Thirty Years On …

On 23 June 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued edict no 658, declassifying legislative and other acts that “served as the basis for mass repressive measures and violations of human rights”. This clearly applied to KGB [NKVD] archives and the Great Terror of 1937-1938. Yet as Sergei Krivenko and Sergei Prudovsky of Memorial noted in April this year [end note] that process has stretched out over thirty years and today is still not completed. The edict specified that it should be finished within three months …

Much has been said and written about the failure to make a clean break with the past in post-1991 Russia, through lustration and an international trial to expose the crimes of the Communist regime – the veteran dissident Vladimir Bukovsky devoted an entire book to the subject. Instead, researchers, activists and relatives of the victims in Russia (and in much of the rest of the former Soviet Union) have spent years gathering evidence of those “crimes against humanity”.

Books of Remembrance have been compiled and published in 72 of Russia’s 83 regions; monuments have been erected at several hundred burial grounds, graveyards and commemorative sites across the country; and ceremonies are held each year to remember the victims.

Boguchar monument, Voronezh Region (2008)

Since 1998 these Books of Remembrance have been combined into a single online database, The Victims of Political Terror in the USSR. Today it names three million victims of the Soviet regime: “an impressive figure,” comments Jan Raczynski, chairman of Memorial, “but this is still only a quarter of those covered by the October 1991 Act on the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression”. For lack of a national programme the Books of Remembrance vary greatly in detail and quality: that for the Komi Republic, for instance, contains 129,000 entries for those shot, imprisoned and deported; that for the Ivanovo Region merely lists 11,000 individuals without any indication of how those named were “repressed”.

No less than 1,800 burial grounds are today known in Russia – deportees graveyards, Gulag burial grounds, killing fields of the Great Terror – but of the 411 sites listed on Russia’s Necropolis website 85% do not have protected status. The website, moreover, represents the state of play in 2016. Since then, the frontline in Russia’s ongoing “memory wars” has shifted, as shown by the removal of two commemorative plaques in central Tver.

And as the last footnote in Krivenko and Prudovsky’s study recalls Stalin, Voroshilov, Vyshinsky and Zhdanov, the main organisers of the Great Terror, “still remain buried on Red Square in the centre of Moscow.”

John Crowfoot


Sergei Krivenko & Sergei Prudovsky, “The national operations of the NKVD in 1937-1938” (April 2021)

Sergei Prudovsky is currently pursuing the Tula and Ivanovo regional FSB through the courts to gain access to the full minutes of the Special Troikas during the Great Terror.