens in Ingushetia.

Platon Lebedev and Mkhail Khodorkovsky were released respectively in 2014 and 2013.