Kommunarka Controversy (Pt 2)

“In August 1937 the most extensive and cruel period of political repression began,” wrote the late Arseny Roginsky in an Afterword to the Kommunarka Book of Remembrance. “In July the NKVD departments across the USSR had already began to set aside special ‘zones’, areas for the mass burial of those they shot. For locals these usually became known, euphemistically, as army firing ranges.

golden hill chelyabinsk

Golden Hill (Zolotaya gora) Chelyabinsk

“This was how the zones that we know today came into being: the Levashovo Wasteland near Leningrad, Kuropaty near Minsk, the Golden Hill near Chelyabinsk, Bykovnya on the outskirts of Kiev, and many others.”

For decades after the death of Stalin in 1953, these sites remained in the hands of the NKVD’s successor, the KGB, and only in the very last years of the Soviet Union did they become known as the burial sites and killing fields of the Great Terror. There were two “firing ranges” on the outskirts of Moscow, at Butovo and Kommunarka.

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The Kommunarka controversy

On 29 October the annual ceremony of “Restoring the Names” took place in Moscow, despite previous uncertainties. That day and the next, similar events took place in 19 other Russian towns and cities (and in several foreign cities as well).

In many more places, including Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor in Karelia, the 30 October was marked as the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression. There was no mention of Yury DMITRIEV, his daughter complained, at the Zaretsky churchyard in Petrozavodsk or at Krasny Bor.

He was remembered, that day, when the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow issued its updated List of Political Prisoners in Russia. As the compilers were careful to comment, it contained the minimum verified list of those who had been detained or prosecuted on political grounds or for reason of their religious beliefs. (Yury DMITRIEV was prominent among the political prisoners; museum director Sergei Koltyrin had not yet been added to the list.)

stena_pamiati_vlad_dokshin_novaia_gazeta

Wall of Remembrance, Kommunarka (photo, Vlad Dokshin, Novaya gazeta)

The most dramatic event proved to be the opening, a few days earlier, of the Wall of Remembrance at the Kommunarka execution site and burial ground outside Moscow. Within days other organisations (The Immortal Barrack, notably) were accusing Memorial of rehabilitating the executioners.

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Dates Official and Unofficial, 2018

The contest over the form remembrance should take, on what date and in which locations is a crucial part of the Dmitriev Affair. At its heart lies the 5 August Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh, which is inextricably linked with Yury DMITRIEV and a memorial complex unlike any other. For the last two years Dmitriev has been prevented from attending the 5 August event.

Meanwhile, a concerted attempt was made in many parts of Russia in 2017 to wrest control from the informal groups who have presided for years over commemorative gatherings elsewhere on 30 October. This was notably the case at Krasny Bor, a major killing field not far from Petrozavodsk, where in Dmitriev’s absence his daughter Katya resisted an official takeover.

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Moscow’s “Restoring the Names” (2018) in question

For the last 11 years the ceremony of Restoring the Names has been held each year in Moscow on 29 October at the Solovki Stone on Lubyanka Square. Several thousand people queue up to read out the name of someone who was executed during the Great Terror of the late 1930s in a moving event that takes many hours.

View of 2017 event from above (2)

29 October 2017, Lubyanka Square, Moscow

On Friday 19 October, the Moscow city authorities suddenly withdrew permission to hold this year’s ceremony in its traditional location, next to FSB headquarters, claiming that ongoing construction and restoration work made the site unsuitable.

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The Ordeal resumes

On Friday, 19 October 2018, the first hearing in Yury DMITRIEV’s second trial takes place. He will be represented, once again, by Victor Anufriev. At his defence lawyer’s insistence, both the charges against Dmitriev, the old and the new, will be heard as part of the same proceedings.

Dmitriev rearrested

Yury Dmitriev is re-arrested in June 2018 (photo from Frankfurter Allgemeine)

Meanwhile, attempts to sway public opinion and prejudge the outcome of the trial are again being made by Kremlin-controlled media.

On Tuesday 16 October, Meduza [R] reported, a camera crew from REN TV came to the head office of Memorial in Moscow: “They were asking us why we were defending Yury Dmitriev and how such people as Sergei Koltyrin came to be involved with our organisation,” said Alexandra Polivanova; “they were also waving around photographs from the Dmitriev case files, which should not be in their possession.”

Memorial called the police.

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A place of execution

“They made a road to Koirankangas from Rzhevka. From our hill we could see clearly: a vehicle went there and then it stopped. A minute passed, perhaps, and then shots were heard. We avoided going that way. Everyone knew they were shooting people there. Murdered people were found there.”

Anni Arikainen (b. 1918), Kuivozi, Vsevolozhsky district,
Leningrad Region (recorded in 1990).

place of execution

“A place of execution”
(photo, Sergei Strukov)

“We children found a man in the woods. He was lying on the ground; it was clear he couldn’t walk. He saw us and said something, but we couldn’t understand. We didn’t know what to do. We weren’t strong enough to drag him anywhere – and where we would take him? We made him a shelter of branches, brought him something to drink and, from what we could find, food to eat. We told our parents nothing. The next day we returned, and he was there. The third day we came, and he was gone. Either he got away or they had found him.”

Mikko Vanganen (b. 1921), Kuivozi,
Leningrad Region (recorded in 1994).

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The significance of Sandarmokh

In March 2017 Anna Yarovaya wrote a long article about the Dmitriev Affair for the 7×7 news website. Among those whose words she then recorded was Irina FLIGE, director of the Memorial Research Centre in St Petersburg and one of those who, with Yury DMITRIEV, discovered Sandarmokh in July 1997:

Irina Flige (RFI)

Irina Flige

“Sandarmokh is a unique and complete investigation. It is enormously to the credit of Yury DMITRIEV that he gathered together all the documentary information and, as a result, we today know who exactly is buried here. <…>

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“Time may pass – the memory remains”

One of the last interviews Sergei KOLTYRIN, the arrested director of the Medvezhegorsk district museum, gave was to Nastoyashchee vremya, the online TV channel:

https://www.currenttime.tv/a/29525989.html

(Excerpts from a longer text on the website)

“The death of a person’s reputation is perhaps worse than being actually murdered. After such allegations, the person carries on but with great difficulty. It’s hard to live and not everyone can survive such an upheaval in their lives.

“When we speak about Sandarmokh, we must not forget the people at the time when this vile treatment began, and “undesirables” were eliminated. The free-thinkers, those who thought differently to others, who spoke in a different way and did things differently – they were awkward and undesirable [for the regime].

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Update on Koltyrin arrest

On 3 October, Sergei KOLTYRIN and Yevgeny Nosov were remanded in custody until 27 November.  The charges concern a 13-year-old boy.  The Interfax news agency has asserted, citing an unnamed source, that Koltyrin has written a confession.

As with all proceedings against Dmitriev, the prosecution is able to hold them behind closed doors because of the age of the alleged victim.  Defence lawyer Victor ANUFRIEV, who has represented Dmitriev from the beginning, will be representing Koltyrin as well.

There appears to be no information about Nosov, except that he does not appear to have a lawyer.

Human Rights in Ukraine
3 October 2018

 

Second Time Round …

Yury DMITRIEV was first arrested on 13 December 2016, a date that marks the formal beginning of The Dmitriev Affair. Its roots go deeper and further back in time, naturally.

Over two years earlier, at the annual Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh on 5 August, Dmitriev made critical comments about the annexation of Crimea and events in eastern Ukraine. In a long interview in 2015 Dmitriev alluded to official pressure and obstruction that was making him consider leaving the country (“If I stay here [in Russia] everything will be lost.”)

The “new hypothesis” that Soviet POWs were buried at Sandarmokh, so prominent today, made its first appearance in an article in Izvestiya in July 2016 [R], five months before Dmitriev was arrested.

***

Much that is happening now, in other words, was prefigured by earlier events and the previous trial and acquittal.

Contributors to the Dmitriev Affair Facebook page have been looking back to the first arrest and investigation of Yury Dmitriev, between December 2016 and March 2017, and re-reading the articles and reports published then.

On this website, individual reports in English (and in Russian) can be found, month by month, on the Timeline of the first trial. Four key articles summarising the main stages of the first trial and acquittal have now been gathered together. They were written by Halya Coynash to whom we are all indebted for her regular reporting and grasp of the legal and judicial nuances of the proceedings in Petrozavodsk. (A contributor to the Human Rights in Ukraine website, based in Kharkiv, she covers events in Russia, Poland and elsewhere.)

John Crowfoot
4 October 2018