Havel backs Russian opposition during Moscow visit

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

Former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel has long been outspoken on human rights issues and has been a strong critic of Vladimir Putin's Russia. On the same day President Putin admitted becoming his country's next prime minister was "entirely realistic", Mr Havel was in Moscow meeting with members of the country's opposition. The former Czech president spoke at the Sakharov Center, where he indicated members of the Russian opposition needed to overcome differences and unite on common issues if they hoped to have any real political impact.

Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
Former president Vaclav Havel, October 1st, Moscow: the Czech Republic's most famous former dissident - jailed repeatedly by Czechoslovakia's communist regime - spoke at the Sakharov Center, discussing the Charter 77 movement which became the face of dissent in Czechoslovakia. A movement which Mr Havel considers an inspiration for the current Russian opposition. On Monday, Mr Havel discussed conditions in Russia, with former dissidents, opposition leaders, and human rights activists including Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the founder and chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. She indicated in an interview for Radio Prague that for members of the opposition Mr Havel's visit was one of major importance:

"For all Russian democrats Vaclav Havel is a special figure because we remember his role in Czechoslovak dissent in Charter 77 and after as a very liberal and very democratic, perhaps most democratic, president in Europe. At the conference Mr Havel underlined - and I agree with him - that it's very important for democratic movements in countries which have an authoritarian regime to be united. Unfortunately, to be united depends on the political culture. Czechs know how to do it; unfortunately Russians don't know how to do it at this time."

Regarding human rights in Russia, Mrs Alekseyeva is sceptical the country will see any major changes any time soon, not least following Mr Putin's announcement to run in December's parliamentary elections. By accepting a top place on the Unified Russia Party's list (the State Duma's strongest party of which Mr Putin is not a member) the outgoing president is virtually guaranteed a seat - even the post of prime minister - in Russia's next government. Lyudmila Alekseyeva again:

Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
"I think nothing will change in the situation with human rights after the Putin presidency because in reality he will keep power. I am not sure if he will continue the same policy or will change it. It depends on his will. This is not the situation of a democracy but an authoritarian regime, unfortunately."

Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who will run in next year's presidential elections for the opposition The Other Russia Platform also met with Mr Havel at the Czech Embassy in Moscow. The former chess champion turned politician told reporters that, in his view, the current regime was not in favour of real opposition. For just that reason, he has made clear, he now feels more responsibility to run than ever.