Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sergei Kovalyov, also spelled Kovalev

Russian Biologist, Human Rights Activist, Politician, Dissident and Political Prisoner

"I am here in order to fulfill the designs of my Creator as I understand them and to the best of my ability... Each one of us creates his own picture of the world, tortuously building an ideal in order to try to live in accordance with it. In that sense, there is no difference between a believer and an agnostic, since an ideal is something that, once raised, transcends man. Thus, we are here in order to “hoist our spirit without anchoring it upon anything,” as one of the ancient Chinese philosophers said. We must admit that that foundations are indeed shaky."

" It is something of an exaggeration when you say I have become a leader of the party. I’d say I’ve become one of the temporary leaders, since only yesterday I became a member of the party’s troika [the top three candidates on its party list]. You probably know that [in the party] there is an organized human-rights faction and I am one of its leaders. What attracted me to Yabloko is precisely that this party has clearly declared that rights are one of its main — if not the main — priorities. And that absolutely corresponds with my personal position, which in recent times has acquired a conviction that is not typical of activists. That is, I think that the fairly widespread attitude of human-rights activists that “we aren’t politicians and we don’t engage in politics” is the result of some sort of misunderstanding, some sort of maxim that has not been completely mastered by these activists. It came about like this. It’s perfectly justified to say that rights are outside of politics and above politics. That is, if you will, the fundamental principle of human rights. Rights are a border of politics, and are not a means of politics. However, I think that rights activists, as opposed to lawyers and legal scholars, engage only in politics and nothing else, even if they don’t always understand that this is so. Like the Moliere character who didn’t know that he spoke in prose. I assure you, there is nothing paradoxical in this. It’s actually perfectly logical. It’s just that rights activists are people who affirm the primacy of human rights, who demand that politicians affirm this primacy and that politicians consciously observe these limitations…. If you like, rights advocates are the knights of the new political thinking that was formulated in the middle of the last century by such remarkable people as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and their coauthors, very significant figures in science and thought, including Andrei Sakharov. This is a really new politics, a new political thinking about which I am speaking and which human-rights advocates are demanding. It’s not just a non-traditional political model — it’s a fundamental upheaval in politics. Therefore, I am profoundly convinced (and my predecessors in this field, I believe, proceeded from this conviction) that traditional politics, so-called realpolitik, politics governed by the principle that politics is the art of the possible, this traditional politics has not simply run its course, but has become a very dangerous atavism."