Russia wants to ban Memorial, an organization, that works on raising awareness of the terror under the Soviet regime. An article about history, political motivation and foreign agents.
It’s the end of December 2021, when Russia’s highest court in Moscow took the first step in the process of banning one of the country’s most important human rights organization.
Justice Alla Nasarowa upheld the complaint of the public prosecution, which wanted to liquidate Memorial International because of numerous violations of Russia’s “Foreign Agent Law”.
But from the beginning
Terror on their own people in Russia, later in the Soviet Union, was a phenomenon that took place at least since 1918. Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin, who came to power one year prior, due to the October Revolution, recommended in a decree: “to isolate the class enemies of the Soviet Republic in concentration camps [and] to shoot on the spot anyone involved […] in conspiracies, revolts, and uprisings.” During Lenin’s lifetime, the first concentration- and labor camps were built.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, Josef Stalin took over power. Repressions against the population became even worse. Alleged opposition members were persecuted, arrested, tortured, sent to labor camps (Gulags) or killed. Even the high-ranking officers of the military and Comrades of Stalin’s party weren’t safe. At the peak of the “Great Purge” in 1937/38 “more than 1,5 million people got arrested, 700,000 of them got executed”, according to Stalin-researcher Jörg Baberowski. Deutschlandfunk writes that, between 15 and 20 million people were killed by Stalin’s persecution and deportation measures. The exact number of victims is considered as difficult to estimate.
Back to Memorial
Memorial is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), that raises awareness to these human rights violations during the soviet-regime. It was founded in 1987, by, among others, Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Andrej Sacharow. Today, Memorial interviews contemporary witnesses, creates archives, produces learning-material about the time for students, and builds memorials. This work is widely respected among Russians. But it doesn’t fit the picture of Russian History, that the Russian government around president Wladimir Putin, is drawing right now. Putin stages Russia as the glorious victors of World War II. Crimes against the own population that were committed by the dictator of the Soviet Union at that time, just don’t fit his history-writing. But that can’t be enough for a lawsuit, even in Putin’s Russia. So why is Memorial being charged?
The Foreign Agent Law
In Russia, recipients of payments from outside the country, have to mark themselves as “foreign agents”. Those affected are mostly journalists or organizations like Memorial. They finance themselves through donations from foreign countries. The law is widely criticized internationally. It can quickly pave the way for critics of the government being tagged as foreign agents.
Memorial rejected the categorization as foreign agents, by the Russian judiciary. It paid multiple fines in the past because it didn’t mark flyers, websites and social-media-posts in compliance with the law.
What happens now?
Memorial appealed against Decembers verdict. Therefore, it isn’t final. But there is not much hope of the verdict being overturned. That means if it stands like it is right now, Memorial International would be liquidated. Memorial International is the big umbrella organization, under which national and local Memorial-organizations are assembled. The liquidation of the umbrella organization wouldn’t mean the dissolution of all subsidiaries. Memorial could still keep on working at the lower levels. But: The verdict would be a sign, to all the other Memorial-teams, that they aren’t safe. You can read more on that topic in the interview with Anke Giesen, board member of Memorial International.
The verdict from December was widely criticized. Michail Gorbatschow, the last president of the Soviet Union, who modernized, opened the country and initiated the end of the Cold War supported Memorial, during his presidency. He also criticized the verdict.
The ban of Memorial was the end of a series of actions that pressured free media, the opposition, and other critics of the Kremlin.