13 January 2021
By Ivan Tyazhlov
[Published in Kommersant newspaper No 3, 13.01.2021, page 5]
Over 100 social and cultural activists have put their signatures to an open letter addressed to Russia’s leadership concerning the problems faced by the victims of Soviet repressions, or more specifically the draft bill on guaranteed social housing for former GULAG prisoners as compensation for the unlawful deprivation by the State of their homes. The authors of the letter explain to the President (Vladimir Putin), the Prime Minister (Mikhail Mishustin) and the Chair of the State Duma (Vyacheslav Volodin) that formal investigations into the issue carried out by the Government have revealed that individuals aged between 70 and 80 would have to wait at least 25 years if housing were allotted to all applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. The letter proposes that, “a law should be adopted stating that the victims of repression can be prioritised when housing is allotted.”
The open letter “concerning the children of GULAG victims” is published on the website “Ъ” and is addressed to the President (Vladimir Putin), the Prime Minister (Mikhail Mishustin) and the Chair of the State Duma (Vyacheslav Volodin). According to the letter, “One might think that by 2020 the political repressions committed by the Soviet authorities would be ancient history. As it turns out, however, this is not the case. Today’s Russia is home to 1,500 ‘children of GULAG prisoners’ who continue to live in exile and still cannot return, despite the fact that they have already reached an advanced age.”
The letter discusses in detail the legislative problem on which “Ъ” has reported extensively. The law concerning the victims of repression, which was adopted in 1991, obliged the State to allocate to these victims (and to any of their children who were born in exile or in a camp) social housing in the town or city where the family was living at the time of the arrest. Yet the power to allocate housing was delegated to the regions, which in many cases deliberately imposed requirements that were impossible to meet. Elizaveta Mikhailova, Yevgeniya Shasheva and Alisa Meissner, all of whom are the children of victims of repression living in Moscow at the time of their arrest and all of whom are older than 70, lodged an appeal against the law before the Constitutional Court. In late 2019, the judges of the Constitutional Court concurred with their opinion and asked the Government to amend the law with a view to providing “the fullest possible reparation” of the harm inflicted by the State on its citizens.
According to the letter, however, “one year has passed and the Court’s ruling still has not been implemented, and perhaps never will be.” The draft law tabled by the Government before the State Duma effectively leaves matters unchanged. It places the task of housing the rehabilitated victims of repression in the hands of the regional authorities, and provides no guarantees that the rights of these victims will be enforced immediately, as recommended in the ruling by the Constitutional Court.
As reported by “Ъ”, the draft bill tabled by the Government has unleashed a storm of criticism. At the public consultation stage, 130 individuals submitted negative feedback and no positive feedback was received. Criticism was voiced by the Ombudsperson (Tatyana Moskalkova), the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian Federation in the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court (Mikhail Barshchevsky), and experts from the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation. Yet regardless of the negative feedback from its own experts, the Government tabled the draft bill before the State Duma. This decision can be attributed to the fact that the priority allocation of social housing to the victims of repression would “discriminate” against large families and WWII veterans who are also waiting to be housed by the State. The draft bill was adopted at first reading in late November, but a date has not yet been scheduled for its second reading.
The authors of the letter are asking the President, Prime Minister, and speaker of the State Duma to take action.
They point out that the State Duma has already made an amendment to the legislation, that stipulates that victims of the repression were to receive federal payments for housing within one year. The letter asserts that the payment of this long-promised compensation would not “seriously strain the budget.” “A society that has not atoned for the crimes of the past has no future. The Russian government has an opportunity to repay the ‘children of the Gulag’ so that they can finally return home,” the statement reads. “If you do not act now, it will someday be too late.”
The letter was signed by 110 individuals. Among them were Natalia Solzhenitsyna, President of the Foundation to Assist Victims of Mass Repression; publisher Irina Prokhorova; Vladimir Ksendzovsky, Vice President of Gasprombank; film director Alexander Sokurov; writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Chulpan Khamatova; musicians Andrei Makarevich and Ilya Lagutenko; and Denis Maydanov, Honored Artist of the Russian Federation. “I signed the letter because I want justice,” Natalia Solzhenitsyna told Kommersant. “Justice for these unfortunate people, the fate of whose parents sent them far from the places where they were meant to live. Nothing but bureaucratic stubbornness could be preventing this.”
“There is no statute of limitations for Soviet repression, I’m sure of it. And if the government does something for the descendants of the Gulag prisoners, it will not absolve them of their guilt. But at least recall that guilt, acknowledge it,” journalist Leonid Parfenov told Kommersant. “Terror against one’s own people — that happened here. And we need to remember what happens when a government is all-powerful.”
“It’s important to see that so many public figures and members of the intelligentsia are not indifferent to the fate of victims of repression,” stated Olga Sidorovich, director of the Institute of Law and Public Policy, speaking with Kommersant. “Our lawyers have been trying for many years to ensure that the ‘children of the Gulag’ are able to gain their right to return home, as promised back in 1991. A year has passed since the Constitutional Court’s ruling was made, and we expect it to be executed in such a way that would guarantee the right of rehabilitated people to return from their endless exile at the present time, not in several years.” “We are very grateful to those who signed this letter,” lawyer Grigory Baipan told Kommersant. Baipan represented the victims of repression in the Constitutional Court. “We can see that the matter of returning the ‘children of the Gulag’ has brought together people of different views. The amendments that will solve the problem have already been submitted to the Duma. We hope that the deputies will support them.”