If “hysterical Russophobia” were a real thing, instead of a talking point for crypto-Putinists and just plain Russians who don’t know how to explain to their non-Russian neighbors why their homeland has become so “odd” in the past several years, you would have heard about Russian immigrants to the EU and US suffering the same main violence and putrid discrimination that Muslim, Asian, and African immigrants and asylum seekers suffer there, not to mention the relentless violence and staggering discrimination suffered by such absolutely 100% native Americans as Aboriginal Americans (i.e., Native Americans), African Americans, and Hispanic Americans in a land their peoples have been inhabiting from several centuries to several thousands of years.
But no, you never hear of such violence and discrimination against Russian immigrants, and the fact there is no such violence and discrimination against Russians (at least, not enough to show up on anyone’s radars) is a good thing, of course.
It does, however make you wonder what exactly this “hysterical Russophobia” is that has so many tongues wagging, but has absolutely no negative effect on the ability of actual, individual Russians to lead happy, productive, and violence- and discrimination-free lives in the countries where they have chosen to settle.
That’s an easy riddle to solve, however. “Hysterical Russophobia” is a non-phenomenon invented by a motley coalition of people with various political axes to grind, including sections of the mostly hilarious current western left, who for some reason have not heard the news about what has been happening in the Socialist Motherland the last twenty-five years or so or feign not to have heard it. They’re still defending Russia long after it became the world center of the blackest social and political reaction. That is, they’re defending a corrupt, oligarchic capitalist tyranny.
Why actual Russian immigrants might feel defensive about the old homeland is understandable, but they should figure out what’s worth defending and what’s not. The Putin regime, for example, literally has no redeeming features whatsoever, as a perusal of this blog, for example, and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, should persuade you, although there are thousands and millions of more credible sources of information out there that are even more persuasive than my occassional, half-baked efforts to knock some sense into your heads.
People who nevertheless hotly defend the Putin regime, wherever they’re from, immediately strike me as suspicious or hopelessly naive. And I’m not alone.
Well, you’ve probably guessed I’m just being facetious.
I think it’s great that Russians can go anywhere and make new, happy, productive lives for themselves. It should be that way for everyone, of course. No one is illegal, and all that.
Yet, at the same time, the Russian government has been working overtime over the last year to exacerbate the Syrian refugee crisis. But you’d be hard pressed to hear any of the nattily dressed émigrés, described in the Financial Times article, quoted above, or their countrymen saying anything whatsoever about that nasty business and their country’s role in it. Mum’s the word, I’ve got my life to live, and all that.
However, a fair number of Russians, in my experience (and not only mine), have had lots to say, paradoxically, about Germany and other European countries being “overrun” by refugees from Syria and other war zones. It turns out these “black” unfortunates, who come from completely other galaxies, apparently, don’t have the same right so seek a safe place to live and work in Berlin, Paris, London et al., as the now-“white” (as opposed to White) Russians do.
The problem is that the story she pretends to have dug up has been the standard narrative for western journalists and academics pretending to cover or study the “real Russia” for a long while now.
The problem with the standard narrative is it’s not true, although it was partly spun from a combination of half-truths, outright but persuasive sounding lies, and thoroughly unexamined “facts.” It was cooked up, back in the day, by a masterful Kremlin spin doctors like Gleb Pavlovsky or Vladislav Surkov or a whole team of such spin doctors.
Over the last eighteen years it has been drilled into the heads of “ordinary Russians” and the legions of pollsters, academics, and journalists who have feigned to be studying what “ordinary Russians are thinking.” All of the above-named parties, including some “ordinary Russians,” have then gone on to brainwashing each other with the narrative in a completely closed feedback loop.
However, the Putinist standard narrative was never true even when easy oil money made it seem partly true, and it’s even less true now when that money has dried up, and the Russian economy has been driven into the dirt by crisis, mismanagement, cosmic-scale corruption, and sanctions.
Yet the less true the standard narrative becomes, the more determined the western media and the west’s dubious posse of “Russia hands” (who don’t live in Chelyabinsk but always somehow know what’s best for the people of Chelyabinsk: twenty more years of Putin’s “heartlandism,” apparently) have been to pound the narrative into our ignorant little readerly, viewerly, and listenerly heads.
It’s no wonder the odious phrase “the Russians”—as in “the Russians think this” and “the Russians do that”—has come into vogue again. As if 143 or 144 million people all think and do the same thing, as if the eighteen years of Putin’s faux “heartlandism” hasn’t, in fact, been one long “cold civil war,” as a friend of mine aptly put it many years ago.
That’s a really complicated story to report. Most western reporters aren’t up to the job for various reasons, so they have just rung the changes on the standard narrative, “heartlandism,” and Putin’s amazing “popularity” (measured by pollsters whose methods should not be trusted, and whose results should not be taken at face value in conditions where polling cannot by definition produce objective feedback, if it ever could), and have called it a day.
Since editors and newscast producers are usually none the wiser and have lots of other stories to shepherd, they have let the journalists and their sources in the world of Russian handdom spread the Putinist standard narrative up and down and round the west, so that schoolkids and soccer mums in Melbourne, Grimsby, and Cuyahoga County, if pressed, could regurgitate it almost as convincingly as Garrels does, in the “Comment Is Free” piece for the “liberal” Guardian readership, quoted above.
If there’s anything worth preserving about political and social liberalism, it’s the desire to reject canned truths and dogmas and find out what’s really been going down somewhere.
Instead, nearly the entire western press corps and a good portion of its academic experts on Russia have bought the whole bill of goods, freeing the Russian elite from any responsibility for its cynical, destructive, dysfunctional and dangerous governance of the world’s largest country.
Amid the fake moral panic over “hysterical Russophobia” this has always been the real story: how the western political, media, and academic elites have mostly been letting the heartlandist-in-chief get away with it, in effect, aiding and abetting him and his old friends in the Ozero Dacha Co-op, serving as cashiers to him and the Laundromat, helping him amass his supplies of real and symbolic capital.
This shell game will all come to a screeching halt one day, however, and all the backstocks of bestsellers like Garrels’s will have to be pulped because they won’t be worth the paper they were printed on. TRR
Suicide by Crimea
Nikolay Klimenyuk oDR
March 17, 2017
As long as Russia maintains its grip on the Ukrainian peninsula, significant changes for the better at home are impossible.
In the three years that have passed since the annexation of Crimea, a consensus has taken shape in Russia. Everything having to do with the Ukrainian peninsula is Russia’s internal affair, and far from the most important one.
The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents. In November 2016, while arguing on Facebook with Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed a stance then supported by many publicly prominent liberals, including activists and intellectuals. Russian society, he argued, wants to deal with other problems. The opposition’s biggest task is regime change, but returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction by democratic means would be impossible because public opinion would be opposed. Crimea is not mentioned at all in Alexei Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign platform.
Russian media outlets generally considered “liberal” (these media usually eschew the word “opposition”) havealso swallowed the annexation and most of the rhetoric surrounding it without a peep. TV Rain, RBC (even before its top editors were replaced), and the online Meduza, which operates out of Latvia and is not not subject to Russian laws, have all long routinely called and depicted Crimea as part of Russia. The standard explanation—it is required by Russian law, and insubordination is fraught with penalties—sounds like an excuse. The law does not require that questions about Crimea be included in a quiz on knowledge of Russian cities (which was amended after public criticism) or that reporters term the annexation a “reunification” (Meduzaedited the latter term to “absorption.”)
At the same time, Russian reporters usually have no problem demonstratively violating Ukrainian laws (which require them to enter the occupied territory through the checkpoint at Perekop) and flying to Crimea from Russia (as Deutsche Welle reporter Yuri Resheto did), because it’s cheaper, faster, and simpler, and because Ukraine’s rules are cumbersome, inconvenient, and nonbinding.
After that, you can write critical reports on human rights violations in Crimea till the cows come home, but it won’t change what matters. The voluntary observance of inconvenient Ukrainian rules is tantamount to acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, and hardly anyone in Russia wants to do that.
In fact, the seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.
For example, not only did the extent of imperialist moods become clear but also Crimea’s place in how Russians see themselves as a society and a nation. The imperial myth, still alive and well in Russia, was concocted during Catherine the Great’s reign. From the moment they were implemented, Peter the Great’s reforms had provoked a mixed response. They smacked of “sycophancy,” and modeling the country on Holland seemed somehow petty.
Catherine, on the contrary, conceived a great European power, rooted in antiquity, Byzantine’s direct heir, the Third Rome, a Europe larger than Europe itself. Her ambitious Southern Project, which involved defeating Turkey, uniting all the Orthodox countries in a single empire, and installing her grandson the Grand Duke Constantine on the throne in Constantinople, was brought low by political reality. The only one of her great fantasies she made come true was seizing the Crimean Khanate, in 1783.
The conquest was extremely atypical of Russia. A troublesome neighbor was not subjugated. Rather, the annexed lands were completely reimagined and rewritten. The rewriting was attended by the first mass expulsion of the Crimean Tatars. They did not fit at all into the pictures of the radiant past that Grigory Potemkin was painting in reality on the annexed lands. Crimea was resettled with Plato and Aristotle’s Orthodox descendants: Pontic Greeks, Great Russians, and Little Russians (i.e., Ukrainians). Naturally, all these particulars have been forgotten long since. What has not been forgotten is Crimea’s central place in the self-consciousness of a “great European nation,” as manifest, for example, in the absurd, endlessly repeated expression, “Crimea has always been Russian.”
The saying perfectly illustrates the peculiarities of historical memory in Russia. Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian popuation,” which culminated during the Second World War. After the two Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1944 (ethnic Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Armenians, Karaites, and Crimean Tatatrs were deported), losses during battles, and the Nazi extermination of Jews and Crimeans, only a third of Crimea’s pre-war inhabitants were left. It was resettled with people from Russia and Ukraine, especially by military officers and veterans of the Party and the secret services.
Naturally, few people in Russia today regard Crimea as a conquered and ravaged country, in which a full-fledged state existed until relatively recently, an indigenous culture was long maintained, and Russians were never the ethnic majority even during the lifetimes of the present elder generation.
Regarding Crimea as a territory, not a society, and treating Crimeans as an annoying inconvenience, was a habit in Catherine’s times and has survived into the present. The formal excuse for the Russian incursion was the “defense of Crimea’s Russophone population,” and yet the “Crimea is ours” attitude of Russians to the peninsula’s residents has been quite skeptical from the get-go. They imagine the main business of Crimeans is leaching off tourists, and the only thing that attracts them about Russia is high wages.
Moreover, this opinion is common across the entire political spectrum. Sergei Parkhomenko, a liberal journalist and public figure, expressed it in a very telling way.
“If first you take five days to explain to the population of Crimea that if they return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction, their wages and pensions will be increased, and they’ll also be permitted to build even more chicken coops for holidaymakers in the coastal zone, and only then you ask them to vote in a referendum, 95% will vote for going back. […] These people have proved they could not care less what country they belong to. And if there is anyone for whom I now feel not an ounce of sympathy as I read about how they are being fooled, robbed, milked, and put under the rule of gangsters pretending to be officials and bosses, it is the population of Crimea.”
The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism. Having signed off on “Crimea is ours,” Russians have deemed their own power above the law and sanctioned its use in violating all laws and treaties for the sake of higher interests or “justice.” The Russian authorities had behaved this same way previously, but now they have obtained the relevant mandate from society. Quite naturally, the crackdown following the seizure of Crimea has been chockablock with spectacular acts of lawlessness.
One such act was the demolition of commercial kiosks and pavilions in Moscow, which happened despite legalized property rights and court rulings. There was nothing accidental about the fact the Moscow authorities justified their actions by citing the law adopted for settling real estate disputes in Crimea. And the twenty-year-sentence handed down to Oleg Sentsov set a new ceiling for verdicts in political trials. Before Crimea, activists would get a dvushechka (two years) for especially vigorous protests. After Crimea, the Russian authorities have been sentencing people for reposts on VK and holding solo pickets.
Actually, any regime that tasks itself with establishing the rule of law in Russia will first have to annul this “mandate to lawlessness.” The Russian opposition’s attitude to Crimea shows the rule of law is not among its priorities at all. Bewitched by the figure of Putin, the opposition does not regard regime change as a product of the rule of law. The fact that it cannot offer a realistic scenario for regime change is not a problem in itself. Russia’s currrent regime does not presuppose a peaceful change of power. Systemic change might happen as it did in the Soviet Union, at the behest of the bigwigs and under the impact of external circumstances: the state of the economy, public sentiment, foreign policy factors.
The opposition’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t have a meaningful outline of what would come next.
If we believe the alternative to Putin is neither Navalny, Khodorkovsky nor anyone else, but a democratic state based on the rule of law, there are two obstacles in our way: Crimea and Chechnya. The opposition has no vision of how to establish control over Chechnya and incorporate it into Russia’s legal system, but it is possible in theory, at least. There is no such possibility with Crimea. It is impossible to hope for international recognition of the peninsula as part of Russia, and if we keep regarding it as part of Russia, it will thus remain a legal anomaly. Moreover, no rule rule of law is even formally possible without observance of international law.
When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s, although it is consonant with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the European populists: that democracy is rule based on majority support and not burdened by the observance of laws, procedures, and international obligations. Khodorkovsky, for example, considers “democratic procedure” not the restoration of law, but the adoption of a decision on Crimea based on the opinion of the majority, which, allegedly, is against giving Crimea back to Ukraine. Navalny has suggested holding a new, “normal” referendum.
Yet what the majority really thinks, whether there is such a thing as public opinion on any issue and how to measure it, obviously means nothing at all either to Khodorkovsky, Navalny or many other members of the opposition. By the same token, since Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, there is nothing for the opposition to do at all. All these contradictions can be eliminated only by unconditionally recognizing both the illegality of Crimea’s annexation and the total impossibility of keeping it in the Russian Federation on any grounds.
With Crimea in tow, Russia has no positive alternative to the current regime. And as long as the Russian opposition is concerned only about regime change and avoids discussing Crimea, the only thing it can offer is a Putinist Russia sans Putin. Whoever ends up in his place, however, the changes won’t be too noticeable.
Nikolay Klimenyuk writes about politics and culture in Germany and Russia. He was an editor at Forbes Russia, Bolshoi Gorod, and other periodicals. He has lived in Berlin since 2014 and writes for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German mass media. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader
The So-Called Partners: How the Kremlin Corrupted an Unimaginable Number of People in the West
Alexander Morozov Colta.ru
March 14, 2017
Before Crimea, everyone “cooperated” with the Russians. Until mid 2016, there was confusion about this past. The sanctions did not almost nothing to change this mode of cooperation.
But since the elections in the US, quite significant changes have been occurring that are hard to describe accurately and identify. Outwardly, this is encapsulated in the fact that people accused of communicating with the Russians have been losing their posts, and all this comes amidst public scandals. It’s not that people cooperated maliciously, but they were involved in what Russian gangsters call zaskhvar, “getting dirty.”
No one doubted Flynn’s loyalty, but he resigned due to “contacts.” The deputy speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, Mindaugas Bastys, resigned the other day. He resigned because the Lithuanian secret services refused him access to secret information, although the list of Russians with whom he palled around at different times doesn’t contain anyone special: employees of Russian state corporations in Lithuania, crooked local Russian businessmen, and so on. Recently, the mailbox of an adventurer who has worked for the Kremlin in four countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), and the Balkans to boot, was hacked. It transpired that Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev had discussed or conducted ops of some kind during the elections in Bosnia and Poland.
Malofeev is, seemingly, an extreme example of frankly subversive actions in other countries. Perusing the correspondence and knowing the atmosphere of Russian affairs in Europe, you realize that Malofeev’s strategy and tactics differ not a whit from the actions of dozens and hundreds of similar actors operating outside the Russian Federation. Before Crimea, all of this resembled benign “promotion” of their interests on the part of all those who cooperated with such people. But now retrospection kicks ins. What trouble have those who were involved in the Petersburg Dialogue, the Valdai Club, the Dialogue of Civilizations, and the dozens and hundreds of programs where the Russians either footed the bill, generated incentives or simply provided a one-time service got themselves into? I was told by people from compatriots organizations (who fairly early pulled out of Russian World’s programs) that initially they were fooled by Nikita Mikhalkov’s early cultural projects outside Russia. They sincerely supported his appeal to the descendants of the post-revolutionary emigration. Around 2008, however, they sensed they were getting sucked into a system of ideological support for the Kremlin. Many even continued to travel to Moscow to the compatriots congresses, but inwardly they already felt like observers. They had already decided then that this was a new “Comintern,” and it would be wrong to accept grants from it. But others happily kept on taking the grants and sailed off with the Kremlin for Crimea.
* * *
But all these political, humanitarian and media contacts pale next to the vastness of business collaborations. Millions of people worldwide were involved in Russian money for over a decade. After all, so-called capital flight occurred on a massive scale. This capital was then partly reinvested in Russia through offshores, and partly spent on buying various kinds infrastructure outside of Russia (firms, shares in businesses, real estate, yachts, etc.). This entire giant machine for circulating the Putin corporate state’s money was serviced by millions of people as counterparties, including lawyers, dealmakers of various shapes and sizes, politicians, MPs, movie stars, cultural figures, translators, and so on.
The outcome, when Crimea happened, was a huge spontaneous lobby. This doesn’t mean all these people had literally been bought off, to describe the process in terms of the battle against corruption. People simply “cooperated” and received various bonuses from this cooperation. It is not a matter of recruitment, but a psychological phenomenon. Any of us, having once received money from a rich childhood friend, even if we are critical towards him, would still remain publicly loyal to him. Would you want to shout to the heavens about the atrocities of a man thanks to whom, say, you had earned enough money to buy a new house? You would just keep your lips sealed.
* * *
In other words, for around ten years, beginning approximately in 2004, after the takeover of Yukos, the Russian economy “warmed up” foreign strata whose scale is hard to evaluate. It was not a matter of corruption in the narrow sense of the word. Of course, on their part it was regarded as economic cooperation with a peculiar type of “eastern” economy that involved “pats on the back,” kickbacks, exchanges of various bonuses and preferences, trips to the banya, hunting for wild sheep from helicopters, and so on. But it was not criminal. On their part, it was indulged as a “peculiarity.” Russia is hardly the only economy marked by these ways. It was a partnership in the primary sense. The world’s major companies opened offices and production facilities in Russia. Until recently, it was a privileged economy, included in the BRICS grouping.
Crimea turned all the fruits of this decade-long warming-up into a problem. It is obvious Putin used Crimea to implement an instantaneous mobilization amongst those involved in the partnership. He confronted all the partners with the need to define themselves. Putin’s use of the word “partners,” which he pronounces ironically, has often been thought to relate to the diplomatic lexicon. But in fact Putin has in mind other partners, the millions of people who have received big bonuses for dealing with Russian contracts, Russian money, and various undertakings with Russians for a decade.
* * *
Now these partners have big problems, and we must sadly note that the problems are not due to Crimea as such nor to the regime of sanctions and countersanctions, nor to the ambivalence of having been involved in toxic projects with Russians in the past. The problems lies entirely in the fact that Putin does not want to stop.
This entire massive milieu would sigh in relief if it found out that Putin had “transferred the title to himself” (i.e., focused on Crimea) and called it a day.
But the extreme ambiguity has been maintained and even intensified from 2014 to 2017. It was not Putin who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but folks mobilized by Malofeev. It was not Putin who murdered Nemtsov, but Chechen security officials. It was not Putin who hacked the Democratic Party’s servers, but volunteer hackers, who maybe were Russians or maybe not, but they used Russian servers. The attempted coup in Montenegro was not orchestrated by Putin, but by persons unknown. It was not Putin who plotted to destroy Ukraine as a country and establish Novorossiya, but, say, Sergei Glazyev. The pro-Russian rallies in European countries were organized not by Putin, but by a guy named Usovsky, who raised money for the purpose from patriotic Russian businessmen. And so on.
The list now grows with every passing day. Yet the Kremlin doesn’t really distance itself from any of it with a vigor that would be comprehensible to its so-called partners. The Kremlin has not conducted an investigation of any of these events, but has played an ambiguous game that can be clearly read as “covering up” all of “its own” people.
So the ten-year economic warming-up has been transformed before our very eyes into “inducement to conspiracy.” Everyone is now looking back and asking themselves, “Who was it we ‘partnered’ with? Maybe it was Russian intelligence? Or, from the get-go, was it just bait to get us involved in an unscrupulous lobbying scheme?”
* * *
There is tremendously frightening novelty at play here. Everything happening before our eyes with the State Department and pro-Russian politicians in Europe lays bare a complex problem. The boundaries between lobbying, partnership, espionage, propaganda, and corruption have been eroded.
A situation is generated in which it it impossible to tell benign partnership from complicity in a politics that erodes the limits of the permissible. Just yesterday you were a Christian Democrat building a partnership with the Russian Federation, but today you are just a silent accomplice in eroding the norms of Europe’s political culture. You are not just tight-lipped, refusing to evaluate the Kremlin’s actions. On the contrary. “Maintaining fidelity,” so to speak, to the fruits of your past partnership with the Kremlin, you even raise a skeptical voice. “What’s so criminal about Putin’s policies?” And others do the same. “The sanctions have been been ineffective. Frankly, Crimea has always been Russian.”
And if you were somehow able to take in at a glance the entire so-called Kremlin propaganda machine abroad as a combination of the work of Moscow news agencies and little-visited European websites run by left- and right-wing critics of American hegemony who for that reason sympathize with Putin, it would be utterly impossible to get a glimpse of the giant roots the Kremlin has put down in the western economy. It is beyond estimation, just like the transformation or, rather, the corruption not only of its own native population but also huge circles in the west, a task the Kremlin has accomplished in ten years.
Three years ago, I imagined Putin was putting together a kind of right-wing Comintern, and I wrote about it. Now it is often dubbed the “black Comintern.” I think, however, the situation is more complicated and a lot worse. The “Putinist Comintern” is the fairly insignificant and well-visible tip of a much larger process taking place on other floors of European life, where people who are not involved in either ultra-rightist or ultra-leftist politics remain silent about the Kremlin’s actions. Condemning it, they remain loyal nevertheless. They considerately wait for Putin to return to European norms of partnership. These people cannot see and do not want to see that the ambiguity fostered by the Kremlin in the matter of responsibility for murders, paramilitary detachments, mercenaries, and destabilization of small countries is not a temporary phenomenon. It has been conceived that way. And it will continue that way in the future.
Alexander Morozov is a Russian journalist and political analyst. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Dmitriev Affair
Anna Yarovaya 7X7
March 1, 2017
March 12 is, technically, the last day of historian Yuri Dmitriev’s term in police custody during the investigation of the accusations made against him. The 61-year-old researcher has spent nearly the last three months in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 1 in Petrozavodsk. During this time, solo pickets supporting Dmitriev have been held on the streets of the Karelian capital, his case has been discussed at a traveling session of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and the republic got a new governor.
According to Dmitriev’s attorney, the historian will probably be indicted and his case sent to court. Yuri Dmitriev has been accused of producing pornography.
Neither his colleagues, friends or people who have worked at some time with Yuri Dmitriev believe the charges are true. Many link his arrest to the work he has done his whole life: searching for the places where political prisoners were shot, compiling lists of victims of political crackdowns during the Soviet period, and heading Memorial’s Karelian branch.
But this article is not about the criminal case, which falls within the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Hoping for a objective investigation, we can only wait for a fair resolution to this situation. We decided it was important to tell readers about the cause to which the arrested historian has devoted his life.
This article might be called a series of interviews about Dmitriev. It has transpired we knew almost nothing about him. On the other hand, it has become clear why a man like him might have been seen as “inconvenient” by the current regime.
From the Author
I met Yuri Dmitriev in 2012. I was on assignment, shooting a story about the construction of houses on the site of a former cemetery, and it led me to the historian. The story first grew into a ten-minute TV program, and then ballooned into an investigative film. We visited archives and former burial sites, traveled to working cemeteries, sat at a computer for hours on end searching for documents, read articles from conventions and laws, and basically worked on the film, Northern Point, together.
What always struck me about Dmitriev was his enthusiasm, which materialized less in the help he gave me and more in his attitude to history, to events that had occurred many years ago. For example, in the same cemetery where I shot the film, he found the remains of a POW. None of the local authorities was in a hurry to bury the exhumed “youth,” as Dmitriev called him. So Dmitriev put the bones in his garage. A while later, he secured a spot in Peski Cemetery, found a sponsor to help him buy a gravestone, and asked the philologist Valentina Dvinskaya to translate the phrase “To the victims of war, disappeared but not forgotten” into German so that it could be engraved on the headstone. He did all this for an unknown man who had been killed over sixty years ago.
The news of Dmitriev’s arrest was a shock to me. We had not communicated in a long while. A couple of years ago, we had planned to make a film about the burial of prisoners in the locks of the White Sea-Baltic Channel and the so-called Solovki execution transports. Dmitriev is indefatigable and has always been researching numerous topics. But it turns out that I’m not writing about them now.
Anatoly Razumov: The Solovki Quotas Anatoly Razumov came to Petrozavodsk from Petersburg on Dmitriev’s birthday, January 28. His longtime friend and colleague was not allowed to visit Dmitriev in the pretrial detention facility.
“I am here, nearby, and he knows it,” Razumov said to me then.
Indeed, he was nearby. He held a solo picket in support of his arrested comrade. For over an hour, Razumov stood on Petrozavodsk’s main street holding a placard that read, “Happy birthday, Yuri Dmitriev,” enthusiastically telling passersby about what his friend had worked on his whole life. It would have been an unpardonable mistake to turn down such a conversation.
Razumov and I spoke on the phone a couple of days later. I had a sense of déjà vu. The same thing had happened when Dmitriev had told me about the military cemeteries in Petrozavodsk. He had not just spoken, but had asked me a lot of questions whose answers I hadn’t known. “Ig-no-rance,” he would kindly drawl, ordering me to jot down the title of yet another book I “should have read before meeting” with him.
Razumov did not point out the gaps in my knowledge, but I heard about many things for the first time during our conversation. That was probably why the conversation did not turn into a proper interview. It was more of a monologue, a story about his friend, his cause, and his contribution to history. I decided it was vital to reproduce it verbatim, as Razumov told it to me, so readers could understand what a difficult and profound business Dmitriev had been involved in before his arrest.
The Book of Remembrance
I have worked in the Russian National Library (the Publichka) since 1978, and for over a quarter of a century I have been compiling and publishing The Book of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. In 1987, I started gathering material, and in 1990, compiling a card catalogue based on the published lists of the victims. I retyped biographical information about them in their birthplaces: Minsk, Tallinn, Pskov, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk, Tver, Novgorod, Kiev, etc.
The first books of remembrance were published in the late eighties and early nineties. Books of remembrance were only taking shape as a genre then. There had always been lots of talk about the war, about the Great Patriotic War: as a topic it was always at the center of attention. But to compile books of remembrance about the war that included lists of the dead and missing in action was permitted only during the second thaw, in 1985. Prior to this, the names of the dead and the missing were not published. The first books of remembrance about the war were usually quite modest in terms of structure: surname, first name, patronymic. They didn’t even always include information about the place of death, and of course there was no personal information about these people.
But a mere four years passed, and we had permission to publish the names of the victims in newspapers, magazines, and books. We were permitted to clean up the burial sites of those who had been shot or died in captivity that had been found. It had been forbidden to write and say anything about the millions of those who had been killed and gone missing during the purges and crackdowns. Whatever person you asked about, nothing was known about him. Then suddenly we could publish this information.
Different people in different parts of the country were compiling books of remembrance. There were lots of enthusiasts, like me and Yuri Dmitriev, albeit not in every region of Russia. None of us had thought we would live to see this great day.
The first book published, in 1989, was The Book of Remembrance of Soviet Diplomatic Corps Workers, victims of purges during the thirties, forties, and early fifties. There were 130 names in the book.
Other books of remembrance were gradually published, regional books, books dealing with particular ethnic groups, with crackdowns against believers of different faiths, with particular sites where those had been shot were buried.
I kept track of all the new publications on the history of the Soviet purges and crackdowns. We also needed a bibliography for Pages of History, a digest, published by Lenizdat, of which I was a co-editor. I kept track of the search for sites where the executed had been buried. I was educated not only as a historian but also as an archaeologist. Of course, I knew about the famous site of the Katyn massacre near Smolensk, which had been found long ago. But it was not common knowledge in the Soviet Union or, rather, you were not supposed to know about it, much less about other burial grounds. Of course, there were such burial sites near every major town and city in the Soviet Union.
In 1988, it was a bombshell when they found Kurapaty, an execution site from the time of the Great Terror near Minsk. I published the Belarusians’ story of the find in the Leningrad newspaper Smena, and we wrote wrote about Kurapaty in the Pages of History digest. Everything was read hot off the presses. The reporters at Leningradskaya Pravda called on Petersburgers to report all suspicious areas and find “our local Kurapaty.” Thus, in the spring of 1989, a special security facility was found in the village of Levashovo near Leningrad. It was the largest burial site of executed prisoners in the Soviet Union.
I followed all these developments closely. I knew, of course, about the work in the Karelia. Even before we had met, I had heard about Yuri and what he was doing.
In 1996, I was editing the second volume of The Leningrad Martyrology, which dealt with October 1937, and I needed to publish a list of the prisoners at Solovki Prison who had been shot. Where were they executed? Even state security officers in Petersburg didn’t know: they had no information about it. Yeah, they had been shot somewhere, and it was clearly not in Leningrad, because there was a record showing that one of the regular executioners, NKVD Captain Matveev, had been seconded to Kem in connection with this list of prisoners. That was all.
The second volume was published in 1996 with a preface by Dmitry Likhachov, and in July 1997 Sandarmokh was found. My Lord! There was no doubt prisoners transported from Solovki had been shot there in October and November 1937. That was the first time I heard Dmitriev’s name: in the reports about the find and from Petersburg members of Memorial, whom I knew quite well.
But I met Dmitriev later, as part of the Returned Names project. In 2000, an attempt was made to compile a single database containing the names of all victims of political persecution in the Soviet Union. It was an international project: we were supported by the Ford Foundation. During an academic conference in Nizhny Tagil, my colleagues asked me to be the project’s regional coordinator for Northwest Russia. I surveyed the entire region, and that was when I met Yuri personally.
Like Yuri, I’m from a military family. Our family wandered a lot. My father served in different places, mostly in his homeland of Belarus, but also with the Soviet troops in Germany. We lived for a time in Berlin, and then Eberswald. I was never able to make friends with my agemates, and I lost track of many of them. I started to make friends at university, and then on the job, the job I got at the library after finishing university. It was God’s will that I do this, that I found a vocation in life that totally suited me.
I had always been disturbed by the question of why it was wrong to think freely and ask questions, why a person’s life was so little valued that it could be ended just like that. A person should live a long life. Why are the tormented deprived not only of life, but even of a grave? You can imagine how I felt when it was possible to talk about executed prisoners. Nothing had been known about them. Not even their relatives said anything about them: either they lied or didn’t know. I took on the job of restoring memory. All the colleagues I met in this new life became kindred souls, but a select few became close friends. Yura was a close friend from the moment we met.
Yura immediately took me in his jalopy to Sandarmokh. We barely made it to Medvezhyegorsk in that wreck. From time to time, he would roll down the window for Veda (aka the dog Ved’ma, “Witch”), and she would happily bark at everything in the vicinity, thus replacing the horn, which didn’t work in that car, I think.
Yura showed me Sandarmokh. That was important to me. By that time, his book The Karelia Memorial Lists was nearly ready. I soon attended the book’s presentation. I opened up the packages from the printers (Yura taught me not to cut the plastic tapes but undo them), handed copies out to people, and made my own speech. It was a wonderful presentation. Everyone spoke very well, including the relatives of the victims, who regarded Yura as an important, valuable person. Since then he has been one of my greatest friends, and a wonderful person with whom to speak when I want to talk frankly.
He would come to Petersburg for presentations of successive volumes of the Martyrology and do what I had done at his presentation.
I liked Yuri’s position. I absolutely understood him. He would just say, “Old women need to know where their dead are buried, and I’m going to do everything to make that happen.” And he did what he could, and he still does that. I’m more in the habit of listening rather than asking questions, which complements his outgoingness and talkativeness.
The Solovki: A Common Cause
Until the summer of 1937, Karelia was administered by the NKVD’s Leningrad Regional office, meaning that Karelian folk were persecuted here, and people from Leningrad ended up there: their lives crossed. Yura and I exchanged information about the victims: he gave me info about his victims, and I gave him info about mine. Finally, we set about comparing the information about the Solovki execution groups of 1937 and 1938. Sandarmokh had been found, but that was the first group of executed Solovki prisoners. It was the first execution plan, the first “quota.” 1,200 people were supposed to be shot, and 1,111 were shot outside of Medvezhyegorsk. When was the next detachment of executed prisoners? December 1937, the group of prisoners in which Pavel Florensky was shot. Where they were shot remained a mystery. There was no mention of it in the papers I had found in the state security archives in Petersburg. It was forbidden to include information of this sort in the instructions.
Here is an execution order, issued to Commandant Polikarpov: “509 persons [in fact, three people on the list had already been sent to Moscow] from the Solovki Prison should be shot.” But where? Seemingly, since Polikarpov was commandant of the Leningrad office, they would have been sent to Leningrad. At our own peril and risk, when we were editing the fourth volume of the Martyrology (dealing with executions in December 1937), we wrote that the Solovki prisoners had been shot in Leningrad. We published the fourth volume, but questions still remained. After all, there were no documents with accurate information.
A third group of Solovki prisoners, another 200 people, was shot on February 17, 1938. The details about what happened to them were even murkier. If the second group had been transported to the mainland for execution in early December (it was a warm year, and the shipping season ended late), it was altogether unclear where the 200 people were shot in 1938.
In 2004, I decided to go on an expedition. It is each individual’s plight that matters to Yura and me, not statistics. When you read the files, the person appears right before you, and he doesn’t let you go.
Yura and I agreed to travel to Solovki. I couldn’t find a more knowledgeable and closer person to help me look for something on the islands. We were armed with a description of the execution, drawn from the testimony of former Solovki Prisoner officers, interrogated during the Thaw: they claimed the 200 prisoners had been shot on the way from the Solovki Kremlin to the lighthouse on Sekirnaya Hill. I had never been to Solovki. I knew the local places names from looking at maps and papers. So we arrived there in 2004. It was the first tentative expedition. We walked around looking. Yura would immediately stop at any suspicious spot. We would pitch tent in some places and try to probe the soil, but we didn’t find anything.
We went again the next year. By then we had become friends with Father Matfei, rector of the Holy Ascension Hermitage, and he showed us all the suspicious spots on Sekirnaya Hill, drawing our attention to the vegetation, trees, and depressions. But I took ill then, and Yura wouldn’t let me go into the field. Yura is the sort of guy who is endlessly concerned about the people around him, albeit sometimes in a rough way. He laid me down with a temperature in a cell in the hermitage, and he went off with the writer Vasily Firsov, who had come along with us on the trip, to investigate one of the suspicious spots. Suddenly, they came running in: “We’ve found them!” Of course, I ran out to have a look and help them with the work. We then uncovered the remains of two prisoners who had been shot.
I was unable to make the trip in 2006: editing the forthcoming volumes of the Martyrology was taking up all my time. Teachers and students from the Moscow International Film School went to Solovki that year. They helped Yura clear the burial site of dry branches, undergrowth, and deadwood, and discovered many more pits. So the discovery of the cemetery where the executed prisoners were buried dates back to then.
And yet our long-standing goal of finding the site where 200 people were executed, the so-called third Solovki quota, has not been fulfiled. There were no more such mass executions on the islands. The site should be a trench or gigantic pit or series of pits. We haven’t found the place, but we’ll find it someday, just like the place where the group in which Florensky was shot, the so-called second Solovki quota. I think we should search near Lodeynoye Field, because the highly decorated executioner Shalygin was dispatched to the vicinity of the Lodeynoye Field Camp. I have told all this to Yura.
This arrest, you see… Not only did they trash his nest, his apartment, brazenly, tramping all over it in their boots, but they also dealt a blow to the work. I’d been helping Yura edit two new books of remembrance and had been sending him information from time to time. Yuri has edited another book of remembrance long ago: it just needs to be printed.
And when it comes to the search for the execution sites, the only hope lies with Yura’s expeditions. I have outlined the range of places to search, and Yura had set about searching. He had got his film school kids involved in the work. Yura and I have work to do together. I hope he will be released in a good frame of mind and finish the two books of remembrance, and I’ll persuade him to publish the third. And if we have the manpower, we will find the places where the second and third Solovki quotas are buried.
My Friend’s Arrest
Despite the fact Yuri is easy to get along with, he has keen insight into human nature. He is quite good at sizing up a person, sensing the direction his thoughts are moving. When he comes to Petersburg for the presentation of the latest volume of the Martyrology, what with his speeches, jokes, and irony, people here are just ready to idolize him.
I have thought about why this has happened to Yura now. I have my own opinion on this score, of course: how things were going in that direction, how everything was shaping up. I remember the Brezhnev era. I thought then I would not outlive the Soviet leadership, because I tried to speak my mind. Sometimes you’ll end up sweating like a pig, but if you can, you should try and speak your mind. Yura also acts that way and speaks that way, often in an absolutely denuded, harsh form. I imagine lots of people really don’t like either what he does or how he talks and acts.
Basically, it somehow happened the decision was made to shut him down, to knock him out of his work and life. For Yura is one of a kind, there is no one else like him anywhere else in Russia. And if he is shut down in this way, and it’s done a little more dirtily than usually, everyone else will hunker down. I won’t bother speculating about the specifics, but I’ve read my share of Soviet-era investigative files from the archives, and our modern justice system is based on that Soviet system, alas, not on the old Russian system. I know the clichés, we all remember them. “People don’t go to jail in this country for nothing.” “The prosecutor and the police see eye to eye on the case, and that’s how it should be.” “Our courts are the most humane and fairest in the world.”
I think all this will definitely start to recede someday in connection with some case. Will it be Yura’s case? I don’t know. But there is a chance they hung all this on the wrong man and don’t understand the strength of his spirit.
“They Always Existed”
I think about the horrible purges and persecutions of the Soviet era. I don’t think the crackdowns were harsher during one period and less harsh during a different period. They always existed. Only they existed relative to the political moment, and the persecutions were modified only in those terms. However the regime wanted to crack down on its enemies that was how it cracked down on them.
The current Russian legal system can be described as follows. If we call pre-revolutionary Russia Russia 1, it was followed by the Soviet Union, which wasn’t even Soviet Russia, but let’s call it Russia 2 for argument’s sake. Where do live now? At best, in Russia 2+, because there is no Russia 3. It hasn’t come into being. It hasn’t understood or realized itself. It has its roots in the Soviet past and grows out of that past.
The legal system of the current Russian state doesn’t hold a candle to the system that existed prior to 1917. It’s flesh of the flesh of the Soviet system. I have been interviewed on the subject several times, on the question of whether the purges could happen again and whether they could be even worse. But they are already happening: we have crackdowns right now. Could they intensify? Could they become scarier? You can never say never, but our job is to take a stand against political persecution and stand firm.
Dmitriev’s Daughter Katerina Gleb Yarovoi, my husband and colleague, was the first to meet Katerina. He was the first reporter with whom Yuri Dmitriev’s eldest daughter agreed to talk about her father’s arrest. We then communicated through social networks, and there were money transfers for Dmitriev, which different people sent to Katerina through me. Then we finally met in person at Dmitriev’s house.
“When they came for Dad, they made such a mess there. They ripped out all the wiring, so now the lights don’t work and you have to bring your own,” Katya says by way of explaining the lamp sticking out of her bag.
The last time I had been in the apartment was three years ago. Cigarette smoke, the buzz of the computer, a cup of coffee, and a bar of Osobyi chocolate: that is how I remember working on Northern Point. I cannot imagine how I would have managed without Dmitriev. It was he who showed me an entire period in the history of Petrozavodsk, a time of POW camps, POWs who died in the postwar city from being worked to death and were buried, and the modern residential buildings erected a short time later on top of their remains.
The apartment is completely different now: empty, quiet, gloomy. Disturbed by the police, Dmitriev’s workplace is no longer cosy. A lone pack of Belomorkanal cigarettes lies amidst papers, cables from the computer equipment dangle from his desk, and amongst other books I see the blue cover of The Memorial Lists of Karelia, which Dmitriev and Ivan Chukhin worked on for many years. The apartment’s owner, torn on December 13 from his customary working atmosphere, gazes on the scene reproachfully from a portrait hung on the wall.
“He had a dog then, Veda, short for Ved’ma [“Witch”]. She was with him on all the trips, on all the digs. He found her on Friday the thirteenth, so he called her Ved’ma. He never went anywhere without here. When she died, Dad cried over her,” Katerina tells me, showing me a photo of a dappled mongrel, seated at Dmitriev’s feet.
There are lots of photographs, a whole album. We had come to Dmitriev’s apartment to get them.
Did your father tell you and your brother what he did, where he would go, what he was investigating?
Of course. I remember that Dad was constantly going on different digs. He was constantly studying skulls, bringing them home. I was still in kindergarten then. We probably didn’t pay much mind to the particulars of his work. But as long as I can remember, he would sleep a couple of hours day. He would sit poring over those cards, he constantly had to dictate something. When we were a bit older, he tried to explain things to us. For example, my great-grandfather, Mom’s grandfather, had been shot. Dad found Great-Granddad’s burial site in a memorial book: the Zaretsk Cemetery next to Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral in Petrozavodsk. I cannot speak for my brother, but I’m a daddy’s girl, and I have always been around him. We would be sitting together, and he would tell me about the plights of people, how they were arrested, and why they might have been arrested then. He was always interesting to be around. His work has always interested me from a personal viewpoint. It’s frightening and, at the same time, interesting.
Did you help him?
It depends. I think sometimes he would have gladly refused our “help.” Say, when my brother and I were teenagers, we were terribly curious about what was on Dad’s computer. We got on the computer and poked the keys. Dad came in, and he was totally shocked: we had accidentally deleted all his files. So then we had to sit there and help him restore everything. It was interesting at one time, but at a certain point it irritated me. Imagine: I was fifteen years old, my friends were waiting to go for a walk, and he would say, “Help me.” And I would sit and dictate to him, and he would be looking for each letter with one finger, hammering out the dates. I would freak out then.
The trips were probably more exciting? Did you often go on the expeditions?
I can’t say I went that often. But as they say, seldom but to the point. One day, Dad said to us, “Who’s going with me tomorrow to Medvezhyegorsk?” My brother and I immediately said neither of us was going, we didn’t want to. But at six in the morning, for reasons I can’t explain, I jumped out of bed when Dad was getting ready to go and said, “Wait! I’m going with you.” And so we set out for the digs. We lived in a cottage on the shore of a lake. Dad’s colleagues from Petersburg and a group of soldiers were with us. The amount of walking we did then was inexpressible. We were constantly on foot. Dad and his colleagues would split up and discuss things amongst themselves. Dad understood, of course, that I needed to eat, that I needed breaks, that it was hard for me, but all the same we walked and searched a great deal. Ultimately, we found what we were looking for. We found Sandarmokh.
How did a teenage girl react to such a find?
Probably because Dad was calm about it, I reacted to the remains more or less calmly. The soldiers chuckled nervously when they found bones, and there were people who fainted, wailed, and felt sick. I remember there were very many gadflies and horseflies. The mosquitoes seemed like paradise compared with them. I then had the impression (maybe I believed in the transmigration of souls) that the horseflies were the people we had found. And I felt peaceful and scared at the same time. It’s hard to convey the emotions.
Did you understand why your father did this work?
It came with time. I would often ask him why he was always sitting at the computer and writing or retyping something. He would say, “I don’t know who I was in my past life, but I’ve understood the meaning of my life now, and I know I have to do this.” When I was older, I would constantly tell him to relax and ask him how he could spend so much time sitting poring over the lists and working at the computer. He would say, “I can’t relax. I have to finish the book. They’re waiting for me.” Yet he didn’t do it for money. When The Book of Remembrance came out, people would tell him that he could sell it, maybe even for good money. But he would always reply, “I can’t make money off of people for whom these memories matter, because everyone should know where their loved ones are buried.” I came to a new awareness after his arrest. I knew that Dad had a lot of acquaintances, but I didn’t expect such support. When I told him how much his friends and colleagues had supported him, he even shed a tear.
Did you go on any more trips with your father after Sandarmokh and those finds? Do you have any desire to continue his work?
It’s very difficult. Not everyone is psychologically capable of coping with it. After Sandarmokh, I was in Krasny Bor Forest when the cemetery there was opened. We went there several years ago. They had this program: children sang songs, there was a portable belfry that people played, and very poignant poems were recited. I haven’t been to Sandarmokh for a long time. A lot of people used to go there, crowds of people. But nowadays fewer and fewer people make the trip. The last few years, however, my son has gone there. He is now the same age I was when we found Sandarmokh. So the baton has been passed, as they say.
Valentin Kaiser: The Work Is His First Wife Valentin Kaiser is a longtime friend of Yuri Dmitriev. The news of his friend’s arrest certainly shook him, too. Kaiser has been setting up a shipping museum in a basement room at the River Academy. Now he recalls that he once helped Dmitriev establish a Museum of Victims of Political Repression, but city hall evicted it due to the tenant’s utter pennilessness.
Yura and I met in the 1980s, when the Popular Front formed. Back then, Yura cried, “Clobber the Communists!” He was an assistant to Ivan Chukhin, a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet. In his book The Practice of Terror in Karelia, Chukhin wrote, “I took up this question to rehabilitate my father, because I found his signature on thirty-four execution orders.” After Chukhin passed away, Yuri continued his cause.
Have you helped Dmitriev in his work?
I have tried to help Yura, but it’s quite difficult to help him. Working with this stuff, especially digging, is quite difficult. I once traveled with him to Krasny Bor Forest, where we found Japanese spies in a common grave. There were these green lacquered shoes in the grave: there was one Japanese woman in the city then. There were also twelve pairs of leather shoes: they belonged to the Japanese spies. I watched the soldiers digging and dragging them out. It’s not my thing. It’s quite heavy psychologically. There are many investigative files where the pages are covered in blood or torn. Only he alone could cope with this specifics of this, as well as the digging and reburials. Moreover, he did it in keeping with the scientific method, measuring and describing everything.
At one time, Yura had a Museum of Victims of Political Oppresion, at 25 Lenin Prospect, in a basement. He had collected wheelbarrows there, hardware, and God knows what else. But then the mayor’s office leased the space commercially, and Yura dragged everything in bags to a garage.
Recently, Dmitriev said something was about to happen. Did he share his thoughts and worries with you?
A year ago, Yuri said they were trying to put the squeeze on him. It’s my opinion, but I think the top brass really didn’t like what he was doing. The children of the people involved in the executions are usually amongst the top brass. They really don’t like it when people start making names and surnames public.
There was this incident. When Ivan Chukhin passed away, his last book, The Practice of Terror in Karelia, was published. The book’s final chapter is untitled: it contains the surnames of the men who did the shooting. During the book’s presentation at the university, a young man expressed his outrage: “Who gave you the right to mention my father’s surname?” Yuri said to him, “First, I didn’t write the book. Go to the cemetery and ask Ivan Chukhin why he did it. Second, if you had any brains, you’d keep your mouth shut. If you had a conscience, you’d hang yourself from a rope for having a dad like that.” Yura is an abrupt fellow by nature. He can tell anyone to go frack himself, even a minister.
You think it’s revenge for being too active?
Well, they sentenced someone from Moscow Memorial to seven years in prison [?], and now they’re trying to get at the rest of them to put an end to their cause. But I don’t think it will work out for them, because human souls are immortal. I’ll give you an example. When we took people to Sandarmokh for the first time, we had just stepped onto the path, and it was quiet in the forest, not a hint of a breeze, and suddenly the crowns of the trees stirred so furiously that this roar resounded over the whole forest. Yura said then that people’s souls had waited so many years to be remembered.
I certainly don’t believe Yura could do the things of which he has been accused. First, he’s not stupid: there’s no point being involved in this nonsense. Second, when I spoke with the police investigator, I told him that in order to do what Yura has been accused of, one would need lots of time, but when would he have managed to do the huge amount of work he was doing? Women avoided him because the work was his first wife.
Olga Kerzina: They Have a Pure, Cheerful Relationship Olga Kerzina is director of the Moscow International Film School. Like many of the people with whom I spoke, she was drawn to Yuri Dmitriev by a passion for history and, specificially in her case, an interest in Solovki. But Kerzina is not simply an associate of Dmitriev’s but also the godmother of his youngest daughter.
Everyone with whom I’ve spoken while writing this article has told me about they met Dmitriev? How did you meet?
In the early 2000s, we had a project entitled Freedom. We were trying to understand how freedom was understood by people imprisoned in the 1930s, for these were people from the aristocracy and the intelligentsia, and how the process works nowadays. We made a film about the Solovki Camp, interviewing the convicts who were still alive then. As part of the expedition, we went to a juvenile penal colony in Vologda. That was our itinerary. But there was one other stop, Petrozavodsk. We were trying to figure out who worked on history here, and that’s how we found Dmitriev. He immediately amended our itinerary and took us to Sandarmokh. Thus, in 2000, the first generation of students met him. That’s when we got the idea to make trips to Solovki. All we knew then was that it was the first camp established under Lenin. So of course when we met Yuri in Petrozavodsk, his stories made a big impression on us. He inspired us with the idea of erecting a monument on Solovki. In 2002, we erected a memorial cross (produced in the Solovki cross-making workshop of Georgy Kozhokar) in the Philipp Pustinya. We regard it as an echo of the inspiration we felt after meeting Dmitriev.
Meaning your relationship began as a working relationship?
Yes, and with stories about how to work with history, what its peculiarities and features are. But we really got to know each other and became friends later. In 2005, Yuri found an burial site on Sekirnaya Hill on Solovki. It was a really serious place for us. In 2006, he asked us to work on a memorial. In the summer of 2006, we had seven days of intense work with Dmitriev on Sekirnaya Hill. We had a lot of help from Father Matfei. He and Yuri supervised the work. So you could say our real collaboration began with the establishment of a cemetery on Sekirnaya Hill in 2006.
The film school kids, as many people call them, are in fact teenagers, children, basically. What was their attitude to work that was anything but childish? Even many adults cannot cope with this work psychologically.
The film school students weren’t involved in the digs, because it’s a serious business. A prayer has to be performed, and the whole thing is complicated. But you should realize this place on a hillside was an impenetrable forest, a pine and spruce forest. It was hard even to walk through it without scratching yourself. Basically, we cleared the whole place from scratch. We pruned the dry branches, carried away fallen trees, and made stairs from the boulders. Then we set up benches, dragged sand from a quarry to fill in the graves, and helped erect the crosses. Vasily Firsov and Yuri were doing the excavations then, and we did everything else, but under Dmitriev’s guidance. For example, we marked the premises of the cemetery. First, we wrapped tape around the trees, and then we drafted a map so the cemetery would be included on the map of Solovki.
As far as I understand, work on the Solovki memorial went on for many years?
And it’s still underway. In 2007, we put up a stand there, and then a chapel. In 2008, a memorial cross in memory of the Solovki neo-martyrs was erected next to the cemetery. That cross was also built in Georgy Kozhokar’s studio. The main breakthroughs happened in 2006 and 2007: they were the most dynamic years. Then we took a break, because Yuri adopted Sveta [name changed] then. We resumed work in 2011. But the cemetery is a burial site from 1929, and Dmitriev was looking for the third group of Solovki prisoners transported off the islands and shot, and then the second group as well, the group in which Pavel Florensky was shot.
Meaning there have been other expeditions to find the Solovki quotas?
After Anatoly Razumov hypothesized that Lodeynoye Field was the next place where prisoners were transported and shot, we organized an expedition there. Yuri and Sveta joined us then, and after that she took part in all our summer expeditions. So it turns out that since 2011, we have gone on two summer expeditions, to Lodeynoye Field and Solovki. Yuri tried to be involved in both trips.
We have somehow impercetibly segued to Sveta’s appearance. I know that you’re her godmother, and this choice mattered a lot both to Dmitriev and to the girl herself. How did you make this decision?
He introduced Sveta to us in 2009. She was still small then, and he wasn’t traveling anywhere then. He just came to see us in Petrozavodsk. And when he took her on an expedition for the first time, our kids made friends with her right away, of course. She’s a wonderful child. Yuri had long spoken of the fact he want to baptise her, and he wanted to do on Sekirnaya Hill, because the place meant so much to him, it was so bound up with his work. It was Father Matfei who baptised her. He took it seriously. I know he discussed it with Katya. And the choice was a serious one to him, an important aspect, partly due to the fact that he had been adopted himself, and as long as he had the strength he wanted to give another person the same chance. At the same time, he took great care of her during these trips, and yet it mattered that she be able to do everything herself: cook, dress herself, and clean up. He raised an independent lady.
The decision was obvious for me. After the Solovki expeditions, after all the hard work we had done (hard both physically and emotionally), when you experiece such extreme moments, you come to know a person and get closer.
We have found out what Yuri Dmitriev is like as a friend, colleague, and father. What is he like to you?
Of course, he’s amazing. What do our students find interesting? His determination to pursue his cause, the fact he fears nothing, that he seeks the means to do something even when obstacles arise and things don’t work. Well, and the goal itself is noble. He has a very profound understanding of his cause. Also, you can always count on him. The summer of 2007 was quite chilly. It was raining buckets the whole time, the temperature was around ten degrees Centigrade, and we had to work in the rain, but the bathhouse hadn’t really been set up yet. The students were really freezing. He then fired up the stove and showed how to caulk the windows, how to start a fire in the rain when the firewood is damp, and how to chop firewood generally. Basically, he was an exemplar of how to survive in difficult conditions. And despite the fact that outwardly he seemed harsh and abrupt, it was only outwardly. In fact, he’s a quite sensitive person on the inside, and a truly good father.
I’ll tell you an interesting story. In 2014, when we worked in Lodeynoye Field, he and Sveta came. He was then still working as a guard at a factory. He got his pay once and brought it home, but Sveta took it to school and handed it out to the children. I was stunned by his reaction. He was glad that the child was growing up to be a generous person, that she didn’t take it all for herself, but gave it to her friends. Meaning he wasn’t angry or upset. He was genuinely glad that his child was generous. And the kids gave nearly all the money back.
In a nutshell, how can you call this a father-daughter relationship?
It’s impossible to convey. They have a pure, cheerful relationship. It’s amazing how one can strike out against a loved one like that. It’s hard to live that down.
Are you planning an expedition to Solovki this summer?
Yes, and we hope to be going with Yuri.
Irina Flige: Sandarmokh Irina Flige is head of Memorial’s Petersburg branch. In 1997, she was a member of the expedition to the Medvezyegorsk District during which she, Venianim Iofe, and Yuri Dmitriev discovered Sandarmokh.
When I found out that Flige was coming to Petrozavodsk with the commission from the Presidential Human Rights Council, I had to see her. We met not just anywhere, but in Sandarmokh. It probably could not been any other way.
Irina, tell me how you met and worked with Yuri Dmitriev. We could probably say that Sandarmokh introduced you?
Quite right. The fact is that Sandarmokh was found thanks to the work of two search teams. Starting in the late 1980s, Veniamin Iofe and I searched for huge number of people who had gone missing on Solovki in 1937. Our search was gradual, and by 1997 we were led to the Medvezyegorsk District by different sources, to this place. But what does it mean to be led to a place by archival documents? It means being led to the place with the accuracy of a single square kilometer. And at that moment, the spring of 1997, we met Yura. He and Ivan Chukhin had been working together for many years searching for people shot on verdicts rendered by the so-called Karelian NKVD troika.
Did he have more accurate information about the execution sites?
It wasn’t quite that way. Basically, the execution site was not listed on certificates of implemented death sentences in all regions. Karelia is an exception in this sense. The place of execution is listed on nearly all the certificates, but to the nearest settlements, for example, Petrozavodsky, Segezha, Medvezhyegorsk, and so on. By the time we met, Yura had been searching for the burial sites of people shot after being sentenced to death by the Karelian troika for many years. He had found Krasny Bor, and different points in the vicinity of Petrozavodsky. And he had his own notions of where this place was located in the vicinity of Medvezhyegorsk. When we met, we immediately had a common research interest and we agreed to make a trip here. That was July 1, 1997. The three of us, Yura and I, led by Veniamin Iofe, came here. Although in fact there were five of us, because Yura’s daughter Katya and his dog were with us.
How much time did you spend searching and digging?
One day. You wouldn’t believe it: one day! The fact was that we were fantastically well prepared. We had found this spot in the archive documents and came here. So set to work. In May, however, Iofe had made an agreement with the Medvezhyegorsk District administration. Its head supported the expedition and had agreed with the nearest military unit, which sent soldiers to do the work of uncovering the burial pits.
The soldiers were digging. It was one empty pity after another, and at the same they were giggling. Yura was dubious that we should search near the quarry mentioned in certain documents. He began running around in circles. Then he walked up and said, “I think I’ve found them!” He showed us two saucer-like shapes on the ground. In summer, they were quite visible: as time passed, the mass burial pit was sinking. We moved to this spot with the soldiers. They dug just as cheerfully, giggling as they did. Then suddenly they jumped out of the two-meter-deep pit (the burial was quite deep) as if they were on springs, frightened. That same day we summoned the prosecutor’s office, and the site was designated a mass grave.
Was the decision that there would be a memorial cemetery here taken promptly?
Yes, a memorial was opened here on October 27. 1997 was the sixtieth anniversay of the Great Terror, the sixtieth anniversary of the executions. At that time, we regarded October 27 as the day the first verifiable executions took, the first executions of the Solovki quota. Later, in 1998, and this is quite important, at Memorial’s behest, the Karelian government and the Medvezhyegorsk District administration established a International Day of Remembrance here at Sandarmokh. Its date, August 5, marks the beginning of mass punitive operations of the Great Terror in 1937. People travel here from every region of Russia and from other countries. This commemoration has gone on for almost twenty years.
How does Sandarmokh differ from other mass execution sites?
Many execution grounds have been located, but many of them do not have clear boundaries. We don’t where they begin and end. Here the entire grounds have been reliably identified and fenced off. The second things is that now we know all the names of the people executed and buried at Sandarmokh.
Are days of remembrance held at all the execution grounds?
Yes, days of remembrance of the victims of the Soviet terror are held in various parts of the country. But these are usually regional commemorative days, attended by people from that region. This is how they are held in Petersburg, Moscow, and all the major cities. Sandarmokh is different, because here there are lots of people who were not inhabitants of Karelia. There were the convicts of Solovki and the Belbaltlag, who were shot in 1937. These people were not free. They were either convicts or so-called special settlers who had remained in Karelia after serving their sentences. So the memory of these people draws people from different parts of Russia and different countries.
Sandarmokh is a unique piece of completed research. It is to Yura’s tremendous merit that he collected all the information, and today we know by name all the people who lie here. In October 2016, we launched the Sandarmokh website and produced a mobile app. We really hope the site will be popular. Indeed, the number of views of the site already shows that it’s popular.
Sandarmokh is unique in another way. When we speak of memory, quite often at many historical commemorative sites these two notions—history and memory— diverge a bit. History and memory only partially intersect, because of traditions, because of legends, because of incomplete historical date, incapable of refuting these legends. This is how it is at Levashovo in Petersburg. If we speak of Levashovo as a commemorative site, it is the Great Terror in Leningrad that is commemorated. If we speak of the historical aspect, it’s all quite confusing. Of the 19,450 people interred there, we can identify only eight thousand. The others are unknown. In this sense, Sandarmokh is also a unique place. The names attached to the site have been completely verified.
You have said that in the past two years the Karelian leadership has either been prejudiced against or has just ignored the days of remembrance held in Sandarmokh. What is the reason for this?
It’s difficult for me to say why this is. I don’t know what motivates them, and I find it hard to assess it. But I can say for certain that the tradition of holding the International Day of Remembrance on August 5 at Sandarmokh cannot be broken. This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror and the twentieth anniversary of the discovery of the cemetary at Sandarmokh. So this year the days of remembrance will be especially solemn. In any case, round figures are quite important in human memory. The children of the victims, who are old and have been herew many times, attach a special importance to coming this year. For them, it will be eighty years since their father or grandfather was executed. We’d like to thionk that this year the commeroration will be organized properly, up to par, with the support and involvement of the authorities.
Can you imagine the day without Yuri Dmitriev?
It’s quite hard to imagine. But I’m an optimist, and I think that Yura will be involved in the commemorations on August 5.
There is a rather heated discussion on the political aspect of the case against Dmitriev going on right now in Petrozavodsk, and in Russia per se. What do you think about this?
Like all of us, I am sure that everyone realizes the case is a frame-up. And when a case is a frame-up, it becomes political for that reason alone. But we won’t be guess who ordered the frame-up, although it will come to light sooner or later. Right now we have to do what we can and what we’re able to do: mount a public campaign in defense of Yuri Dmitriev.
Sergei Krivenko: Memorial I had not planned to write about the arrest, but as I wrote the article, the idea that the Dmitriev case was the yet another demonstrative flogging of free-thinking people grew more and more firmly in my head. Many people link Dmitriev’s arrest to Memorial. Memorial itself links the Dmitriev case to the organization’s work.
As Sergei Krivenko, a board member of the International Memorial Society, told me, after the film on nationwide television in which Dmitriev’s case smoothly segued into an account of Memorial, almost no doubts remained that the arrest was linked to the organization’s work.
After Dmitriev’s arrest, there was talk that the Karelian branch of Memorial had not been active, and that Dmitriev himself, allegedly, had nothing to do with the organization’s work. We realize that this is far from the case. As a member of Memorial, tell us how Dmitriev ended up in Memorial?
Yuri Dmitriev has always been in the Memorial movement. We communicated with him, and he took part in events and conferences. There has always been a branch head in Karelia, but in recent years this person was not particularly active since he was elderly. In 2014, however, we underwent re-registration, and we needed a presence in the regions. Dmitriev took over this work in Karelia. He went through the formalities of establishing a Karelian Republican Branch of the Memorial Society and headed it.
So it turns out the opinion that Dmitriev’s arrest is consciously directed against Memorial is not groundless?
You would reach this conclusion based on the segment shown on Rossiya 24. Since two topics, Dmitriev and Memorial, are linked in the segment, you could say there is an underlying cause having to do with Memorial’s work.
At the meetings of the Presidential Human Rights Council in Karelia, when we talked about preserving memory, I detected two clear trends. On the one hand, the local authorities support all commemorative work. Even Dmitriev himself has been awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Republic of Karelia for his work in preserving historical memory. They are grateful for this work. At the same time, however, officials let it slip that this work should not be politicized. We don’t need foreign delegations or any interest on the part of foreigners. We’ll deal with it ourselves. But Dmitriev was quite active. Many foreign delegations went through him. Apparently, this didn’t suit the authorities entirely. At any rate, that was the impression I had.
In mid 2016, the Finnish newspaper Kaleva published an article by Petrozavodsk State University Yuri Kilin, which was subsequently cited by Izvestia and Zvezda TV. These publications argued that Sandarmokh was a place where Finnish invaders executed Soviet prisoners. So again the rhetoric leans toward the notion that Memorial had distorted reality.
I think this is a general trend. There is no single coordination center, where the conspirators sit and lay their plans: now we’ll publish this article, and then we’ll do something else. The article was published in line with the zeitgeist, which is marked by the rehabilitation of Stalin’s name and anti-western rhetoric generally. I think everything has just converged. It resembles the situation in Soviet times when the authorities tried to draw attention away from Katyn, where Polish officers had been executed. The Soviet authorities found a tiny Soviet village called Khatyn, which had been burned to the ground by the Nazis, and they talked about it. It really was burned to the ground: that’s a fact. But subsequently Memorial’s researchers found documents in the archives that confirmed the Central Committee had pushed this news in order to blur the public consciousness: Khatyn/Katyn, either the Germans killed people there or they hadn’t. It is the same thing in this case. They are foisting a certain current of opinion on Sandarmokh. Maybe it was the Finns who did the shooting, maybe not. It produces an ambiguous perception.
What do you know about any changes in Dmitriev’s case after the Human Rights Council’s visit?
I know that during our visit, they sped up the case: they wanted to submit it for trial. That was what the defense attorney said after talking with the police investigator. But after our visit, the case was again sent back for further investigation. They had not filed charges yet. As for Sandarmokh, there will be a request in our recommendations, which are still being drafted, a request we will also send under seperate cover, that the council and the government of Karelia jointly participate in the August 5 International Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh.
It was interesting to observe society’s reaction after Yuri Dmitriev’s arrest. People seemingly split into two camps, all vying with each other to assert they didn’t or did believe the accusations. Everyone tried to remember something that would tip the majority in his or her favor.
Interestingly, in the arsenal of those who tried to mock Dmitriev, there were no arguments, while many people had never met Dmitriev and knew nothing about him or his work. Yet for some reason they considered it their duty to come up with something and voice it to the public. But let these thoughts remain with the people who thought them.
I decided it was important to publish letters of support from people who knew Dmitriev personally, people who were not afraid to speak out personally in their defense. Of course, these are only a few of them. [The original Russian article contains a selections of such letters — TRR.]
This was where I should have ended the article, and I had finished it and nearly published it. But for some reason I put it off. After I found this letter in my mailbox, I understood why. Apparently, it was a sign.
I publish the following letter with the permission of its author, that is, Yuri Dmitriev.
Good day, Anna!
Thanks for your kind words of support.
I could never imagine that such a trivial event as the arrest of Old Khottabych would cause such a public outcry. What matters is the reaction of normal people to the destruction of our family. The family is the most important thing. It shapes the personality and prompts a person to action. Any encroachment on the family by the state causes outrage among normal people. The enormity and impudence of the accusations against me only confirms the “human” essence of our current government.
I’m not afraid of the future. The worst thing that could happen has already come to pass: Sveta [name changed — Anna Yarovaya] has been taken away from us. She has again been deprived of a family and, at the whim of the state, plunged back into the life from I wrested her with great difficulty eight years ago.
Over the eight years spent in our family, Sveta went from being a tiny, sensitive girl to a completely independent young lady with a well-formed worldview, a variety of interests, the capacity to help people, and quite hardy health. Sveta independently chose the Orthodox faither as her main support in life, and she independently made the decision to take up sport. That was also quite a happy decision. In a year, she won three medals and won the city championship in her weight category. Sveta merged so organically with our family that we had forgotten she hadn’t been with us since birth, and Sveta responded to us with the same love.
How to return Sveta to the family? How to raise her and give her a good education? These are the questions that worry me more now than how many years the state is preparing to send me down for my civic stance. I see no other reasons for my “sudden” prosecution. Whose toes did I step on? I haven’t found an answer yet. But I realize that everything happens according to God’s will.
So far I cannot understand what role the Lord has given me for several years of my next life. Either I have been chosen to be a martyr or preacher or some kind of unifying element. The time will come and I will find out for sure. And then He will show me my way. But for the time being my attorney and I are fighting for our rights, fighting against the bias of the investigators and the blatant lies of the charges.
The meetings with Katya, the kind letters of support that have been arriving from different corners of the country, and daily conversations with God have helped me remain a reasonable, sensible person.
I follow the events in Russia with great anxiety. Unfortunately, the worst predictions are coming true, and I’m afraid that a great sorrow (for everyone) is not long in coming.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. All photos courtesy of Anna Yarovaya and7X7
More Dubious Charges against Jailed Russian Historian of the Terror & Memorial Activist
Halya Coynash Human Rights in Ukraine
March 11, 2017
Three months after Yuri Dmitriev, a Russian historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society, was arrested and remanded in custody on bizarre charges, the investigators have come up with two new indictments. There is no evidence to substantiate the original charge, and total mystery over the new accusations. The fact that the prosecutor was originally supposed to have acted on the basis of an anonymous denunciation brings a chilling flashback to the worst Soviet days, as does a great deal about this case. A recent slanderous attack on state-controlled television has only compounded the suspicion that the prosecution is part of a mounted attack on Memorial and its work exposing perpetrators of the Terror.
Everything about Dmitriev’s arrest and the charges elicit concern, and it is no surprise that the Presidential Human Rights Council announced on February 12 that they were taking the case, which appears fabricated, under their personal supervision.
The 61-year-old was originally accused of producing child pornography, with the charges based solely on a folder filed away on his computer with 49 photos of his adopted (in legal terms, fostered) 11-year-old daughter Natasha.
The photos record her height and weight and certainly appear to confirm his explanation that the photos were like a medical journal kept until 2015. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health when taken from the children’s home and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. The photos show her naked, which is logical if you need to see whether her ribs are protruding, etc. It was also, however, to ensure that the authorities saw that she was well-looked after and that there were no suspicious bruises.
Visits are frequent when children are growing up in foster families. Sergei Krivenko from the Human Rights Council spoke with officials from the childcare department involved who had carried out such monitoring over the entire eight years and had never once found any reason for concern. This was confirmed at the child’s school and clinic.
It is impossible to believe that Natasha’s interests have been considered at all. She has been prevented from seeing Dmitriev’s children and grandchildren whom she views as her family, and has now been sent away to live in a village with a grandmother she had not set eyes on for eight years.
The sudden arrest in the absence of any kind of background of concerns, Krivenko stresses, is one of the reasons for immense scepticism about this supposed blitzkrieg reaction to a single anonymous denunciation.
If one of the new charges is linked with Natasha, then it has been made too late in the day to arouse anything but suspicion. At a closed hearing on March 9, Dmitriev was remanded in custody for a further month with the prosecution citing not only the claim of producing pornographic material using a minor, but also charges under Article 135 of the Criminal Code (depravity without the use of force) and Article 222 (illegal possession of a firearm).
Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev believes that the new charges are meant to acquit Dmitriev on the original charge, which has served as pretext for three months in detention to demonstrate ‘objectivity’ while ensuring a hefty prison sentence. He says that the prosecution are taking a tough line, and that this case has obviously been agreed “at all levels”.
All of this supposedly arose from a highly suspicious denunciation regarding only the photos. Elaborate efforts were taken to ensure that Dmitriev spent a few hours at the police station on December 10 and that his partner was suddenly admitted to hospital for an operation she had long been waiting for. Dmitriev immediately understood on his return that somebody had been there, and had been on his computer.
It became clear why on December 12. An anonymous letter informing police of the photos had supposedly been received and this was deemed sufficient to arrest Dmitriev and take him away in handcuffs.
A background steeped in history
Dmitriev is well-known far beyond Karelia, particularly for his discovery of graves of victims of the Terror at the Sandarmokh Clearing (Karelia). It is thanks to him and his colleagues that we know the fate of 1,111 prisoners of the Solovki Prison, including 290 prominent Ukrainian writers, artists, scientists and others, who were executed ‘by quota’ between 27 October and 4 November 1937.
Over the years since Vladimir Putin first became Russian president, there has been a marked increase in the power of the FSB, Russia’s security service, and a deliberate shift towards emphasising the ‘positive’ features of the Soviet Union and downplaying the crimes committed by the Soviet regime. It is no accident that recent Levada Centre polls have shown a record number of Russians viewing bloody dictator Joseph Stalin positively, and found only 22% of respondents seeing the repression and crimes as something that arouses shame.
All of this has set the Memorial Society and the current regime on a collision course. We see, on the one hand Putin’s choice for education minister, Olga Vasilyeva, questioning the scale of Stalin’s crimes and Putin himself having issued a decree keeping huge amounts of documents about Soviet repression secret for another 30 years. Memorial and historians like Dmitriev, on the other hand, are continuing their work in disclosing not just the victims of the Terror, but those directly involved in implementing it.
Katerina Klodt learned after her father’s arrest that he had long received calls, with the main question being whether he would be publishing material about the perpetrators. She told Novaya Gazeta that she believes Dmitriev’s arrest is linked solely with his work: “repression, Sandarmokh, books about the victims and the executioners.”
There seems to be nobody in Karelia who believes in the charges against Dmitriev. Those who know him mention that he can be difficult, stubborn and direct in his efforts to expose crimes of the past and that he is very much a thorn in the side to local officials and FSB officers.
This is not just about personal scores, however. One of the reasons for resistance to publication of information about perpetrators throughout Russia is the fact that some of the people who wrote anonymous denunciations or arrested innocent people are still alive, or their children or grandchildren are in positions of authority and don’t want the information to be made public.
Attack on Memorial
The scale of the attack and the real target can be gauged from a 15-minute program broadcast on Jan 10, 2017, on the government-controlled Rossiya 24 TV channel. Most of the film is in fact an attack on Memorial, with the five minutes about Dmitriev and the photos clearly aimed at spreading dirt and convincing the audience of his guilt. Such films have been produced about Ukrainian political prisoners, like filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and they demonstrate a profoundly disturbing level of collaboration between the FSB, the Investigative Committee and state-controlled media.
Challenged after the broadcast, an Investigative Committee official, Vitaly Konovalov, denied any leak from his department and said that the photos shown on the program were not from the investigation.
The photos are accompanied by commentary clearly aimed at ensuring that the audience are convinced of Dmitriev’s ‘guilt’, with this serving to discredit Memorial. Like most of the propaganda on Russian media, the film is very effective. Those who know Memorial are disgusted; others, perhaps not convinced, but influenced by the dirt flung about.
Fellow historian of the Terror Anatoly Razumov says that he immediately understood that all of this could not be the work of some local officials. With respect to the film, he was told by media people in Petrozavodsk that “this is not out material, it’s a Moscow matter”.
Memorial’s publication of 40 thousand former NKVD workers was published in 2016 and was widely reported in the international media. Since then Memorial has been forcibly labelled a ‘foreign agent’ and Dmitriev arrested. The charges, like the film on Rossiya 24, serve to spread dirt among those who know nothing of the historian and Memorial’s work. For those who do, their absurdity is doubtless also a warning of what they too could expect.
A Managed Thaw: What the Reversal of Verdicts in the Dadin and Chudnovets Cases Means
Pavel Chikov RBC
March 6, 2017
The Kurgan Regional Court quashed the verdict against Yevgenia Chudnovets and released her from a penal colony, where she had served four months of a five-month sentence for, allegedly, disseminating child pornography on the web. The Russian Deputy Prosecutor General almost literally copied the arguments made in the appeal by Chudnovets’s attoreny. Previously, during its consideration of the appeal, the selfsame Kurgan Regional Court had refused to release Chudnovets at the request of both the prosecutor and defense attorneys. The same court then denied the appeal against the verdict. The verdict was reversed only after the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court intervened. Now Chudnovets will have the right to compensation for the harm caused her by illegal criminal prosecution.
The Chudnovets story unfolded at the same time as the even more high-profile case of Ildar Dadin. Dadin’s case was the first criminal case filed under the newly minted law on violating the law on public rallies, the first guilty verdict handed down under the new law. Dadin was taken into custody in the courtroom. Then came the shocking sentence of three years in a medium-security penal colony for a first offense, a moderately severe offense whose underlying cause was purely political, in a case tried in Moscow under the glare of all the media. During the appeals phase, the verdict was altered slightly, and the sentence reduced a bit. But then there was the drama of Dadin’s transfer to the penal colony, his arrival in a Karelian prison camp infamous for its severe conditions, the immense scandal that erupted after he claimed he had been tortured, and the harsh reaction to these revelations by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Then Dadin was secretly transferred to a remote penal colony in Altai over a demonstratively long period, after which the Constitutional Court, in open session, ruled that the relevant article of the Criminal Code had been wrongly interpreted in Dadin’s case. After this, the Supreme Court jumped quickly into the fray, granting a writ of certiorari, aquitting Dadin, and freeing him from the penal colony.
Politically Motivated Releases
The judicial system acted with phenomenal alacrity in both the Chudnovets and Dadin cases. Chudnovets’s criminal case was literally flown round trip from Kurgan to Moscow and back. Given current realities, this could only have been possible under the so-called manual mode of governance and with authorization at the highest level.
It calls to mind the instantaneous release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from the same Karelian prison colony in December 2013, and the same sudden early releases, under amnesty, of the Greenpeace activists, convicted in the Arctic Sunrise case, and Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, two months before their sentences were up. Of course, the record holder in this sense is the Kirov Regional Court, which in the summer of 2013 quashed Alexei Navalny’s five-year sentence in the Kirovles case.
In all these previous cases, the causes of the system’s sudden softness were self-explanatory. The thaw of December 2013 was due to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Navalny’s pardon was clearly connected with his being able to run in the Moscow mayoral elections. It was hard not to doubt the narrowly political, tactical objectives of these targeted releases.
The latest indulgences—the sudden releases of Dadin and Chudnovets, the transfer of the last defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case, Dmitry Buchenkov, and the Yekaterinburg Pokémon catcher, Ruslan Sokolovsky, from custody in pretrial detention facilities to house arrest—have been greeted with a roar of approval from the progressive public. The liberal genie would have burst out of its bottle altogether were it not for the eleven-hour police search of the home of human rights activist Zoya Svetova in connection with the ancient Yukos case. The search was as sudden and hard to explain as the releases described above.
Federal officials have not tried to dampen the talk of a thaw. On the contrary, they have encouraged it. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev, federal human right’s ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova, and Justice Ministry spokespeople have publicly supported decriminalizing the Criminal Code article under which Dadin was convicted.
Putting the Brakes On
Even earlier we had noticed that the number of politically motivated criminal cases had stopped increasing. Twelve years of defending grassroots activists, human rights activists, journalists, and heads of local NGOs mean we are sensitive to changes in which way the wind blows. It would be wrong to speak of an improvement. Rather, the brakes have been put on the slide into deterioration. There are still dozens of political prisoners doing time in Russia’s prisons.
Political scientists have spoken of an unloosening of the screws; lawyers, of necessary legal reforms. One way or another, it is clear these events did not began in February, and the changes have been implemented from the top, quite deliberately, but without any explanation.
Given the tactial objectives pursued in previous reversals of high-profile cases, there are serious grounds for assuming recent events are due to next year’s main political event, the presidential election.
Preparations for the election began last spring with a shakeup of the law enforcement agencies. The superfluous Migration Service and Gosnarkokontrol (Federal Agency for Drug Trafficking Control) were eliminated. A new political special forces unit, the National Guard of Russia, was established. The influence of the Investigative Committee has been sharply reduced, although from 2012 to 2016 it had been the Investigative Committee that served as the main vehicle for domestic political crackdowns.
The old framework has gradually ceased functioning. The effectiveness of show trials has waned. Leading opposition figures have grown accustomed to working with the permanent risk of criminal prosecution hanging over them. Some have left the country and thus are beyond the reach of the security forces, but they have exited politics as well. Protest rallies have not attracted big numbers for a long time, and NGOs have been demoralized by the law on “foreign agents.” The stats for cases of “extremism” are mainly padded by the online statements of web users in the provinces and “non-traditional” Muslims.
Under a Watchful Eye
The foreground is no longer occcupied by the need to intimidate and crack down on dissidents, but by information gathering and protest prevention, and that is the competence of different government bodies altogether. It is the FSB that has recently concentrated the main function of monitoring domestic politics in its hands. FSB officers have been arresting governors, generals, and heavyweight businesmen, destroying the reputations of companies and government agencies, and defending the internet from the west’s baleful influence.
Nothing adds to the work of the FSB’s units like a managed thaw. Bold public statements, new leaders and pressure groups, and planned and envisioned protest rallies immediately attract attention. The upcoming presidential election, the rollout of the campaign, and good news from the courts as spring arrives cannot help but awaken dormant civic protest. Its gradual rise will continue until its apogee in March of next year [when the presidential election is scheduled]. Information will be collected, analyzed, and sent to the relevant decision makers by the summer of 2018. And by the autumn of 2018 lawyers will again have more work than they can handle. This scenario needs to be taken into account.
There is, of course, another option: the Kremlin’s liberal signals may be addressed not to the domestic audience, but to a foreign one. Foreign policy, which has remained the president’s focus, is in a state of turbulence. Vladimir Putin is viewed by the western liberal public as a dark force threatening the world order. Sudden moves toward democratization can only add to the uncertainty and, consequently, the Kremlin can gain a tactical advantage in the game of diplomacy. Considering the fact there are lots of politicians in the world who are happy to be fooled, the ranks of the Russian president’s supporters will only swell.
Pavel Chikov is head of Agora, an international human rights group. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translation and photograph by the Russian Reader
That’s okay. The home audience just wants to hate on “Europe” and “Muslim terrorists” even if they have been edited, remixed, and totally fabricated out of thin air. The important thing in Putinlandia is to have something and someone to hate intensely all the livelong day.
And if you think this hatred is restricted to the “yobs” and other “uneducated” types, you’d be dead wrong. Over the last glorious seventeen years, I’ve been hearing this free-floating hatred spilling out in increasing quantities from the educated, from professionals, from the so-called intelligentsia.
In fact, I heard it again last night during my Finnish class (not the first time there, either). The remarks were “triggered” by the fact that I had had our group read a Helsingin Sanomatinterview with the up-and-coming Somali-Finnish screenwriter and filmmaker Khadar Ahmed, who spoke with an utter lack of bittnerness (and in a totally fluent Finnish that none of us “Aryans” have yet achieved) about the total alienation and discrimination he had experienced as an immigrant to Finland. He’s now relocated to Paris.
My classmates had never heard of Kuosmanen or the film, either, although Olli Mäki was screened right down the street from where we were sitting. That was a few months ago during the annual Finnish film festival, paid for by the Finnish government, who have been trying so hard to be besties with the “neighbor to the east,” which just wants to puff out its chest and hate on everybody as a matter of state policy and mundane practice.
We also read another Helsingin Sanomat piece, about the state of the Finnish nation and the state of “Finnishness,” in which well-known Finns were asked to respond to a set of ten questions that pollsters had posed as well to a larger sampling of ordinary Finns. One of the respondents was the Finnish rapper Prinssi Jusuf (aka Iyouseyas Bekele Belayneh), whose family moved from Ethiopia to Finland when Jusuf was two.
Yet my classmates were convinced, for some reason, that Prinssi Jusuf must rap in English, not Finnish, as if Finnish were too complicated for black people to learn.
One of my classmates was also on the verge of making a comment about who Prinssi Jusuf resembled. As an amateur psychic, I could imagine what she was about to say (Barack Obama, although they don’t look a thing alike), but a well-timed glare shut her up.
This is the lovely world that Putinism has built over the last seventeen years, although everyone answers for the garbage in their own heads, ultimately.
By the way, here’s a video of Prinssi Jusuf rapping in what sounds to me like perfectly fluent Finnish. TRR