Moscow (EFE).- Russia has decided to close the Sakharov Center, the last bastion of freedom for opponents of the Kremlin, defenders of human rights and critics of the military campaign in Ukraine.
“In a country that is not free, there cannot be an island of freedom. We live under a dictatorship,” Sergei Lukashevski, director of the center in exile in Berlin, told Efe since the start of the war.
The Sakharov Center, founded seven years after the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1989), hosts exhibitions, conferences, concerts, films and plays, the vast majority of which are independent.
In addition, its two buildings house a library and two permanent exhibits, one on the life of Sakharov and the other on the history of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union. The surrounding garden is dominated by a fragment of the Berlin Wall.
Eviction, first step for liquidation
The center’s days are numbered, since the Prosecutor’s Office has decided to evict the historic institution on the grounds that it represents a threat to security and the constitutional order in this country.
“The accusation that we undermine state security is ridiculous. What happens is that, since the Kremlin is terribly afraid of freedom of expression, we are a dangerous platform,” says Lukashevski, fined in absentia this Friday with 3 million rubles (about $43,000).
Remember that your space has brought together over the years people who disagree with the politics and the prevailing mood in Russia, based “on xenophobia, chauvinism, the repression of human rights and contempt for human dignity.”
First it was the turn of the main Russian NGO, Memorial; earlier this week to the oldest, Moscow’s Helsinki Group, and now to the most influential.
In this case the excuse is a new amendment that stipulates that foreign agents cannot receive state financing either, which allowed the Moscow City Council to terminate the lease and issue the eviction order.
Russia, a dictatorship
The eviction, which comes on top of the 5 million ruble (more than $70,000) fine the organization received in December, “is the first step towards liquidation,” according to its director.
Although like the rest of the liquidated organizations, which will continue to work, he admits that the activities of the Sakharov Center are closely linked to the building that houses it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not need civil society, that is, an independent voice that denounces human rights problems,” he says.
“Even more so in wartime conditions, in which a multitude of questions can be asked. Is the war just? What happens to the hostages in the occupied territories? What happens to the Ukrainian prisoners of war? The State does not want to answer with the truth, ”he underlines.
Lukashevski believes that Russia has already crossed the red line and has become a “typical personalist dictatorship.”
“A regime that is based on force, that controls society through fear, where there is no political alternation and a single person runs the State almost alone for more than 20 years is a dictatorship,” he says.
He considers that “in Russia you can practically not go out on the streets, there is no independent press, there is no freedom of expression or assembly, and the last springs of freedom have been eliminated.”
After hearing the bad news, some people decide to go to the center to say goodbye to a legend of the Moscow cultural scene.
“If the Russian leaders could, they would change the last years of the USSR. They consider that page (the breakup) an error. Since they couldn’t avoid it then, now they are trying to take revenge,” says Vladimir, who is studying for a doctorate at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Vladimir accuses the Kremlin of “creating internal enemies” in the absence of a real external threat.
“We are entering a very dark period in our history,” he admits resignedly. Of course, he denies that the Kremlin can destroy human rights organizations.
“Those organizations are not buildings or brick walls, they are people. Sakharov’s legacy is not material, so it cannot be destroyed, no matter what our censorship does, ”he insists.
Nastia, an art expert, believes that “Russians are afraid of the truth”, which is why they see civil organizations as dangerous, because they bring to light both the good and the bad in society.
“The truth can be a painful thing. It hurts to admit mistakes. It all started hundreds of years ago. I blame myself, first, and then the leaders, ”she says.
He regrets that every time “the Russian people seem to have learned to be free and to think in freedom, something happens that spoils everything.”