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.
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.
YURY BRODSKY sees the far northern Solovki Archipelago as a kaleidoscopic microcosm of Russia – its history, culture, nature, and spirit all brought together in one remote and windswept corner of a vast country. “The most varied people come here and they all need Solovki,” says Brodsky. “It can change your world view. I’m trying to say that Solovki is a reflection of our entire world, of our entire history.”
Recently, his latest book about Solovki was reviewed on an Orthodox website. While the reviewer notes the author’s “feeling of love for Solovki”, he charges that it also demonstrates “a dislike, a surprising dislike, of the centuries-long history of the Solovetsky Monastery and Orthodox Russia.” Continue reading
On 26 December 2017, Karelian journalists described their new investigation, “Rewriting Sandarmokh”, at a discussion held at the Agrikalch Art Gallery in Petrozavodsk.
ANNA YAROVAYA told how the idea of conducting the investigation first arose. It was hard to find out who was trying to alter the history of the executions and burials at Sandarmokh, and why, she said. Continue reading
A memorial graveyard known as Sandarmokh. It is a word without precise meaning or translation: there are only different accounts of its origins. The associations are unmistakable, however. It calls to mind a history of suffering and death.
For many what happened there eighty years ago stirs feelings of horror to this day. Mass executions of political prisoners—more than 7,000 of them in 236 common graves. People whose years in the Gulag ended in 1937-1938, in the forests of eastern Karelia, with a bullet to the back of the head.
Since its discovery in 1997, Sandarmokh has become a place of pilgrimage for the descendants of those killed in Stalin’s Great Terror, for local villagers, for historians and for public figures. An International Day of Remembrance has been held at Sandarmokh every year since then, attended by delegations from various parts of Russia and from abroad.
The “new” hypothesis
Yet in 2016, almost twenty years on, certain Petrozavodsk historians announced that, in addition to those shot in the 1930s, Soviet POWs might have been killed and buried at Sandarmokh during the “Continuation War” with Finland (1941-1944). This suggestion prompted a great debate among academics and was reported in both Russian and Finnish media. Continue reading
On Tuesday, 26 December, we were waiting for two reports: one about what happened that day at the Petrozavodsk City Court; the other, an account of a recent investigation into the new row over who is buried at Sandarmokh, and how they died.
An excerpt from a long interview with MARIA KARP on Radio Svoboda last Friday, concerning her major new biography of George Orwell (1903-1950), sets these issues in a broad context that embraces the last century as well as this.
As a board member of the Pushkin Club, Maria (Masha) Karp opened the recent London evening in support of Yury Dmitriev. In the following response concerning Orwell’s continuing relevance, she quotes the example of Dmitriev’s work and his present trial.
“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