Open letter regarding the “Gulag children”

13 January 2021

Source: Kommersant 

To Russian President V. V. Putin

To Russian Prime Minister M. V. Mishustin

To V. V. Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly 

Esteemed sirs!

This appeal to you concerns the “Gulag children.”

In 2020, it might seem that Soviet political repressions have become the property of history for good. As it turns out, that is not so.

Evgenia Shasheva is 70 years old. She lives in a small settlement outside Ukhta, a mere hundred kilometers from the former prison camp where she was born and where her father served a sentence on a fabricated charge. Before her father’s arrest in 1937, her family had lived in Moscow, not far from Pushkin Square.

Elizaveta Mikhailova is 72 years old. She lives near a small train station 300 kilometers from Moscow in half of a disintegrating barrack without hot water, heat, or indoor plumbing. In the 1930s, her family lived in Moscow’s Veshnyaki. Her father was arrested in 1937 and sent to a prison camp in Kolyma, and after his release he was banned from returning to Moscow.

Alisa Meissner is 70 years old. She lives in a small Vyatka settlement, a few dozen kilometers from the Gulag special settlement where she was born. In the 1940s, her mother, a German, was deported there from Moscow. Before deportation, her family had lived on Chistye Prudy.

Today in Russia, fifteen hundred “Gulag children,” now elderly, continue to live in exile. To this day, they have not been able to return. In the Soviet era, they couldn’t due to administrative restrictions. After residence permits were abolished, bans on moving were dropped, but returning at their own expense proved beyond the means of many. Since 1991, victims of repressions have had the legal right to receive social housing in the city where their family lived before the repressions, but the law has yet to go into effect.

Evgenia Shasheva, Elizaveta Mikhailova, and Alisa Meissner have been trying to win their return since the 1990s. They’ve written dozens of appeals, actions, and complaints. Finally, in 2019, they won their case in the Russian Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court resolved to amend the law immediately and restore the rights of victims of repressions. However, a year later, the court’s decision has not been implemented and risks remaining unimplemented.

Bill №988493-7, introduced to the State Duma by the government, essentially preserves the situation unaltered. It leaves housing provision to victims of the repressions to the discretion of regional authorities and provides no guarantees whatsoever for the immediate–as it is formulated in the Constitutional Court’s decision–restoration of the rights of rehabilitated persons. Victims of repressions will be able to obtain housing only by joining the general queue, that is in 25-30 years at best. They simply won’t live until their return.

In the opinion of the Presidential Human Rights Council, the Presidential Commission on Rehabilitation for Victims of Political Repressions, and Russian Human Rights Ombudsman T. N. Moskalkova, and according to the conclusion of Russia’s Public Chamber, this bill does not correspond to the Constitutional Court’s decision.

More than 80,000 people have already signed a petition in support of the “Gulag children” and against the government’s bill.

Two UN special reports have called on Russia to provide “Gulag children” with housing within two years’ time.

State Duma Deputies S. M. Mironov and G. P. Khovanskaya have introduced an alternative bill (№1024052–7). According to it, victims of repressions must within one year receive federal payments for housingby analogy with World War II veterans, Chernobyl survivors, and resettlers from the Far North. This bill would make it possible to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision in full and without serious strain on the budget; however, the government has issued a negative conclusion on it. As a result, the State Duma has passed on first reading the government’s bill and rejected the alternate proposal.

The government’s position with respect to the bill forces one to think that the condemnation of the repressions and sympathy for the victims stated in the government’s Concept of State Policy Toward Perpetuating the Memory of the Victims of Political Repressions is declarative in nature.

However, the government’s bill can still be amended on second reading. On 16 December, a group of members of parliament introduced changes to the State Duma that amend the government’s bill using provisions from the alternate bill.

We call on the President and government to support the submitted changes.

We call on the State Duma to pass this law, whereby returning victims of repressions can be given housing in a short period of time.

Very few “Gulag children” are still alive. At one time, the State destroyed their families and condemned them to a life in exile. They are a living reminder that the consequences of Soviet repressions have yet to be dealt with properly. At the hearings in the Constitutional Court, M. Yu. Barshchevsky, the government representative supporting the declarants, said, “State power fractured their life. And today someone is looking for legal hooks so they can say, ‘Oh no, we’re not responsible for anything, we have nothing to do with this.’ But you and I are the present-day authority. And if we do not take responsibility for the actions of the previous authority, then just think what’s going to happen with our descendants.” A society that has not atoned for the crimes of the past does not have a future.

The Russian State has the chance to repay its debt to the “Gulag children” so that they can return home at last.

Society expects this.

It has been prescribed by the Constitutional Court’s decision.

It is just and right.

If it is not done now, later will be too late.

For a list of signatories, see here

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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