Were last year’s excavations at Sandarmokh legal?

As the prosecution continues to present its evidence of “new offences” by Yury DMITRIEV at his second trial in the Petrozavodsk City Court in Karelia, a related dispute is being pursued at the national level over the identity of those executed and buried at Sandarmokh.

In early February, the Kommersant daily newspaper reported
on this “second front” in the Dmitriev Affair.

Sandarmokh, Solovki transport memorial (photo Kurilova)

Solovki transport memorial, Sandarmokh (photo, Anastasia Kurilova, August 2018)

In January 2019 there was an appeal for Yury Chaika, the Russian Federation’s Prosecutor General, to personally investigate the excavations at Sandarmokh last year by the Military History Society (MHS).

The request came from a deputy of the Karelian Legislative Assembly, Emilia Slabunova of the Yabloko Party. The authorities, she believes, had confused the status of memorial complex with “a site of interest” when granting permission for the MHS to carry out its exploratory excavations. She was referring to the archaeological investigation carried out by the Society at Sandarmokh between 25 August and 5 September 2018.

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Arrested for telling the truth about the Great Terror (1937-1938)

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.

moscow picket, 28 january

“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)

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A 63rd birthday in detention

The day before his 62nd birthday, last year, Yury DMITRIEV was released from detention and could spend the day with friends and family. This year, as his second trial continues, he is remanded in custody at Detention Centre No 1 in Petrozavodsk.

happy birthday.jpg

One-person picket outside Presidential Administration
in Moscow, 28 January 2019.

 

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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