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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“We must be able to find something” (Golgotha, part 3)

 Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“In 1997 I met Veniamin Joffe and Irina Flige from Petersburg Memorial at the FSB archives in Karelia. We agreed to look for the site near Medvezhyegorsk where executions took place.

“Joffe and Flige were on the track of the missing transport from Solovki special prison. They began their search after reading the case file of NKVD Captain Mikhail Matveyev, who oversaw the shooting of the Solovki prisoners in autumn 1937. From reading all the execution reports I knew that an enormous number of people, several thousand in all, had been shot somewhere near Medgora. So, we agreed on a date. If I remember rightly, we arrived there on 1 July and on 2 or 3 July we had already discovered the place [Sandarmokh]. I would be stuck there for ages. The official investigative procedures continued for two whole months.

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“Let’s cover them up again” (Golgotha, part 1)

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“For me it all began in the late 1980s. I’d heard that people had been ‘repressed’, but, somehow, we didn’t speak about it in our family. It turned out later that my mother’s father was dekulakised and sent to work on the White Sea Canal.

young Dmitriev

Yury Dmitriev (1980s)

“My other grandfather was arrested in 1938 and died in the camps. He was an accountant on a collective farm and he caught it in the neck. Papa only confessed this to me in 1991 when we were coming back from the first funeral I organised for the victims of repression.  Continue reading

Russia – Past, Present and Future

THE OFFICIAL VIEW

“As Russia marks the centenary of the October Revolution, President Vladimir Putin has urged the society to end discord over the Soviet era,” reported the TASS news agency[1] on 21 December 2017.

“This year, the centenary of the October Revolution, we have been seeking to encourage the society to abandon confrontation, to see themselves as a single society and realize that we are continuing our common centuries-long history,” Putin told a session of the Council for Culture and Art.

“Whether we like certain years or not, but there was everything there – bad things, but also a lot of good things that should not be forgotten,” he said.

[Excerpt …]

Johnson’s Russia List
2017-#239, Friday, 22 December 2017, Item 1

HOW RUSSIA REPRESSES THE PAST

Nikita Petrov (Memorial)

Every spring, buses covered in portraits of Joseph Stalin appear on the streets of Russian cities. His face replaces ads for cell phones, soft drinks, laundry detergent, and cat food. With each passing year, the dictator gets more handsome and more glamorous; a portrait of him in his gorgeous white generalissimo’s jacket has become especially popular. He casts his stern gaze on the citizens, as if to say, “Remember me? I’m here, I didn’t go anywhere – and don’t you forget it!”  Continue reading

Stalin’s long shadow

“In March 1953, after Stalin’s death, the chief editor of the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta Konstantin Simonov wrote that the main task of Soviet literature henceforth would be to understand Stalin’s role in Russian history. He had no idea how right he would be!” writes Alexander Cherkasov.

“It was literature that fostered the growth of interest in history at the end of the 1980s: memoirs and fiction, from Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn to Iskander and Rybakov; works published internally as samizdat and as tamizdat abroad that later spilled onto the pages of the literary journals of the perestroika era. The time for historians would come later.” Continue reading