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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Russia intent on revising unfortunate history

Petr Pavlensky early on Monday in front of the FSB door he set alight
The message could not be clearer, in Russia history is decided by the state. The labeling of the legendary human rights group Memorial as a so-called 'foreign agent' underlines a process that has been going on for some time.

Last month the armed forces announced that they were setting up a unit which “will examine, first of all, the history of the Second World War, the facts related to the falsification of Soviet people’s victory in the Great Patriotic War and other events in the life and the armed forces.”

Official state media is publishing denial of the Holodomor, the "Terror-Famine", as Robert Conquest called it, ordered by Stalin that killed as many as seven million Soviet peasants, most of them Ukrainians, in 1932-33.

Approval of Stalin is on the rise both officially, even from the head of the Orthodox Church, as well as among Russian people. Nikolai Svanidze, a writer and historian whose grandfathers died in the purges, told the LA Times that Stalin restoration is as a rival to the West, "which is the context in which he interests Putin." Only two museums dedicated to the gulag exist. Writes Shaun Walker in the Guardian:
The Gulag is not ignored completely, but is “contextualised” in a way that plays down the horror and pairs it with the war, suggesting the two come as a package.
The deputy director of a new Gulag museum in Moscow told Walker that in remembering the Gulag “you can either put up a big portrait of Stalin and note goldmining achievements, or you can put up death rates and haggard faces." Unfortunately, she says, "more often it’s the former."

In an interview with XSoviet News, activist Alex Sinodov said:
People have the idea that Stalin solved problems. Stalin would take care of for instance the neighbours they don’t like. If you look at history the purges mainly took place within the military and government. During Stalin’s purges two percent of the general public were a target, but in the military and MGB (currently FSB) it was as high as 25 percent. If Stalin would be back then people believe that he would take care of parts of the government that they don’t like. Repression starts at the top of the government. As an example Stalin killed heads like Yagoda and Yezhov, the top people in the government suffered a lot.
I also think that by bringing Stalin back into society the Big Brother is watching you is brought back to life. Anything about Stalin also always really pisses off the opposition. That is a big difference between Stalin and Putin, Putin puts people who failed in high places, where Stalin would have eliminated them immediately. Putin doesn’t have control as Stalin did, I think the murder of Boris Nemtsov shows that. Kadyrov took care of Nemtsov, that probably wasn’t a direct order.
There are plenty of Russia though who are fighting back. Early on Monday morning Petr Pavlensky, the performance artists famous for nailing his scrotum literally to Red Square, set fire to a door at the FSB headquarters - the same HQ as the KGB. The door was personally designed by KGB Head Lavrentiy Beria (who Stalin called ‘my Himmler’).

The week before Russians had stood in the square outside the former KGB HQ to mark the annual day of remembrance for Stalin's victims. Thanks to Memorial, each participant had a piece of paper in their hand with the names of two victims, their ages, professions, and dates of execution. Now Memorial's branches in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, the Komi region and the St Petersburg branch discussed below carry a label which echoes the Stalin-era denunciations of alleged anti-Soviet spies.

Reblogged with permission.


By Halyna Colnash

“A huge blow for all those involved in remembering the victims of the Soviet Terror” is how the decision by Russia’s Justice Ministry to forcibly add the St Petersburg Memorial Research and Information Centre to its register of so-called ‘foreign agents’ has been described. Arseny Roginsky, Head of the International Memorial Society, goes on to explain that RIC Memorial has put together a unique database listing the places where victims of political repression were buried. “No state or civic organization has such a list”, Roginsky stresses.

It was RIC Memorial that played an enormous role in uncovering the mass grave of victims of the Terror at the Sandarmokh Clearing, near Karelia. It was at this place from Oct 27 to Nov 4, 1937 that 1, 111 prisoners from the Solovky camps were executed as part of a killing quota. They included 290 Ukrainian writers, poets, intellectuals and scientists.

The Justice Ministry’s decision was announced on Nov 6, and came unexpectedly since the organization had been informed that they had two weeks “to refute the document confirming the check” and had only just received the document in question. The decision will certainly be appealed.

The Memorial Research and Information Centre was created by historian Veniamin Ioffe, who was himself a political prisoner in the 1960s. It was planned from the outset as a centre providing the research backup for the historical-archival commission of the Memorial Society. It now has archives, a library and the extremely important Virtual Museum of the Gulag.

After hours offline, the Centre’s site now has a statement explaining the Justice Ministry’s decision and the fact that this would oblige them to have a preface to all material saying that it had been pretended “by an organization fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent”. It states that it does not intend to use this label, but will continue all its projects and programs.

“We inform all those interested that the public activities previously carried out by the Memorial Research and Information Centre will be undertaken by the Educational Centre, named after Veniamin Ioffe Просветительный центр имени Вениамина Иофе.

Candles lit at KGB building in Minsk in memory of victims of Stalin's repression, Via
The notorious law on so-called foreign agents came into force on Nov 2012, obliging non-commercial organizations receiving grants from abroad and engaging in what the law very loosely described as ‘political activities’ to register as ‘foreign agents’. The law was boycotted by a lot of civic organizations, so in June 2014 President Vladimir Putin signed into force a law which allows the Justice Ministry to forcibly include organizations on the register. This it has been doing ever since, targeting organizations probing and publicizing grave violations of human rights, or those probing the deaths of soldiers in Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine, etc.

This is by no means the first attack on Memorial and organizations linked with it. There had been attempts to force ‘foreign agent’ registration in 2013 and then in Oct 2014 a major offensive was launched by the Russian Justice Ministry and the pro-Kremlin television channel NTV. The Justice Ministry announced that it was asking the Supreme Court to dissolve the Russian Memorial Society claiming to have found infringements in its organizational structure. See: Kremlin plays ‘extremist’ card against ’Memorial’ rights organization

There have also been repeated attempts over recent years to whitewash Joseph Stalin and the crimes of the Soviet regime.

On March 12, 2014, a decision was issued by the Inter-departmental Commission on State Secrets to keep the majority of Soviet secret police classified as secret for a further 30 years. This includes the vast bulk of material regarding the Great Terror of 1937-1938.

The drive which Putin initiated in 2007 to highlight the positive aspects of Russia’s history has already resulted in a record number of Russians viewing Stalin in a positive light, and in the first house-museum and monument to Stalin opening in the Tver oblast.

Soviet repression is at the same time being underplayed or denied. An example is seen in the fate of a vital museum on the site of the notorious labour camp Perm-36. The NGO Perm-36 which ran the museum has been driven from the museum and forcibly registered as a ‘foreign agent’. The museum has been taken over by the authorities, and, as a recent visitor wrote, the words ‘Stalin’, ‘dissident’ and Gulag are nowhere to be seen.

Graffiti on Memorial HQ, reads 'foreign agent'

Statement by chairman of board of Memorial human rights centre, Alexander Vladimirovich Cherkasov

On November 9 the Memorial human rights centre received in the post the results of the “Act of Planned Inspection” of our organisation (see excerpt below). The inspection from October 5 was conducted by the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation for the city of Moscow. In this “Act” the Justice Ministry, among other things, puts forward a political accusation addressed to our organisation: “By their actions the members of the Inter-Regional Non-Governmental Organisation the Memorial human rights centre have undermined the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, by calling for the overthrow of the current government and a change of the political regime in the country.”

What kind of “actions” are these? What do you have to do to incur such serious accusations?

It turns out that Memorial “undermines the foundations” by forming a negative public opinion “about the state policy that is being conducted by the higher bodies of state government, expresses disagreement with the decisions and actions of the mentioned institutions of government, the results of preliminary investigations and court verdicts that have been given in high-profile criminal cases”.

In the course of our human rights work we gather facts. On their basis, in the course of discussions within the organisation and in a wider circle we develop opinions and evaluations. We publish these materials – evaluations, opinions, factual materials and so on.

Thus we implement freedom of thought and speech and freedom of association, which are guaranteed to us by articles 28 and 30 of the Constitution of Russia. And we do not consider it appropriate to be silent if we see that representatives of the government – including the highest Russian authorities – are violating human rights and the norms of international law.

This, from the point of view of the Justice Ministry, is “forming a negative opinion” and “undermining the foundations”.

Since as examples of “undermining activity” the “Act” gives, firstly, our evaluation of Russia’s actions towards Ukraine. We indeed think that these actions come under the definition of aggression – in full accordance with the UN definition.

Secondly, we are accused of publishing “the opinion of leaders of organisations” about the fact that Russian troops have participated in combat actions in eastern Ukraine. But this “opinion” is also based on a multitude of irrefutable facts.

Thirdly, the Justice Ministry is upset by our disagreement with the unjust verdict given in the Bolotnaya case. Indeed, in our materials and in the materials of other human rights organisations, and in media reports, there is a multitude of proof that the charge in this case was fabricated and falsified.

But where are the calls to “overthrow the current government” here, which the creators of the “Act” immediately accuse us of? Obviously the Justice Ministry equates criticism of the government with attempts to overthrow it.

The Justice Ministry’s “Act of Inspection” which accuses us of “undermining” reports about political prisoners is dated October 30, the Day of Political Prisoners in the USSR.

The prosecutors’ “understanding”, which incriminates the Memorial human rights centre for maintaining a list of political prisoners and a register of people detained at demonstrations, on the basis of which we were included on the “register of foreign agents”, was given to us on April 30, 2013. On the 45th birthday of the dissident “Chronicle of Current Events”, which wrote about judicial and extra-judicial political repressions.

Symbolic coincidences

Since the Justice Ministry’s “Act” itself directly returns us to the times of the Soviet government’s battle against dissidents.

It is probably worth recalling the Constitution of Russia, the section “Foundations of Constitutional Order”, article 2: “The person and his rights and freedoms are the highest value. Recognising, observing and defending the rights and freedoms of the person and citizen are a duty of the state.” And then everything falls into place. It becomes obvious: it is not we, Memorial, but the Justice Ministry that is undermining the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation by its actions.

(Translation by Sarah Hurst.)

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