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Russia: Yelena Bonner Criticizes Lack Of Human Rights

Prague, 4 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- On a visit to RFE/RL in Prague, Russian human rights activist Yelena Bonner spoke about what she says was a lack of progress in human rights in Russia over the last year and the importance of next year's parliamentary elections.

Bonner said that despite Russian President Boris Yeltsin declaring 1998 "human rights year" in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no progress has been made in the defense of human rights in such crucial areas as the army, the economy, the law, and medical and educational services. Bonner lamented that while Russia's constitution safeguards human rights on paper, there is "no mechanism for defending human rights in practice." She described Russian society as being on a constant "high state of psychological alert," brought about by a frightening accumulation of social evils -- such as poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and a high crime rate. Bonner said that in some respects the social conditions in Russia were as bleak as at any time since the end of the Second World War.

On Russian political developments, Bonner spoke out against the idea of any union of democratic forces ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. She said that the Duma elections were of crucial importance --far more than the presidential elections slated for the year 2000. But she said that last week's proposed union of center right parties would weaken rather than strengthen the chances of democratic candidates in the upcoming poll.

Bonner argued that it was not desirable to place politicians such as former prime minister Yegor Gaidar and former deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais in the same camp as the Yabloko party of Grigory Yavlisnsky for example. She said the electorate believes both Chubais and Gaidar have "robbed" the people through their controversial privatization programs.

Bonner said that the Yabloko party with its federation-wide organization and its track-record in parliament over the last five years has proved itself to be a credible and electable political party. It would be a mistake, said Bonner, for Yabloko to associate itself with other political parties led by politicians deemed "unacceptable" to the people.

In answer to a question on the consequences to Russia of Yeltsin's prolonged health problems, Bonner said Yeltsin's absence was far from ideal. But she said she is against the presidential elections being brought forward from the year 2000 and believes Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was at least "giving the appearance of being in control of the structures of government."

Bonner concluded her comments by saying that important changes need to be made to the Russian constitution to safeguard human rights in the country. She said that these changes must be made in total compliance with the law and not at the behest of one of the branches of power.