Andrei Mironov, who was killed at the age of 60 in a mortar attack near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine a week ago was a journalist, translator and one of Russia’s bravest and most tireless human rights activists.
He pursued his human rights calling relentlessly, taking up cases of minor infringement as eagerly as he did major instances of abuse and in every case with an unbridled enthusiasm. His bravery earned him torture by the KGB and imprisonment in the Soviet era Gulag, and, more recently, harassment and numerous arrests.
Mironov's dissidence began in the stagnant Soviet years of Leonid Brezhnev and it continued through the Gorbachev era. He remained a dissident under Yeltsin, Putin, Medvedev and Putin again.
At a time when his fellow countrymen are frequently pictured as brutish, Mironov's life story provides a salutary reminder of another braver, more honest and admirable Russia. Literature and history Born near Irkutsk in Siberia, he developed, as a young man, an appetite for literature and history. "I wanted to read books of my choice and I was unable to. I wanted to know the history of the country where I was born and it was prohibited," he told RTÉ listeners and Irish Times readers in 2012.
The next step was samizdat, photocopying and distributing banned books, and this brought him to the attention of the authorities. In 1984 we was arrested and tortured by the KGB and it was the torture, paradoxically, that gave him the strength and courage to fight on.
During his interrogation he was told that he was about to be killed and asked to write a letter saying he was taking his own life. His interrogators made a rope from a towel. One of them held both his hands while another put the rope around his neck and started to strangle him. Mironov passed out.
When he came to, he saw that his torturers were terrified. "I felt, strangely enough, a relief and I lost my hatred for those guys," he told The Irish Times. He felt that he was strong and they were weak. This experience helped power his future determination.
Mironov was declared to be an "extremely dangerous state criminal" and given a seven-year sentence: four years in a Gulag prison camp and three in internal exile. Jailed by Gorbachev His sentence warrant was signed by the then general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, but the western media chose to ignore his story as it did not fit the narrative of Gorbachev as the good reformer.
But Mironov was lucky. After just 18 months’ imprisonment western countries made an ultimatum to the Soviet Union linking economic help to the release of political prisoners.
Abruptly 140 prisoners, including Mironov, were released. Backed by Western power they became untouchables in a Soviet Union whose economy was near collapse. Mironov took advantage of this.
When a journalist was arrested in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) he arranged for Andrei Sakharov to issue a statement through Radio Liberty. The journalist was released. Message to pope Mironov even managed to get a message to Pope John Paul II in Rome when a number of Catholic activists were taken in by the KGB. The pope issued a statement the following morning. The activists were released.
When the Soviet Union fell, he continued his activities as a member of the human rights organisation Memorial. He campaigned for freedom of speech. He wrote articles for Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper whose journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Yuri Shchekochikhin were murdered. He marched in demonstrations. He tried to block corrupt speculators from demolishing old Moscow houses and replacing them with lucrative monstrosities.
He became a “citizen observer” at presidential and parliamentary elections. He supported protests against a motorway to be built through the Khimki forest outside Moscow.
Wherever there was action Mironov was there, notably at the mass demonstrations in Moscow against the government of Vladimir Putin.
In a statement in Moscow this week Mironov’s character was summed up by Svetlana Gannushkina, head of Russia’s Civic Assistance Committee and a member of Memorial, who told journalists: “A man of crystal clear conscience has died.”
Andrei Nikolayevich Mironov is survived by his mother, Yevgeniya Semyonova Mironova, and his brothers Aleksandr and Aleksei.