Svetlana Gannushkina is a brave human rights defender from Moscow, who for years defied injustice, violence and human rights violations. She also speaks out against the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The RAW in WAR Nominations Committee for the 2022 Anna Politkovskaya Award is deeply humbled by the selfless and determined persistence with which Svetlana Gannushkina stands up for humanity amidst grave human rights violations, committed, as we speak, across Ukraine and the brutal repression to silence dissent and opposition to the war, waged by the Russian authorities.
On announcing the winners of the 2022 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Belarusian writer and Nobel Prize laureate, Svetlana Alexievich, 2018 Anna Politkovskaya Award winner and a member of the 2022 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“We all thought that what Anya Politkovskaya did was already history, it was over. No one would ever need to make that kind of sacrifice again. But now we are living at a time when everything that Politkovskaya wrote about is once again part of our lives. And again, there are wonderful women who have the courage to stand up to it. We have chosen just two of them today – Svetlana Gannushkina and Tetiana Sokolova. Svetlana Gannushkina is someone who has dedicated her whole life to saving people. Recently, on her 80th birthday, she stood in the square once again to say, ‘No to the war in Ukraine and yes to freedom in Russia’. She was arrested, but not charged with a criminal offence, as is now the custom in Russia, probably only because even the current Putin regime is ashamed of putting our conscience behind bars.
Svetlana Gannushkina, one of the most respected human rights defenders in Russia, whose life has been threatened many times over the years, stood up against the war in Ukraine from the very first day. On her 80th birthday in March 2022, she demonstrated against the war on Red Square in Moscow, an act for which she was arbitrarily detained, charged for attending an anti-war protest and later found guilty of violations of the law on public assemblies. She is a member of the Board of Memorial Society and is also the founder of Civic Assistance Committee – both organizations were branded as “foreign agents” in Russia and “Memorial” was closed down at the end of 2021. Svetlana Gannushkina has bravely worked in all wars and armed conflicts in the post-Soviet space – from Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, between Azerbaijan and Armenia, through the two Chechen wars and is now continuing to support the refugees from the war in Ukraine and to speak up against the war, while risking imprisonment and persecution by the Russian government. Svetlana Gannushkina was a close colleague of Anna Politkovskaya and they often worked together during the war in Chechnya.
On accepting the 2022 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Svetlana Gannushkina said:
“To receive the award named after Anya Politkovskaya – someone very dear to my heart, is a great and, perhaps, a not entirely deserved honour. I met Anya in August 1996, during the first Chechen war and in relation to the war. All our contacts, in one way or another, had something to do with that war.
Her first articles about Chechnya were based on our materials and conversations with refugees in our ‘Civic Assistance Committee’. Her notes on women at war, called ‘Alien War, or Life Behind the Barrier’, which Anya passed on to me were published by us as part of the ‘Memorial’ programme. We travelled together to refugee camps in Ingushetia in late December 2002 and to Chechnya, where housing had not yet been restored for Chechens to return to. We were trying to prevent this emergency relocation of people in wintertime. The Chechen Republic government building was blown up 15 minutes after we left it.
Anya’s last article, in August 2006, was based on my publication ‘Lads Were Recruited at the Seaside’ – about the terrible provocation in Khasavyurt where they’d invited 20 young lads to go to the seaside and “talk about the future of Chechnya”, dressed them up in military uniforms and shot them. Four of them survived and were declared insurgency fighters. Anya’s article helped to some extent to protect families of the survivors and those who died as a result of persecution.
And now another war brings us back together – an even more brutal and absurd war than the Chechen one. How can I dare to stand next to Tetiana Sokolova, a courageous witness to what is happening in Ukraine right now? Well, I shall try to talk about what I consider most important right now, and I should be grateful if I am heard.”
Biography Svetlana Gannushkina
Svetlana Gannushkina is a well-known human rights defender from Russia, whose life has been threatened many times over the years. She has received numerous international awards for her tireless work defending and protecting the rights of refugees, migrants and victims of human rights violations in Russia, or fleeing Russia. She is a member of the Board of Memorial Society and is also heading the Civic Assistance Committee – both organizations were branded as “foreign agents” in Russia and “Memorial” was closed down at the end of 2021. Svetlana Gannushkina has bravely worked in all wars and armed conflicts in the post-Soviet space – from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, through the two Chechen wars and is now continuing to support the refugees from the war in Ukraine and to speak up against the war, while risking imprisonment and persecution by the Russian government. Svetlana Gannushkina was a close colleague of Anna Politkovskaya and they often worked together during the war in Chechnya.
Svetlana Gannushkina was born in Moscow in 1942. She studied mathematics at Moscow State University and worked for about 30 years as a lecturer, and then professor, of mathematics at the Russian State University of Humanities (while she worked there, the university changed its name). During these years, she was interested in politics and human rights as a concerned citizen and was active in her university, raising her voice against antisemitism, in support of colleagues and students, who faced discrimination.
In 1988, after a conflict broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh, she became a member of an international working group, actively involved in mediating the release of detainees. She followed the development of the first independent political movements in the Soviet Union and – on the basis of her support for the people from then still Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan – she founded the Civic Assistance Committee, a movement set up to show solidarity among different ethnic groups in the Soviet Union and to support people in need. Today, she still heads the Committee, which has developed into a widely-respected NGO, that supports refugees and migrants in Russia as well as refugees from Russia. In the early 90s, she was one of the founders of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, a part of Memorial Society, a group of organisations and activists, working to reveal the crimes of the Soviet Past and to support its victims, as well as working to stop current human rights violations, including during the conflict in Chechnya. She and her colleagues supported internally displaced people from the first and second Chechen conflicts and she founded the Russia-wide network Migration and Law, together with lawyers and civil society organizations across Russia, to provide legal aid for refugees and migrants.
While she has been highly critical of the Russian government, she nevertheless joined the Human Rights Council under the Russian President in 2002, using her membership in this body to bring cases of human rights violations directly to the attention of the president and to advocate for better laws on refugees and migrants. In 2015, her organization Civic Assistance Committee was labelled a “foreign agent”, similarly to Memorial Society. The Civic Assistance Committee fought against this and had itself removed from the list of “foreign agents”. Since then, four times has the organisation been named a foreign agent. In late 2022, Svetlana Gannushkina herself was included in the list of foreign agents. There have been several (and finally successful) attempts to remove her organization from the premises it used in the centre of Moscow, where refugees and migrants could find legal and psychological help and also humanitarian aid, warm clothes and shoes. She and her colleagues set up a group of volunteers, who organised Russian language classes for refugees, entertainment for refugee children and lobbied for children of migrants and refugees to be able to go to school.
The lawyers of the Committee helped thousands of refugees and migrants to defend their rights in front of Russian courts as well as at the European Court of Human Rights. Svetlana Gannushkina also lobbied for the protection of Chechen asylum seekers in European countries, providing background information on the risks, Chechen refugees might face, if returned to Russia. Svetlana Gannushkina demonstrated against human rights violations during the armed conflict in Chechnya and in March this year against Russia’s war in Ukraine. On her 80th birthday, she was detained on the Red Square for her protesting against the war and was later tried.
ABOUT THE AWARD
Friday, 7th October 2022 marks the 16th anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the campaigning Russian journalist and outspoken government critic, who exposed the brutal treatment of civilians in Chechnya, at the hands of both the Russian forces and the Moscow-supported Chechen officials. Despite an on-going investigation into her murder, those who ordered her murder have still not been brought to justice 16 years on. The impunity continues.
To mark the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder and to honour Anna, and other women like her in the world, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) annually presents the Anna Politkovskaya Award to a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone in the world who, like Anna, stands up for the victims, often at great personal risk.
The war in Ukraine would have certainly had its own terrifying meaning for Anna, if she were alive today. Anna Politkovskaya was half-Russian and half-Ukrainian herself. On the Ukrainian side, she and her sister, Elena, descended from the family of the famous Ukrainian ruler and national hero of the struggle for Ukrainian independence from Poland and Russia in the 18th century, Ivan Mazepa. If Anna were alive today, Russia’s invasion and the war in Ukraine, would have been especially painful for her personally. But no doubt, she would have probably been there – reporting from the rubble of Mariupol, under the shelling and bombardments, about the plight of the civilians, or standing up on Red Square in Moscow to demand an end to the war and the release of all prisoners of conscience in Russia.