Vienna, February 25 – A group of Russians who have been forced to flee their homeland because of political persecution have formed a Union of Political Émigrés in the Ukrainian capital, the latest and in some ways most curious and disturbing case in the long history of political emigration from Russia.
On Tuesday, at the Glavred Media Center in Kyiv, Russians who have fled to Ukraine announced the formation of the Union of Political Émigrés there to call attention to threats to political freedom in their homeland, to help others similarly situated to survive, and to try to spur the larger Russian-language diaspora to political action.
Olga Kudrina, who was forced to flee Russia after her calls in 2006 for Vladimir Putin to leave office and is a leader of the new group, said that the first task was to change the way in which most Russians think about “the political emigration.” It does not consist, she said, only of people like Berezovsky, Chichvarkin, and Zakayev, oligarchs or Chechen activists. Instead, she continued, it includes a large number of “journalists, rights activists and opposition figures” who have left Russia and “obtained the status of refugee” or who simply have left without such status. The new organization shows that there is a common reason for their departure (http://forum.msk.ru/material/kompromat/2537719.html).
The Union of Political Émigrés, which is registered as a non-governmental organization in Ukraine and which hopes to extend its reach to other centers of Russians living abroad, Kudrina said, shows that “the problem of a [Russian] political emigration exists [and that] it can insist on its own rights and perhaps have an influence in the future on the situation in Russia.”
She and other organizers and other organizers and supporters, some of them who continue to live in Russia, distributed an appeal in which they noted that according to the United Nations, only two other countries – Iraq and Somalia – are the source of more political refugees than is the Russian Federation.
The appeal continued with an expression of hope that “by joint efforts [of Russian activists at home and the political emigration,] civil society will be able to change the situation [in Russia] and construct a legal state and help those who in the struggle for their own dignity and a better future for our country have been subjected to persecution and forced to flee Russia.”
Denis Bilunov, the leader of Russia’s Solidarity Organization, said that “political persecutions in Russia, a norm of contemporary life, is a sad fact and quite well known. [Moreover,] despite all the reforms President Medvedev talks about, the so-called Center for Blocking Extremism (Section E) continues to exist.”
“Instead of occupying themselves with real problems connected with genuine extremism as when a train between Moscow and Petersburg or similar things happen, [officials in that section] follow young men and women who have been brave enough to go into the streets” to defend their rights.
Bilunov explained why in his opinion this new émigré group arose in Ukraine: If someone is trying to save himself and is not an oligarch, “of course for him it is simpler to go to a country which does not require a visa, a country where people speak Russian freely and where – and this is especially important – persecution for politics is almost impossible.”
The Solidarity leader said that he wouldn’t evaluate Ukrainian life more generally. “But a fact remains a fact: our colleagues feel themselves there relatively secure, and they do not face problems with possible extradition” back to the Russian Federation, although Moscow has tried (www.specletter.com/svoboda-slova/2010-02-25/po-politicheskim-motivam.html).
The new Union, while relatively small in numbers, nonetheless represents yet another piece of evidence that Ukraine for all its problems remains a relatively free and democratic state while the Russian Federation despite all its claims and those of its supporters elsewhere is not and has in fact become less free and less democratic over the last decade.