MBK: On the closure of Russia’s oldest human rights group Memorial by Kremlin

December 30, 2021

‘You liquidate Memorial, but not the nation’s memory’

Mikhail Khodorkovsky commented on the Russian supreme court decision to close Russia’s most prominent human rights group that investigated Soviet-era crimes:

It is a great shame that an organisation as important to our country as Memorial will cease to exist in Russia.

Under Stalin over 700,000 people were killed by official court orders alone. The total number of those who died, not as victims of the [Second World] War, but from reprisals against the kulaks, the deportations of ethnic groups, famine and torture in labour camps, exceeded 10 million.

It is meaningless to speculate now what the [Second World] War would have been like if these casualties had not occurred and whether there would have been a war at all. There are too many different factors.

One thing is certain – millions of victims, tens of millions of broken lives, depopulation of a vast country – such was the price of the Stalinist experiment.

Among those killed in the purges there were of course not only innocent victims, but hardened enemies of the Soviet regime, murderers and those prepared to be murdered, enemies of Russia, terrorists, traitors… They were by no means the majority, however, and this makes the meticulous work of trying to establish the truth all the more important. The work that is now banned yet again.

The prosecutor’s reasoning in the trial was particularly striking.  I am convinced that these were not spontaneous attacks:

– “Memorial International was set up as a body to perpetuate memory, and now… Now, instead of commemorating our glorious achievements, Memorial is making us repent the Soviet past”.

– “Memorial has focused almost entirely on distorting historical memory – primarily about the Great Patriotic War”.

– “By cashing in on the subject of political reprisals, Memorial International has falsely portrayed the USSR as a terrorist state”.

If a state which murders citizens who are not guilty of any crime, for the sake of revenge, or for some political or economic ends, is not itself a terrorist organisation in the eyes of prosecutor’s masters, then I have bad news for them – it is they who are justifying real terrorism.

Unfortunately, I believe that the Kremlin gangsters understand this very well. Moreover, they are deliberately moving towards state terror, trying to minimise in advance room for manoeuvre for those who point out the obvious analogies.

There are hard times ahead, as is always the case with authoritarian regimes nearing their end. Old age, fear of being held to account and a desire to be immortalised are a scary mix when one is dealing with mafia autocrats.

Now is not yet the time for the “last and decisive [battle]” [in the words of The International] – we shall have to be patient, but we owe it to ourselves to remember…