The Kommunarka controversy

On 29 October 2018, the annual “Restoring the Names” ceremony 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. At the Zaretsky churchyard in Petrozavodsk and at Krasny Bor on the city outskirts, complained his daughter Katya, there was no mention of Yury DMITRIEV.

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.)

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.


It was in 1991 that people first learned that thousands had been shot and buried at Kommunarka, the former dacha of NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda (himself arrested in March 1937). Not until 1999 did the NKVD’s successors, the FSB, hand over the territory to the Russian Orthodox Church.

On 27 October 2018, a memorial was finally opened at Kommunarka: one long list in alphabetical order including 6,609 names of those shot and buried there between 2 September 1937 and 24 November 1941. On closer examination the list was found to contain not only the name of Yagoda and his two sisters, but over fifty other NKVD officers of various rank who were themselves executed in the late 1930s.

“We demand that the names of these murderers be removed from the memorial,” wrote the Immortal Barrack. “In the nearest future a separate information board with the surnames of those who personally carried out acts of repression. Murderers must not be mentioned on the same memorial as the victims.”

On 2 November, the chairman of Memorial Jan Rachinsky, explained why a single list including all those buried at the site was, in his view, the only possible solution.

John Crowfoot

See The Kommunarka Controversy (Part Two)