Russia has decided to close the Sakharov Center, the last bastion of freedom for Kremlin opponents, human rights defenders and opponents 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,” said Sergey Lukashevsky, director of the center, who has been in exile in Berlin since the beginning of the conflict.
The Sakharov Centre, founded seven years after the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1989, hosts exhibitions, conferences, concerts, films and plays, most of which are independent.
In addition, its two buildings house a library and two permanent exhibitions, one on Sakharov’s life and the other on the history of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union. The adjoining garden is dominated by a fragment of the Berlin Wall.
The center’s days are numbered, as the Public Ministry has decided to expel the historic institution on the grounds that it represents a threat to security and constitutional order in this country.
“The charge that we undermine state security is ridiculous. What is happening is that because the Kremlin is terribly afraid of freedom of expression, we are a dangerous platform,” says Lukashevsky, who was fined on Friday, by default, at 3 million rubles (about 39,560 euros).
He recalled that over the years his space has brought together people who disagree with politics and the dominant state of mind in Russia, based on “xenophobia, chauvinism, repression of human rights and disrespect for human dignity”.
First it was the turn of Russia’s leading Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Memorial. Earlier this week it was the turn of the oldest, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and now the most influential.
In this case, the excuse is a new amendment stipulating that foreign agents also cannot receive state funding, which allowed the Moscow City Council to terminate the lease and issue the eviction order.
The eviction, which comes on top of the 5 million rubles (over 64,400 euros) fine the organization received in December, “is the first step towards liquidation”, according to its director.
The director of the Sakharov Center said that the Center’s activities are closely linked to the building that houses it, but, like the other liquidated organizations, it will continue to work.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not need civil society, that is, an independent voice to denounce human rights problems”.
Lukashevski believes that Russia has already crossed the red line and become a “typical personalist dictatorship”.
“A regime that is based on force, that controls society through fear, where there is no political alternation and where one person directs the State almost alone for more than 20 years is a dictatorship”, he accused.
In Russia you can hardly go out, there is no independent press, there is no freedom of expression or assembly and the last levers of freedom have been removed, he added.