“The dissolution of Memorial marks a decisive step in the policy of controlling Russian society”

Tribune. If it comes as a surprise to all those who observe with concern the authoritarian and ultranationalist drift of the regime of Vladimir Putin, the dissolution of Memorial marks a decisive step in the policy of control of Russian civil society and the establishment of ‘an official national story. Founded in 1989, it is in fact the oldest and most prominent Russian NGO. Its first president was the great Soviet physicist and dissident Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov. In reality, Memorial, like all Russian NGOs benefiting from support, moral or financial, from abroad, had been, for years, an organization on borrowed time, above which, since 2012, the sword had been suspended. of Damocles of the law stigmatizing “organizations acting as foreign agents”.

One of the most remarkable peculiarities of Memorial’s action, for three decades, has been to combine the study of the Soviet past in its traumatic dimension so long and still largely obscured, the work of safeguarding mutilated memory and the defense of human rights in the present time. You cannot build a democratic society based on respect for human rights without knowing, understanding and remembering the past. Such has been, such is the credo of Memorialtsy, these men and women, of all ages and from all backgrounds who, from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok, are involved, in some sixty regional branches, in this fight against oblivion and for a democratic Russia .

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I will not dwell here on the immense work accomplished by the “Human Rights” branch of the NGO – dissolved, for its part, under the pretext of “apology for terrorism and extremism” – to provide assistance and legal assistance to political prisoners, particularly in the regions of the Caucasus (Chechnya) which have for years been subjected to flagrant and repeated violations of human rights. I am more familiar with the work carried out by the “History and memory” branch of the NGO, which, since the beginning of the 1990s, has established itself as the most important world center for the study and documentation of repression and crimes. mass in the USSR.

New national story

Our colleagues at Memorial were pioneers in the study of the Gulag camps, of the Great Terror of 1937-1938, of the deportations of the 1930s and 1950s, but also of the dissidence of the 1960s and 1980s. They also responded to the famous injunction of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova [1889-1966] about the victims of repression – “I would like to name you all by your name. But they took the list. Who should I ask the questions to? », In the epilogue of his collection Requiem [écrit entre 1935 et 1940] by constituting a huge database (3.5 million names). Everyone can search for the name of a loved one who has disappeared. In addition, there is a unique collection of private archives (more than 60,000 files) bequeathed by the families of the victims. Memorial has also collected thousands of survivors’ testimonies and erected hundreds of memorials at the sites of the Great Terror massacre, most of which were found and exhumed by members of the NGO.

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“The dissolution of Memorial marks a decisive step in the policy of controlling Russian society”