Human Rights Defenders Within Soviet Politics
In the wake of recent debates about “Soviet subjectivity”, the dissidents known as “rights defenders” (pravozashchitniki) would appear to be among the few remaining candidates for the role of liberals in Soviet history. Their version of liberalism, however, can be understood only when situated in the specificities of the late Soviet setting. Rather than regarding liberal ideas as an import product, this chapter suggests that rights defenders developed an indigenous version of liberalism that creatively deployed Soviet constitutional norms – themselves a reworking of Western rights discourse – while remaining wholly detached from such traditional liberal values as private property and market relations. In the relentlessly politicized circumstances of Soviet life, the dissidents’ most radically liberal gesture was to insist on the non-political nature of their work.