Russian historian Yury DMITRIEV turned 64 on 28 January 2020. It was his third birthday detained on charges that bear no scrutiny, and his arrest coincided with the beginnings of a campaign to rewrite the history of one of the darkest pages of the Soviet Terror – the mass killing by quota of Russians, Ukrainians and other prisoners of the Solovetsky Archipelago at the Sandormokh Clearing in Karelia in 1937.
Yury Dmitriev after his acquittal in April 2018, The stone at the entrance to the Sandormokh memorial complex
If the current regime in Russia was hoping to silence Dmitriev, it has failed. The historian and head of the Karelian branch of the Memorial Society has just published a book entitled Sandarmokh: A Place of Memory, providing information about both the victims and the perpetrators of the mass executions in the forest. In a recent letter, Dmitriev wrote that
“it is memory that makes human beings human, and not a part of the population. […] While I’m alive, I won’t allow them to rewrite our common history. […] The attempt to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh is part of the strategy of the current regime, an attempt to return our country to a camp “surrounded by enemies”. The aim is to retain their power. A frightened population will always seek protection from a strong leader”.
In a preface to the book, Dmitriev repeats this central theme about the pivotal role of memory. He points out that, while Sandarmokh is a place of memory, for him it is also a place of education where people cease to be a faceless population and are transformed into a nation, conscious of their shared fate.
Two hundred prominent Russians have come out in defence of Russian historian of the Soviet Terror, Yury Dmitriev, and the child whose life the FSB is destroying for the sake of a grubby and politically-motivated trial. They express distrust in the official position taken by the prosecution and the unlawful methods being used, including the pressure being exerted on Dmitriev’s adopted daughter.
The authors of the appeal, posted on 28 October, point out that Dmitriev had been arrested initially on ‘child pornography’ charges pertaining to photos securely stored in his computer and detailing the young girl’s weight, height, etc. over the years that her physical development after the orphanage had aroused concern. The defence had brought in highly qualified experts and with the publicity that the case had aroused both in Russia and abroad, he was acquitted on 5 April 2018.
Acquittals are virtually unheard of in Russia, and it was feared from the outset that the aim was merely to deflect unfavourable publicity and then overturn the acquittal. This is effectively what happened. Dmitriev was remanded in custody again on 28 June 2018, just two weeks after a court revoked his acquittal on the first evidently flawed charges and ordered a retrial.
New excavations are underway at the Sandarmokh Clearing in Karelia which holds the last remains of thousands of victims of the Great Terror of 1937-1938 [the banner photo of this site shows a view of the Clearing and some of the individual markers erected there by descendants of the victims].
Any pretence that the excavations by a body linked to the Russian Minister of Culture are not aimed at rewriting history has been dispelled by a letter from the Karelian Ministry of Culture. This openly questions the internationally-recognized fact that the mass graves are of victims of the Terror, and, since this “damages Russia’s international image”, asks for another hypothesis, unbacked by any documentary proof, to be “investigated”.
Excavations by Russian Military History Society, August 2019 (photo, 7×7 news website)
On 27 January 2019, Russia laid on a huge military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. In a hate campaign, worthy of their Soviet predecessors, Kremlin-loyal media and commentators turned on German journalist, Silke Bigalke, who criticized this “dancing on the bones” of the million Leningrad residents who died during the Siege.
Yet many Russians, including some historians, felt uneasy about holding a military parade rather than a sombre remembrance of the victims. How many other historians preferred not to comment in public cannot be known – the number is likely to be rising.
“Yury Dmitriev named the victims of Stalin’s Terror, let him go free!”
One-person picket on Dmitriev’s birthday, 28 January
(For six hours, one demonstrator after another maintained this protest outside
the offices of the Presidential Administration in Moscow)
On Friday, 19 October 2018, the first hearing in Yury DMITRIEV’s second trial takes place. He will be represented, once again, by Victor Anufriev. At his defence lawyer’s insistence, both the charges against Dmitriev, the old and the new, will be heard as part of the same proceedings.
Meanwhile, attempts to sway public opinion and prejudge the outcome of the trial are again being made by Kremlin-controlled media.
On Tuesday 16 October, Meduza [R] reported, a camera crew from REN TV came to the head office of Memorial in Moscow: “They were asking us why we were defending Yury Dmitriev and how such people as Sergei Koltyrin came to be involved with our organisation,” said Alexandra Polivanova; “they were also waving around photographs from the Dmitriev case files, which should not be in their possession.”