15 November 2021
Pictured is Lev Ponomarev, human-rights activist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and an author of the petition
November 11, 2021, will go down in modern Russian history as the day when the dissolution of Memorial International began.
As of that day, we came to the end of a historical cycle, to its climax. Unfolding before our eyes, and with our participation, is the final fight for National History and the memory of generations. Once again the government, inheriting their traditions from executioners and prison guards, are attempting to purge the truth from post-Soviet history textbooks. Our country was and remains divided in two: there are the millions of people whose families suffered from repressions, are entire groups — sometimes even entire nations — that were exiled; and then there are the disproportionately few members of the “old guard” and their followers, who continue to imprison, torture, and police. The latter hold the power today; they rule our country.
Old wounds, which hadn’t healed in the 30 post-Soviet years, are bleeding once more, and new generations of political and seemingly random prisoners are being sent to camps. Meanwhile, the country is still led by people with portraits of Dzerzhinsky in their offices. The world is changing in many respects, but sadly our country is led by people sitting under portraits of criminals, just as it was in 1937.
On October 30, 2017, at the unveiling of the Wall of Grief, President Putin spoke some important words:
“Millions of people were declared ‘enemies of the people,’ were shot or maimed, and experienced the torment of prisons, camps, and exile. This terrible past must not be erased from national memory, and more importantly, must not be justified in any way, by any so-called improved welfare for the people.”
The FSB does not hide — and often emphasizes — that it has a century-long history and is preserving the continuity of the VChK-NKVD-KGB.
The portraits of Dzerzhinsky — who, along with his assistants, organized the extermination of millions of the best of the people who had no trace of a criminal background — hang to this day in offices, behind the backs of investigators and prosecutors. And these portraits hang next to the portrait of Putin, who in no way seems disturbed by the proximity.
President Putin is in a strange position. His words about “a terrible past…which must not be erased from national memory” are inconsistent with the dissolution of Memorial in Russia, but that is indeed what we are witnessing today. It’s difficult to suppose that the dissolution of Memorial could be happening without the approval of the highest levels of government, which Putin personifies and embodies today.
Memorial is an organization that works in pursuit of national reconciliation, in pursuit of awareness of the cruelty and injustice of history. This cannot be achieved without repenting for the terrible repressions of the Soviet period and growing awareness of the responsibilities of those involved. Memorial advocates for commemorating the millions of broken and ruined lives. It is our universal debt of honor to our descendants. After all, the children and grandchildren of those who were shot and executed are members of our generation, and Memorial is doing everything possible to ensure that the victims are commemorated, if only so that such an atrocity against our own people is never repeated.
The disappearance of Memorial in Russia would indicate a complete moral lapse, and it would be Russia’s final symbolic break from 21st century civilization.
However, the forces trying to shut down Memorial need to understand that even if Memorial is dissolved, Russian civil society will not let it disappear. The government needs to know that if the legal entity is indeed dissolved, the mass movement of Memorial will remain — this is a moral obligation to the innocent people who suffered.
We are calling upon everyone to stand up for Memorial and to continue the organization’s cause by providing whatever assistance they can to members and staff.
Sign the petition at firstname.lastname@example.org
* recognized as a foreign agent
Translated by Nina dePalma