Historical Amnesia in Chelyabinsk

AKG1423992Exhumation of a mass grave in the area of Pit No. 5 aka Zolotaya Gorka (Golden Hill), which was supposed to be transformed into a memorial cemetery for victims of Stalinism in the 1930s. The mass graves are located in Shershni, a suburb of Chelyabinsk. The photo was taken in 1990. Courtesy of the Elizaveta Becker Collection, Gulag Museum, International Memorial Society

The Security Services Don’t Like Plaques: Chelyabinsk Officials Say Plaque Commemorating Executions Would Discredit Police
Yulia Garipova
Kommersant
August 31, 2018

Chelyabinsk city hall has refused to assist community activists who have been trying to mount a plaque, commemorating the victims of political terror, on the walls of the city’s Interior Ministry [i.e., police] building. The site used to be the home of a building in which executions were carried out in the 1930s. According to officials, the inscription on the plaque could cause people to have “unwarranted associations about the work of the police” and undermine its authority in the eyes of the populace.

In 1932, a building was erected from the bricks of the demolished Christ’s Nativity Cathedral on Vasenko Street in Chelyabinsk. It was handed over to the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), later known as the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Historians claim that, during the Great Terror, the building contained an execution room.  In 1937–1938, nine Chelyabinsk priests were murdered in the room. In 1995, a memorial plaque was mounted in the courtyard of the building at 39 Vasenko Street.

The inscription on the plaque read, “During the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s, innocent people convicted of political crimes were executed in this building.”

In the early 2000s, however, the plaque vanished.

This year, Yuri Latyshev, coordinator of the local history group Arkhistrazh, launched a campaign to restore the memorial plaque. He asked Yevgeny Golitsyn, deputy governor of Chelyabinsk Region and chair of the regional commission for restoring the rights of victims of political repression, for help. Chelyabinsk city hall’s culture department sent him a reply.

Mr. Latyshev was informed the building that had once housed the secret police had been completely dismantled due to dilapidation. The land plot was handed over to the Interior Ministry’s Chelyabinsk Regional Office. A new building had been erected on the plot, and a new plaque mounted on the building. It reads, “In memory of the victims of the 30 and 40 years [sic]. Their memory will be preserved as long as we remain human beings.”

Citing the local Interior Ministry office as its source, the Chelyabinsk city culture department explained in its letter to Mr. Latyshev that the whereabouts of the old plaque were unknown. Restoring a commemorative plaque that claimed people were executed in the building during the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s  would be a distortion of historical reality, the officials argued.

“There have not been any repressive actions of a physical nature [sic] carried out in the buildings used by the [local Interior Ministry office],” they wrote to Mr. Latyshev.

Chelyabinsk culture officials also stressed the inscription on the previous plaque could “provoke unwarranted associations about the work of the police in the minds of people, even as the Russian federal government has made considerable efforts to strengthen the police’s reputation.”

Mr. Latyshev, however, is convinced part of the old building survived the reconstruction.

“The [old] plaque was absolutely fair, correct, and decent, but someone clearly did not like it. It would be fair to hang it on the street side of the building,” says Mr. Latyshev.

He claims he has sent inquiries to the FSB and Interior Ministry, but has only been given the runaround.

“I’m surprised by the wording used by city hall officials—’unwarranted associations’—and how they immediately project these ideas into the minds of the people of Chelyabinsk,” Ivan Slobodenyuk, coordinator for the project Last Address in Chelyabinsk Region, told Kommersant.

Mr. Slobodenyuk stressed that restoring the memorial plaque would be consistent with the state policy for commemorating victims of political repression, as adopted by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2015.

“Regional authorities have so far neglected this topic. The memorial on Golden Hill has virtually been abandoned. Part of the area containing mass graves has been redeveloped, and another section has been slated for redevelopment. Now the story with this memorial plaque comes to light,” said Slobodenyuk. “In my opinion, putting up a memorial plaque that begins with the phrase, ‘This was the site of a building in which, during the period,” and so on, in keeping with the wording on the original plaque, would not damage the police’s reputation. On the contrary, it would be a manifestation of courage and would make people respect law enforcement.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

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