Solidarity with Memorial: Russia’s most prominent civil rights group in danger

Solidarity with Memorial
Russia’s most prominent civil rights group in danger

Russia's Justice Ministry recently labeled the international branch of the human rights group Memorial as a “foreign agent”. Memorial needs your solidarity and financial help to pay for judicial assistance to defend itself against this egregious stigmatisation.

Who and What Is Memorial?

The freedoms of speech and assembly and the work of independent civil society organisations have been curtailed in Russia for several years. Critical voices are marginalised as being “non-Russian”. Non-conformist NGOs receiving international support are branded as “foreign agents” and have to declare themselves as such. The concept and practice of self-accusation are in the direct tradition of Stalinist persecution and are an assault on the dignity of man.

To date, this form of state repression has hit more than 140 organisations, including representatives of small indigenous people in the north of Russia, associations like Women on the Don, environmental groups like EcoDefense, the refugee organisation Civic Assistance created by Svetlana Gannushkina, laureate of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize 2016, or the renowned Levada social research centre. 

Most recently, persecution has reached the International Memorial Society, the umbrella organisation of the Memorial network, after the previous individual targeting of five of its 60 member organisations. The democratic social development of Russia is inconceivable without free working conditions for independent civil society organisations like Memorial. Memorial is a cornerstone of Russian civil society.

Memorial was founded in 1988, in the years of Gorbachev’s perestroika. From the beginning, the organisation set itself the task of dealing with the terror and systemic structures of the Stalinist dictatorship and the Gulag, to help victims of political persecution, seek their rehabilitation and increase their visibility in Russia and abroad. This is a precondition for the enforcement of and compliance with human rights today, which Memorial is advocating in an exemplary way. 

For Memorial, an open debate on the Soviet past, based on the quest for truth, is a fundamental step towards making Russian society more open and democratic. At the same time, it is impossible to deal with the totalitarian past of the Soviet Union and Russia without pointing out today’s human rights violations.

The work of Memorial is not limited to Russia. By documenting the fate of hundreds of thousands of Soviet men and women deported to Germany for forced labour during World War II, Memorial has given an essential impulse to the political debate in German, making it possible to enforce compensation claims for the victims. 

At the same time, Memorial has highlighted the deportation of more than 7000 innocent women and men after World War II from the Soviet occupation zone in Germany to the USSR, where they were executed. In close cooperation with Polish historians, Memorial has also published seminal research shedding light on the Katyn massacre. Several Memorial experts have received Polish awards for their work. These are just a few examples of a great list of achievements, guided by the aim of a free and democratic Europe in which Russia also finds its place.

Over 25 years, Memorial has built up a unique archive compiling the witnesses and legacies of tens of thousands of people who became victims of terror and repression. This collection is an incomparable documentation of human suffering, human assertiveness and human resistance. Memorial’s building in Moscow houses a part of the cultural legacy of mankind. Memorial has also carried out comprehensive research work and published biographical reference books and source editions on the history of Stalinism and the USSR. This work is widely recognised in the academic world. With public exhibitions on the history of the Gulag, Memorial is also reaching wider audiences in Russia and European neighbour countries.

With its school history competition “Man and History – Russia in the 20th Century”, Memorial has collected more than 30,000 essays from pupils from all over Russia over the past 15 years. These essays give Russian children and youngsters a unique and personal voice and make up an important contribution to an authentic culture of remembrance in Russia.

The Human Rights Centre of Memorial is also one of the most important independent sources of information in Russia on the situation in the North Caucasus, particularly Chechnya, the Donbass and Crimea after the Russian annexation. Memorial scrupulously documents the human rights situation in Russia today and also keeps a list of political prisoners based on international criteria.

Last but not least, the national network of Memorial - especially the Memorial Centres in Moscow - are an indispensable catalyst for mutual civil society support and democratic social debate in Russia and the whole post-Soviet space.

Memorial needs our support and solidarity – as we need Russian voices defending truth and human rights. We declare our solidarity with Memorial and all the forces in Russia standing for a policy of non-violence, openness and peace in Russia and abroad.+

We call for financial donations for Memorial under the reference “For the Work of Memorial” to the trust account:

Name: Memorial International
Bank: GLS Gemeinschaftsbank eG
Account: 130 227 27
IBAN: DE 89 4306 0967 0013 0227 27
Donations are tax-deductible in Germany and possibly beyond (please check local tax laws) and will be transferred in full to Memorial with no administrative costs.
Berlin, 30/11/201

Who and What Is Memorial?
Memorial is a movement which arose in the years of perestroika. Its main task was the awakening and preservation of the societal memory of the severe political persecution in the recent past of the Soviet Union.

Memorial is a community of dozens of organizations in different regions of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Georgia.

Memorial is a group of specialized research, human rights, and education centers in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities.

Memorial is a museum, a repository of documents, and a number of specialized libraries.

Memorial is the Solovetskii stone on Lubianka Square in Moscow, placed across from the KGB headquarters on 30 October 1990. On that date in 1974, prisoners in the Mordvinian and Perm' political camps voted to declare a Day of Political Prisoners in the USSR. In 1991, on the initiative of Memorial, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR officially recognized this date as a Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression.

Memorial is a great number of different memorials reaching to the far corners of the former USSR – from the gigantic monument of Ernst Neizvestnii close to Magadan to the modest memorial signs at mass burial sites of the victims of the terror near Moscow. It is the search for and preservation of the graves of our fathers and grandfathers, killed anonymously by bullets in the cellars of the Cheka and by forced labor in hundreds of camps throughout the former Soviet Union. It is a unique museum, established on the ground of the last Soviet political camp close to the town Chusovii in Perm' province.

Memorial is dozens of books, newspaper and magazine articles, radio programs, and exhibits dedicated to the tragedies of the past decades and to the current attempts to limit the freedoms and dignity of citizens of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Memorial is the Law on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression. Passed in 1991, it reinstated civil rights to tens of thousands of living Russian citizens and to tens of thousands of those who had already passed away. Memorial is a series of corrections and additions to the Law on Rehabilitation that improved the original text. Memorial is a consistent and sometimes successful attempt to compel the government to fulfill all statutes of the Law pertaining to compensation.

Memorial is a number of regional associations of former prisoners of political prison camps and members of their families. This encompasses tens of thousands of direct and indirect victims of political repression. 

It is the adequate assistance – legal, and sometimes also material – needed by the elderly who emerged from the hell of Soviet prisons and political prison camps.

Memorial is the wide-ranging and simultaneous scrupulous historical research of topics that were until recently inaccessible to Russian scholars: the GULAG, the history of the security organizations VChK (the Cheka)-OGPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB, statistics on political repression in the Soviet Union, and dissidents' resistance during the Khrushchev-Brezhnev era. Memorial is a number of international research projects, in which internationally recognized research centers in the humanities acts as partners. It is a support program for young researchers throughout Russia. It is the struggle for free access to historical information, to the past, which was hidden from us for so long.

Memorial is information about the violation of human rights on the territory of the former Soviet Union. This information is valued highly not only by international human rights organizations, but also by international organizations such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Memorial is the undertaking of risky observation missions to "hot spots" on the territory of the CIS. 

Memorial is mountains of factual material, collected in regions of armed conflict. It is the painstaking verification and analysis of the collected material, and the preparation and publication of reports on the conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh, Tajikistan, Transdnistria, in the zone of Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict, and, finally, in Chechnya. Memorial is the initiator for the formation of an anti-war front, memorably uniting more than 100 social and political organizations in January 1995. Memorial is an organization for social and legal counseling for refugees and displaced persons in many regions of Russia. It is the collection of information about current political prisoners on the territory of the former Soviet Union. It is an ongoing struggle against ethnic discrimination. Memorial is protests, meetings, and miscellaneous publications that seek to protect freedoms and peace.

And, finally, Memorial is many very different people. What unites us?

First, we are friends.

Second, we respect one another. We are very different: old and quite young; historians and legal advocates; liberals and not so liberals; atheists, agnostics and believers; democrats, anarchists, and monarchists. It sometimes seems that this Noah's Ark is destined to sink to the bottom. But we have been afloat for more than ten years already, and we do not intend to sink.

Ideologies do not divide us, because ideology does not unite us. Rather, two main principles, above all, guide us: 

1. unconditional respect of human individuality, human life, and freedoms of fundamental human values; 

2. the presentation of history as an unbroken whole of the past, the present, and the future.

We welcome to the website of Memorial!

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