Russia - ACTING UP - Sergei Kovalev

ACTING UP - RUSSIA'S CIVIL SOCIETY - Portraits by Platon for Human Rights Watch - Sergei Kovalev, 81, is a dissident to his core. He remembers how, as a seventh-grader in Stalinist times, he argued with his teacher over the meaning of free speech as guaranteed in the Soviet constitution. "The class was overjoyed," he remembers, "because nobody ever argued like that." A biologist and close ally of the late Nobel prize-winning dissident Andrei Sakharov, Kovalev spent 10 years in labor camp and internal exile in the 1970s. After the Soviet Union collapsed, he became a member of parliament and Russia's first human rights commissioner. Today, he argues that Russia has no real civil society, only a few lonely activists and some "sly courtiers." The fundamental problem today is not that different from Soviet times, he says: "Illegitimate power."