Sandarmokh: Rewriting History with Shovels

content_IMG_9455“Alternative” excavations at Sandarmokh. Photo by Irina Tumakova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Sifting through History: The “Alternative” Excavations at Sandarmokh Are Meant to Shift the Public’s Attention from Great Terror Victims to WWII Casualties
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
August 20, 2019

The ongoing excavations by the Russian Military History Society (RVIO) at the Sandarmokh site in [Russian] Karelia, where political prisoners were shot during the Great Terror, reflects the desire of Russian officials to switch the public’s attention to the Second World War.

In August, RVIO employees and a Defense Ministry search battalion resumed digging at Sandarmokh. Karelian Culture Minister Alexei Lesonen said the objective was to “separate artifacts having to do with different layers of history and different circumstances.”

It is a matter of words matching deeds. In 1997, local historian Yuri Dmitriev discovered the mass graves of people shot by the NKVD in 1937–1938. Thanks to Dmitriev’s efforts, Sandarmokh became a symbol of the Great Terror.

International Memorial Society board member Sergei Krivenko puts a number on it: archival documents have confirmed that over 6,100 people were shot and buried at Sandarmokh during the Great Terror.

In keeping with the Kremlin’s policy of “inculcating pride in the past,” the authorities have attempted, in recent years, to diminish Sandarmokh’s status as a memorial site. The authorities have tried to discredit Dmitriev and, by his extension, his work by charging him in a notorious “pedophilia” case [in which two men have already been convicted and sentenced, including Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the Medvezhyegorsk Museum and an ally of Dmitriev’s]. They have claimed Memorial’s figures for the number of victims are inflated. They have pushed an alternate account that the Finnish Army shot and buried Soviet POWS at Sandarmokh between 1941 and 1944.

The RVIO’s August–September 2018 expedition turned up the remains of five people. Historian Sergei Verigin said they corroborated the hypothesis about Soviet POWS because the executed people had not been stripped before they were shot and foreign-made shell casings were found next to them. This proves nothing, however. The NKVD used foreign-made weapons when it executed its prisoners [22,000 Polish officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia] at Katyn, nor have the RVIO established when exactly the people whose remains they found were killed.

The Karelian Culture Ministry has asked the RVIO to keep digging. Officials there are convinced that “speculation about events in Sandarmokh […] reinforces in the public’s mind a baseless sense of guilt towards the alleged [Great Terror] victims […] becoming a consolidating factor for anti-government forces in Russia.”

The RVIO did not respond to our request to comment on the claim that the people shot and buried at Sandarmokh were “alleged victims.” They keep digging In early August, the remains of five more people were found.

Memorial has demanded an end to the excavations, fearing the mass graves will be disturbed. Archaeologists have also sounded a warning because the traces of dwelling sites used by prehistoric people have been found at Sandarmokh as well and they could be damaged.

The problem, however, is not that artifacts could get mixed up. The problem is there is no comparison between the maximum possible number of Soviet POWs executed and buried at Sandarmokh, as estimated by the Karelian Culture Ministry, and the confirmed numbers of victims of Stalin’s terror campaign who are buried there: 500 versus over 6,100.

The digs at Sandarmokh are a clumsy attempt by Russian officials to alter the meaning of the memorial site and rewrite the past with shovels. More importantly, officials want to juggle the numbers of victims and thus gaslight the Russian public.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Without Fathers, a video made by Anna Artemieva and Gleb Limansky, and published by Novaya Gazeta on August 7, 2017. The annotation reads, “The orphans of Sandarmokh remember their executed relatives. Historian Yuri Dmitriev did not attend memorial day ceremonies there for the first time in twenty years. He is on trial, charged with ‘manufacturing child pornography.'” 

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“Hi, I’m Married”

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Yana Sakhipova
Facebook
August 13, 2019

Hi, I’m married.

It’s an incredible feeling, really. For a year, you see each other only for several seconds in the hallway of the courthouse because they won’t let anyone in the courtroom. Then, for several months, in the courtroom through the bars of the cage. Then, two times, through the double-paned glass in remand prison, and you can even chat a bit.

But [at our wedding] we could hug and hold hands for a whole fifteen minutes, and I still can’t believe it. Yuli [Boyarshinov] was with me and everything was fine again, but then he was led away, of course.

I had a paper veil: I wanted to do something ridiculous. And I had a barbed-wired ring. Yuli probably didn’t expect I wasn’t joking about the veil and the ring.

We were not allowed to bring a camera into the remand prison, of course.

Thank you all for your support: it’s cool and important. Someday this will all be over.

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Victoria Andreyeva
Facebook
August 13, 2019

Today, I was going to the FSB archives and at the entrance I met Yuli Boyarshinov’s friends, who had come for a strange wedding. Boyarshinov has been imprisoned since January 2018 on ridiculous charges. He and other young men were tortured into giving testimony that would incriminate them as a “terrorist group.”

How could we let this happen? When you study the cases of 1936–1938 and see how investigators forced people to give ever more fantastic testimony, you imagine that such things could not happen in the twenty-first century. Stalin is dead, and the cases are part of the gloomy past. But when you read about what has happened to our contemporaries, how they testified under torture, you realize we are not so distant from that awful time when the violence of one group of people against another group of people was the norm. Read, for example, Tatyana Likhanova’s article about the case.

I hope that Yuli and the other [young men accused in the Network case] will soon be freed and the people who cooked up this whole business will be brought to justice.

Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of Yana Sakhipova. Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists who have been tortured and imprisoned by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other branches of the Russian security state, read and share the articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Mikola Dziadok: What We Can Learn from the Moscow Protests

riotgOlga Misik, 17, reading the Russian Constitution aloud to riot cops during a July 27 “unauthorized” opposition protest rally in Moscow at which nearly 1,400 protesters were detained by regular police and Russian National Guardsmen. Photo courtesy of the Independent

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
August 4, 2019

Lessons of the Moscow Protests

Yesterday, Moscow witnessed one of the largest protest rallies in recent memory. There were huge numbers of arrests.

Estimates of the protesters range from 1,500 to 10,000. 1,001 of them were detained. Since Belarus and Russia constantly exchange know-how in crushing protests and, as genuine autocracies, invest huge resources in doing it, we really should study the methods used in Moscow to make our own subsequent uprising more effective.

The first thing that catches the eye is that the Russian authorities were seriously and thoroughly prepared. There are really smart people in high places who imagined what was going to happen and how to deal with it as effectively as possible. They did not just send a mob of riot cops onto the streets to beat up and disperse everyone. Instead, they employed a whole set of well-designed, complementary measures.

Here is a list of the lessons we can learn.

1. The cops are afraid of being deanonymized. During yesterday’s protest rally, unlike previous protests, the riot cops wore masks because cops who did not hide their faces on July 27 have been subsequently deanonymized in huge numbers and harassed on social media. They fear for their own safety, meaning the longer things drag on, the more they are cognizant of their own mortality and physical vulnerability. This is a good thing.

It was also curious that the agitprop cop using a bullhorn to persuade protesters to disperse appealed to national unity: “Citizens, do not disturb the peace. Russian National Guardsmen are on duty to ensure your safety. Most of them are your sons. Do not disturb the peace and break the law.”

In the future, we will hear tons of this kind of spiel in Minsk from the “moderate opposition,” from the negotiators and compromisers of all stripes who will pop up like earthworms from the moist soil as soon as Lukashenko’s throne goes wobbly. This is a separate issue, however.

2. The Russian authorities are not shy about employing the resources at their disposal. Helicopters were employed in addition to tens of thousands of personnel. Private companies were pressured into going over to the bad guys.

  • The car-sharing service YouDrive banned customers from leaving cars inside the Garden Ring.
  • Cell phone providers turned off mobile Internet services.
  • Wi-Fi was turned off in restaurants and cafes near the protest area.

3. The regime has deployed heavy forces on the digital front.

  • There have been DDOS attacks on the main opposition websites.
  • Pro-regime trolls have been mobilized on group pages and in comments on social media. They have been working overtime cobbling together battle scenes, the reactions of “ordinary citizens,” and so on.

4. As usual, the authorities want to prevent the protests from radicalizing. Random passersby had their bags checked: the police were looking for cans of mace and anything that could be used as a weapon. The high-risk category, from the police’s viewpoint, is middle-aged men, which speaks for itself.

5. When protesters are detained, their mobile phones are confiscated for two weeks under the pretext they are physical evidence in a criminal case. Later, the authorities try to hack them using equipment supplied to authoritarian countries by Israeli and Chinese companies. Encrypt your mobile devices! Update their operating systems before it is too late.

6. The authorities have been filing criminal charges against the protesters mercilessly and without hesitation. The only point is intimidating real and potential protesters. How I am going to move from my cozy home and family to a prison cell for many long years? they ask themselves.

Conclusions

Decentralized protests have been effective. Generally, despite facing equal numbers of people, the regime has to deploy more resources to crush such protests than it does to put paid to centralized protests.

But legal defenses have not been effective. Do you want to not give defense lawyers and children’s ombudsmen access to detainees? Do you want to beat up detainees who are not resisting, refuse them medical care, and forcibly fingerprint them? It is easy as pie. The dogs in uniform are not guardians of law and order. They guard the privileges of the elites along with their power and property. There are thus no obstacles to direct, flagrant, and sustained law-breaking.

The logical conclusion is it is stupid and short-sighted for protesters to try and keep themselves and their protests on the right side of the law,  appealing endlessly to the law as a supreme value and, moreover, outing protesters who break the law as “provocateurs,” one of the favorite hobbies of the legal opposition. It is like trying to win a fight without breaking rules drawn up by your enemy. So it is quite pretty to read the Russian Constitution out loud to riot policemen, but it is also naive, pretentious, and frivolous. They care a thousand times more about their discounted apartments and bonuses than they care about the Constitution.

This does not mean, of course, we should engage in violence left and right. We simply have to remember we have an a priori right to self-defense.

It is worth pointing out that Sergey Kusyuk, a former deputy commander in Ukraine’s Berkut riot police, who was noted for the extreme cruelty with which he treated protesters at the Euromaidan in Kyiv before fleeing the country, has been spotted among the police putting down the protest in Moscow. The Russian regime knows what it is doing: it hires people who have burned all their bridges. Kusyuk has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. If the current Russian regime collapses, he and his kind can expect to be killed or imprisoned for life. So, he will claw and bite the regime’s enemies until the bitter end. Accordingly, people who are just as willing to fight to the bitter end, but for the good guys, can face these monsters down.

The conclusion is simple: get ready to fight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: August 3, 2019

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Two Last Address plaques will be installed this Saturday, August 3.

At 12:00 p.m at 43 Sixth Line, Vasilyevsky Island, a plaque commemorating Grigory Gnesin will be installed. Writer, musician, performer, and the youngest son in the renowned Gnesin family of musicians, Grigory Gnesin was shot as a “Latvian spy” on February 4, 1938. He was exonerated in 1956.

At 1:00 p.m., Dmitry Dimitrov’s great-grandson will attach a memorial plaque to the wall at 3 Pionerskaya Ulitsa. Dimitrov was a Slavist, Bulgarian studies specialist, and research fellow at the Institute of Language and Thinking of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Sentenced by a so-called twosome [dvoika] of NKVD officers, he was shot on January 18, 1938. He was exonerated in 1957.

We invite you to attend the installation ceremonies. Please take note that these ceremonies will take place on a Saturday.

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Holiday in Chernobyl

Watch Kate Brown’s stunning lecture about the real, terrifying aftermath of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.

Then buy her fabulous, groundbreaking new book Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future and read it from cover to cover.

Once you have done this, ask yourself what kind of cynical lunatics would take people on holidays to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Chernobyl Cooling Tower

Day 5: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Friday, July 31, 2020

Leaving early from our hotel, we’ll travel by private bus to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We’ll meet our Chernobyl guide, while a documentary film playing on the bus will bring us up to speed on the accident, its causes, and its many repercussions. On our first day in Chernobyl we’ll visit the reactors themselves to witness ground zero of the accident, admire the new containment structure installed in 2016, as well as check out some of the other facilities around the nuclear power plant. Between excursions, we’ll take lunch in the Chernobyl workers’ canteen, surrounded by scientists and engineers currently stationed at the plant. Later, after a long day of exploring, dinner will be served at a restaurant in Chernobyl town. Our accommodation for the night is at a hotel nearby, located inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Day 6: The Streets of Pripyat
Saturday, August 1, 2020

At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the workers’ city Pripyat had a population of 49,000 people. It was evacuated soon after the event, and now survives as one of the world’s most famous ghost towns. Today, we’ll get to know this empty city intimately, walking its desolate streets, and visitings its abandoned schools, hospitals, and theaters. We’ll see all of Pripyat’s main landmarks, including the fairground, swimming pools, and also some fabulous street murals. After lunch back at the Chernobyl canteen, we’ll then get to visit one of the Exclusion Zone’s best-kept secrets: the DUGA radar installation, or “Russian Woodpecker,” that rises to a height of 150 meters at the heart of an abandoned Soviet military base. Late in the day we’ll return to the capital for one last night at our Kyiv hotel.

Source: Atlas Obscura. Photo of Chernobyl Cooling Tower by Darmon Richter. Courtesy of Atlas Obscura. Thanks to Louis Proyect for the heads-up on the lecture.

They Wore Uniforms

angela davisEast German politician Margot Honecker and Angela Davis at the communist World Festival of Youth and Students. Photo courtesy of Ullstein Bild, Getty Images, and the Wall Street Journal

In yesterday’s edition, the Wall Street Journal revealed the grim truth about actually existing socialism.

“In the Atrium Gallery, the Regimes Museum displays uniforms, flags, posters and other paraphernalia from East Germany. Not only soldiers, sailors and police wore military-style uniforms. So did postmen, bus and streetcar operators, volunteer firefighters and members of the Red Cross.” (Joseph D’Hippolito, “Angela Davis, East Germany and Fullerton,” Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2019)

Mr. D’Hippolito might be interested to know that East Berlin actually had streetcar operators because it actually had streetcars. The last tram made its last run in West Berlin in October 1967. Since reunification, the city’s transport authority has tentatively expanded a few of the East Berlin lines into West Berlin, but there are bigger plans afoot for expanding the city’s “half of a tram network.”

Nevertheless, Berlin has the third longest streetcar system in the world, after Melbourne and Petersburg. I have no clue about what has been going on in Melbourne, but Petersburg has spent many of the last thirty some years devastating its network, once the longest in the world. Trams there have had to give way, as they did in West Berlin, to private cars, thus exacerbating climate change.

But capitalism is superior to socialism, no?

Watch this space for “Was There Life on Mars?”, my report on East Berlin: Half a Capital, a terrific exhibition currently on view at the Ephraim Palace in Berlin-Mitte.

Needless to say, the exhibition’s curators have a slightly more sophisticated take on life under socialism than the WSJ could ever imagine. Tellingly, the day I visited, all the other visitors were my age and older and had the bearing and look of East Germans, meaning they were revisiting their childhoods and youths.

I doubt what they were feeling was the much-dreaded or much-celebrated “Ostalgia,” but something more akin to surprise. After all, the planet on which they were born and grew up disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. Since there was an extraordinarily large, determined grassroots resistance and reform movement in East Germany in the seventies and eighties, a movement wholly or almost wholly absent in West Germany, the country and the world lost a lot when the capitalist vacuum cleaner simply sucked up the country after 1989.

In Berlin, one effect has been the extraordinarily intense gentrification of many former East Berlin districts, especially Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Friedrichshain. As I discovered recently, however, there are pockets of wholesale gentrification as far east as Friedrichshagen, now a picture-perfect bourgeois colony for West Germans.

You do find yourself wondering where all the pre-1989 inhabitants of these places have gone.

In Fullerton, California, however, they are still fighting “communism,” something that never existed in any case {TRR}