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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Moscow’s “Restoring the Names” (2018) in question

For the last 11 years the ceremony of Restoring the Names has been held each year in Moscow on 29 October at the Solovki Stone on Lubyanka Square. Several thousand people queue up to read out the name of someone who was executed during the Great Terror of the late 1930s in a moving event that takes many hours.

View of 2017 event from above (2)

29 October 2017, Lubyanka Square, Moscow

On Friday 19 October, the Moscow city authorities suddenly withdrew permission to hold this year’s ceremony in its traditional location, next to FSB headquarters, claiming that ongoing construction and restoration work made the site unsuitable.

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Russia arrests second historian of Stalin’s Terror

It is becoming dangerous in Russia to investigate the crimes of Stalinism, writes Halya Coynash. A second Karelian historian, Sergei KOLTYRIN has been arrested and is facing charges almost identical to those now brought against political prisoner, Yury DMITRIEV.

Sergei Koltyrin (sea background)

Sergei Koltyrin

While the possibility cannot be excluded that there are real grounds for these new charges, the chilling similarities between the two cases are of immense concern. So too is the timing, with this second arrest coming soon after Koltyrin publicly rejected attempts to rewrite history about the mass graves of victims of the Terror at Sandarmokh in Karelia.

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Memory Wars?

A lengthy article about the POW execution theory in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper (7 September 2018) is even-handed and thorough. It needs little more than the following passage, however, to show the “new hypothesis of Karelian historians” for what it is:

“Officially, there is no data to show that the Finns carried out mass executions at Sandarmokh. Mr Verigin also confirmed for us that Finland has not transferred any information to Russia about sites where shot POWs are buried in Karelia. The historian further confirmed to Kommersant that he has not yet examined Finland’s historical archives”.

Bodies of 5 Soviet POWs, supposedly, at Sandarmokh (Sergei Markelov)

Five bodies are discovered, allegedly Soviet POWs shot by the Finns,
during the Continuation War, 1941-1944 (photo, Sergei Markelov)

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Politically-motivated excavations

Russia has turned to politically-motivated excavations to rewrite the history of the USSR in the late 1930s, writes Halya Coynash, after jailing a major historian of Stalin’s Great  Terror yet again.

(left) Sandarmokh — “People, do not kill one another”
(right) Yury DMITRIEV, acquitted in April 2018, now in custody once again

A new attempt to rewrite the history of the Great Terror in the Soviet Union appears to be under way in Russia. This renewed offensive is ominously linked with the re-arrest and imprisonment on fabricated charges of Yury Dmitriev, a world-renowned historian and the head of the Memorial Society in Karelia.

Dmitriev and colleagues from Memorial played a key role in uncovering and identifying the mass graves in eastern Karelia that have since become known as Sandarmokh. Unsubstantiated claims that Sandarmokh could hold the graves of “thousands” of Red Army soldiers taken prisoner by the Finnish Army in 1941-1943 have coincided, over the last two years, with attacks on both Dmitriev and Memorial.

Despite the lack of any hard evidence, and pleas from the children and grandchildren of those whose remains lie buried at Sandarmokh, Russia’s Military History Society has begun to carry out excavations at the site.

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Dmitriev detained for two months

On 28 June the Petrozavodsk City Court decided that YURY DMITRIEV, head of the Karelian section of the Memorial Society, should be remanded in custody as part of the new criminal case against him.

“There were no surprises today,” commented Dmitriev’s lawyer Victor Anufriev. “Before the hearing the investigator said, ‘We’ll see you at the Detention Centre tomorrow.’ In other words, he already knew what the decision would be.

“During the hearing they made reference to the following: detained with his belongings; was trying to get a foreign travel passport; a grave crime; might put pressure on the victim; could commit a new crime; was attempting to hide from the courts. Those different turns of phrase have turned up in one court ruling after another.”

So far as 7×7 correspondent is aware, Dmitriev has not yet been charged. The criminal investigation was launched under an Article covering “violent actions of a sexual nature against a minor”.

7×7-Horizontal Russia, 28 June 2018

Dmitriev re-arrested

YURY DMITRIEV has been arrested less than two weeks after a court ordered his retrial on gravely flawed charges, reports Halya Coynash. He was stopped by police in Karelia after leaving Petrozavodsk to visit the grave of a friend who died just before his first arrest.

The renowned historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society was officially detained for going outside Petrozavodsk in breach of the signed undertaking to remain in the city he gave when released from custody in January this year. In fact, the manner in which NTV, one of Russia’s worst propaganda media, appears to have had a photographer at the scene and swiftly reported that he had been stopped while trying to flee the country, arouses the suspicion that this may all have been part of an operation to get Dmitriev imprisoned again.

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Political Trial reinstated

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Anna Yarovaya)

A rare moment of justice from a Russian court has proved all too fleeting, writes Halya Coynash. On 14 June, Karelia’s High Court overturned the acquittal in April of world-renowned historian Yury Dmitriev and sent the ‘case’ back for retrial.  Dmitriev’s imprisonment and trial had been widely viewed as politically-motivated persecution, and his acquittal – the only possible verdict after the charges were totally demolished by experts.

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Dmitriev’s acquittal

Dmitriev after the verdict was announced (photo, Natalia Dyomina)

Halya COYNASH
examines an extraordinary case

In a step back from the brink, a court in Russia has acquitted renowned historian Yury DMITRIEV of manifestly absurd charges for which the prosecutor had demanded a nine-year maximum security prison sentence.  62-year-old Dmitriev was convicted of a third charge, with the two-and-a-half year restriction of liberty sentence almost cancelled out by the 13 months he was held in detention.
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