The famous Russian Human Rights group that investigated Soviet-era crimes was closed under Putin

MOSCOW — Monument to Russia is one of the oldest human rights organizations in the world. It has its roots in the most prosperous period of reforms ushered in by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Its first president was Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and has long been a source of pride for Russians across all political spheres.

But now government prosecutors are pushing for the group’s umbrella organization, International Memorial, and its human rights wing, the Memorial Center for Human Rights, to be dissolved in what many here consider to be one of its own. The most shocking example of how. The Kremlin is tightening the space for dissent under the chairmanship

Vladimir Putin.

The fate of the organization could be frozen as soon as the end of the year after Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday moved to resume hearings on December 28 in the International Memorial case. A hearing in the Memorial Human Rights Center case, which is being heard in Moscow City Court, is scheduled for Thursday.

Supporters of the group say the idea of ​​liquidating Memorial used to be unthinkable.

It is famous for its diligent research and memory of Soviet-era crimes and the harsh punishments suffered by political prisoners of the time, maintaining a database of more than three million people persecuted. . It has continued its work into the present century, documenting the rise of a new generation of dissidents. The memorial now lists more than 400 people it says have been persecuted and imprisoned for their political beliefs.

Office of the Memorial Rights Group in Moscow.


alexander nemenov / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

However, 2021 saw a dramatic escalation in the way that Russian authorities attempted to silence dissenting voices.

The country’s most famous dissident, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced in February to three and a half years in prison, but is credited with about a year for the time served after surviving a poisoning case last year.

The government has also turned to groups or individuals that oppose the brand as “foreign agents” or “unsolicited” to receive funding or support abroad. Those on the list, which includes about 86 media outlets and journalists, have been forced to shut down or limit the scope of their work since April.

Prosecutors are now trying to force the dissolution of both Memorial arms for failing to declare its own foreign agent status about everything it was involved in, as required by law, in addition to violating the law. violate other laws.

Memorial leaders say they’ve done everything they can to comply with anti-foreign agent laws, including labeling books in the organization’s libraries and clearly reporting their status on the corporation’s website. . The group receives funding from various foundations in Germany, Poland and other countries.

“History and the present are inextricably linked and everything must be seen in historical context,” says Oleg Orlov, leader of the Memorial Center for Human Rights, one of the group’s most prominent wings. know. “Much of what is happening today has its roots back then.”


Oleg Orlov, a leader and board member of the Memorial Center for Human Rights, says, ‘This is a transition to a state of total repression.’


alexander nemenov / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Critics of the government say the label “foreign spy” is used too liberally and is primarily a means to satisfy Putin’s desire to bring back the Soviet regime of censorship and repression. Shove. The Russian leader spoke at length about what he described as the tragedy surrounding the collapse of the former Soviet Union

The Kremlin has rejected such proposals, and last week Putin defended his decision to prosecute Memorial, saying the group wrongly listed Nazi collaborators among the regime’s victims. Soviet-era regime and has defended equal rights for groups such as Hizb ut- Tahrir al-Muslim, an Islamic extremist organization that Russian authorities consider a terrorist.

“The current situation in Russia is a continuation of the worst practices of the authorities — restricting all freedoms [including] Jan Rachinsky, president of an umbrella group that oversees the work of the Memorial, said.

Orlov said prosecutors misinterpreted Memorial’s oversight of the justice system as a way to justify the existence of extremist or terrorist groups. “We have never said anywhere that any political violence has any justification,” he said.

The move to close the Memorial has sparked outrage at home and abroad.


International Memorial Organization president Jan Rachinsky, right, said, ‘The current situation in Russia is a continuation of the worst actions of the administration.’


sergei ilnitsky / Shutterstock

Mr. Gorbachev, winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, participate in the final round this year, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, called on the Attorney General’s Office to withdraw the case.

“The Memorial’s enduring activities have always been aimed at restoring historical justice, preserving the memory of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed and injured during the years of repression, and prevented this from happening now. now and in the future,” their statement said.

In fact, the Kremlin’s decision to prosecute Memorial inadvertently increased interest in the group, its leaders say. In the month since the legal action began, thousands of people have visited the exhibits at the organization’s Moscow headquarters, according to Irina Ostrovskaya, Memorial’s curator and archivist for more than 20 years.

The group is now open to their exhibitions four times a day sometimes, compared with the usual twice-weekly tours, she said.

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On a recent afternoon, Ostrovskaya showed a group of visitors an exhibition highlighting women’s memories of the Gulag’s life. Most of the items and materials on display were donated by former prisoners and their descendants. Their experiences are preserved from tattered clothes and handmade jewelry from thread and tissue paper, the resentments they face are etched into the walls.

Natalya Erdenko, 45, who joined the tour, said she was overwhelmed by the power of the women who survived to tell their stories. She said she opposes the move to close the Memorial and is worried about repression and attempts to silence anything seen as dissent.

“I know that foreign agents [labels] is now hanging over anyone,” she said. “This is a way of fighting freedom of speech.”

Tatyana Vasilchenko shed tears before the women’s exhibition. She said she grew up at a time when denial of the terror perpetrated by dictator Joseph Stalin was widespread. But she has relatives who have been deprived of their land and possessions, she said, so “from childhood I have known that there are such events … and that there is something amiss in this. Stalin’s time.”

Orlov said he was concerned that Russia’s current leadership might be following a similar path.

“Our regime has been quite open, not only authoritarian but also repressive,” he said. “This is a transition to a state of total repression.”


Memorial supporters gather outside Russia’s Supreme Court during a hearing on the International Monument case in Moscow in November.


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