28 December 2021
Speech by Genri Reznik at the Memorial trial on 28 December 2021
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In the four days leading up to the New Year, the Supreme Court sustained the claim of the General Prosecutor’s Office to abolish International Memorial,* an organisation created with the participation of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov that researches the history and preserves the memory of the mass repressions in the USSR. One of the principal speeches in the organisation’s defence was given by lawyer Genri Reznik. Dozhd publishes it in full.
Your honour, my young associates among Memorial’s legal team have established conclusively and convincingly the illegality of the General Prosecutor’s Office’s claims to abolish Memorial. I see my task in adding a few emphases that may assist the court in rendering a sound and legitimate decision in the case.
When my colleagues speak about the claim’s inconsistency with the law, they are correct. But I don’t think this description of the General Prosecutor’s Office’s appeal to the Supreme Court goes far enough. I think the claim is fully covered by the formulation in Part 7 of Article 45 of the Code of Administrative Offences (the description came from my colleague’s mouth). This is an unprincipled statement of an unfounded claim. When this kind of statement of claim is sent to the court by highly placed representatives of the regime who are invested with great authority, when it comes from influential organs that are part of the country’s system of state power, I find myself in the grip of a vile feeling.
They know that they are making illegal demands on the court, and they understand that you understand this. Of course, professionalism and life experience help you drive out this feeling, but as soon as you turn to the text of the statement of claim, it creeps up again, because there is a certain pattern. When a highly placed official, the head of some powerful department, approves an illegal decision, he heaves a sigh of relief and frees himself from the need to ground the illegal demands even somewhat plausibly. And why? Because his calculation lies entirely elsewhere. This vile feeling you’re trying to overcome, it’s founded on the fact that these kinds of politically motivated cases end with the approval of unjust decisions because they are not based on legal considerations, which are ignored in the given instance. Then this smattering of appeals to constitutions, international legal acts, and human rights, to use the poet’s words, turns into an array of lofty words as cheap as they are unfit.
It turns out, the Memorial societies have to be closed down because of their negative moral and spiritual impact on children. Is there any evidence at all for this accusation? You can write that a civil society organisation violates international conventions. You can write that unceasing illegal activity is taking place, although it’s been a year since the last claim regarding the one and only labeling violation.
Let me draw your attention to one passage from this statement of claim. It says here that the aim of abolishing Memorial as a legal person is to defend the rights of the interests of other persons. I wonder which faces arose before the General Prosecutor’s eyes when he was signing this statement? Definitely not the faces of those people who for nearly 15 years have come out on Lubyanka Square on 29 October and read out the names of those innocently repressed. When this event was held for the first time, in 2007, each person read three names apiece, and two years later they decided they should read two names, and now one. Because if each person is going to read out three names, this queue will last for more than 20 years.
Possibly some other faces really did arise before the General Prosecutor’s eyes. Our society is heterogeneous. When the Gulag’s gates opened, the great Russian poet Anna Andreevna Akhmatova said that the whole country would divide into two halves: those who were imprisoned and those who imprisoned them. I would add a small clarification: unequal halves. Because those who were imprisoned — they’re gone. They were shot, tortured in the basements of our federal, capital, and regional “Lubyankas,” they did not have descendants. And those who did the imprisoning, the multitudinous armies of military police, investigators, operatives, and prosecutors [unintelligible]. It’s hard for me to shake the feeling that looking at each other in this courtroom are representatives of the two distinct countrymen. The fact is that when the prosecutor says that Memorial is distorting history, he is picturing the history of a country – the USSR. But that’s a lie. An out-and-out lie. Absolutely different notions of how a state should be arranged, how relations are constructed between a regime and a population.
I am picking up a document. It is the government policy on how to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the repressions. It was approved in 2015 and initially it was assumed that it would be implemented by 2020. In 2018, the Russian president extended that to 2024, indicating that the main events should be held in 1922-23. I read: “Russia cannot fully become a rule-of-law state and take a leading role in the world community without perpetuating the memory of the many millions of its citizens who were victims of the political repressions.”
A question arises: How, given the existence and implementation of this concept, where Memorial, which is preserving the memory of those innocently repressed, is on the razor’s edge — and it would be a big mistake to say that we’re talking about 1937, this continued for all the years of the Soviet regime’s existence . . . Memorial is promoting the nation’s health. To eliminate this right now from the country’s history means contributing to these very notions about how a state should be governed. And these notions are the following: the state is always right. And this concept of patriotism, unfortunately, is identified with the concept of state power.
The law on NGOs is imperfect. The statement of claim indicates, in its capacity as one of the grounds for shutting down Memorial, the Prosecutor’s Office believes, points to a negative assessment of this law. In 2012, a law was passed on “foreign agents,” and its passage was accompanied by jeering suggestions from a few politicians that Memorial should be the one to class itself as a “foreign agent.” What kind of response could citizens with a sense of their own dignity, leaders of an authoritative international organisation, have? Memorial stated that it would not follow the fairytale you propose, that “we will hang you but you’ll bring your own rope.”
Memorial had stated that it does not consider itself a “foreign agent,” does not represent any foreign organisation, and does not engage in political activity. Later, in 2016, Memorial was added to the list. In this case, the Constitution draws a distinction between the right to freedom of opinion and the necessity of implementing the law. I would like to hear a reference to at least one civil society organisation, one NGO or association, that gave this law a positive assessment. I believe negative assessments of this law came from every quarter, including from the president and [his] press secretary.
The law is imperfect, but it has not been repealed. Here is the court. I stress the fact that this statement of claim does not correspond to the letter of this imperfect law. By rejecting this statement of claim, which does not correspond to the law, you, in my opinion, should feel some satisfaction that in the given instance this imperfect law is not going to be applied. And finally, it is exactly these kinds of legally absolutely unfounded claims that are the test of the highest values defining life in a rule-of-law state: an independent judiciary and judicial conscience. I nurture the hope that everyone present in this courtroom will be witnesses to their triumph.
* By decision of the Russian Justice Ministry, the international civil society organisation “International historical-educational, philanthropic, and human rights society Memorial has been added to the register of media acting as a ‘foreign agent.’”
Translated by Marian Schwartz