Kommunarka Controversy (Pt 2)

“In August 1937 the most extensive and cruel period of political repression began,” wrote the late Arseny Roginsky in an Afterword to the Kommunarka Book of Remembrance. “In July the NKVD departments across the USSR had already began to set aside special ‘zones’, areas for the mass burial of those they shot. For locals these usually became known, euphemistically, as army firing ranges.

golden hill chelyabinsk

Golden Hill (Zolotaya gora) Chelyabinsk

“This was how the zones that we know today came into being: the Levashovo Wasteland near Leningrad, Kuropaty near Minsk, the Golden Hill near Chelyabinsk, Bykovnya on the outskirts of Kiev, and many others.”

For decades after the death of Stalin in 1953, these sites remained in the hands of the NKVD’s successor, the KGB, and only in the very last years of the Soviet Union did they become known as the burial sites and killing fields of the Great Terror. There were two “firing ranges” on the outskirts of Moscow, at Butovo and Kommunarka.

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The Kommunarka controversy

On 29 October the annual ceremony of “Restoring the Names” took place in Moscow, despite previous uncertainties. That day and the next, similar events took place in 19 other Russian towns and cities (and in several foreign cities as well).

In many more places, including Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor in Karelia, the 30 October was marked as the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression. There was no mention of Yury DMITRIEV, his daughter complained, at the Zaretsky churchyard in Petrozavodsk or at Krasny Bor.

He was remembered, that day, when the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow issued its updated List of Political Prisoners in Russia. As the compilers were careful to comment, it contained the minimum verified list of those who had been detained or prosecuted on political grounds or for reason of their religious beliefs. (Yury DMITRIEV was prominent among the political prisoners; museum director Sergei Koltyrin had not yet been added to the list.)

stena_pamiati_vlad_dokshin_novaia_gazeta

Wall of Remembrance, Kommunarka (photo, Vlad Dokshin, Novaya gazeta)

The most dramatic event proved to be the opening, a few days earlier, of the Wall of Remembrance at the Kommunarka execution site and burial ground outside Moscow. Within days other organisations (The Immortal Barrack, notably) were accusing Memorial of rehabilitating the executioners.

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“I’m trying to finish what’s most important” (Golgotha, part 6)

Yury Dmitriev in his own words
(conclusion)

I first met students from the Moscow Film School, it seems, at Sandarmokh. They had come for the Day of Remembrance on 5 August. As it happened, one of the buses I’d laid on was empty and they travelled on it to the graveyard and back. They were greatly impressed and began asking me about local history.

Later they wrote me a letter: “Let us help you in some way.” I took up the offer and we went to Peter the Great’s arms factory. The next year they said: “We’d like to help again.” We worked at the Badger’s Hill graveyard. They wanted to help again, and that’s when we started going to Solovki.

Dmitriev with Film School students

Yury Dmitriev with Moscow Film School students

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“Dead or living, they’re the same nation” (Golgotha, part 5)

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“Sandarmokh means something special to me. It’s where I’ve put into practice several other tasks I set myself.

“I’d like the people living in Karelia to feel that they are part of a nation, and not just the population. Belonging to a nation means you know your own history, language, culture and traditions. The population is anything that shows signs of life. To govern a nation, you must know and respect its customs, traditions and codes of behaviour; the population can be managed anyway you like. A nation can’t be herded about, it will stand its ground. The population is easy and simple to direct. To stand firm and survive this uncertain period, so that those in charge are replaceable, they are elected, we need to educate our nation.

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“It was all preparation for what I do now” (Golgotha, part 4)

  Yury Dmitriev in his own words

Did I ever want to give up? Sometimes, when there was no food at home and work on the execution lists and burial sites took up all my time. By then I was no longer an aide to a people’s deputy.

Dmitriev, black & white

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Sophia Pankevich)

I made some attempts to get a job as an editor.

“Of course, such a book is needed. We’ve set up an editorial group,” they told me: “you’re the editor, now get on with it.”

“Come on,” I said. “I need a salary, it doesn’t need to be a big one … I’ve got to pay for the apartment, for electricity, and a few other things.”

“Be patient for a month or two. We’ll think of something and find you a place on the payroll.”

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