With great sadness, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) mourns the loss Lyudmila Alexseyeva, the “’Grandmother’ of the Russian Human Rights Movement,” who died Saturday in Moscow at the age of 91. Alekseyeva, a co-founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) received the Endowment’s 2004 Democracy Award.
“Lyuda Alexseyeva was a gentle and humble person, yet also a very powerful and determined defender of basic human rights and democratic values,” said NED president Carl Gershman. “She played a profoundly important and pioneering role in creating the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976 and in using the Helsinki process to raise the banner for human rights in the Soviet Union.”
“Lyudmila did not always side with the most radical and outspoken of the Russian dissidents,” said NED senior advisor Nadia Diuk. “but without her, that diverse and motley gathering may never have become the powerful force Moscow Helsinki Group.
Her effective leadership of the human rights movement resulted in intense political pressure that landed her in exile in the U.S. for sixteen years. Even in exile, she made important contributions to the struggle against Soviet Communism.
“Once exiled to the U.S. she continued her tireless work by chronicling all aspects of Soviet unrest,” said Diuk. “For example, her scrupulous study on worker strikes and unrest since the 1950’s and her publication of the seminal work “Soviet Dissent” that introduced an English reading public to the diversity of religious, national, and labor protest against the Soviet regime, previously unknown in the West, that went well beyond the intellectuals in Moscow.
“When she finally returned to Moscow in the 1990’s, she again tirelessly set about rebuilding the MHG, but this time with an emphasis on nurturing next generation leaders, encouraging activism, and broadening the movement throughout the country. She was a strong moral voice that was always tempered with realism. Putin listened to her, but not everyone agreed with her approach. Nonetheless, she continued to work to fulfill her vision of a better Russia, inspiring hundreds of people along the way, right up to the end.”
“I’m very proud that the NED honored Lyudmila in 2004 with our Democracy Award,” said Gershman. “No one has deserved it more. She was a monumental figure and also a very dear friend. We mourn her death and will do our best to carry forward the humane values that she cherished.”