A historian renowned for discovering mass graves of Stalin’s terror victims has been put on trial in Russia accused of taking abusive images of a child that friends and colleagues say are fabricated and designed to put a stop to his work (writes the London Times). Yuri Dmitriev, 61, faces up to 15 years in prison if he is found guilty of using his adopted daughter create the images.
The controversial case has highlighted a battle in Russia over Stalin’s legacy. On one side sits President Putin who is seeking to stress the more glorious episodes of the country’s past, in particular Stalin’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. On the other sit independent historians, activists and rights groups.
“The authorities are paying close attention to historians and history… which means honest historians are seen as real political opponents,” said Nikolai Svanidze, a prominent historian, at a press conference about Mr Dmitriev’s case.
Details about the trial of Mr Dmitriev, who has been under arrest since December, are sparse because it is being heard in a closed court in the northern city of Petrozavodsk. Investigators have said he took “pornographic” images of his daughter for a period of seven years.
The State-owned television channel Rossiya-24 broadcast a documentary about the case this year, showing three of the photographs in question with the young girl’s face, breasts and genitalia blurred. She was standing with her arms raised.
Mr Dmitriev’s friends and lawyer dismiss the charges outright. He admits taking photographs of his adopted daughter but only in order to protect himself against false claims that he was mistreating her.
She was frail after arriving from an orphanage, and when the historian was accused by teachers of failing to look after her properly he sought to document her physical condition with photographs, according to Yan Rachinsky, co-founder of Memorial, a Russian organisation where Mr Dmitriev also worked on investigating the Soviet past.
He said that the pictures were never distributed and that Mr Dmitriev stopped taking them several years ago when he was no longer afraid of allegations of mistreatment “The accusations are completely preposterous,” he added.
Supporters of Mr Dmitriev have organised protests outside the pre-trial detention facility where he is being held and attracted more than 11,000 supporters on an online petition.
“The whole situation is absurd and I just can’t process this rubbish,” said Mr Dmitriev’s daughter by his first marriage, Yekaterina Klodt. “The trial looks like a circus.”
For more than 25 years Mr Dmitriev has been working to preserve the memory of those caught up in Stalin’s terror.
In 1997, he was in charge of a team that identified the long-sought site of Sandarmokh near Russia’s border with Finland where almost 10,000 people were executed in 1937 and 1938.
“Dmitriev himself found those pits,” Mr Rachinsky said.
With Mr Dmitriev’s participation, the site was turned into a remembrance complex with a stone memorial that reads “Don’t kill one another”.
Rising nationalism and historical revisionism under Mr Putin has turned the tide in assessments of Stalin, and the dictator’s crimes are increasingly underplayed while the Soviet victory over Nazism becomes his defining legacy.
Statues to Stalin have gone up in cities across Russia and this year Mr Putin told Hollywood director Oliver Stone that “excessive demonisation” of Stalin was “one means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia”. A verdict in Mr Dmitriev’s trial is expected at the beginning of September.
Howard Amos (Moscow)
The Times (London), 18 July 2017, p. 38
This news item contains a small photo of Yury Dmitriev and forms part of a page in the Times’s World News section with two other reports from Russia: “Pilgrims march for murdered Nicholas II” (Yekaterinburg), and “Kick out gays to purify us, says Chechen leader” (Chechnya).