The Russian authorities have carried out mass raids and searches of the office of the Memorial Society and its members, writes Halya Coynash on the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG).
Orlov protest in central Moscow(2022) “A crazed Putin is pushing the world towards nuclear war”
Veteran activist and Memorial co-chairman Oleg ORLOV now faces criminal charges and a likely term of imprisonment for supposedly ‘discrediting’ the Russian armed forces. The move comes a little over a year after Russia forcibly dissolved International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and almost exactly three months after Memorial, together with Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties and the Belarusian Viasna Human Rights Centre (and its leader Ales Bialiatski), became laureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
The pretext for the heavy-handed methods used on 21 March was a criminal investigation initiated on 3 March 2023 over alleged ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’. This was supposedly based on a complaint from the Veterans of Russia NGO which claimed to have found around twenty names of those convicted of collaborating with Nazi Germany on Memorial’s massive “List of the Victims of Political Terror in the USSR”.
The current regime is using this charge in an attempt to discredit the internationally respected Memorial and the vital work it has done in studying the Soviet Terror and naming both its victims and the perpetrators. Although the offensive against Memorial began shortly before Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 and was doubtless prompted in part by Memorial’s stand on Russia’s aggression, the first complaints about names on the “List of Victims” came in //2021, around the time that the regime was seeking the organization’s dissolution. In December 2021, Memorial reacted to complaints, echoed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, about three people on the List, by saying that the three had been removed. In a list containing over three million names, Memorial pointed out, mistakes of this nature were surely inevitable. The same clearly applies now.
Russia’s attack on historians of the Terror, and particularly Yury DMITRIEV, head of the Karelian branch of Memorial, used scurrilous and entirely fabricated ‘child pornography’ charges to try to discredit both Dmitriev and Memorial. The same method is now being used with this ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’ case, and the high-profile searches of a large number of members of Memorial.
For six hours on Friday, 5 August 2022, people around the world read out a seemingly endless list of those who were shot during Stalin’s Great Terror in 1937-1938.
Over six thousand men and women were executed at SANDARMOKH, one of Northwest Russia’s biggest killing fields. I was asked to read some names where I lived and on Friday I did so, standing next to our village sign in Geldeston.
Two days after being sentenced to 15 years in a strict-regime penal colony, Yury DMITRIEV wrote to veteran rights activist Lena Sannikova. Recently she published an excerpt on the Facebook page of his supporters:
“In my last words to the court I said I was proud to work with Memorial.
Then I quoted what Varvara Brusilova (1899-1937) said to the Moscow tribunal after being sentenced to death [she was shot on 10 September that year at Sandarmokh, L.S.]: ‘I regard your sentence calmly: according to my religious beliefs there is no death … and I shall not beg for pardon or mercy’.”
“Don’t worry! We shall survive. All of us are Memorial. We are a nation, and no nation can exist without memory.
“We’ve seen worse times in Russia. We shall overcome!”
from Prisoner Dmitriev (Hottabych) 29 December 2021
As soon as sentence was passed in December 2021 at Yury DMITRIEV’s third trial, his lawyers submitted an appeal against the verdict.
Yury Dmitriev in the courthouse corridor, 2022
Unlike the previous two trials, the court was openly prejudiced against the accused and would accept no petitions from the defence. Victor Anufriev, Dmitriev’s defence attorney since December 2016, objected on grounds of elementary disregard for court procedure.
The High Court of Karelia began its hearing on 9 March 2022, during the fighting in Ukraine and unprecedented protests (and arrests) in Russia. As Valery Potashov reports on the Dmitriev supporters Facebook page, the court has just turned down the application to overturn the swingeing 15-year sentence imposed in late December last year. Perhaps, as before, further appeals will take the case higher up the judicial ladder, to the Cassation Court in Petersburg and the Supreme Court in Moscow. Dmitriev’s attorneys have not yet commented on yesterday’s ruling (and will only receive the written justification for the court’s ruling in some days time).
For the time being the 66-year-old DMITRIEV remains in Karelia’s detention centre No 1 in Petrozavodsk where he can be visited by his attorney and his daughter Katya. How much longer no one knows.
On his blog about Places of Remembrance in Russia and Ukraine, Airat Bagautdinov recently considered the Memorial Complex at Katyn in Russia’s Smolensk Region.
A place of burial for executed Soviet citizens in the 1920s and 1930s, it became famous as one of three places in the Soviet Union where Polish POWs were buried in May-June 1940 after Stalin ordered their mass execution. (The other two locations were Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and Mednoe in Russia’s Tver Region: see “Russia’s Necropolis of Terror and the Gulag“.)
Bagautdinov examines the part of the Complex built in 1998-2000 and designed by Russian architect Mikhail Khazanov.
“You pass through a gap in the burial mound. On each side there are plates of corten steel inscribed with the names of the executed. Once forgotten and restored much later, these names seem to be fighting their way through the metal surface.
“The plan of the memorial is very simple. You walk through the forest, between the pine trees. However, your feet do not touch the ground. You move along raised pedestrian pathways 18 inches above the earth. The earth itself is a memorial, Khazanov is telling us. Those who were shot lie beneath every square metre of land and the grass grows from their bodies; therefore you must not set foot on this ground.
“Those who regularly read my blog may remember that this approach was first suggested by Josif Karakis, in his [unaccepted] entry for the Baby Yar monument competition. Khazanov’s work, therefore, is not only a powerful memorial in its own right: it is also a tribute to a Ukrainian master of the genre.”
(Many thanks to Natalya Dyomina who recently posted this wonderful excerpt from Bagautdinov’s blog on the Dmitriev supporters Facebook page, JC.)