Politically-motivated excavations

Russia has turned to politically-motivated excavations to rewrite the history of the USSR in the late 1930s, writes Halya Coynash, after jailing a major historian of Stalin’s Great  Terror yet again.

(left) Sandarmokh — “People, do not kill one another”
(right) Yury DMITRIEV, acquitted in April 2018, now in custody once again

A new attempt to rewrite the history of the Great Terror in the Soviet Union appears to be under way in Russia. This renewed offensive is ominously linked with the re-arrest and imprisonment on fabricated charges of Yury Dmitriev, a world-renowned historian and the head of the Memorial Society in Karelia.

Dmitriev and colleagues from Memorial played a key role in uncovering and identifying the mass graves in eastern Karelia that have since become known as Sandarmokh. Unsubstantiated claims that Sandarmokh could hold the graves of “thousands” of Red Army soldiers taken prisoner by the Finnish Army in 1941-1943 have coincided, over the last two years, with attacks on both Dmitriev and Memorial.

Despite the lack of any hard evidence, and pleas from the children and grandchildren of those whose remains lie buried at Sandarmokh, Russia’s Military History Society has begun to carry out excavations at the site.

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Dmitriev re-arrested

YURY DMITRIEV has been arrested less than two weeks after a court ordered his retrial on gravely flawed charges, reports Halya Coynash. He was stopped by police in Karelia after leaving Petrozavodsk to visit the grave of a friend who died just before his first arrest.

The renowned historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society was officially detained for going outside Petrozavodsk in breach of the signed undertaking to remain in the city he gave when released from custody in January this year. In fact, the manner in which NTV, one of Russia’s worst propaganda media, appears to have had a photographer at the scene and swiftly reported that he had been stopped while trying to flee the country, arouses the suspicion that this may all have been part of an operation to get Dmitriev imprisoned again.

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Political Trial reinstated

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Anna Yarovaya)

A rare moment of justice from a Russian court has proved all too fleeting, writes Halya Coynash. On 14 June, Karelia’s High Court overturned the acquittal in April of world-renowned historian Yury Dmitriev and sent the ‘case’ back for retrial.  Dmitriev’s imprisonment and trial had been widely viewed as politically-motivated persecution, and his acquittal – the only possible verdict after the charges were totally demolished by experts.

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Dmitriev’s acquittal

Dmitriev after the verdict was announced (photo, Natalia Dyomina)

Halya COYNASH
examines an extraordinary case

In a step back from the brink, a court in Russia has acquitted renowned historian Yury DMITRIEV of manifestly absurd charges for which the prosecutor had demanded a nine-year maximum security prison sentence.  62-year-old Dmitriev was convicted of a third charge, with the two-and-a-half year restriction of liberty sentence almost cancelled out by the 13 months he was held in detention.
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On the eve of a verdict

Halya Coynash

A verdict is due on Thursday, 5 April 2018, in the trial of YURY DMITRIEV, world-renowned Russian historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society.

City Courthouse, Petrozavodsk, 2018

Petrozavodsk City Courthouse (photo, Kerstin Kronvall)

The prosecution has demanded a 9-year sentence, despite even the expert assessments ordered by the court dismissing the charges. This deeply flawed case differs from many politically-motivated trials, however, in that the outcome is still not clear. A guilty verdict on Thursday afternoon will signal a new descent for Russia into its Soviet past.

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