“Light in the darkness” (II)

On Wednesday, 22 July at 2.30 pm (Moscow Time), Judge Merkov will announce the verdict in the Dmitriev case at the Petrozavodsk City Court. Yury DMITRIEV was arrested in December 2016 and has spent most of the time since then in prison.

As shown by The Search for Sandarmokh, a book published last year,  the background to the trial reaches back more than 80 years into Soviet history to the late 1930s. Its author Irina FLIGE outlines and analyses the unfolding drama of that history. An excerpt from Tatyana Bonch’s review in Novy mir (January 2020) has already been published here. In this excerpt she describes how Flige divides the unresolved struggle between remembrance and enforced amnesia into five acts of unequal duration.

Act One, 1937-1987

The first act of this historical drama lasted half a century.

Flige refers to it as “hidden” (or “concealed”). The memory of that time, writes Oleg Nikolayev in the preface to Flige’s book, was thrice concealed and forgotten: the sentence was a secret, the execution was carried out in secret, and the place of burial was kept secret. Very few people knew the location of those killing fields. The execution reports were lost in the archives or deliberately destroyed: from the outset a top secret instruction ordered that the place of burial should not be indicated in the reports.

This was a forgetfulness deeper than that affecting the victims of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. No bodies survived the mass murder of the Nazi extermination camps; there were no named graves where relatives of the dead might lay flowers. “When one knows nothing – not the time, nor the day, nor the place – and only the sky serves as a grave,” wrote Catherine Clément in 1979, “when there only remain empty places in the eyes of the millions who perished there [Auschwitz], then that is disappearance. It is unbearable.”[1] Yet a place of memory and remembrance did exist for those victims.

For the executed inmates of the Solovki Special Prison there was no such place. Nowhere or everywhere — all the expanse of the Russian North was their resting place. Its woods and meadows, hills and marshes and, yes, the sea as well: one of the most persistent legends about the missing prisoners was that of the “sunken barge”, that they had all been deliberately drowned. Even in the late 1980s, when information about the fate of Stalin’s victims became available, at least to their relatives, the place of execution remained a secret. Restoring that memory was what drove the first exploratory groups, “people who wanted, before all else, to lay a flower on the grave of their loved one.”

Act Two, 1987-1996

The second act in this drama, according to Flige, ran from 1987 until 1996.

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“Occupying the places of memory”

Gulag specialist Andrea Gullotta explains what’s at stake in the criminal case against historian Yury Dmitriev.

On 22 July, the Petrozavodsk City Court will render its verdict in the case against historian Yury DMITRIEV, who’s accused of sexually abusing his foster daughter. State prosecutors have asked the judge to imprison him for 15 years, though Dmitriev’s friends and colleagues insist on his innocence.

Human rights activists say the case is political and warn that Dmitriev is being persecuted for investigating mass graves from the Stalinist period. To learn more about Dmitriev’s contributions to the study of Soviet repressions and how scholars in the West view his trial, Meduza spoke to Andrea Gullotta, a lecturer in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Glasgow, who specializes in Gulag literature.

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Press conference, 10 July

The Memorial Human Rights Centre held an online press conference about the Dmitriev case on Friday, 10 July, at 12 noon (Moscow time)

Among those taking part were

Victor ANUFRIEV — Dmitriev’s defence attorney since 2017

Irina FLIGE — director of the Memorial Research and Information Centre in St Petersburg, board member of the International Memorial Society

Anatoly RAZUMOV — historian and director of Their Names Restored project at the Russian National Library (St Petersburg)

Natalya SOLZHENITSYN — President of the Solzhenitsyn Fund “in support of the persecuted and their families”

Alexander SOKUROV — film director and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council


Sergei DAVIDIS — director of the Support for Political Prisoners programme, and board member of the International Memorial Society

The moderator of the discussion was Oleg ORLOV, member of the council of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and board member of the International Memorial Society.

Prosecution demands 15 years strict regime for Dmitriev

In his closing statement the prosecutor at Yury DMITRIEV’s trial in Petrozavodsk has demanded that he be sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony.

Dmitriev’s defence attorney, in this trial as in that which ended in April 2018, is Victor Anufriev. He will now present the closing statement for the defence.

The last of the currently scheduled hearings at the City Court in the capital of Karelia is due to take place on Thursday this week. It seems unlikely that the verdict will be announced that day.

At any rate, Memorial will hold a press conference the following day in Moscow, entitled “On the Eve of a Verdict”. This suggests that a further date will be scheduled on Thursday for the announcement of the verdict. This should be sometime before Dmitriev’s current term of custody ends on 25 July. But can anyone guarantee that custody will not be prolonged again, for another month?


Flige, Razumov and Gullotta in discussion (Russian)

19th June podcast on Rights in Russia

“This week our podcast is devoted to the historian and head of the branch of Memorial in Karelia, Yury Dmitriev.

“Dmitriev’s name is especially closely connected to Sandarmokh. It was he who led the expedition there in 1997 that discovered the location of the mass burials of victims of Stalinist repression. Today Dmitriev remains in pre-trial detention as he awaits the outcome of his second trial on charges of child pornography. Our guests are Irina Flige, human rights defender and director of the Memorial Scientific Research Centre (St. Petersburg), Anatoly Razumov, historian and expert on the Stalin-era repressions (also from St. Petersburg), and Andrea Gullotta, a lecturer at Glasgow University and expert on the life and culture of the Gulag.

Yury Dmitriev (born in 1956 in Petrozavodsk) is a human rights activist and local historian in Karelia who has worked since the early 1990s to locate the execution sites of Stalin’s Terror and identify the victims. Dmitriev was arrested in December 2016 and charged with making pornographic images of his foster daughter. In April 2018 he was acquitted of the charges but sentenced to 30 months in prison for possession of a gun. In June 2018 a second criminal case was opened against him on the basis of ‘newly discovered circumstances.’ His second trial is ongoing and Dmitriev remains in pre-trial detention.”

This podcast is in the Russian language; you can listen to it on Podcasts.comSoundCloudSpotify or iTunes

The music is from Stravinsky’s “Elegy for Solo Viola”,
played here by Karolina Errera.