Institute: Russia's Memorial society in need of firm support

Plaque in front of the headquarters of the now-barred Russian historical society Memorial.
Plaque in front of the headquarters of the now-barred Russian historical society Memorial. Source: Memorial /

The recent liquidation of Russia's oldest civil rights group, International Memorial, is a sign of an unfortunate tendency to return to the official conception of history, write board members of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut) Sergei Metlev, Meelis Maripuu and Martin Andreller.

On December 28, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation decided to liquidate Memorial International, an organization engaged in raising awareness about history, the commemoration of victims of communist terror, and protection of human rights.

The basis of the liquidation is a request by the Chief Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, presented on the grounds of a claimed systemic violation of Russia's "foreign agent" legislation.

The prosecutor also accused Memorial of creating a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state, the defamation of the memory of the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, and an attempt to rehabilitate Nazi war criminals.

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory condemns the liquidation of Memorial in Russia. During the more than 30 years of its activity, Memorial has provided an invaluable contribution to the investigation of the history of Soviet Union and the history of communist regimes in general, ascertained the fate of thousands of victims of communist terror, given families back the memory of their loved ones, contributed to the commemoration of victims of terror both in Russia and abroad, and created valuable databases about the victims of communist terror and the Gulag, the Soviet network of prison camps.

Memorial's closure is a sign of a regrettable attempt to return to an official and a single valid narrative of history, which used to be the norm in the Soviet Union. Back then, the concept of a nation's historical narrative was dictated by political need or the authorities' mere perception of how much and what kind of history their subjects need.

This pursuit has been summarized by George Orwell in his novel "1984" as follows: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."   

Similar tendencies can also be noticed in other countries that have not overcome their totalitarian pasts, as they try to establish their national historical identity by covering up past crimes, or even by glorifying them.

First and foremost, the old principle of "a nation that forgets its past has no future" still rings true. This was exemplified by the collapse of the Soviet Union and other communist regimes in Europe 30 years ago.

Many European countries have condemned communist regimes and the international crimes committed by them. They have done a lot to rehabilitate the victims' honor and memory, and helped bring the perpetrators to trial.

The same has been done by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights in their statements, declarations and decisions.

However, a lot of work still needs to be carried out in the investigation of 20th century communist terror, and in establishing its victims, perpetrators and enforcers.

Even more important is raising future generations' awareness about the consequences of a desire to change the world with ideologically motivated and substantiated violence.

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory's goal is to open an International Memorial Museum for the Victims of Communism in Tallinn, by 2026. An important portion of the future exposition analyses the Soviet Union's communist regime and the terror it inflicted upon its own citizens, as well as upon the people of conquered areas.

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory has been cooperating with Memorial's historians for a long time. The Institute intends to continue this cooperation. We call like-minded institutions and organizations, as well as national governments, to offer their support and aid, so that both Memorial and other Russian historians' research into the history of communist terror can continue in its current, or even more extensive, capacity.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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