24 November 2021
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of the Moscow City Duma, in an interview with Stanislav Koryagin
According to Moscow City Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, an all-out campaign is underway in the country to shut down all institutions that have remained independent.
On 25 November the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is to hear a suit filed by the Prosecutor General’s Office to close the International Memorial Historical, Educational, Charitable, and Human Rights Society. According to Russia’s Attorney General, Igor Krasnov, the organization has systematically violated the law on foreign agents. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of the Moscow City Duma, discusses Memorial’s fate and what it might mean for Russians.
“Memorial was created by great people. Mikhail Gorbachev helped it, even though the KGB was against it. Andrei Sakharov supported it. When the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union didn’t want to give premises for Memorial’s first congress to be held, Sakharov personally called Gorbachev and said, ‘If you don’t let Memorial’s congress take place, I, a Nobel Peace Laureate, will go out on Red Square and go on hunger strike! So the whole world will be shocked!’ He yelled into the phone, after which the KGB and the CPSU Central Committee gave in and Memorial was given permission to hold its congress. Lev Aleksandrovich Ponomarev*, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and one of the founders of Memorial, recently recalled these events.
‘Memorial is a civil society organization that is known in our country and around the world. It has created a database of the victims of political repression, a huge archive that lists millions of people. This organization is engaged in human rights work. And the ‘descendants’ of the Chekists [Soviet secret police – trans.] want to close it down. This is a scandal and a disgrace! I am sure that when this government collapses, the first thing to come back to life will be Memorial. I have no doubt that all history books will write about it.
It would seem Vladimir Putin had just congratulated Dmitry Muratov on his sixtieth birthday and on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. And then, on almost the same day, we learn about the closing of Memorial. I don’t think that these things are connected. It’s all conspiracy theory.
‘I think the decision to liquidate Memorial had already been made personally by the president. This is the beginning of an all-out campaign to shut down all institutions and organizations that still have some independence. The Moscow Helsinki Group, human rights activists, environmentalists, lawyers, the media, YouTube, Facebook… The closing of Memorial is a momentous event, a definite line. The day Memorial is closed is the day Russia moves from authoritarianism to dictatorship.
‘I believe a decision has been made to close everything. Memorial is the most irritating organization because it reminds the Chekists of their crimes. Memorial maintains a list of victims of modern political repression that now contains almost five hundred names. Can you imagine, they close this organization now and we won’t even know how many political prisoners there are in our country. This is why Memorial is the victim of the first blow. It is the most important, most authoritative human rights organization in the country.’
* On the register of ‘foreign agents’
Translated by Simon Cosgrove