Anatoly Razumov: Yury Dmitriev truly deserves the Freedom Award

28 October 2021

Pictured: Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Centre

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Deutsche Welle]

The head of Returned Names Centre Anatoly Razumov said that the international community continues to follow the case of Yurн Dmitriev and spoke about the continuation of the work regarding the Sandarmokh Memorial Place book.

On the 29 October on the eve of Remembrance Day for Victims of Political Repression celebrated in Russia, the ceremony of awarding the Sakharov Freedom Prize will take place in Oslo. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee awarded the prize to the chair of the Karelian branch of the Memorial society, historian Yury Dmitriev. The Secretary General of the Committee, Geir Hønneland, explained this choice: ‘Yury Dmitriev is known for his work to identify victims of Soviet terror in Karelia, where tens of thousands of people were shot and killed without trial or conviction and buried in mass graves. …You can draw a line from Andrei Sakharov’s time as a political prisoner, from his struggle to ensure that Russia faces up to its past and the importance of documentation and truth to prevent new atrocities, straight up to Yury Dmitriev’s struggle in modern-day Russiaa.  

Dmitriev himself will not be able to accept this award. He is in the pre-trial detention centre of Petrozavodsk in connection with a charge of sexual assault against a minor. Dmitriev’s associates consider the case fabricated and the charges against the chair of the Karelian Memorial politically motivated.

In 2018 Yury Dmitriev was awarded the Moscow Helsinki group prize for historical contribution to the protection of human rights and to the human rights movement.

DW’s correspondent spoke with one of the closest friends of Yury Dmitriev and the co-author of his book Sandarmokh Memorial Place, the head of the Returned Names Centre, Anatoly Razumov.

Deutsche Welle: The decision on awarding Yury Dmitriev the Norwegian Helsinki Committee prize was taken on 21st of May this year, on the birthday of the great scientist and human rights activist. It was clear that the chair of Karelian Memorial himself won’t be able to receive it… 

Anatoly Razumov: As soon as we learned about this decision, we immediately informed Yury about it. And the details of the presentation that will take place on 29 October only recently became known. But, of course, we now understand that he will not personally be able to come to Oslo. But at the time of the decision being made, we did not know when he would be released, and even wondered a little whether the Supreme Court of Russia would suddenly make a statement in the summer, and Yury Dmitriev would  be released. And then the award might be presented to him personally – this would have been the ideal outcome.

But now we know that, unfortunately, this did not happen, and even his daughter Catherine will not be able to go to the presentation. However, the ceremony itself will take place on the appointed day, International Memorial will observe the event and will cover it on its website.

On 21 October, you were in Petrozavodsk, where you were allowed an hour-long visit  with Yury Dmitriev. Tell us what he looks like, how he feels, what he talks about.

It was my second visit to see Yury: the first time had been before his second acquittal. In my request, I had explained the need for a visit  by  stating the fact that we needed  to discuss the second volume of the book The Place of Memory in  Sandarmokh. I already had a working cover and a draft layout. And I received an email back saying that the visit had been approved.

I came to the detention centre with Yury Alekseevich’s daughter Ekaterina. He looked very well.  He had been sick in early October and we were very worried, but now he had recovered …

Did he have coronavirus?

It’s hard to say. He was not positively diagnosed, but he had a fever and  he had been given intravenous antibiotics. After these injections he felt very tired and unwell. It was difficult for him to work.

But now he looks, as usual, collected, joking, having a bit of banter, accepting greetings and passing them on to all his friends in the outside world. And we had a very good chat about the forthcoming second volume of the book of remembrance. After all, it’s one thing when you run after an escorted prisoner and, out of breath, try to ask short questions, but quite another when  there is a whole hour of unrestricted conversation.

What will the second volume of Sandarmokh, a Place of Remembrance, be about?

There are going to be seven volumes in total. And in each volume we’re going to have a thousand or so short biographies of people who were executed, which we’ve accumulated over the past 20 years — since the day our first book about Sandarmokh was published. We’re checking this against other books of remembrance, against the electronic resources we have available, and we’re making adjustments in almost every update. Then there are profiles we’ve received from relatives of the deceased, or from those who have researched their lives. In each volume there will be about 12 or 13 profiles with illustrations. After that, there will be a documentary section, and some of the materials we’re putting in this section have never been published before. And this is quite an important section, since these are documents about the site of the atrocities, which is what Sandarmokh was transformed into.

And, finally, the third section will be about the current state of the place of remembrance. In this section, there will be articles written by Emilia Slabunova (former leader of the Yabloko party – DW) about what is being done around Sandarmokh, and a very long essay by Maksim Lyalin about the “Sandarmokh – Returning the Names” project, with photos of memorials that have been put up in the area in recent years. I’m really looking forward to the afterword that Yury will be sending us, which I hope will describe the events that will take place on 29 October.

We will present the second volume in Petrosavodsk, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. And Yury says: well, if I’m not released before then, I’ll greet all my friends from here.

What do you think: how will the trial end?

He is very strong in spirit, and we certainly believe he will be freed. Of course, he’ll always have his inner freedom, but I’m talking specifically about the day when we’ll be able to embrace outside the confines of the prison walls. With this in mind, I’m not ruling out the possibility that Yura will be released soon. After all, the people who set up this case have driven themselves into a condition that is too vile and foolish.

In addition, he has attracted a great deal of attention on an international level…

Yes, and by the way, this isn’t the first international award that Yury Alekseevich Dmitriev has received (specifically, he has won the Franco-German Award for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, the Swedish Anna Dahlbäck Memorial Foundation Award, and the Polish Golden Cross of Merit – DW). The New York Times and Le Monde have written about him, as have newspapers in Germany, Poland, Finland, and other countries, especially those whose citizens were murdered and buried at Sandarmokh and who were especially affected by Soviet terror.

So he has truly deserved this award, and I’m very happy for Yury Alekseevich.

Translated by Ecaterina Hughes, Graham Jones and Nina dePalma

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