Basic human rights and freedoms in USSR: Myths and realities. IPN debate

The partial mobilization announced by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin throws the war in Ukraine into a new, much more dangerous phase that can lead to a global conflict in which life on Earth can be destroyed. One of the goals that can be deduced from this escalation of the war is to restore old empires by occupying territories of a neighboring state by supreme acts of violence. Even if this goal can or cannot be achieved in the future, there is a sense of déjà vu  as namely this way, by supreme violence, through the death of tens of millions of people, empires were created and perpetuated, like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Despite the evidence of mass violence and the dangers to the life and wellbeing of each person, a part of the people, including in Moldova, approve of the war against Ukraine and are nostalgic for the former empire. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Basic human rights and freedoms in the USSR: Myths and realities” discussed the reasons for such a situation and the steps that need to be taken for things to stand normally.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said human rights are the rights belonging to each human being regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color or language. “The human rights are inherent in all the human beings and this means that no person, no matter where they are, can be deprived of them. Human rights correspond to the basic realities and refer to education, health, appropriate working conditions, proportional remuneration for the provided work, private property, right to decent living conditions, participation in political life, freedom of religion, protection against abuses and the right to defend oneself through the justice system. These things are very important as, in the Soviet period, a part of these rights were absent,” explained the expert.

According to him, there are several basic principles related to human rights. Among these are the right to equality and nondiscrimination according to which all the people should be treated equally. There are also the principle of interdependence, the principle of inalienability and the rights of participation and inclusion. All these rights derive from international treaties and conventions. A state that signed these international documents cannot adopt restrictive measures with regard to human rights. Among the international treaties is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in 1948. This stipulates in its preamble: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. A year later, there were adopted the Geneva Conventions that laid the basis of humanitarian law. In 1950, there was adopted the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Constitution of the Republic of Moldova also enshrines these rights.

Igor Boțan said the nostalgic persons long for events, times, places with which they associate their youth time emotions, their pleasant feelings. “For the nostalgic people, the feelings from the past seem more attractive than the past itself, especially if the present of these persons is not very bright and pleasant for them. Nostalgia is a kind of refuge to an imaginary past,” he stated.

University professor Boris Negru, Doctor Habilitate of Law, said that all the basic international documents on human rights are mainly based on the baggage of knowledge and on experience concerning rights and freedoms gained during hundreds of years. “Yes, all the Soviet constitutions referred to the human rights but all the rights and freedoms there were regarded as something granted by the state. In principle, the state, in accordance with international standards, is not a donor of rights and freedoms. It is the protector of rights and freedoms. To a great extent, when we speak about human rights and freedoms, we look not only at their essence, but also at how they are put into practice,” explained the professor.

Boris Negru said that in the Soviet Union, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was for the first time published only in 1988, with a delay of over 40 years. And it was published not by the authorities, but by the press in Moscow and also by the press in Chisinau. It was published not accidentally. Even if such notions as “human rights and freedoms” were stipulated in the Soviet documents, these didn’t include such a basic right as the right to life, which wasn’t enshrined in any of the Soviet constitutions.

Boris Negru noted that the very first documents promoted inequality as a fundamental principle. “As regards equality, the Soviet constitutions never guaranteed equality. They guaranteed egalitarianism to a particular extent, but equality should not be mixed up with egalitarianism. Unlike the documents that appeared in the Soviet Union, the last Soviet constitution, of 1977, made a considerable leap compared with the previous constitutions for the simple reason that there was a fight between two worlds – socialism and capitalism. However, not all the human rights and freedoms were reflected or they were reflected in a specific Soviet content,” stated the professor.

The chairman of the Association of Historians of the Republic of Moldova Anatol Petrencu, Doctor Habilitate of History, said that one of the results of World War I was the appearance of a section of very harsh and merciless people. “The Bolsheviks speculated on the sorrows of the people, saying that the blame is borne by the exploiters. This way, coming to power, the Bolsheviks addressed the problem of extermination of exploiting classes. Even the Constitution of June 10, 1918, the first constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, said that it was the republic of the Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants.. The first article of the constitution stipulated “the merciless destruction of exploiters”. We should start form here,” stated Anatol Petrencu.

According to him, the civil war that claimed 9 million lives started from there. “The peasants regarded the boyars, landlords as their enemies that they needed to destroy. As regards the decree on land, by it the Bolsheviks looked for a solution to the land issue. The Bolsheviks considered that the land should be nationalized. They said the land should belong to the state. So, the Bolsheviks lied to the peasants when they told them to take the land from landlords as it belonged to them. But they lied to them because it actually belonged to the Soviet state and they gave it to them only for cultivating it,” stated the historian.

He noted that there are several stages related to the development of human rights. The first stage covers the years 1917-1948. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, being based on the serious crimes committed in World War II. Stalin didn’t publish this important document. Moreover, he permanently broke it. The deportations are an example of flagrant violation of human rights. This fundamental document owas made public during Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unimaginable abuses were committed in the Soviet Union,” stated Anatol Petrencu.

The public debate “Basic human rights and freedoms in the USSR: Myths and realities” is the fourth installment of the series “100 Years of USSR and 31 Years without USSR: Nostalgia for Chimeras”. The series of debates is staged by IPN News Agency with support from the German foundation “Hanns Seidel”.

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