13 May 2020
The presentation of the second edition of the work by Karelian historian Yury Dmitriev Sandarmokh: Place of Remembrance [Место памяти Сандармох] about the memorial to victims of political repression took place on the evening of 12 May on the online platform of the Sakharov Centre. Historians, writers and journalists spoke about why this is a difficult book, but one that should be read now.
The new edition differs from the first only in terms of some corrections made by the author. Yury Dmitriev made the corrections in a copy of the first version, that was published in February 2020, which he received at the pre-trial detention centre where he is being held.
The book Sandarmokh. Place of Remembrance includes the names of those killed at Sandarmokh, essays about, and memories of, the victims, documentation of the shootings, photos of memorials and materials about the situation at the memorial complex over the last three years. In particular, a separate section is devoted to the hypothesis that the Finns could have shot Red Army prisoners at the same place.
Historian Anatoly Razumov, editor and compiler of the book, and a friend of Yury Dmitriev, led the online presentation. According to Razumov, the words of the well-known and widely respected individuals who spoke at the presentation should be considered the best review the publication could have. Sever.Realia publishes some of the reactions to the book Sandarmokh. Place of Remembrance.
Liudmila Ulitskaya, writer
‘This book is extremely hard to read, but not to read it is a crime. Everyone must read it.
‘It is our fate, apparently, that the history of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks is still read, Das Kapital is still read, but people don’t want to read this very topical, extremely important book. It is very difficult to read. The only thing I am absolutely sure of is that a situation where the author of this book sits and drinks tea next to a samovar with the president, a former Chekist, is completely impossible. Because the author is in jail. This is the “right” and “proper” place for him, because the things he allowed himself to say, the statements that our country, deaf and blind – I don’t know what precise diagnosis should be given to our country today – does not want to read. People in our country will read stuff written for superficial entertainment, they will watch TV, but not read this book. And that is a cause for great sadness and grief.
‘It seems an endless wait for Yury Dmitriev to be finally released. We are his friends, his team, we love and respect him immensely. There is no doubt that his name will remain forever in the history of the country.’
Viktor Shenderovich, writer and journalist
‘If you want to know what Dmitriev is in jail for, you don’t have to look at the materials of this fake case, you have to look at this book. And it’s quite clear why he is behind bars. He is, of course, the enemy. He’s the enemy of this regime. It’s a frightening book. In medicine, it’s called ‘extreme braking,’ when a person loses consciousness so as not to die of pain, he passes out. It’s a security measure. In the realm of medicine, this protective measure is understandable. But when society does not find the strength to reflect, to look back, and when there is no one to force society to do so, as the Germans were forced to look at themselves, for example, in the middle of last century… When we cannot look into our own past, it is a guarantee that we will be stuck forever in Groundhog Day.
‘We have not yet left behind our terrible 20th century: punishing, monstrous, tragic, self-destructive. Yury Alekseevich Dmitriev gave decades of his life to the restoration of this memory, in order for these lists of the executed not to be forgotten, these faces, so that the names of the executioners would not be allowed to be forgotten. I understand the feelings of the security service agents in power today, I understand their feelings when the names of the executioners are mentioned in this very book. We should make it so that our children and grandchildren, who are guilty of nothing whatsoever, would like to change their surnames. It is our national idea that the grandchildren of executioners should be ashamed of their surnames, not proud of them.’
Aleksandr Arkhangelsky, writer
‘Thank you to the publishers who have reissued Yury Dmitriev’s book. It is clear that this is not a marketing idea, but a cultural, historical one, chiming with what Dmitriev himself does. And what is Dmitriev doing? Dmitriev, as the author of the book, as the man who, together with his friends and colleagues, recreated Sandarmokh, goes against the Soviet and even anti-Soviet tradition of the study of the history of the 20th century. The history of the 20th century as presented in academic works, in journalism, in pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet writings, is a history of great historical processes. From the very beginning Dmitriev crossed this line: he began to study the history of people. Not the history of global, political, economic or social forces independent of us, but of people like us – those who were inside the very crucible itself. Looking at the faces, listing the names.
‘If we look for the nearest analogue of what Dmitriev was doing, including in this book, it is the memorial notes. His work is an endless memorial note, which we read in the altar. Every person at least deserves to have his name pronounced loudly, and his face, eyes, voice, his name given to him at birth by his loving parents, sounded even after his violent death. It’s the only way to build our deep relationship with the past. It’s an extraordinary work. You read the names and remember.’
Andrea Gullotta, literary scholar, assistant professor of Russian studies at Glasgow University
‘This book is wonderful, encyclopedic: documents, photographs, reflections. It is a very important source for understanding not only the history of Sandarmokh, but also for understanding Sandarmokh as a place of remembrance.
As a specialist in Gulag literature, I was very happy to find poems by Kuzebay Gerd, an Udmurt poet in this book. It is a unique book. It is itself a monument to Dmitriev, testifying to his human dignity, to his tireless energy. Dmitriev now serves as an example to us all.’
Translated by Simon Cosgrove