Aleksandr Podrabinek: A “Day of Commemoration” has replaced “Political Prisoner’s Day”

posted 7 Nov 2016, 07:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Nov 2016, 05:47 ]
29 October 2016

By Aleksandr Podrabinek 

Source: Facebook

On 29 October 2007 a new event was added to Moscow’s yearly calendar. Remembering or Returning the Names recalls the victims of political repression in the Soviet era. As more and more Russian citizens are imprisoned for their opposition to the present regime the conflation of The Day of Commemoration and Political Prisoner’s Day has prompted increasing disquiet and, in some cases, outrage.


They’ve substituted “A Day of Commemoration for the Victims of Political Repression” for the “Day of the Political Prisoner”. In the past 30 October was a day of solidarity with those currently in prison and the camps. Now it commemorates the dead. On 29 October the victims of the Great Purge in 1937 are remembered: Russia’s present political prisoners don’t count.

It’s as though all political repression took place in the past. Today, supposedly, we are observing the triumphant rule of law and respect for human rights: how could there be any talk of political prisoners! That policewoman Moskalkova, the new human rights ombudswoman, put in an appearance at the Solovki Stone to remember the victims of Stalin’s terror. She was the first to speak. If she was doing her job she should be straining every muscle to help Ildar Dadin who is now constantly harassed and mistreated in the camps – but what does that matter to her, a policewoman filling the post of a human rights activist?

Have they no shame? Were there so few days in the calendar that they had to set up their stall next to a date they do not understand?

Yet everyone was content, and the queues in Lubyanka Square were enormous. Don’t bother about feeding our citizens, just give them a chance to shed a few tears, lay a wreath and light a candle. Emotional satisfaction to last the year. Duty done, they don’t give a damn about the rest. Russia, a land of triumphant rituals.


Yelena Kalinina
"Aren’t you ashamed to write such things? People are remembering the past and do not want a return to those days! Meanwhile you write about “rituals”, sitting comfortably at home on the sofa." 

Aleksandr Podrabinek
"If you really don’t want a return to those days you’d do better to observe what’s happening at the moment. Meanwhile I have indeed been sitting comfortably on the sofa – even lying on it – all my life! :) " 

Marianna Mukhina
"I too was upset to learn that Moskalkova had opened the ceremony. With my husband we attended the unveiling of the monument when the stone was brought from Solovki in October 1990. Then it was a small-scale event." 

Aleksandr Sokolov
"Small-scale, you say? When the people coming into Lubyanka Square from Myasnitskaya Street met those who were already there the pressure was so great that the organisers, like myself, were pushed up against the front of the monument." 

Commenting on this year’s event, an onlooker remarked on the present regime’s urge to replace politics with “politicised history”.   

Four year earlier Soviet dissident Aleksei Smirnov warned against the ambiguous significance of the day in Post-Soviet Russia as new political prisoners began to appear. His remarks appeared among many on Facebook in response to Alexander Podrabinek’s outraged comment. It was first posted on 20 October 2012.

The Supposed Day of Supposedly Political Prisoners

No matter how often I write or say that we should not stretch the terms “political prisoner” and “politician” my words have no effect.

As a result politicians have been passed off as human rights activists, and people like Aleksei Pichugin, or Tikhonov and Khasis,[1] and co are being called political prisoners. Even former dissidents support this muddle, in what they say or by their silence. […]

So what does the date 30 October represent?

The Russian Wikipedia says:

“…On the initiative of dissidents Kronid Lyubarsky, Alexei Murzhenko and other prisoners in the Mordovian and Perm camps, the “Day of the Political Prisoner in the USSR” was first marked on 30 October 1974. LINK TO VOICES IN THE PAST (8 NOVEMBER 2016)

“Every year thereafter on 30 October political prisoners went on hunger strike. From 1987 onwards the date was marked by demonstrations in Moscow, Leningrad, Lvov, Tbilisi and other cities. On 30 October 1989 about three thousand people holdings candles formed a “living circle” around KGB headquarters in Moscow. They then went to Pushkin Square to hold a rally and were dispersed by riot police.

“On 18 October 1991 Decree No 1763/1 was passed by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet “On establishing the Day of Commemoration for the Victims of Political Repression”, after which 30 October was officially recognised as a Day of Commemoration.”

So which is it? The Day of the Political Prisoner or a Day in Commemoration of Victims? I don’t object to the latter, but why hold events with a different meaning on the same day? Although they share something in common they are different.

The powers that be are not afraid of the past. They are ready to feign sorrow over the victims of their predecessors, just as they are ready to stand in church holding a candle. However, they cannot abide their own contemporaries who were once political prisoners – let alone the new political prisoners who are today’s victims.

And it’s much more convenient for our “democrats” not to irritate the regime by referring to contemporary events, but play the familiar game of studying distant time. 

Translation and notes by John Crowfoot

[1] Aleksei Pichugin, former head of security at Yukos; Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis were convicted in 2011 of the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.