The verdict is due tomorrow in what a huge number of prominent Russians have called one of the grubbiest political trials in the country. Modern Russia has long been imprisoning people for their civic position or beliefs, but the case of renowned historian of the Terror and Memorial activist, Yury DMITRIEV, stands out for the brutal use of a child to try to destroy both the historian and his reputation.
Trumped-up “child pornography” charges in the first trial were demolished by experts and, in the face of national and international condemnation, led to an initial acquittal. Law enforcement bodies came back for more. After unwarrantedly getting the acquittal revoked, they reinstated the initial indictment , while adding grotesque charges of “violent actions of a sexual nature” against the same daughter whom Dmitriev has not seen since December 2016.
Taking a 12-year-old child away from the only family she had ever known, Russia has used her age as an excuse for holding the entire “trial” behind closed doors. Details have now become clear, however, both from Dmitriev’s final address to the court on 8 July and from other information that confirm the cruel cynicism behind this case and lack of any grounds for the charges.
A father’s legitimate concerns
It is clear that there were never any “violent actions” and nothing of a sexual nature in Dmitriev’s behaviour, only a father’s legitimate concerns for his daughter’s well-being.
This was confirmed during the first trial in which the prosecution had tried to treat as “child pornography” photographs taken over a period of years, documenting the height and weight of a little girl who had been weak and underweight when taken from a children’s home.
It seems that the new charges, for which the prosecutor has demanded a 15-year prison sentence, are in connection with a period when Natasha was eight years old and began having attacks of enuresis (involuntary urinating). Like any other parent in such a situation, Dmitriev would, if he noticed the tell-tale smell, pat the little girl’s knickers around the area of the groin to see if they were wet, and if necessary get her to have a wash. There is confirmation in Natasha’s medical records that she was suffering from enuresis, yet the prosecution has claimed that these were “violent actions of a sexual nature”.
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)