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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Sandarmokh, 28 March 2018

The day after Xenia At was among a hundred DMITRIEV supporters crowded into the corridor of the Petrozavodsk City Courthouse, she made the trip to Sandarmokh and took these photos.

 

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Late winter in Russia. The snow is still thick on the ground, but the sky has turned from grey to blue.

“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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Who wants to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh—and why?

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

Dmitriev and Orwell

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.

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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.

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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

The man saving us all

“There are lives that seem remarkable, but if you look closely, you’ll see that another could have done as well,” writes Russian author Sergei Lebedev. “There are lives, however, that are an ideal fit. You can’t imagine anyone else doing the same. Yury Dmitriev is one of those.

“Journalists have called him Khottabych (or even Gandalf), a wizard or a folk hero. At first this seemed amusing and appropriate. Yet at some point it ceased to be helpful: it was as though the writers themselves weren’t sure what to do with Dmitriev — where to place him, how to describe him.”  Continue reading

3 November 1937

Andriy Stepanovich PANIV was shot at Sandarmokh eighty years ago. He was one of 1,116 prisoners, marked for execution, who were shipped from Solovki to the mainland in autumn 1937.

Born 1899, Paniv was a rural schoolteacher in Ukraine (1918-1923), a writer, poet, journalist and translator. Before his arrest, he lived in the “Word” building in Kharkiv, then the capital of Soviet Ukraine.

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