“The 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II triumph is usually marked with jubilant crowds and a parade showing off the full force of Russia’s military might.”
Nothing’s wrong with that sentence. I’d like to blame the Putin regime, which has cynically colonized and misappropriated the “triumph” and tragedy of hundreds of millions of people in the former Soviet Union for its own dubious ends, for confusing the foreign press about the various meanings of Victory Day for the 144,499,999 Russians not named Vladimir V. Putin, but a recent painful conversation with a relative about the war persuaded me once again that western society mostly wants to be confused and ignorant about it, too.
I am not sure what the caption writer at the Washington Post meant by “jubilant crowds.” I lived almost half my life in Russia and saw no such crowds anywhere on Victory Day. What I did see a lot of was people for whom the war continues to mean something that it almost never meant for the parts of the world that emerged from the war triumphant, ascendant, and more prosperous than when they entered it, and were thus able to shrug off “horrors” most of their inhabitants never witnessed.
It is still very much a matter of debate in Russia, however, what it means to remember a war that ended seventy-years ago, that is, before most people in Russia were born, including its president, and how it should be remembered. In the Soviet Union, no family was untouched by the war, so everyone has a “war story” of some kind, if only the stories told to them by parents and grandparents.
This past weekend, one of my favorite purveyors of humanistic, grassroots journalism, Takie Dela, asked its employees (most of whom are in their twenties and thirties) to share some of these family stories of the war and its aftermath, along with photographs from their family archives. The first such story, “Someone Else’s Wife,” which I have translated, below, was told by Alyona Khoperskova.
Someone Else’s Wife
The war had started six months earlier, and the death notices were delivered almost simultaneously to Nastya, my great-grandmother, and her girlfriends. The young women, almost girls by today’s standards, clung to each other and howled.
Nastya had two daughters, Alya and Lilya, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three years old. The oldest—Alya, Alenka (short for Albina)—is my grandmother.
Great-Grandmother Nastya at 18, before the war and marriage. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela
Grandmother Albina was two years old when her own father left for the front. She has only one memory of him. Her father had come home tired, washed his hands, and took her on his lap. At first she was embarrassed and scared, but then she grew bolder and reached into his soup plate with her little hands to fish out the fried onions that she adored.
“And he was terribly squeamish!” her mother would later tell my grandmother. “I was frozen, but he was laughing and kissing your hands. How he loved you! It was just something how he doted on you, Alya.”
It was written in that death notice that Nikolai Gorbunov had “died a hero’s death.” He had always put himself in harm’s way. He had always wanted to be first, doing everything conscientiously and thoroughly. Like my grandmother, he was a towhead in childhood, but he had black hair as an adult. My grandmother would learn all this later, after she grew up.
Throughout her childhood she considered another man her father.
Then there were only widows and children left in their large, four-family house. They began living like a single family, and that was how they lasted until the victory in May 1945.
“We four girlfriends,” recalls Grandmother, “had been sitting on the bench from morning like chicks, dressed only in our swimming trunks, looking to see whether Dad would come by. It was raining, but we still sat there, not wanting to leave.”
The soldiers walked by in groups, and only one lagged behind.
“I saw him, jumped off and ran to him, shouting, ‘Dad, Dad!’ I don’t know why— I just saw him and flew. He picked me up, hugged me, and carried me. I still remember how his heart was pounding.”
Grandpa (right) with a war buddy. They each believed the other had been killed and were reunited only fourteen years after the war. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela
My grandmother no longer remembers how her mother reacted when a strange man brought her child to her in his arms. And, of course, she doesn’t know how Nastya felt asshe carried her daughter away screaming and crying, “But it’s Papa. Papa has returned.” She only remembers that the soldier came to that bench every day afterwards to talk, treat her to candy, and read to her aloud.
Vasily was his name, and he stayed in Siberia: his entire family in Ukraine had been murdered by the fascists. He worked at the military garrison with Nastya and must have noticed her: she was strikingly beautiful, as I remember from the photos that my grandmother showed me as a child.
“He liked her very much, but he thought that he was not worthy of her,” my grandmother says. “Everyone knew that she was a widow, that officers of higher rank were ready to marry her. But since we children were attached to him, what could she do?”
All her childhood, my grandmother believed that Vasily was, in fact, her beloved father, who had recognized her on that dusty road. The fact that he was not her real father, she learned only at school. When a schoolteacher was giving her a dressing down, she wounded her by saying, “You are a stranger to him!”
“I don’t even know if I was as happy with my own father as I was with him,” my grandmother says slowly and quietly when I ask her to tell me about Vasily. “He doted on Lily and me: all year long he wore a simple soldier’s uniform, but we girls were dressed, shod, and did well at school. When my mother would chew us out, he always stood up for us: ‘But Nastya, they are just children! When they grow up, they will understand everything.’ He was an extraordinarily soulful man. A man who gave us a second life.”
I’ve heard this story of how my grandmother brought home the soldier who became her father and the best grandfather in the world for my dad hundreds of times since I was a child. But I never thought about what I’m asking now: “Did your mother love him?”
Great-Grandmother Nastya with her eldest daughter Albina. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela
My grandmother is silent for a long time, and I can hear over the phone how she gasps before answering.
“Mom would joke, ‘If Albina chose Vasily, what could we do?’ To be honest, I think Mom just accepted it. Because of how much he loved us children and took care of us. I think we were very lucky.”
This was in Reshoty, a small village in Krasnoyarsk Territory. All my childhood, my grandmother told me there was a military garrison here. She often recalled the chess set and the wardrobe given her to her mother by the prisoners, who, according to my grandmother, were wonderful, intelligent people and scientists. Now Wikipedia tells me that there was an NKVD prison camp in Reshoty, where “political” prisoners were sent, among others.
Yevgeny Barthold was an artist and traveler. Author of A Guide to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula, Barthold hiked these places up and down on his own feet and drew them with his own hands.
A work by Barthold, currently in the collection of the Murmansk Museum
If you dip into the guide, it is obvious how in love he was with northern landscapes, how he wanted to share their beauty with readers and prepare them for their pitfalls and dangers.
When you read the Guide, published in 1935, and look at the pastels he made in the north in 1936-37, you wonder whether Barthold could have imagined that in 1938 he would travel to his beloved north not as a traveler but as a prisoner of the Oneglag camp, where he would work logging trees and building a narrow-gauge railway, and that in 1942 he would die of “cardiac paralysis.”
The Mekhrenga River in Arkhangelsk Region. In 1939, Barthold was transferred to a camp station here.
Barthold’s last address was 75 8th Line, Vasilyevsky Island, Leningrad.
You can read more about Barthold’s life and death (in Russian) on the Last Address website.
Barthold’s Guide to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula has been digitized and posted online.
Photographs and images courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by Thomas Campbell
Boris Mirkin, 1937–2019. Photo courtesy of Iofe Foundation
Boris Savelyevich Mirkin, poet, political prisoner, board member of the St. Petersburg Memorial Society, and our comrade, died on April 1, 2019.
Boris Savelyevich was born in Leningrad in 1937. During the Siege, he was evacuated from the city. He graduated from the Leningrad Chemical and Pharmaceutical Institute in 1964 and went to work at Research Laboratory No. 1 of the Military Medical Academy. After Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Boris Savelyevich wrote poems condemning the invasion. He was arrested in 1981 and charged with violating Article 70 Part 1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code [“anti-Soviet agitation”]. The Leningrad City Court convicted him, sentencing him to three years and six months of forced labor. He served his time in the camps of Perm Region. After his release, Boris Savelyevich worked as a lathe operator at the Krasny Vyborzhets factory in Leningrad, a trade he had picked up in the camps. In 2004, he wrote and published a book of memoirs and poems entitled I Face the Music (Derzhu otvet...).
The book included this poem, which he wrote in a labor camp in Perm Region in 1982.
Since childhood I hated lies. They sickened my soul. Truth alone is light and power, Piercing the heart like a knife. Those who lied from podiums And pulpits, who regaled The baron’s hollow tales As truth, I found odious.
Who sent us far not knowing why, Who knew only head-on attacks, So no one got off with a scratch, Who marched us to heaven not knowing the way.
Alas, to this day the liars thrive, Ignoring the truth for falsehoods. Oh, the world is filled with mugs, The smug faces of those who worship lies.
People are invited to pay their last respects to Boris Savelyevich Mirkin from ten to eleven in the morning on April 5 at the morgue of the Elizabeth Hospital, 14 Academician Baykov Street.
Source: Iofe Foundation Newsletter, April 4, 2019. Translated by the Russian Reader
“Here lived Vladimir Naumovich Nagly, theater director. Born 1903. Arrested 21 October 1938. Died 6 October 1940 in a prison camp in Kolyma. Exonerated in 1956.” Last Address memorial plaque at 38 Kolomenskaya Street in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader
House No. 38 on Kolomenskaya Street in St. Petersburg was erected in 1880 during the heyday of historicism in architecture. The building’s architect, Alexander Ivanov, was inspired by the French and Italian Renaissance.
The Tver Charitable Society was housed in the building in the early twentieth century. It provided social support and financial assistance to needy people from Tver who lived in St. Petersburg.
Vladimir Naumovich Nagly lived in the building in the 1930s.
Vladimir Nagly was born in 1903 in Petersburg to the family of a watchmaker. He was a supporter of the October Revolution, joining the the Red Army in 1919, and the Bolshevik Party in 1921. However, he devoted all of his short life to the theater.
In his indictment, dated 26 July 1939, Vladimir Nagly, former director of the Theater of Comedy and Satire (1930–1933), former director of the First Five-Year Plan Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1931), former director of the Central Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1932), former director of the Philarmonic (1932), former deputy director of the Pushkin Academic Drama Theater (1933–1936), former deputy director of Lenfilm Studios (1936–1938) and, at the time of his arrest on 20 October 1938, director of the Theater of Drama and Comedy (now the Theater on Liteiny), was identified as a “guerillla” in a group that was, allegedly, planning to murder Andrei Zhdanov, who at the time was First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Party Committee and the Municipal Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).
“It was agreed to invite ZHDANOV to view the pictures during the October Days. This time SMIRNOV [director of Lenfilm] had positioned the guerillas in advance: NAGLY was in a narrow corridor that lead from Smirnov’s office to the screening room. […] The plan was that, after the shooting, the lights would be shut off, panic would ensue in the dark, and [the conspirators] would escape.”
The main point in the indictments ends with praise for the NKVD officers who prevented the “terrorist attack.”
“Turning off the lights after the shooting was envisaged [in all the alleged plans to murder Zhdanov]. On this occasion, however, NKVD officers set up heightened surveillance […] and NAGLY was asked to withdraw from the positions they had taken up. When ZHDANOV arrived at the factory [i.e., Lenfilm] for the film screening, he went through the main entrance. NKVD officers had been positioned from there to the screening room. So, in this case [the conspirators] were unable to commit the heinous deed.”
Vladimir Nagly, who was thirty-six years old, was sentenced to eight years in the camps for involvement in a “right-wing counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist organization.” Although he suffered from a stomach ulcer and had undergone a ten-month-long investigation, prison doctors concluded he was fit for manual labor and the long, gruelling transport to the camps. In his memoirs, Georgy Zzhonov, who would go on to become a famous actor of screen and stage, accidentally recognized Nagly during his own transport to the camps in Kolyma. He described Nagly as “unhealthy.”
Nagly’s death certificate, dated 6 October 1940, and drawn up by officials at the Sevvostlag, listed the cause of death: “He froze to death on the way [to the camp]. There are no other indications.”
The regime admitted the case was a complete frame-up only in 1956, when Nagly was posthumously exonerated.
The Shulgin Tenement House, named after its proprietor, is situated at the corner of Tavricheskaya Street and Tavrichesky Alley. The house was built in 1914, designed by architects Vladimir Upatchev and Mikhail von Wilken in the neoclassicist Art Nouveau style, then popular in Petersburg.
We know that, during the Great Terror, twelve residents of the house were shot on trumped-up charges. Among them was Nikolai Ignatyevich Yushkevich, who lived in the house with his wife and two sons.
Yushkevich was born in 1900 in Vilna Province. He had a primary education. He joined the Party in 1924.
As his wife Maria recalled, “My husband finished four grades of school in 1914 and, since he cane from a family of poor peasants, he had to quit school and work on the farm. In 1917, he left for the city to earn money.”
From May 1917 till his arrest, Yushevich worked at the Main Waterworks Station (Vodokanal) in Petrograd-Leningrad, where he served as an unskilled laborer, a woodcutter, and then a coalman, machinist, and electrician. His last post was head of the supply department. Acccording to a record in the Vodokanal Archives, Yushkevich was “dismissed due to his arrest.”
The arrest took place on October 23, 1937. On November 3, the Vodokanal employee was sentenced to death.
According to the indictment, Yushkevich “was a member of a counterrevolutionary espionage and sabotage organization, into which he had been recruited by Polish intelligence agent V.S. Tomashevich, who had tasked him with collecting intelligence and planning acts of sabotage.”
The NKVD investigators likewise noted that “the espionage information had to do with the structure and location of the city’s water main, and supplies and storage sites of poisonous substances.”
That was not enough for the NKVD officers, however, so they dreamed up the notion that Yushkevich had, supposedly, “accepted the assignment of carrying out acts of sabotage by poisoning the water supplied to the populace during wartime.”
The death sentence was carried out on November 10, 1937. Yushkevich was thirty-seven. He was survived by his wife, Maria, and two sons, six-year-old Boris and two-year-old Vladimir.
In 1942, the Yushkevich family was administratively exiled from Leningrad.
“The authorities insisted on evacuating us, but I refused,” Maria later recalled. “Mother was seriously ill and could not be moved. But the NKVD investigator forced me, since my husband had been arrested. On March 31, 1942, the children and I were forced to leave Leningrad. Mom died two days later. Our group of Leningraders arrived in the Vyselki District of Krasnodar Territory. The family was sent to the Dzerzhinsky Collective Farm. […] In 1945, I returned to my hometown on a summons issued by the Leningrad City Council of Workers’ Deputies, but I was refused a residence permit, since my husband was under arrest. […] I did not want the children to face incidents of mistrust in their lives and work due to their father’s arrest. Since I did not believe my husband was guilty, I kept everything from the children. However, there were incidents. My eldest son was expelled from vocational college […] and refused admission to university.”
The room where the family had lived before their exile from Leningrad in 1942 had been occupied by a secret police officer.
Maria Yushkevich regularly wrote letters and complaints to various authorities in her attempt to find out what had happened to her arrested husband.
“In 1938, [I wrote] to Vyshinsky, in 1939, to Beria, in 1940, to the Central Administration of Prison Camps (Gulag) in Moscow, and later, to Khrushchev.”
The family archives contains a document from the Leningrad City Prosecutor’s Office about a review of the case in 1940. The family received the notification only in 1957, when the decision to fully exonerate Yushkevich had been made.
The decision in the 1940 review contains the following passage: “The verdict against N.I. Yushkevich should be considered correct. […] His activities as a spy and saboteur were wholly corroborated by his personal confession.”
The Shulgin Tenement House at 45 Tavricheskaya Street in St. Petersburg. Photo by Natalya Shkuryonok
Before Yushkevich was exonerated in 1957, the authorities replied to his family’s inquiries in various ways. Maria later recalled one such reply.
“‘The case is not subject to review, since N.I. Yushkevich is an enemy of the people, convicted by a special collegium under Article 58 and sentenced to ten years [in a prison camp] without the right to correspondence.’ [They wrote] that my husband would never come back and insisted I remarry. In 1940, I received a reply claiming my husband was alive and well, and that he was in the northern camps without the right to correspondence. […] In 1955, after I sent an inquiry about my husband’s plight to the head of the Gulag at the Interior Ministry, I was informed my husband had gone missing in action during the war.”
As the Military Tribunal of the Belorussian Military District determined when reviewing the case in 1956–1957, “The charge was not based on objectively corroborated testimony. The baselessness of the charge against Yushkevich was established during an supplementary review of the case. Yushkevich was not involved in the case of Tomashevich, who had allegedly recruited the former. There is no compromising information about Yushkevich in the relevant archival agencies. Former NKVD officers Altwarg and Perelmutter, involved in investigating the case, were convicted of falsifying cases under investigation.”
Thanks to Dmitri Evmenov and Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
Мonument to Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on Shpalernaya Street, near the Smolny, Petersburg city hall. Photo courtesy of yakaev.livejournal.com
How the Cheka Became the FSB The notion of the Cheka’s superiority is one hundred years old
Pavel Aptekar Vedomosti
December 20, 2017
On December 20, 1917, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (VChK) aka the Cheka was established. Its successors will mark its centenary today. Numerous reforms of the secret services and the transition from socialism to capitalism have had little impact on how the leaders and officers of the secret services view their mission and social standing. The notion of Chekism, the superiority of state and official necessity to the law and justice, have proven tenacious. But if they were previously justified by the interests of the Party, they are nowadays often used to achieve personal ends.
Initially, the Cheka’s powers were insignificant. They were supposed to conduct preliminary investigations of crimes and refer the cases to tribunals. Soon, however, the Chekists were endowed with the right to carry out extrajudicial actions.
As Cheka deputy chair Martin Lācis said in 1919, “The Cheka is not a court, but the Party’s combat unit. It destroys [criminals] without trial or isolates [them] from society by imprisoning [them] in concentration camps. Word and law are identical.”
But we should not exaggerate the degree to which the Chekists were independent. As follows from a 1919 Central Committee decree, “The Chekas [sic] have been established, exist, and function only as direct agencies of the Party, guided by its directives and under its oversight.”
After the Russian Civil War, the commissars of justice, first Dmitry Kursky and later Nikolai Krylenko, spoke of the need to limit the powers of the Cheka. (In 1921, it was renamed the Joint State Political Directorate or OGPU.)
Dzerzhinsky insisted, however, that “our right to shoot [people] is our reserve. On the ground, we must conspire with court chairmen.”
The interests of state and revolution were placed above the rights of Soviet citizens to freedom of opinion and protection from illegal prosecution. Specific notions of revolutionary duty and the good of the revolution generated numerous provocations and trumped-up cases against “socially dangerous elements.” The Chekists honed the techniques of mass arrests and falsified cases during the trials of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The scope of the work done by the secret services gradually expanded. In April 1930, the OGPU established the Gulag (Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps) and was given control of the militia (i.e., the Soviet regular police). In July 1934, the OGPU was transfigured into the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs or NKVD, which was given control of the archives and civil registry offices. In 1936, Genrikh Yagoda, a career Cheka officer, was replaced as the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs by Nikolai Yezhov, a Stalin appointee and Party functionary who would play a key role in carrying out the Great Terror of 1937–1938.
Yagoda (middle) inspecting the construction of the Moscow-Volga canal. Behind him is Nikita Khrushchev. Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Chekists competed in their cruelty to detainees and demanded that quotas on executions and arrests be raised. Moscow’s directives were magnified by initiative from the regions.
“The Central Committeee has explained that the use of physical coercion in the practice of the NKVD has been allowed since 1937 at the behest of the Central Committee. […] The method of physical coercion was contaminated by the scoundrels Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and others. […] But this in no way discredits the method itself, since it is applied correctly in practice,” Joseph Stalin noted in a signed coded telegram, dated January 1939. So when Laventri Beria replaced Yezhov, the overall crackdown abated, but not cruelty to defendants.
In February 1941, the NKVD was divided into two people’s commissariats, the NKVD per se and the People’s Commissariat for State Security. Led by Vsevolod Merkulov, it took over foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and protection of high-ranking officials. The NKVD remained in charge of interior troops, border troops, and prisoner escort troops, as well as the concentration camps and the militia. The organizational reforms were kept up even during the Second World War. In July 1941, the two people’s commissariats were merged, but in April 1943 they were divided once again.
The powers of the security forces were considerably limited after the death of Stalin and execution of Beria in 1953. In 1954, the Ministry of State Security or MGB was replaced by the Committee for State Security or KGB, formally overseen by the USSR Council of Ministers. In the reality, the security services were subordinated to the Politburo, but they were stripped of their control of Interior Ministry troops, the penal enforcement agencies, the state archives, and the civil registry offices. During the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods, crackdowns were selective and isolated, but this had no impact on the confidence of Chekists in their own rightness in the battle against dissidents and the prevention of potential “anti-Soviets.” The KGB was still the “armed detachment of the Party” that the VChK had been under Felix Dzerzhinsky.
In the early post-Soviet years, the secret services underwent a number of large-scale reorganizations. The KGB was initially renamed the RSFSR Federal Security Agency, and then the Russian Security Ministry, and an attempt was made to merge it with the Ministry of the Interior or MVD. (The Constitutional Court overruled Boris Yeltsin’s decree to this effect in January 1992.) It was then split up into a foreign intelligence service, a border guards service, a counterintelligence service, a government information service, and a bodyguard service. More important, however, were not these structural changes, but their implication that the lack of oversight over the secret services had been called into question, as well as their alleged right to intervene extrajudicially in the lives of people and the life of society. Numerous documents, demonstrating the lawlessness and tyranny of the Chekists during the Soviet years, were declassified.
However, after a cohort of former secret service officers came to power, the circumstances changed radically, and the new leaders of the secret services have once again claimed exclusivity. Former Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev’s statement about a “new gentry,” uttered long ago, in 2000, was implemented with extreme alacrity. Former FSB officers have taken up key posts in many sectors of the government and economy. The FSB has regained control of the border guards and FAPSI (Federal Agency for Goverment Communications and Information), has stripped juries of the right to hear terrorism and espionage cases, and forced the adoption of new, expanded interpretations of laws governing the violation of state secrets. Today’s Chekists have learned to protect state interests in a way that bolsters their own standing and material well-being. They will mark their professional holiday today with complete confidence in the future.
Translated by the Russian Reader
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Why Is Nikita Mikhalkov Not in Jail with Yuri Dmitriev?
Emilia Slabunova Echo of Moscow
October 24, 2017
Tomorrow, October 25, a court in Petrozavodsk will hold the latest hearing in the trial of Yuri Dmitriev, a historian and head of the International Memorial Society’s Karelian branch. I should explain a few things for those of you unfamiliar with the case. Dmitriev established the names of thousands of victims of the Stalinist terror, and has published several volumes memorializing the victims of political terror during the 1930s and 1940s in Karelia. For thirty years, he searched for secret burial sites of Gulag prisoners in the republic, discovering in the process the mass graves of executed political prisoners at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor. One of the cofounders of the memorial complex at Sandarmokh, Dmitriev has researched the history of how the White Sea-Baltic Canal was built.
Dmitriev was arrested in December 2016. According to police investigators, from 2012 to to 2015, he photographed his foster daughter, who turned eleven in 2016, in the nude, but did not published the snapshots. The only evidence in the case that has been made public is a photograph of his granddaughter and foster daughter running naked into the bathroom. Dmitriev himself has claimed that he took the snapshots of his underage foster daughter as a record of her health and physical growth after he took her from an orphanage, where she had shown signs of being unwell. Dmitriev stored the photos of his foster daughter on his home computer. They were not posted in the internet.
What does Nikita Mikhalkov have do with this, you ask? Because the world-famous filmmaker shot a quite well-known documentary film, Anna from Six to Eighteen(1993). In the film, Mikhalkov’s eldest daughter Anna responds to the same questions each year over thirteen years. Her responses are edited together with a newsreel of the year’s events. There are shots in which Anna is shown completely nude. It is easy enough to verify this, because the film is accessible on the Web. For example, watch the scene that begins at the thirteen-minute mark.
Mikhalkov won several awards for the film: a Silver Dove at the 1994 Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the 1994 Golden Knight International Film Festival of Slavic and Orthodox Peoples, and the Prize for Best Documentary at the 1996 Hamptons International Film Festival.
Why has one man been jailed for doing something for which another man has been celebrated? Why can you show your naked daughter to the whole word, while it is a crime to record your foster daughter’s maturation for child protection services and not show the photos to anyone else?
Is it because Mikhalkov supports the current regime, while Dmitriev investigates the crimes of the Stalin regime, restores the names of those who perished in the Great Terror, and unmasks the executioners? It is noteworthy that the day after tomorrow, October 26, is the seventh anniversary of Mikhalkov’s “Manifesto of Enlightened Conservatism,” in which he singled out “loyalty to the regime, the ability to obey authoritative power gracefully,” and consolidating the so-called power vertical as primary values.
Dmitriev’s arrest was clearly provoked his human rights work. Many people in Karelia know Dmitriev as an honest, decent man not afraid to tell the truth, a truth that is sometimes unpleasant to the authorities and law enforcement agencies. The Memorial Human Rights Center has declared Dmitriev a political prisoner.
The Dmitriev case is politically motivated. This is obvious to everyone, including such well-known Russian public figures as writer Dmitry Bykov, musician Boris Grebenshchikov, actor Veniamin Smekhov, writer Ludmila Ulitskaya, and their numerous colleagues who have recorded video messages in support of Dmitriev. Nikita Mikhalkov was not among them.
Russian filmmaker and screenwriter Oleg Dorman speaks in support of Yuri Dmitriev. Published on YouTube, 22 November 2017
The Yuri Dmitriev Case The Accused Should Be Nominated for a State Prize
Maria Eismont Vedomosti
June 8, 2017
“A person cannot disappear without a trace. People differ from butterflies in the sense that people have memory,” the man with long grey hair and long grey beard said onscreen.
The presentation of books of remembrance for those shot during the Great Terror in Karelia packed the screening room at the Gulag History Museum in Moscow: people even sat on the stairways. The editor of the books, Karelian historian and search specialist Yuri Dmitriev, from Memorial, was the man talking onscreen. He has spent the last six months in a pretrial detention center, absurdly charged with the crime of producing pornography.
Dmitriev sent his greetings and gratitude from prison, not so much for the kind words said about him, as for acknowledgement of his life’s work. Memorial’s historians all concur it is unique. No other region in Russia has such a complete compendium of the names of those who were shot as Karelia does. As his colleagues argue, Dmitriev succeeded in turning the figures of those who perished during the Great Terror into memorial lists complete with names, biographies, and burial sites.
The speakers occasionally slipped into the past tense, but immediately corrected themselves. Dmitriev is still alive, and we must believe he will soon be released, find the execution site of the other two Solovki “quotas” [political prisoners at the Solovki concentration camp who were transported to three different sites outside the camp in 1937–1938 to be shot and buried in secret—TRR], and present the next book of remembrance. This powerlessness, these slips of the tongue, and the trembling voices fully convey the horror of a time when the days when people were shot are long past but people still fall victim to political repression.
The Yuri Dmitriev case is, perhaps, the most important thing happening in Russia right now, first of all, because a patriot who for decades had, bit by bit, resurrected thousands of names of this country’s citizens from official oblivion, citizens murdered cruelly and senselessly in the state’s name, has himself been subjected to persecution. “The introduction to the list of terror victims will be brief: may they live in our memories forever,” writes Dmitriev in the foreword to one of his compendiums, The Motherland Remembers Them, a book in which the names are listed not in alphabetical order, but under the names of the villages where the victims lived before their arrests. “The moral of the story is also brief: remember! As is my advice: take care of each other.” Now there is a Russian national idea for you. The author of these books of remembrance should be nominated for a state prize and a government grant to keep on with his work.
There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with “extremism” or “separatism,” which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. “What if something really did happen?” Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are an overwhelming minority, such people do exist, and some of them are “decent” people.
The number of “pedophilia” cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometers southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good male nurse Zhenya had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.
“Pedophilia” cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Terror in the Life of Yuri Dmitriev
Tatiana Kosinova Cogita.ru
June 1, 2017
On May 28, 2017, the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Fountain House in Petersburg hosted a presentation of books of remembrance, edited by Yuri Dmitriev, chair of the Memorial Society’s Petrozavodsk branch, who was arrested on trumped-up charges in December 2016.
The presentation was organized and emceed by Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center at the Russian National Library and editor of the Leningrad Martyrology.
Agreeing to Razumov’s request to host the event, the Akhmatova Museum decided not to mention Dmitriev’s name in the event’s poster, on its website, and its mailing lists, as if it were already clear to everyone anyway what and who would be discussed. The event’s ostensible occasion was the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror. Until the late spring of 2017, this had seemed possible in a museum dedicated to the life of the woman who wrote, “I would like to name all of them by name.” Unnoticed by the majority, however, a new wave of state terror has touched not only Yuri Dmitriev but also Petersburg, far from Petrozavodsk. A public museum risks providing a venue for an event in support of a man persecuted by the state, while making this man a figure of silence.
When the Petersburg Memorial Society found about this approach to Dmitriev, it was too late to find a new venue. It managed only to send out its own mailing list. The newspaper Moi Rayon mentioned the editor of the Karelian memorial books in its notice of the presentation, and the radio station Echo of Moscow in Petersburg mentioned the presentation as well. Unlike Petrozavodsk, where the presentation was poorly attended, the small hall at Fountain House was nearly packed, and reporters were present.
Dmitriev’s daughter Ekaterina Klodt came from Petrozavodsk for the event, joined by Dmitriev’s defense attorney Viktor Anufriev from Moscow, and Dmitriev’s colleague Nikolai Olshansky, director of the Novgorod Regional Society of Rehabilitated Political Prisoners and editor-in-chief of the Book of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression of Novgorod Region. Irina Flige, director of the Memorial Research Center, was also involved. TV editor Bella Kurkova, who was scheduled to attend, did not come. In the early 2000s, she had filmed Dmitriev for a program, and Razumov showed an excerpt of this program to the audience.
Razumov has been friends with Dmitriev for fifteen years and considers him an astonishing man not only in terms of Karelia but also nationally. Razumov was involved with Dmitriev in searching for the prison camp cemetery on Sekirnaya Hill on the Solovki Islands. He continues to hope that Dmitriev will find the burial sites of the so-called second and third Solovki quotas of 1937–1938. Razumov still considers his friend’s most surprising find the cemetery of the tortured Belomorkanal construction workers at Lock No. 8.
“When he found himself in his present circumstances, he was accorded incredible support, and I haven’t met a man who would doubt his honest, kindness, and personal qualities,” Razumov said when opening the evening.
Razumov brought two books previously published by Dmitriev to the presentation and displayed them as historical artifacts. The first of these was the Memorial Lists of Karelia, 1937–1938, edited by Dmitriev and Ivan Chukhin, chair of the Karelian branch of Memorial. Dmitriev was Chukhin’s search expert and right-hand man, and after Chukin’s premature death in a car accident in May 1997, Dmitriev also had to master the skill of searching the archives. The book was published only in 2002 and is now rightly regarded as one of the best of its kind.
The second of Dmitriev’s main books, The Sandarmokh Execution Site, originally published in 1999 and long a bibliographic rarity, will be republished. Dmitriev has approved aplan to republish the book under a new title, The Sandarmokh Memorial Site. The new book will be a revised and expanded version of the first book about the memorial cemetery.
“I don’t know what else we can do. But we have managed to do something. We have turned some of the execution sites into memorial sites. May they remain memorial sites forever. That was Yuri’s dream,” said Razumov.
Razumov discussed two new books by Dmitriev, completed through the efforts of colleagues and friends: The Krasny Bor Memorial Site, which lists people executed at the site, and The Motherland Remembers Them: A Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev had compiled both books before his arrest, and his friends and colleagues finished editing them and hastily published them in May of this year, before the start of his court trial. The books were presented in Petrozavodsk on May 24. The book will be available in Moscow in a week’s time both as DVDs and paper books. Roman Romanov, director of the Gulag Museum, has found the means to publish them. Five hundred copies will be printed in Moscow for the presentation, which takes place at the museum on June 6, 2017. It took Dmitriev many years to write these books. Krasny Bor was discovered twenty years ago, like Sandarmokh, in 1997. The site of mass executions in 1937–1938, it is located in a forest four kilometers from the village of Derevyannoye in the Prionezhsky District of the Republic of Karelia and nineteen kilometers from its capital city, Petrozavodsk.
According to the website of the Virtual Gulag Museum, Dmitriev conducted a detailed survey of the burials there. On the basis of typical depressions in the topsoil, he discovered around forty burial pits, each of them approximately eight meters in diameter and two and a half meters in depth. The Prionezhsky District Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the Soviet NKVD had carried out mass executions at the site. According to prosecutors, the executions had been carried out during two periods: August 9–October 15, 1937, and September 26–October 11, 1938. During the digs, Dmitriev ascertained the number of people who had been shot (1,193) and most of their names, which are now included in the book Krasny Bor Memorial Site. After Dmitriev’s arrest on December 13, 2016, Jan Rachinsky, co-chair of Moscow Memorial, and Anatoly Razumov worked on the book. Dmitriev was able to carry out the final corrections in the Petrozavodsk Pretrial Detention Facility.
Razumov also presented The Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev favors a geographical principle when drawing up lists of the executed, rather than alphabetical order. In his opinion, it is easier for people to find loved ones this way: the book is thus literally localized and bound up with Karelian history. The Motherland Remembers Them contains lists of Karelians who perished during the Great Terror.
The discs were available at the presentation, and they can also be obtained at the Returned Names Center and Memorial in Petersburg. Razumov reminded the audience that Dmitriev had always handed out all his remembrance books for free, but only to people who could say something about their perished loved ones and who had thus preserved their memory.
Special Settlers in Karelia is Dmitriev’s latest massive work, on which he has been working for years. It deals with all those who were exiled to Karelia during the Soviet period: dekulakized peasants, deportees, and forced settlers—tens of thousands of people. Dmitriev launched his work on the book in the 1990s, but a great deal remains to be done.
Yuri Dmitriev’s house in Petrozavodsk “has been turned from a workplace into ruins. The police came, stomped about in their boots, and confiscated his computer, which contained his old and new remembrance book, on which work was still underway. But we shall continue the work,” Razumov said as he concluded his opening remarks.
Ekaterina Klodt, Dmitriev’s eldest daugther, is very proud of her dad.
She and her friends were always struck by her father’s deep, penetrating eyes. Outwardly harsh and headstrong, Klodt’s father is a very kind and caring man on the inside.
“He’s a friend, a friend to everyone: colleagues, children, and grandchildren. He puts himself in everyone’s shoes. You can talk to him about anything.”
Klodt is the only person allowed to visit Dmitriev at the pretrial detention facility.
“I’m used to seeing him with his hair grown out and a long beard, like a lumberjack. But in there, his beard has been shaven and his hair cut short. He looks fifteen years younger. He’s had time off from sitting at the computer. At first, of course, I burst into tears, and he burst into tears. It is very difficult to talk through the tiny window.
“But his spirit, as always, is determined and militant. Father has always been someone we can all look up to, a paragon of strength and self-confidence.”
Klodst visits her father along with her own children.
“When his grandson and then this granddaughter followed me into the room, his eyes lit up. I had never seen Dad cry. He was genuinely happy.”
Klodt said prison was not a place where grandchildren should see their grandfather.
“That’s the reality. The children know where their grandfather is. They come with me to see him and will keep coming with me.”
The last time Klodt saw her father was in mid April.
Klodt said she has been communicating with her younger sister. Adopted by Dmitriev, she loves her dad very much, misses him a lot, and is worried about him. The girl hopes this ridiculous story will soon end, and she will again live with her dad.
“We lived side by side for so many years, as a single family. My children are her age. She and my son are the same age, and my daughter is a year younger. I treat her like one of my children, although she regards me as her sister. She is great friends with my children.”
Klodt cannot see her sister.
“She writes,” Razumov added.
Klodt feels sorriest of all for the confiscated computer. Day after day, she saw her father working, and his work was everything to him.
“The man spent a huge number of hours at the computer. His entire life was working on the computer and the digs. Knowing how much time he worked on the computer, I was constantly worried how he would get along in the pretrial detention facility without his dead ones.”
Klodt was twelve years old when Sandormokh was discovered twenty years ago. Her father took her along on the expedition to the area near Medvezhyegorsk. Klodt’s eldest son, Danya, had recently been traveling into “that huge forest, teeming with gadflies.” Danya is as old now as she was in 1997. This year, whatever the court decides, Klodt and her children will travel to Sandormokh on August 5 for the International Day of Remembrance.
Irina Flige and Yuri Dmitriev met exactly twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997 at the FSB archives in Petrozavodsk, “a normal place to meet if you’re people working on the memory of the Gulag.”
“That meeting was a point where two searches converged.”
“Such a narrow circle of people has gathered here today that I want to use the familiar mode of address, so I will refer to Yura rather than to Yuri Alexeyevich. At this time, Yura and Ivan Chukhin had located the main sites where executions and burials had taken place in Karelia during the Great Terror. Karelia is the only region or one of two or three regions where the documents stipulate the places where the sentences were carried out, that is, they indicate they occurred in the vicinity of a village or town. By this time, they had managed to compile a complete list of these places. And by 1997, many of the actual locations had been ascertained. For its part, the Memorial Research Center moved from the Solovki in search of the place where the so-called 1937 Solovki quota was executed. This was where our searches converged. We planned a joint expedition of the Petersburg and Petrozavodsk branches of Memorial to an area near Medvezhyegorsk on July 1, 1997. There were four of us who traveled there, not counting Yura’s dog. The expedition was led by Veniamin Iofe, who had done all the preliminary research before we traveled to the site. He had pinpointed the search area to within a kilometer. We set out on the expedition, thinking we would be working there all summer,” Flige recounted, continuing Klodt’s story of the search for Sandarmokh.
Anatoly Razumov took the opportunity to note that all the particulars of the expedition are extremely important, because “Yura was arrested due to Sandarmokh, to put it crudely, due to the fact that the place had become such an irritant.”
Flige illustrated her account with images from the website Sandormokh [sic], which was launched with Dmitriev’s involvement in November 2016. One of the long articles on the website describes the search for Sandarmokh.
“Yura is a restless, active person. At some point, he grabbed the dog and ran off round the forest. Yura has a fantastic intuition. He was running in circles around a place where we had marked out a grid and started systematically digging meter by meter. He ran up to us at some point. ‘Come on, I think I’ve found it.’ Indeed, the place was quite striking. Common grave pits subside in a way that resembles saucers. Yura had seen there many such places there,” recalled Flige.
Sandarmokh was found on the very first day of the expedition, July 1, 1997. The shooting pits, marked by lathe fence, its pales numbered in red lacquer by Flige and Klodt, still constitute the basis of the memorial cemetery.
The lathe fence has given way to poles topped with dovecote-shaped wooden monuments, resembling Orthodox crosses in northern cemeteries.
In 1997, memory was quite alive all over Russia and functioned instantaneously, argues Flige.
“Knowledge and memory were closely related processes. One process immediately followed the other,” she said.
Sandarmokh was officially opened on October 27, 1997. In the four short months since its discovery, road builders had built a paved road to the site in record time, a log chapel had been erected, and the dovecote-shaped memorial markers were all in place. The Republic of Karelia hastily enacted a decree declaring the memorial cemetery open to the public.
“I ran around with the forest managers to mark off the border. I would add space all the time, because what if we had missed a pit? But they would add another thirty meters. It was a breakthrough in common, a breakthrough of knowledge, respect, and memory all at the same time.”
Sandarmokh is the only place in Russia where the August Fifth International Day of Remembrance is held. It has been held since 1998. The people who were shot there were not immediately sentenced to be shot after their arrests, but had spent time in the camps on Solovki and the Beltbaltlag. They had come to the camps from different parts of the Soviet Union. For the last twenty years, delegations from different countries and different parts of Russia have come to Sandarmokh on August 5. It has become the “only venue where people of different ethnic groups and faiths can meet and still speak the same same language, the language of memory.”
The website about the memorial cemetery includes a separate section, “Killed in Sandarmokh,” created by Yuri Dmitriev. It features biographical information about the residents of Karelia executed on this spot in 1937–1938.
It is also telling that Kurkova filmed her program on Sandarmokh with Yuri Dmitriev’s involvement.
A Colleague from Novgorod
In Novgorod the Great, The Book of Remembrance has been published since 1993. Late 2015 saw the publication of its fourteenth volume, and there are plans to publish a comprehensive index to the previous volumes that would include information about residents of Novgorod Region subjected to state terror from 1917 to 1970. Nikolai Olshansky, the editor of these volumes, met Dmitriev eight years ago.
Olshansky also continues to pin his hopes on the genius of his Karelian colleague for finding burial sites in his own region. In Novgorod Region, the internment site of fifteen hundred Novgorodians shot during the Great Terror in Novgorod itself has not been ascertained (five thousand Novgorod residents were taken to Leningrad to be shot), nor has the execution site of five hundred residents of Borovichi been located.
Olshansky believes that he once “prophesied” his colleague’s misfortune.
“Yura, your directness and harshness are going to get you put in jail someday,” he told Dmitriev.
During the event at the Akhmatova Museum, Olshansky wished Dmitriev the will to withstand all the trials of detenition. Olshansky does not believe the prosecution’s charges. Under the Soviet regime, he himself was sentenced to four and half years of compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital on the basis of a denunciation, an experience from which he has never fully recovered.
The Defense Lawyer
Attorney Viktor Anufriev appeared at the event, answering the audience’s questions. He argued that the law in Russia still exists autonomously from law enforcement. Dmitriev’s rights as someone who has been accused of a crime are observed to the extent they permit the authorities to keep him under arrest by constantly extending the term of his detention. Anufriev is certain of his client’s innocence. There is no evidence of a crime in Dmitriev’s actions.
The case began with one charge, but now there are four, said Anufriev. The case file now consists of five volumes. The indictment now includes an illegal firearms possession charge: the firearm in question is a piece of a hunting rifle, which had been lying around Dmitriev’s house for twenty years and which the prosecution itself does not consider capable of firing. Once upon a time, Dmitriev had confiscated it from the lads in the yard, to keep it out of harm’s way. Why has he been charged with its possession? Anufriev argued that there are two hypotheses. In Soviet times, this article of the criminal code was brought into play if the main charge had been dropped to justify the arrest and pretrial detention. In our times, on the contrary, the court can find a defendant not guilty on this charge, to make a show of his objectivity.
“But the entire machine of repression is rigged against Dmitriev in such a way that there are very good chances he will remain in custody,” said Anufriev.
Anufriev argued that his job was to prove his client’s innocence on the basis of the law. Analyzing the circumstances with which Dmitriev’s persecution were fraught is not part of that job. But those who follow the trials underway in Russia see that, nationwide, similar things have been happening to people whose work the regime considers unnecessary and harmful.
The upcoming trial will be closed to the public. The first hearing on the merits of the case will take place in Petrozavodsk tomorrow, June 1, 2017, at 2:30 p.m.
Anufriev believes that no one’s testimony would help Dmitriev in making his case. His adopted daughter has said nothing bad about her father. The situation was such that Dmitriev adopted her when she was in a very poor physical state. It was hard for Dmitriev to adopt her: to become her foster father, he had to attend a number of court hearings. Until his own adoption, Dmitriev himself had been raised in an orphanage. Having raised his own children, Dmitriev felt obliged to raise another child. The authorities, who gave him custody of the child through the courts, initially tried to take her away. Three or four months after Dmitriev adopted, “bruises” from “beatings” were suddenly discovered on the girl’s body. They proved to be traces left by a newspaper through which her foster parents had applied mustard plasters to her body. Having gone through this experience, Dmitriev periodically photographed the girl from all four sides, storing the photographs in a file in his computer according to month and year. He did this in case children’s protective services made any complaints about his treatment of the girl. He showed the photos to no one. Over the years, he made fewer and fewer photographers. It would not occur to a normal person that these snapshots could be interpreted as pornographic. According to police investigators, there are 144 photographs, only nine of which investigators have interpreted as “pornographic.” This is the basis of the trumped-up charges that he committed perverse actions by clicking his camera. He clicked it three times a year, and has been charged with violating three articles of the criminal code that could send him to prison for up to fifteen years. The case kicked off with anonymous letter (a denunciation, as we say in Russia) that so-and-so, allegedly, has naked snapshots of his foster daughter stored on his computer.
“As someone who has lived a fairly long life and as the father of several children, I can say there is nothing pornographic about those photos,” said Anufriev.
“Yuri Alexeyevich feels well, as well as he can feel in the place where he is and given his age. He has not lost his optimism and perseverance, either. He understands the situation soberly. As a scholar of the Terror, he has seen and read his fill and could understand that it might affect him as well. Such is our country’s history. I could joke about it and say that the one good thing is people are no longer executed in Russia. But the practice is such that if someone was in custody before his trial, his complete acquittal would be someone else’s complete punishment. That is why it happens so rarely. We would be glad if the case were allowed to fade away.”
You can exchange letters with Yuri Dmitriev. Send your letters to: Respublika Kareliya, Petrozavodsk, ul. Gertsena, 47, SIZO No. 1.
Ekaterina Klodt cannot explain who would want to file charges against her father. She doesn’t know the answer to that question, but, according to her, “what he does might not suit everyone.” She regards the criminal prosecution of her father as “completely absurd.”
“It’s frightening, very frightening,” she said.
She said she knows nothing about the search for those did the killing (according to one hypothesis, the charges against Dmitriev were occasioned by his work on drawing up lists of executioners, of the people who implemented the Terror in Karelia).
“We never discussed it, and I don’t think he searched for the executioners. They were not so interesting to him. He always searched for the victims, the people who had been shot. They were the dead who interested him. He wanted to preserve their memory and believed everyone of them should have a grave. He was very concerned for the living, for the descendants, so they would be able to come to a cemetery, to a burial site, pay tribute to their ancestors and remember their loved ones,” said Klodt.
“In Russia, the truth usually becomes obvious after several decades. We can only guess whose toes Yuri Alexeyevich stepped on, and with what upcoming events it is connected. We can analyze our regime’s level of thinking and focus in terms of this case, as well as the direction in which it is headed, and the measures it takes to preserve itself. Yuri Dmitriev was not a member of the opposition in the Republic of Karelia. He did his work in the sincere certainty that it was of use to people and to his country. But it turns that at one point the state says that this work is necessary, that we have to establish what happened, that we have to publish books of remembrance of the victims of the Terror, but time passes and all of this becomes inconvenient to the state. The shadow of the past hinders the current regime. And Yuri Alexeyevich’s work has become not very popular, not so vital, and seemingly unnecessary. By looking for execution sites, Yuri Alexeyevich discredited the previous regime. The time has come when someone has deemed his work unnecessary and even harmful,” argued Viktor Anufriev. “The people who cooked up this case for their own purposes should have long ago understood that the case is so crazy that public opinion has been aroused. I have worked for a long time and know how easy it is to put someone away by planting a bullet or narcotics on him, but trampling a man like this…”
Anufriev argued that the best outcome in the case would be complete acquittal on the pornography charges. Despite the fact that cases involving depraved actions with respect to minors go badly against teachers and priests, this case stands apart.
Anatoly Razumov noted that Karelian children’s protective services had no complaints against Dmitriev during all the years he had custody of his foster daughter. This transpired during a special session of the Presidential Human Rights Council in Petrozavodsk in February of this years, a session in which Razumov, Flige, and Anufriev were involved as invited experts. According to Razumov, Sandarmokh had become the “main sore spot and irritant in the region.” But the authorities were mistaken. Dmitriev had proven to be a man with a man with a strong spirit who loved his children and grandchildren, and almost nobody has believed the accusations.
If Razumov was sure that Dmitriev was arrested over Sandarmokh, whose annual fuss bothered the authorities, Flige argued that closing Sandarmokh by putting Dmitriev in prison was unrealistic. On the contrary, the case had led to a renewed interest in the place, an interest only deepened by speculation as to the reasons for Dmitriev’s persecution. This year, the authorities have createda prisoner of conscience for the memorial cemetery. According to Flige, Dmitriev became a political prisoner the day the TV channel Rossiya 24 broadcast a made-to-order news segment entitled “What Is Memorial Hiding?”
Event photos courtesy of Nadezhda Kiselyova and Cogita.ru. 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 Petrozavodsk. 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.