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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The significance of Sandarmokh

In March 2017 Anna Yarovaya wrote a long article about the Dmitriev Affair for the 7×7 news website. Among those whose words she then recorded was Irina FLIGE, director of the Memorial Research Centre in St Petersburg and one of those who, with Yury DMITRIEV, discovered Sandarmokh in July 1997:

Irina Flige (RFI)

Irina Flige

“Sandarmokh is a unique and complete investigation. It is enormously to the credit of Yury DMITRIEV that he gathered together all the documentary information and, as a result, we today know who exactly is buried here. <…>

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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

Memorial launches new database in city “where Dmitriev worked”

O 5 December, Memorial presented the updated 5th edition of its database in Petrozavodsk, containing the names of political prisoners and forced settlers who were executed during the Soviet period. The new version was being launched, noted ALEXANDER DANIEL of Memorial, at the very same time in other cities across Russia: Tomsk (Siberia), Syktyvkar (Northwest Russia), Perm (Volga Federal District), Moscow and St. Petersburg.

young Dmitriev

Yury Dmitriev in early 1990s

“Why did “Memorial” choose to launch this new edition in Petrozavodsk?” asked Daniel. “Because Karelia is one of the few parts of Russia where the lists of victims are more or less complete. There are hardly any other regions like it. And that is  thanks to two wonderful people:  the late IVAN CHUKHIN and YURY DMITRIEV. “I think you all know where Yury is today. Petrozavodsk is the city where Chukhin worked, where Yury Dmitriev worked, and where Dmitriev will continue to work in the future.” (Full version of report, overleaf)

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“Why is Yury Dmitriev on trial?” RFI interviews Irina Flige (excerpt)

“Your colleague, Yury Dmitriev, is now on trial in Karelia,” asks Radio France Internationale interviewer. “Many link the prosecution to his work for Memorial. What’s your view?”

Well, everything in this world is connected, but sometimes there are direct links. In this case that is not exactly true. It would not be correct to say that Yury Dmitriev was looking, with us, for the Sandarmokh burial ground, that he took part in the Days of Remembrance there, and that is why he was arrested.

Irina Flige (RFI)

Irina Flige, director of the Memorial Research and Information Centre (St Petersburg)

What we can say, today, is that there is no case against him — he has committed no crime. His friends, acquaintances and colleagues know that; so does his defence attorney who has examined the case files in detail. Without doubt, Yury Dmitriev is a political prisoner. That is not only our opinion. It is the view of all his supporters, those 30,000 and more who signed the petition submitted to the court.

Someone issued instructions that Dmitriev be put on trial. As often happens, we do not know who is behind the charges and how the case took shape. As always with political trials, however, what triggered this case will sooner or later become public knowledge.

For the full text of the interview,
see Rights in Russia No 36 (269), 27 November 2017

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

“Restoring the Names”, 29 October 2017

Yesterday’s event in Moscow, from 10 am to 10 pm on Lubyanka Square (photos – Alexei Koreshkov)

Restoring the Names, 29 October 2017 (15).jpg

This year 5,286 people took part in “Restoring the Names” a commemorative event held annually on 29 October (in 2007, the event’s first year, they numbered only 263). People queued up to 4½ hours in order to read out one name or several.

During the minute’s silence the embassies of 28 countries placed flowers on the monument to the victims of totalitarianism.

“Until 1 pm we were still trying to keep track of how many people called for the release of Yury Dmitriev. Then we lost count, but it seems that every sixth speaker called for the head of Memorial in Karelia to be freed.”

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