Lawsuits by the Russian Attorney General’s Office now threaten the continued existence of Memorial —both the international historical society and the human rights center. The former is accused of violating Russia’s laws on “foreign agents” (for failing to disclose this status to readers), and the latter faces additional charges of “justifying terrorism and extremism” (because the group has declared supposed Islamic radicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and left-wing nationalists to be political prisoners). The authorities’ case is an attempt to smash the most crucial human rights organization left in Russia — a group of activists and scholars who have spent decades working to preserve the memory of the Soviet Union’s most brutal political repressions. Meduza presents excerpts of statements from several prominent groups and individuals in support of Memorial.
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A joint statement from Russian and international human rights organizations
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and others
The Russian authorities’ move to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent civil society organizations standing up for human rights, working to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and providing a platform for free debate and artistic expression, is an outrageous strike into the very heart of Russia’s human rights community.
For nearly a decade, Russian authorities have used the repressive legislation on “foreign agents” introduced specifically to arbitrarily restrict the space for civil society organizations and penalize critics, including human rights groups. The move to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s human rights giants, marks a new Rubicon crossed in the government’s campaign to stifle independent voices.
The Sakharov Center
The Memorial historical society is one of Russia’s oldest public associations. Memorial was founded with the full participation of Andrey Dmitrievich Sakharov, and the authorities’ decision to seek Memorial’s closure is sad evidence of the Russian state’s true attitude about not just the group’s years of work to preserve our national memory but also the legacy of Sakharov himself, who was born a century ago, this year.
We view this move by the prosecutors as one of many recent acts by the authorities that is systematically aimed at strangling the institutions of Russian civil society, among which Memorial occupies a prominent place.
Statement from EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
The EU has repeatedly condemned the Russian legislation on “foreign agents.” This law runs counter to Russia’s international human rights obligations and commitments. The EU expects Russia to uphold its international human rights obligations.
Russian authorities must reverse this decision and stop the unabated crackdown on civil society and independent media. Memorial is an internationally respected NGO and one of the oldest in Russia. Its activities remain central to the defense of human rights and serve as a bulwark against attempts to manipulate the historical memory of political repression. Understanding the atrocities of the past is a value that must enjoy support and protection. The dismantling of Memorial would be an irreplaceable loss for the Russian people and the rest of Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The Russian authorities’ lawsuits, aiming to close Memorial International and Human Rights Center Memorial, is their latest attack on freedom of expression. Russia must end the lawsuits and stop misusing its law on “foreign agents” to harass, stigmatize, and silence civil society.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
The mere thought of Memorial being closed will shock anyone familiar with this organization’s decades of human rights work and analysis of political tyranny.
Memorial deserves great credit for its courageous and tireless work on behalf of Russia’s citizens. An independent, critical, and professional understanding of history is also vital to the relationship between Germany and Russia, especially if we recall the crimes committed by Germans against people in the Soviet Union.
Russia’s justice system is obliged to protect active citizens’ legally guaranteed right to unite in public organizations. The politically motivated harassment of critical civil society representatives must stop.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek
Memorial is the most prominent human rights group in Russia. It plays a vital role in defending civil rights and preserving the historical memory of political repression. Closing down Memorial would be a loss for the Russian people. The decision should be reconsidered.
Transparency International Russia
Since its inception, Memorial has been one of Russian civil society’s assemblage points. Its work remains effective and in demand, despite the obstacles created by “foreign agent” status. This also applies to the human rights work by the Memorial human rights center and the selfless work to restore and preserve the historical memory of repression victims, which Memorial International has carried out for many years. According to the law and the right to memory, this work cannot and should not be stopped.
Memorial International insists that there are no legal grounds for dissolving its offices. Transparency International Russia shares the opinion that Russia’s “foreign agent” laws are merely an instrument to pressure independent organizations.
The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council
The Presidential Human Rights Council for the Development of Civil Society considers the right of free association to be extremely vital and views the forced dissolution of Russia’s oldest public organization as an extreme measure. The council currently believes that the proposed punishment is unfair and disproportionate to the aggregate violations, as far as regulators have not detected a single legal violation by Memorial International in the past 14 months, and they’ve found just two minor infractions committed by the Memorial human rights center.
The council is monitoring the situation, conducting consultations, and will take steps to resolve the situation concerning Memorial.
The July 1 Club
an informal community of scholars and associate members of the Russian Academy of Sciences
We […] express our strong protest against the persecution and attempted closure of the Memorial society, perpetrated by the authorities under a false pretext. Organized at the start of Perestroika with the aim of investigating political repressions and preserving the memory of the victims, the Memorial historical society has conducted enormous educational work, not allowing the country to forget about the millions of innocent people who were persecuted, killed, and executed. […] The destruction of Memorial is an attempt to deprive the nation of its memory. If we are to prevent a repetition of those monstrous repressions, we must not allow this to happen.
The Yeltsin Center
In recent days, many people in this country have expressed sincere concerns about the threat hanging over the Memorial human rights center. […] At stake is Russia’s oldest human rights organization, which has been operating here for more than 30 years already. Exposing Stalinism’s crimes has become one of the most important areas of Memorial’s work. Thanks to these human rights activists’ efforts, we now know the names of thousands of repression victims, as well as their tragic stories. […] In these difficult days for Memorial, we’d like to express our hope that the trial will be objective, and that Memorial will continue its selfless work to expose Stalin’s crimes.
Change.org petition in Memorial’s defense
The Memorial group of non-commercial public organizations, created and developed thanks to the vision and hard work of Russia’s greatest human rights campaigner and civil activist Andrei Sakharov, are the cornerstones of Russia’s human rights community and of Russia’s civic society as a whole. Their dissolution could lead to the closure of Russia’s most important historical, educational, and human rights projects […].
The dissolution of legal organizations and organizational structures might not completely destroy the scope of legal activity still available to historians, educators, journalists, and human rights activists who work in the interest of Russia’s civil society, but it will significantly limit their work. This hostile environment, however, will bring these people into active conflict with the Russian state’s realpolitik and the interests of the minority of Russian citizens who hold political power.
Novelist and playwright Lyudmila Petrushevskaya
Now they’re taking Memorial from me. They’re taking the memory of those convicted and executed, those thrown under trucks, those who starved to death, those who froze in trucks moving from camp to camp, those tortured at Lubyanka and Kolyma, and those who were beaten recently in the streets and the police vans and the police stations. They’re taking the memory of everyone imprisoned on fabricated, false charges. The memory of thousands of such prisoners who are dangerous to the authorities.
Let them charge me again with insulting the president.
I renounce my State Prize laureate title. Because Putin lied to me when he handed me the badge, the box, and the bouquet —for a play dedicated to those who never returned from the camps, dedicated to their memory.
He didn’t know why I was being awarded the State Prize title. He didn’t read my play, “The Moscow Choir,” and he didn’t come to the show at the Theater of Europe, even though I invited him (meanwhile, Gorbachev and his wife came, and the Moscow Art Theater was on its feet, together with the president, applauding the people on stage and the great Oleg Yefremov for 15 minutes).
Putin just handed me the certificate, a box with the badge, and a bouquet.
It turns out that memory is a terrible thing for Russia’s current leaders and for Putin, given that they’re now banning it.
The political party Yabloko
Yabloko views the attempt to dissolve Memorial not just as a political reprisal but also as an insult to the memory of the tens of millions of victims of political repressions, which the heirs of their executioners now hope to erase.
This is a new step towards the restoration of Stalinism and the justification of his crimes. It’s a blow to Russia’s entire human rights movement, in which Memorial plays a leading and enormous role. Unique archival materials collected by Memorial over three decades are also at risk of destruction.
They’ve branded Memorial a “foreign agent” (like the infamous “yellow star”), and now they want to dissolve the organization for breaking Russia’s despicable law on “foreign agents,” which Yabloko has consistently opposed from the start.
We call for the complete repeal of both the legal norms tied to the concept of “foreign agents” and all legislation that leads to political discrimination against citizens, public organizations, and the mass media.
Dissolving Memorial International and the Memorial human rights center would be more than just the end of these organizations’ activities (activities that have helped thousands and tens of thousands of people); Memorial is first and foremost a symbol of Russian civil society, and this is precisely why the authorities are trying to destroy it now. It’s an unambiguous signal to all civil society and every non-profit organization in the country.
This decision will also affect OVD-Info. The Memorial human rights center is our longtime partner with whom we manage many joint projects. Thanks to the center’s infrastructural support in 2021, we answered tens of thousands of phone calls from people arrested by the police, we helped almost 3,000 people in police departments, we represented the interests of 2,874 claimants in administrative courts, and our lawyers are currently managing 44 criminal cases. Dissolving the Memorial human rights center will jeopardize our capacity to provide legal assistance to people.
Posledny Adres (Last Address)
another project devoted to preserving the memory of Soviet political repression victims
The work each of us does at the “Posledny Adres” Foundation for the Memorialization of Political Repression Victims (the legal entity that is our project’s formal operator) would be impossible without our constant, daily, and hourly cooperation with Memorial. It would be impossible without the unique experience and expertise of Memorial’s staff, and without our constant reliance on Memorial’s colossally deep archives and collection. The very idea of our project would have been unthinkable and impossible to develop without the ethical, organizational, and methodological foundations that Memorial created over the decades of its service to the noble cause of restoring justice, affirming the value of human life, and understanding the tragic lessons of our country’s history.
The malicious and lawless attempt to dissolve Memorial International and its constituent organizations, particularly the Memorial human rights center, knowingly violates Russia’s Constitution and its international obligations.
The Free Historical Society
The dissolution of Memorial International — Russia’s oldest and most authoritative public organization, born of a social movement during the Perestroika years and devoted to confronting the tragic pages of our Soviet past — will cause irreparable damage to the critical study of Russian 20th century history, without which (as world experience shows) Russia will be unable to move forward on a path to building a complex civil society befitting a modern democratic country. Memorial is Russia’s largest research center not just for studying the Soviet repressions but also more broadly Soviet history and family and personal histories (as well as the fate of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps).
The dissolution of Memorial International’s structural subdivisions, such as its archives, library, and museum, which hold tens of thousands of unique documents, books, and exhibits, threatens to destroy these invaluable materials, which (without exaggeration) are a national treasure and play a huge role in educational activities and preserving the memory of the Stalinist regime’s crimes and the resistance and tragedy of our people.
The Golos movement
an independent election watchdog
We express our solidarity with our colleagues and hope they will be able to preserve their institutions, priceless archives, and databases on the history of state terror, dissent, and contemporary political prisoners. It’s clear that one of the goals of this government action is the destruction of the memory of state terror and the millions of our ancestors who suffered under it.
Even against a backdrop of already familiar news that another Russian citizen or organization has been designated as a “foreign agent,” fined, searched, or arrested on some absurd pretext, attacking one of the country’s oldest human rights institutions stands out. And it’s happening in the same year as the centennial of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, who participated in Memorial’s creation — in the same year that the Nobel Peace Prize went to another Russian, Dmitry Muratov, for his efforts defending one of humanity’s fundamental freedoms: the freedom of speech.
PEN Moscow and the Free Word Association
Memorial has long been a national achievement with great historical, legal, and moral value.
We believe that Russian society should prevent Memorial’s dissolution. After all, we are all citizens of the country where “half went to prison and the other half guarded the bars.”
By destroying Memorial, the authorities are destroying our memory. When they’re done here, the state will come next for other civil society institutions that have retained their independence from the state.
What can you do about it? How do you resist the “bulldozer” now plowing rapidly across Russia?
Former Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s widow Natalia Solzhenitsyna
Created in the late 1980s and early 1990s to memorialize the victims of the Communist regime’s political repressions and to defend the modern rights of our citizens, Memorial became world famous and Russia’s most authoritative public organization. Andrei Sakharov, whose 100th birthday the world celebrated earlier this year, was one of Memorial’s founders and its first chairman.
The lawsuit filed by the Russian Attorney General’s Office to dissolve Memorial cannot be interpreted in Russia or abroad as anything but a momentous, landmark political act.
For many years, due to the nature of our work, we had to cooperate closely with members of Memorial. This collaboration was constructive and fruitful. The creation of a national monument to the victims of political repressions in Moscow, the “Man in History” nationwide school curriculum, and the painstaking compilation of martyrologies across this country are all Memorial’s enormous achievements.
Any endeavor has its shortcomings. If there are any flaws in Memorial’s work, it calls for a mutually respectful discussion, not demands for its destruction.
But the Attorney General’s lawsuit is extreme (as the Presidential Human Rights Council aptly called it), and “extreme” is one of the most dangerous and terrifying words in Soviet newspeak. Last century, this same emergency mentality sent a Red steamroller over our society. But it doesn’t matter what color this steamroller takes. What matters is preventing it from spinning again in this century.
“Caring for the people” isn’t just physical caretaking but preserving our spiritual strength, too. And that is impossible without safeguarding an environment that permits the existence of independent public initiatives.
Closing Memorial will inflict direct and great damage to Russian society and the state.