A New Public Association [Moscow Helsinki Group], 12 May 1976 (40.13)

<< No 40 : 20 May 1976 >>

On 12 May 1976 a declaration was issued announcing the formation of a new public association [NGO] in Moscow: the “Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR”. The declaration states:

“The Group’s aim is to promote the observance of the Final Act of the Conference on Co-operation and Security in Europe [“International Agreements”]. We will focus on the following articles of the Final Act:

“One, the Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States (Principle VII), which is headed “Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”;

“Two, the section ‘Co-operation in Humanitarian and other fields’ [Principle IX], sub-sections 1-4:

(1) Human Contacts (notably point (b) “Reunification of Families”),

(2) Information,

(3) Co-operation and Exchanges in the Field of Culture, and

(4) Co-operation and Exchanges in the Field of Education.

“The Group considers that its first goal is to inform all Heads of the States which signed the Final Act on 1 August 1975, and also to inform the public, about cases of direct violation of the articles named above. With this aim, the Group:

(1) will accept written complaints directly from Soviet citizens about personal experiences which relate to violations of these articles, and in a concise form will readdress them to all Heads of the States which have signed the Act and also to the public; the Group will retain the original, signed documents;

(2) will collect, with the help of the public, any other information about violations of the above articles; analyse this information; and give a detailed evaluation of its reliability; and will then send it to the Heads of State and the public.

“In some cases, when the Group comes across concrete information about special manifestations of inhumanity, for example:

— the removal of children from religious parents who wish to educate their children according to their beliefs;

— forcible psychiatric treatment for the purposes of changing people’s thoughts, conscience, religion or beliefs;

— the most dramatic instances of divided families;

— cases which reveal special inhumanity in regard to prisoners of conscience.

“The Group intends to appeal to the Heads of State and the public with requests to form international commissions to check the information on the spot, since the Group will not always be able to conduct its own direct investigation of such important and crucial information.

“The Group hopes that its information will be taken into account at all official meetings which are envisaged in the Final Act under the point “Further Steps from Helsinki”.

“In its activities the members of the Group proceed from the conviction that the issues of humanitarianism and free information have a direct relationship to the problem of international security, and they call for the public of other countries which took part in the Conference at Helsinki to form their own national assistance groups in order to facilitate a complete fulfilment of the Helsinki Agreements by the governments of all countries. We hope that in the future a corresponding International Committee will also be formed.

Yury Orlov has been declared the leader of the Group.

“The members of the Group include: Ludmila Alexeyeva, Mikhail Bernshtam, Elena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Alexander Korchak, Pyotr Grigorenko and Vitaly Rubin

The declaration also bears the signature of Anatoly Marchenko, who was exiled to eastern Siberia last year (CCE 35.2 and CCE 37.5). Later it became known that Anatoly Shcharansky was also a member of the Group.

Malva Landa joined the Group, but declared that she was not fully in agreement with the content of the declaration. The declaration, in her opinion, ignores the fundamental difference between the situation of the Soviet Group and the situation of the proposed similar groups in other countries.

The authorities reacted quickly to the formation of the Group.

First there were attempts to summon Yu. Orlov to KGB headquarters, then on Saturday, 15 May he was detained on the street and taken to the KGB offices in the Cheryomushky district, Moscow. There he was read a “Warning” in accordance with the Decree of 25 December 1972 [see CCE 30.13].

On the same day TASS published abroad (the Chronicle presents a re-translation from the English) the announcement under the title “Warning to a Provocateur” (Moscow. 15 May, 17.40 hours):

As has become known to a TASS correspondent, State Security authorities today officially warned a certain Yury Orlov about the inadmissibility of his anti-constitutional activity.

Orlov, who was once engaged in scientific work and was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, has fully devoted himself to anti-Soviet activities in recent years. Seeking to gain popularity in the eyes of the opponents of relaxation of tension and the enemies of the Soviet Union, Orlov in particular set about knocking together a group of dissidents under the high-sounding and provocative name of Organization for Checking the Observance by the Soviet Union of the Provisions of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

It is difficult to evaluate Orlov’s actions in any other way than as an attempt to cast doubt in the eyes of the international republic on the sincerity of the Soviet Union’s efforts to implement strictly the international obligations it has assumed, as yet another provocation aimed at hampering the process of relaxation of international tension.

On 15 May Orlov was summoned to the State Security bodies where, in accordance with the law effective in the country, he was given an official warning about the inadmissibility of his unlawful actions. Such a warning has a dual purpose: to cut short Orlov’s provocative activities, and also to prevent the perpetration by Orlov and persons connected with him of actions punishable by law.


In response to the TASS Statement Andrei Sakharov, Laureate of the [1975] Nobel Peace Prize, and Valentin Turchin, chairman of the Soviet Amnesty International group, issued a statement.

They thoroughly approved of the formation of the Group and considered the Group’s aims to be extremely important. They supported the call made by the Group for the formation of similar groups in other countries that were signatories to the Helsinki Agreement.

The authors consider the TASS Statement to be an attempt to discredit the Group indirectly, as it would be embarrassing to attack such a group directly. It is noted that the name of the Group is distorted in the Statement. As for the attempts to cast doubt on Orlov’s academic qualifications, the authors write:

“The TASS Statement tries to create the impression that Professor Orlov has recently abandoned his academic activity. In reality he is continuing to work actively and in the course of the year 1974-5 he published three original works of research and sent another to the publishers. It is true that, since the beginning of 1974, Orlov has not been on the staff of any teaching institution, but only because, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he is refused employment for political considerations.

The first action of the Group was to study the case of Mustafa Dzhemilev (this issue, CCE 40.3). The Group issued a document pointing out the infringements of the Helsinki Agreements in this case [Note 1].

[Here is a summary]:

The sentence passed on Dzhemilev contradicts Principle VII of Part A in section 1 of the Final Act: “Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”, and Principle VIII of the same part, which speaks of “the right of peoples, in full freedom, to determine their own fate.” [Note 2]

The circumstances in which the trial was prepared and conducted lead the members of the Group to the conclusion that it was not a legal proceeding but “a deliberately predetermined reprisal”. This fact “does not permit the application to Dzhemilev’s case of the article in the Final Act on non-interference in internal affairs, for this article is interpreted in the Final Act in terms of respect for the laws and customs of sovereign states, not of respect for lawlessness disguised by falsification”.

The document was signed by the following members of the Group: Yury Orlov, Mikhail Bernshtam, Yelena Bonner and Alexander Ginzburg.

[See “The Helsinki Monitoring Group”, 41.8, 3 August 1976]



The MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP came into existence less than a year after the ratification of the Helsinki Accords (signed August 1975) by 33 European and two North American countries. The USSR was a prominent signatory. The emergence of the Helsinki Group in Moscow was followed by the creation of similar groups in four of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics (Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia).

Over the next six years the Moscow Helsinki Group issued 195 statements on a variety of issues and survived the arrest, exile and emigration of many of its members. In September 1982, the members still at liberty, Naum Meiman and Yelena Bonner (the latter spent her time between Moscow and Gorky, the place of her husband Andrei Sakharov‘s exile) decided to voluntarily disband the organisation (Vesti iz SSSR, 17-1, 15 September 1982) rather than let member and human rights lawyer Sophia Kalistratova be put on trial.

JC, February 2021


[Notes to first AI publication in January 1979]

[1] The document was published in English in “Reports of Helsinki-Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union” by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Congress: Washington DC, 24 February 1977).

For the Russian, see Sbornik dokumentov Obshchestvennoi gruppy sodeistviya vypolneniyu Khelsinkskikh soglashenii (Khronika Press: New York, Vol. 1, 1977).

[2] This is a paraphrase of the various points in principle VIII.