sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2016

The battle for Russia’s history - Control over Russia’s history has become as important as control over television, oil and gas

Remember, remember

Memorial was founded to commemorate victims of state repression. Now the human-rights group may fall victim itself

“HE WHO controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past,” George Orwell wrote in “1984”. As Russia’s politics grows more Orwellian, the fight over its past is heating up. The Kremlin’s latest target is Memorial, the country’s most respected human-rights group, set up in the 1980s to commemorate victims of Stalin’s terror.

On October 29th thousands of people queued in a park opposite the headquarters of the agency once known as the KGB to read out the names of some of those whom Stalin had executed. The park features a monument to those victims, a large stone brought from the Solovetsky Islands, site of one of the first Soviet labour camps. Volunteers handed out bits of paper with names printed on them: “Zherebenkov, Dmitry Filatovich, 57, a worker in a cement factory. Executed on September 21st 1937. Zherikov, Semen Nikiforovich, 26, a labourer in a limestone quarry. Executed on March 9th 1938.”

The event has been held annually for ten years, but Arseny Roginsky, Memorial’s chairman, said he had never seen so many people. Ordinary Muscovites kept arriving from 10am until 10pm, undeterred by rain and snow. The names they managed to read were a drop in the bucket of Stalin’s terror. In the peak years of 1937 and 1938, according to Memorial’s figures, at least 30,000 people were executed in Moscow, and 700,000 throughout the country.

Memorial was perhaps the most successful civic institution created during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms. Among the founders was Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and human-rights activist. Another member of the original group was Mr Roginsky, a historian jailed in 1981 for publishing a samizdat almanac entitled Pamyat(“Memory”). By the time of his release in 1985, the wordpamyat had become the name of an anti-Semitic nationalist movement. Mr Roginsky’s group ended up adopting the foreign-sounding name “Memorial”.


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