Kovalev, Sergei Adamovich

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(b. 1930), dissident, politician, human rights activist.

Sergei Kovalev became famous as a dissident in the 1970s and later as a politician working for human rights in post-communist Russia. Trained as a biologist, he spent much of his early career at Moscow State University. In 1969 he was dismissed for dissident activity. From 1970 to 1974 he worked in a research station.

In 1967 Kovalev became involved in human rights circles, and soon developed a close friendship with fellow dissident Andrei Sakharov. Like Sakharov, he believed in the strategy of insisting on strict application by the authorities of the existing laws, and also of working for law reform. In 1968 he was one of the anonymous founders and editors of the samizdat (typewritten self-published) journal A Chronicle of Current Events, which documented violations of human rights and circulated covertly from hand to hand. In 1969 he was a founding member of the Action Group to Defend Civil Rights in the USSR.

In 1974 he was arrested and eventually tried in closed court. Sentenced to seven years in a strict-regime labor camp, he served his whole term, taking part in numerous protests and hunger strikes by prisoners. On his release he was forced to live from 1984 to 1987 in the remote town of Kalinin.

In the late 1980s Kovalev took part in various initiatives aimed at creating a civil society. In 1990 he was elected on a Democratic Russia ticket to the RSFSR's Congress of People's Deputies and its Supreme Soviet. He chaired the latter's Human Rights Committee, which passed important legislation on refugees, citizenship, procedures for emergency rule, the exculpation of political prisoners, and parliamentary supervision of the security services.

In the fall of 1993 he opposed Yeltsin's proroguing of the parliament, but did not support the parliamentary opposition. In October Yeltsin appointed him chair of his Commission on Human Rights, and the political movement Russia's Choice elected him chair of its council. In December he was elected to the new parliament, and as of 2003 has remained a deputy, switching his allegiance in 2001 from the successor of Russia's Choice to Yabloko.

In 1996 Kovalev resigned from Yeltsin's Human Rights Commission, in protest against his increasing authoritarianism and the war crimes committed by the military in Chechnya. He continues to be active in a variety of forums, and is widely seen in the early twenty-first century as the leading champion of human rights in Russia.

See also: dissadent movement; memorial; sakharov, andrei dmitrievich; samizdat

Peter Reddaway

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