On Wednesday, 16 September 2020, the Supreme Court of Karelia will hear the appeals submitted by both defence and prosecution after the 22 July verdict and sentence in the trial of Yury DMITRIEV.
The investigation and prosecution of the historian and head of the Memorial Society in Karelia began in December 2016 and has lasted almost four years, during which time Dmitriev has been detained, almost continually, at detention & investigation centre No 1 in Petrozavodsk.
The current appeals
Dmitriev’s defence has appealed against his conviction on one of the charges and called for his acquittal on all counts.
Under the Russian judicial system, the prosecution is also entitled to appeal. The prosecution has protested about the exceptionally light sentence (3 ½ years) and is calling, as it did during the closing statements, for a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony.
The charges and the verdict
The evidence and expert testimony supporting and opposing a range of charges against the historian have been heard and evaluated at two trials since June 2017.
After examining the charges, the International Memorial Society declared on 28 June 2017 that Dmitriev was a “political prisoner”. The case against him was fabricated, said Memorial, and Dmitriev was innocent of all charges.
Today 64 years old, Dmitriev has been prosecuted for a number of crimes under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He was acquitted of all but one charge in April 2018. Tried again between October 2018 and July 2020 for two of the same offences and a further charge, he was found guilty of the new crime but given a minimal sentence.
Dispossession, imprisonment, deportation and famine
The November 1929 plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee decided to proceed with the forced collectivization of the countryside, and the “liquidation of the kulaks as a social group” (a process also known as “dekulakization”). The collectivization campaign supported a double objective: one, it would “extract” – the term used in confidential instructions — all elements prone to actively oppose forced collectivization; two, it would “colonize” vast inhospitable regions of the Russian North, the Urals, Siberia and Kazakhstan through the resettlement of entire “kulak” families.
Politburo Resolution “on measures to liquidate kulak ownership in regions of total collectivization”
This resolution determined “dekulakization quotas” in 1st and 2nd categories for each region or republic. An initial estimate of 60,000 first-category kulaks, defined as “activists, engaged in counter-revolutionary activities,” were to be arrested and sent to labour camps after “a brief appearance before the troika” (extra-judicial OGPU body). The “most harmful and tenacious activists” were to be sentenced to death.
Second category kulaks were defined as “exploiters, but less actively engaged in counter-revolutionary activities” and estimated at 129,000 to 154,000 families. Men, women and children were to be deported as families to “distant” regions of the country, following simple administrative procedures. Deprived of their civic rights, deported, and administratively considered as “specially displaced,” these dekulakized peasants were assigned to live in “special settlements” run by the OGPU (NKVD as of 1934).
An Exhibition about YURY DMITRIEV
On 22 August, an exhibition opened in the Chamber Theatre («Петербургский интерьерный театр») at 104 Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg about the historian and rights activist Yury DMITRIEV, the man who investigated one of the most terrible commemorative sites of the Great Terror, the Sandarmokh Clearing in Karelia.
The organiser was Svetlana Kulchitskaya. She decided to open the exhibition on her own birthday and – how symbolic – it is the date in August 1991 when the people defeated the totalitarian regime. As a result, 22 August has become celebrated as the “Day of the Russian Flag”. (On the walls of the staircase leading up to the Chamber Theatre, incidentally, are photographs dedicated to that memorable day … and to the preceding battles of perestroika in Leningrad [St Petersburg].)
Many spoke at the opening of the exhibition.
Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three-member commissions”), dvoika (“two-member commissions”), and Special Board — or came briefly before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.
Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like those discovered and investigated in Karelia by Yury DMITRIEV (Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh), or like Kommunarka and Butovo near Moscow. The other detainees were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.
For a long while the concurrent Show Trials of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” within the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up in accordance with regional quotas issued by the NKVD in Moscow, and were not Party members.
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