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Aleksandr Cherkasov on Arseny Roginsky: “The tracker himself does not leave a trail"

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

21 December 2017

By Aleksandr Cherkasov, head of Memorial Human Rights Centre 


This article was written about Arseny Roginsky in the spring of 2016 to mark his 70th birthday. And now he is no longer with us... 

The tracker himself does not leave a trail. Well, almost.

There are people whose public face means a lot to them: appearing in front of an audience, giving speeches, adding signatures. It’s easy to talk about people who think leaving a trail is the most important thing.

But someone who has devoted his life to the search for the half-erased trails of former generations is himself not inclined to carve his initials on cliffs or trees or to stomp his boots over the landscape of a present that is swiftly becoming the past. Perhaps because he knows how silly that will look.

But perhaps because there’s something misplaced in this—making special, unnecessary efforts merely in order to stick in someone’s memory.

In addition to ambition, there can be other things. Status as a researcher, for example. But no — how many times in an analysis of “places of burial,” when the discussion was about documents from dissident-era archives, about the Chronicle of Current Events, have I heard from his friends: “Senya, but wasn’t it really you, I think, who wrote that?” The school of samizdat times: “Well, yes, I did.” And the manuscripts “didn’t burn” — that is, there were people who read them, who were inspired, who retyped and passed them on. And that’s the main thing. Not the authorship and not the signature.

But nonetheless, there is a trail.

There are things to be found in biographies, but who reads them? Place of birth: Velsk, Arkhangelsk region. Father, arrested in 1938, after prison camp exiled there. Died while under investigation in 1951, after his second arrest. Returned to Leningrad.

Tartu University. The Lotman school, at the time the Mecca of humanitarian knowledge. Not simply study: when he was studying, Arseny lived in Yury Mikhailovich Lotman’s home.

Here, in Tartu — even before the very word “dissident” was born — getting to know future dissidents — for example, Natalia Gorbanevskaya (read Ulitskaya! [“Poetess”]), who had come there.

Participation in Russian culture and history. That is, in the history of the struggle for freedom. Isn’t that what Russian history is?

Memory of the terror. State terror and revolutionary terror. Of how yesterday’s fighters for freedom become the new gendarmes. How they themselves fall victim to a machine they created with their own hands.

And how neatly this terrible future conceals itself inside the liberation movement itself. Yet, despite everything, the liberation movement cannot be reduced to those victors who immediately and successfully began exterminating their comrades-in-arms of the day before. . . .

Research and the restoration of continuity is the work to which the Tartu school made an enormous contribution. One example — but very important! - from the history of the “populists” is Stefanovich’s letter to Deich, which Arseny Roginsky and his friend Lev Lurie found and Lotman published in Scholarly Notes of Tartu University.

The publisher’s thoughts on “revolutionary ethics,” the hierarchy within the revolutionary milieu, and “revolutionary generalship” are relevant even today (for those who remember — this refers as much to the Razvozzhaev-Lebedev case as to the Krasin-Yakir case).

...Perhaps this is why Arseny Roginsky has no “soldier stripes.” Perhaps this is the source of his dislike for joining “councils and commissions” and going around to high-level offices . . . although they called him, they called him!

Russia’s history began not in 2012, not in 1985, not in 1956, and not in 1917. It was rewritten multiple times by those who wished to be “the first men on earth.”

Russia’s history — including the history of “gross and massive human rights violations” — is unbroken and indissoluble. That’s for one. Continuity is important; however, continuity cannot be marked down merely to “hereditary disease.”

People also like to distill Russia’s history down to large numbers — with as many zeroes as possible — of people executed, incarcerated, and tortured.

But people should be counted by ones, not zeroes. The history, the biography of an individual person — that is the starting point and the fundamental scale of the work. That’s for two.

Actually, these two “legs” are what Memorial now stands on. . . .

. . . Nor can history be reduced to collecting “urban legends,” either. After all, mythologizing is little better than oblivion. After the “Moscow appeal” of 1974, Roginsky and a group of similar young enthusiasts began putting out the independent historical anthology Pamyat’ (Memory.)

Unofficial does not mean “amateur.” It turned out, academic standards could be maintained in Samizdat. And chance witnesses to the work who suddenly realized: “You’re making samizdat!” could be dumbfounded by the reply: “Where have you seen samizdat with citations?”

The result is logical. At 35, the seemingly office-bound scholar, bottled and batched in Tartu, would land in a prison camp for criminals. Why for criminals? That year the KGB organs, subordinate to the Party organs, requested and received permission from the “authority” (the Department of Administrative Organs of the Communist Party Central Committee) to convict three Petersburgers “as common criminals": Roginsky, Azadovsky, and Klein. Roginsky’s final speech at his trial was about the status of the historian in the Soviet Union. . . .

...In his stories about prison camp, Arseny Borisovich looked least of all the hero (although the stories about how he served time with Chechens, along with the stories of other dissidents sentenced by the Soviet authorities to serve time in “general regime” prison camps, helped me greatly later in my work in the Caucasus). Paramount in these stories, practically, was not to look like a “leader,” not to be tempted by the “romance of revolution.”

And not to overawe others with the grandeur of omniscience.

Roginsky once commented: “I have had two teachers in life: one was Sergei Adamovich Kovalev (this was at Kovalev’s anniversary); the other, Mikhail Yakovlevich Gefter. The former, when I would ask him something, would immediately say to me: “Look. It's very simple! . . ." While the latter usually replied: “Dear boy! In fact, everything was a good deal more complicated! . . .”

And then . . . then there was Memorial. If I had any taste, any sense of tact and style, I would draw the line right here.

...Actually, there is another, much more widespread view of Russia’s history, though. In Dovlatov’s Zapovednik [“Nature Reserve”] about the Pushkin Hills, he writes of the director: “. . . He wants to create a grandiose park of culture and recreation. He hung a target on a tree for reasons of colour. People say that students from Tartu stole it. And threw it in the lake. Good going, structuralists! . . .”

One of those young students was Arseny Roginsky. To have been part of that circle, from which Dovlatov came and which Dovlatov describes endlessly; and yet to have been able to “hide” anonymously in that story, as marvelous as a haiku...

Some try to turn national history into a “grandiose park of culture and recreation.” While others struggle with different kinds of chains. Herein lies the life and fate of Arseny Borisovich Roginsky.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Yakov Gordin on Arseny Roginsky: Not for the first time, we have to say the world has grown empty.

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

22 December 2017

By Yakov Gordin, editor in chief of the literary magazine Zvezda (Star)

Source: [original source: Novaya Gazeta in St. Petersburg]

Arseny Roginsky was a person of quiet and intelligent courage. This is no common combination.

A professional historian, he studied the Russian liberation movement and adopted its best and noblest traits.

In the dark Soviet seventies, he took on what was perhaps the most important work: historical enlightenment. He and several of his allies put together Pamyat' (Memory), collections of archived historical materials on Russian history, which were assembled in the USSR and published abroad.

This work was at once strictly scholarly and – as is inevitable in certain conditions – political. Gradually, a wide circle of sympathizers and contributors formed around the group, among whom were well-known and distinguished people.

Studying the liberation movement paid off. Roginsky knew what a conspiracy was. And the KGB was unable to discover the archive of Pamyat' or to substantively indict Roginsky.

He was tried on farcical charges. The maximum punishment for this "crime" would have been to bar Roginsky from the manuscripts department of the Public Library where he conducted his research. But guilt was not proven during the five-day (!) trial.

I happened to be present at several political trials during the seventies and the early eighties. This includes Roginsky's trial. His situation was unique. He refused to testify. He hardly spoke at all with the judge, answering only the questions about his name, patronymic, and surname... He was saving those who were involved in the publishing of Pamyat'. There were not able to hold a single meeting between Roginsky and other suspects during the investigation.

He understood what he was up against. And the Soviet secret police took their revenge on him. He was given a four-year sentence and served it in very difficult circumstances: a significant part of his sentence he spent being transported between camps. He was continually moved from camp to camp.

He remained true to himself all his life. One of the founders and leaders of Memorial, the main organization promoting the good health of our public awareness, steadily and with unwavering persistence he continued this work of enlightenment, offering people the much-needed historical truth at all times. I repeat: steadily and with unwavering persistence.

I took the liberty of writing about Arseny Roginsky for a reason. I shy away from using the loaded word "friendship." But for many years – we met in 1965 at the University of Tartu, where Senya was studying – we maintained a good-natured and trusting relationship.

In the Pamyat' days, our relationship became closer and stronger. One incident, among others, brought us closer. I published an excerpt from the memoir of my uncle, Arnold Moiseevich Gordin, the elder brother of my father. The excerpt mentions my uncle's friend from the twenties, Baire (Boris) Roginsky, whom the author describes as a brave, outspoken, and honourable person.

At the end of the twenties, Baire Roginsky took in an author, who was an illegal member of the opposition movement, and hid him from the GPU. This was so dangerous that it could have meant death.

My uncle survived twenty years of labour camps and exile. Baire Roginsky died.

When I showed Senya this excerpt, it turned out that we were reading about his father, whom he had hardly known. Senya was born in 1946, in the north, in exile, and shortly afterward his father was arrested and died in 1951...

Arseny Borisovich never knew his father, but he inherited all of his human qualities. This included a strong sense of self-worth, something which in Soviet times made a person a danger to the system. That is also a tradition in Russia.

Arseny Roginsky has passed away. He was intelligent, calm, and courageous. He understood so much and accomplished so much.

Not for the first time, we have to say the world has grown empty.

Translated by Nina de Palma

Evgeny Zakharov on Arseny Roginsky

posted 15 Jan 2018, 03:56 by Website Service   [ updated 15 Jan 2018, 03:57 ]

18 December 2017

By Evgeny Zakharov, head of the Human Rights Protection Group in Kharkiv, Ukraine


Arseny Roginsky died today. An old, old friend for more than 40 years, Senya, Senechka. A historian from heaven, a student of Yury Lotman. Someone with a wonderful sense of humour and an ingrained sense of artistry. How we all adored his story-telling! He was 71 years old, he was gravely ill for a long time. He was one of the creators and the leader of Memorial.

Earlier, in the 1970s, without any authorization, he created ‘Memorial’, when he collected materials on the history of the 20th century – documents, memoirs, photographs, etc, and put them together in the journal Pamyat (Memory), which was issued abroad for five years.

He wasn’t forgiven for that. They concocted a criminal case against him for forging documents, claiming that he had gained access to the ‘special collection’ [closed archive] using a fraudulent library card -- although it was his card he had used! He spent four years in a camp for criminals in the north.

“Memorial won’t die!” he wrote for me in one of its books in the mid-1990s. Memorial is not dead: through all our collective endeavours, it continues to exist. His presence truly enlivened our world, and we shall be forever grateful to him.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Zoya Svetova: Remembering Arseny Roginsky

posted 15 Jan 2018, 03:45 by Website Service   [ updated 15 Jan 2018, 03:50 ]

18 December 2017 

By Zoya Svetova, journalist and human rights activist, Moscow


Photo of Arseny Roginsky {c) Yulia Ryzhenko /

Today Senya died, Arseny Roginsky. A great man, a fine historian and a Soviet political prisoner. Above all, he was a creator of Memorial. The Memorial Society was his offspring although there were many who, together with Roginsky, shaped and built the organisation.

It was Senya Roginsky who each day, each month, each year thought up new and yet more new ‘things’, that was how he described those marvellous projects which changed the climate in our country.

Senya’s charm or, as it has come to be called today, his charisma, brought a large circle of people together around him, people who were trying, with him and with Memorial, to change the climate of opinion and life in the country.

Those who believed in Senya and loved him included not only his contemporaries, and mine, but also those of my children.

A monument ought to have been erected to Senya during his life time for the project “Restoring the Names”. This project united more of society more than all the opposition meetings of recent years taken together.

Senya was ill for nearly a year, it was unbearable to accept that, suddenly, Senya, with his smile and half-closed eyes, and his gentleness, would no longer be there. It felt as though people of genius do not die. They should stay with us. Like an amulet. Life is unfair. Senya promised he would return and together we would toast “for your freedom and for ours”.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Alexander Daniel on Arseny Roginsky

posted 15 Jan 2018, 03:28 by Website Service   [ updated 15 Jan 2018, 04:26 by Rights in Russia ]

20 December 2017

From an interview with Alexander Daniel, co-chair of the Memorial Research and Information Centre in St. Petersburg

Source: [original source: BBC]

Pictured: Arseny Roginsky [left] with Alexander Daniel [right]

Alexander Daniel, researcher into the history of dissent in the Soviet Union, spoke about his long-time friend and colleague at Memorial, Arseny Roginsky.

We first met on 21 August 1968, a date that is hard to forget [Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, ed.]. We remained casual acquaintances for five or six years, and then, at the beginning of 1976, we began to work together closely on a large samizdat historical almanac, called Pamyat (“Memory”). The guys came up with the idea. I was extremely interested and Arseny was the driving force behind it.

Arseny was my senior colleague and the editor-in-chief, but we didn’t have a formal organisation. We collected materials, and prepared documents, memoirs and articles for publication.

BBC: And after a few years the KGB took an interest?

The KGB were interested almost immediately. We had to work underground, even though the digest was anonymous. The KGB only got round to imprisoning Arseny in 1981.

BBC: The arrest happened suddenly?

No, it wasn’t sudden. A few months before they said to him: wouldn’t you like to go abroad, here’s a visa for Israel. He said he didn’t want to go. And three months later they imprisoned him.

BBC: How did you react?

The most important thing was to finish the fifth almanac: it was already compiled, but only in draft. Our late friend Sasha Dobkin took on the main role after Arseny: he finished the fifth issue, though of course without Arseny’s energy everything went more slowly.

And when the sixth issue was compiled – just as the deadline was approaching – Sasha was told: go ahead and publish, if you want your friend to have a second term in the camps.

Obviously, we did not dare to finish the sixth issue. We gave all the materials we had collected to our Parisian friend Volodya Alloi, and he began to publish his own almanac of a similar kind, called Minuvshee (The Past).

BBC: You met Arseny when he was released?

Yes. He was thin, clear-voiced and transparent. And he used exclusively criminal jargon. It took him a month to shake off the camp slang.

BBC: Did he suffer much from his years of imprisonment?

I think it was hard for him, but then he always said that it was important for him to see that world, to understand it and to get a grasp of it. It seems he succeeded.

BBC: What kind of person was he?

Marvellously energetic. You know, like а fireball. Cheerful. He simply generated electricity, especially when he was working, that’s the main thing.

BBC: That’s why Roginsky was editor-in-chief of the Pamyat almanac, and then the head of Memorial?

Yes, but also because on our team at the almanac he was the only historian. The rest of us were amateurs. Secondly, there was, of course, his creativity. He overflowed with ideas, concepts, approaches and techniques.

BBC: Why him in particular?

The main business of Memorial is historical and educational work; that was just what we had been doing earlier. We had the right experience. When we came to Memorial, people had a great desire to undertake historical research. But they didn’t know how to do it and professional historians didn’t join us then. However, Arseny knew how. So, Arseny came to head the historical and educational section of Memorial in Moscow.

It was a piece of good fortune for Memorial, but I’m not sure if it was so fortunate for him.

BBC: Why?

Because he was a scholar. If he’d devoted those thirty years to scholarly work, he would have become a major specialist in Soviet history. Instead, he was an organiser, curator, adviser, and consultant. To sit down and achieve what he could do as a scholar was side-lined. The field-defining monographs he could surely have authored were never written.

BBC: Do you think he was aware of the sacrifice?

Undoubtedly. But he viewed this as a choice, rather than considering himself a victim. He suffered, but he made the choice quite consciously. To him, the cause represented by Memorial seemed more important than gratifying his scholarly curiosity.

BBC: Did he explain why?

Together, we often worked out answers to such questions, but now, as you see, I have no one to consult… Perhaps, it was because he considered that restoring historical memory was an important social change. He was sure that he could make a greater contribution through Memorial to establishing a mass awareness of history, than through specific studies.

BBC: Do you think he managed to alter popular awareness of history?

When you consider popular historical awareness in Russia today, I immediately want to say: “No, he didn't succeed.” On the other hand, who knows what people would be thinking if we hadn't done what we did? Perhaps, their ideas would be even more primitive and bizarre? Social psychology has no subjunctive mood.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Memorial presents latest version of its database of victims of state terror in the USSR – reports [6 December 2017]

posted 11 Jan 2018, 06:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jan 2018, 07:12 ]

6 December 2017     

On 5 December 2017, in Moscow, International Memorial Society presented an updated version of their database Victims of Political Terror in the USSR.

The first version of the electronic publication was released in 2001 on CD; it consisted of approximately 130,000 names from twenty-six regions of the former USSR. In 2017, the one-hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution and the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror, Memorial prepared the fifth version of the database.

Participating in the presentation were Elena Zhemkova, acting director of International Memorial Society; Vladimir Lukin, board member of the Foundation for Perpetuating the Memory of the Victims of Political Repressions; Yan Rachinsky, board member of International Memorial Society and project curator; Natalya Solzhenitsyna, president of the Solzhenitsyn Fund; Kirill Kaleda, priest of the Church of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russians at Butovsky Shooting Range and member of the Interagency Working Group for Perpetuating the Memory of Victims of Political Repression; and Roman Romanov, director of the Gulag History Museum in Moscow.

As Elena Zhemkova noted, the creation of Memorial’s database began seventeen years ago. At that time, Memorial members understood that the Books of Memory, which for various reasons are published only in very small quantities, are insufficient to achieve the return and perpetuation of the names of the victims of political repression. Thus was born the electronic database, accessible to all.

“But the database is still an instrument. The main thing is that we want to talk about the return of the names — using different methods and the contributions of different people,” Elena Zhemkova explained.

Vladimir Lukin observed that although the current historical anniversaries are not garnering enough attention, there are positive moments.

“I would note the creation of the national Russian monument to the victims of political repression, the Wall of Grief – supported by the government and civil society. There are people who believe that this monument was opened before its time, because our authorities are imperfect. But I believe waiting until our authorities are perfect is wrong — since we simply can’t wait that long. It’s extremely important that this monument become a joint project of the imperfect government and the far-from-perfect civil society.

“The modernization of the memorial grounds at Butovo is also a very important event. I’m glad that there is now a monument to the victims of the repressions [‘Mask of Grief’ by Ernst Neizvestny] in Ekaterinburg.

“I believe that our Foundation is trying not to stop its work. We are trying to achieve two things: that the memory that moves our hearts is eternal; and that we ourselves feel a little bit freed from the weight of our conscience, that we did one little thing for the recovery of the memories of these people,” Vladimir Lukin said.

Yan Rachinsky demonstrated the new database and explained how it is different from previous versions. As the Memorial historian explained, the new database contains 3,100,000 individual identifications. About half a million new names were added, and about 170,000 notations were combined or deleted. This was done because, according to Yan Rachinsky, there was no adequate editor for the entirety of the multivolume Books of Memory, and therefore notations were duplicated up to five to six times in the various volumes of the various regions.

Data about victims in Georgia and Azerbaijan was added, and a Ukrainian volume appeared, as did information about Bryansk and Sakhalin oblasts.

The disks that used to be published were presented as reference systems. It was impossible for them to be added to; the material was uneditable. In the new internet version, additions are possible, including graphical materials.

In addition, in the new database it is possible to perform searches not only by last name, first name, patronymic, and date and place of birth but also by education, profession, nationality, party membership, and other parameters.

However, the lists are far from exhaustive. According to studies of statistics from archival documents (to which historian Arseny Roginsky, chair of the board of International Memorial Society, has dedicated many years), Memorial members believe that ultimately the database should contain information about no fewer than twelve million people. Yet this concerns only those whom the government have declared rehabilitated — and those who were declared rehabilitated are far from all of those who should have been.

Yan Rachinsky emphasized that the Memorial database project was developed with the assumption that it would be completed by the government. However, the government has to date not expressed any interest.

He noted, as a particularly sad and alarming tendency, researchers’ increasing difficulty in accessing archives:

“We are conducting our presentation under the slogan of Akhmatova’s lines ‘Call everyone by their names.’ Of course, that has been our goal from the first days of the founding of Memorial. But there is a continuation: ‘They took away the list, and there’s nowhere to find out.’ Sadly, there is nowhere to find out because access to archives is becoming more and more difficult, and researchers cannot put together the Books of Memory because in most regions they do not have access to archives that deal with the repressions. It’s very rare to succeed in finding some form of compromise. Our proposal, that at least members of our officially approved editorial board of the Books of Memory would have access to the materials, was refused by law enforcement and military agencies.”

Nataliya Solzhenitsyna expressed the opinion that to preserve historical memory one must work not only with those who understand the full importance of this task, but also with people who have not yet taken an interest in it, or even those in the opposing camp.

"Hard as it is to do the work that we are presenting today, this is only one portion of all the work that we must do. We must share our work with those who are not even aware that they need it. We must impress what we are doing upon a society that is indifferent. When considering all members of society, at the opposite end of the spectrum are wholly malicious people who believe our work – whether out of stupidity or not, but on the basis of a completely different mindset – is harmful.

That's why I believe that the work being carried out, as was said, is merely a tool. Each of us must use this tool in every way possible. Works of art are just one way. Each of us, in my opinion, should spread this all around – within our families, to our children, our grandchildren, and the friends of our children and grandchildren. This task is, to some extent, far more difficult. I feel that we find ourselves now in exceedingly difficult times, and there's quite a lot that depends on each of us. We cannot have an impact on the authorities (those who can, I'm sure, are doing so), but we must have an impact where we can: on people who are like us, but who have not been inspired by the feeling that drives us to do this work. We must do this, or else the country will turn into a military camp."

When it was his turn to speak, the priest Kirill Kaleda reminded listeners of the work that has been done at the NKVD's Butovo Firing Range, which was the site of a secret mass grave of those executed by the NKVB during the Great Terror.

"The Butovo Firing Range has been open for more than 20 years now. Gradually, graves are being established there. Various commemorative events have been taking place, both religious and secular. This year, a memorial was completed called 'The Garden of Memory,' in which the names of all 20,000 people buried at the Butovo Firing Range between August 1937 and October 1938 were carved into granite slabs. This commemorative plaque is 300 meters long, with a height of about two metres. The names of all people known to have been buried are on this plaque, regardless of nationality, religion, or whether or not they have been rehabilitated," says Kirill Kaleda.

"These names must be restored, because behind names, there are people. After unveiling the memorial in Butovo, we saw that people were coming to see it, and very different types people at that. There have been elderly people, who simply cry when they see the names of their own relatives, as well as young people, for whom this is truly needed," the priest pointed out.

Roman Romanov, Director of the Museum of GULAG History, focused, like Vladimir Lukin, on the positive shifts that are taking place regarding commemorative work:

"The appearance of the 'Wall of Sorrow' memorial, the development of our museum, and the launch of a new database of victims of repression all inspire optimism in me.

“Our museum is state-funded, so we have to communicate with officials at various levels. When our museum was very new, there was an official who said that our subject matter isn't needed, that the museum isn't necessary, and they wanted to know why it was 'conducting sabotage' on public funds. I had to communicate with these people. Years have gone by, and these people have changed. Now, they have a totally different attitude towards this subject matter. These are people who support the museum. It's possible for people's perceptions of the world to change like this, and that is the foundation of my optimism.

“Another basis for my optimism is my colleagues, my close associates. These are mainly young people who have come to the museum for different reasons, but they have an intrinsic need to get to the bottom of what this was, to restore these names. There are more people like this than it may seem. They just keep appearing. This, in particular, is the foundation for my optimism: that young people want to remember the past, and on that basis are building their future," Roman Romanov emphasized.

Translated by Julie Hersh and Nina de Palma

Lev Levinson on Arseny Roginsky: "No matter how worn the phrase 'civil society' [...] Roginsky was a leader of civil society in the true meaning of the term" []

posted 28 Dec 2017, 10:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Dec 2017, 10:57 ]

24 December 2017

By Lev Levinson 

I want to say a few words about the historian Arseny Roginsky as a human rights defender. And as a politician. At his funeral in a number of speeches it was said that Arseny Borisovich was a great humanitarian, historian, and builder of Memorial, but that he did not consider himself to be a human rights defender in the literal sense, and even thought of human rights defenders with a certain irony.

Not as though he had any ill will towards them, of course, but as if he maintained a distance from them. And, so to say, for that reason (though I did not hear this at the funeral, but have heard it more than once before) he created within Memorial a separate human rights centre for the "excitable ones." But this view is wrong, in my opinion. 

It’s true, Roginsky did not give advice sessions for citizens who have suffered, in one way or another, from the actions of the authorities, not did he speak emotionally at rallies in support of political and civic freedoms. However, it must be seen that the honest work of a historian, that involves the discovery of historical truth, is indeed a necessary part of the work to protect human rights. And not only in terms of the right to information.

And this is also the protection of the right to historical memory, the returning to the people, to humanity, of their past. To possess your own history a right, just like the rights to a home, freedom of expression, personal anonymity and legal personhood. And by tradition the authorities persecuted those historians who did not serve them, because they fear historical truth no less than the truth about themselves in the present.

That is why the totalitarian Soviet regime persecuted both those who published the Chronicle of Current Events and those who studied and published historical materials. And they persecuted not only those who studied the periods of the early Bolsheviks and Stalinism, but also all Russian history, and indeed all history about which which there was an official “uniquely correct” point of view - about which there was a myth that had been created to suit the interests of the regime.

So Stalinist despotism and Soviet imperialism, in the framework of the works created by those historians who served the official myths, canonized Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, and mythologized the Decembrists and the revolutionaries of the People’s Will.

Recently another official version of Russian history has been forced on to us that in some ways coincides with the Stalinist version, while adding to it a crude version of “Holy Russia.” In some sense the redrafting of history in their own interests conducted by the Communists was more honest, and not for nothing the whole course of Russian history, beginning with Rurik, was called the history of the USSR.

Those in power today are not yet so explicit, but laws have already been adopted providing for criminal liability for the “distribution of evidently false information about the activities of the USSR in the years of the Second World War” (up to three years in prison) and for the “distribution of information evidently disrespectful to society about the days of military glory and the memorable dates of Russia related to the protection of the Fatherland.”

In addition, when what is being talked about is the so-called “splendour” of history, the historian risks falling foul of the law that criminalizes “insulting the feelings of believers.” So we see the historian’s trade once again becoming dangerous. This is why the hooray-patriots attacked not Memorial's Human Rights Centre, but those taking part in Memorial’s programme on national history for high school students.

Real history is “stolen history” (in the same way that Mandelstam wrote that real poetry is stolen air, and permitted poetry is garbage). A free historian is a theif in the old Russian sense of this word: in other words, a state criminal .

From this comes my second theme. Roginsky was a true historian, which means he was a human rights defender. And since he was a human rights defender, he was a politician. And a politician not only because he worked on history “without permission.” He organized human rights work (organized in the sense of guided) exactly as "political." 

But this is politics not in the wretched sense given it by the current regime, which considers politics to be the clinging on to power, along with the kicking of opponents. Nor is it politics in the sense of waving a red rag before the authorities.

As a human rights defender Roginsky had a most perfect ability to negotiate and reach agreements. He was able to talk with the authorities on equal terms. But this was not all. No matter how worn the phrase “civil society” (and it is worn and made trite by its opponents quite intentionally), Roginsky was a leader of civil society in the true meaning of the term.

As is well-known, not everyone liked the fact that Roginsky charted a course for Memorial out into the open sea of politics, and did not wish to see the organization remain secluded in a small pond, handing out humanitarian aid to the families of the victims of political repression.

"The people execute their power directly" - states the Russian Constitution. But I do not intend here to mount my hobbyhorse. Arseny Roginsky acted in a somewhat different way. Real power for him was the power of great ideas. He was an astute politician. Astute, according to the linguist Maks Fasmer, means nimble, knowledgeable, experienced and intelligent.

Mikhail Rogachev: The reburial of victims of the Soviet terror in the Republic of Komi

posted 18 Dec 2017, 08:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Dec 2017, 08:41 ]

12 December 2017 

By Mikhail Borisovich Rogachev, chair of the board of Repentance, a non-governmental charitable foundation in the Republic of Komi (established in 2000), and editor-in-chief of “Repentance: The Komi Republic’s Martyrology of the Victims of Political Repressions”. Mikhail Rogachev has written around 200 papers on the history of the Gulag, repression and opposition in the USSR, was awarded the Likhachev Prize, and has been part of Memorial since 1989, was chair of the board of the Syktyvkar branch of Memorial (1990–2007), and is a board member of the International Memorial Society.

Source: [original source: “7x7”]

Historian Mikhail Rogachev believes that not all the remains of political prisoners executed at the end of the 1930s and discovered in Zabolotny in 2017 have been buried in Ukhta.

He made his comment to 7x7 after the administration’s press service announced their [re]burial on 7 December 2017.

He is presumably referring to the remains of political prisoners discovered at the end of April 2017 during excavation work. Experts examined three skulls with bullet holes and determined that they had been in the ground for at least 30 years.

Investigators finished verifying the data in July 2017 and a criminal case was not opened “due to the absence of corpus delicti”.

Historian Mikhail Rogachev believes that the burial site has not been thoroughly investigated:

“It’s a good thing that they have been given a proper burial, but the case has now essentially been closed, even though the rules state that the location must be inspected to ascertain the edges of the grave and find out whether there are any more bodies. Other people could also be buried there. We need to know whether they were shot at the height of the mass shootings.

“How they are positioned is important – those shot were usually buried in common graves. If the remains are all buried haphazardly in one place without coffins, then chances are they were shot in 1937 and 1938.

“We have information that around 80 people were shot there during this time, but they were shot in groups rather than all at once. Once the burial site has been examined, it will be possible to compare numbers and work out when they were executed.”

The historian claims that according to the investigation protocol of similar mass graves, the city administration should be involved with assistance from law enforcement agencies, the public prosecutor’s office and forensic experts.

The Ukhtpechlag (the Ukhto-Pechorsky Corrective Labour Camp), made up of five camp departments, was set up in the early 1930s. At that time there was also an NKVD prison in Zabolotny and people were shot nearby. After the camp was dismantled in the 1950s, all the prison buildings were demolished.

In 1991, a monument funded by the Ukhta administration, businesses in the region and the Ukhta-Pechora branch of Memorial was erected nearby to all the innocent people killed in Zabolotny.

Translated by Nicky Brown

A Evening of Solidarity with Historian Yury Dmitriev. Report by

posted 18 Dec 2017, 04:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Dec 2017, 04:51 ]

11 December 2017    
By Vera Vasilieva    Source: 

On 9 December 2017, an evening of solidarity with the historian Yury Dmitriev was held at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow. The Karelian historian reclaimed the names of 11 000 victims of Soviet terror from oblivion, and did much for the commemoration of their burials in Sandarmokh, Red Bor.

For a year now, Yury Dmitriev has been held on remand at Pretrial Detention Centre No. 1 in the city of Petrozavodsk, on what his colleagues, human rights activists, cultural figures and many others are convinced are false allegations. The Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) has recognised Yury Dmitriev as a political prisoner.

The evening of solidarity took place under the banner “Do not be afraid to go to prison for this.” The meeting was attended by Yury Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev, his daughter Ekaterina Klodt, and also Garri Bardin, Liudmila Ulitskaia, Sergei Gandlevskii, Timur Shaov, Veronika Dolina and others.

The event was organised by the human rights association “Free Word”.

On the night it was possible to make a modest donation to the family of Yury Dmitriev and sign any of the 32 postcards with photos of Sandarmokh, Red Bor and other memorial locations. The organisers will send them to the detention centre.

As Natalia Mavlevich, a translator and member of the “Free Word” association, recalled, Yury Dmitriev was arrested on charges which were based on photographs secretly seized from his computer by persons unknown. The local historian is accused of making child pornography, when in fact the images are a diary of the health of his adopted daughter.

In support of Yury Dmitriev a broad public campaign has been launched, in which both Memorial and the Moscow International Film School are participating. People continually go to the court hearings, which take place in Petrozavodsk, and write and publish videos in defence of the accused online.

The evening at the Sakharov Centre began with a screening of Maria Boteva’s documentary report about a trip to the court in Petrozavodsk and to Krasny Bor on 11 October 2017. Among the numerous other supporters of Yury Dmitriev was the writer Ludmila Ulitskaia.

In the opinion of the St Petersburg historian Anatolii Razumov, who like Yury Dmitriev created a Book of Memory, and who also went on the trip, “Dmitriev was arrested for Sandarmokh”. After all, it is through the efforts of the memorialisers that that place of memory became notorious far beyond the borders of Russia, which certainly did not please everyone in our country.

“Probably everyone knows what this matter is and where it came from, but there’s just one thing they probably don’t know: how it will end up. With the current state of our justice system, it’s rather difficult to predict, because it’s impossible to take only the law into consideration. If only the law is considered, then Yury Alekseevich will be vindicated,’ said lawyer Viktor Anufriev, speaking at the Sakharov Centre.

“When I visit him and say that people are writing about him and supporting him, he comes to life and smiles, thinking that this is not all done in vain. Most of all he’s happy that people do not forget his work: excavations and the restoration of memory.

“I was with him on 2 December. His mood was very good. He sent a big hello to everyone. I told him about today’s event, and he was very thankful to everyone,” said Ekaterina Klodt of her meetings with her father at the detention centre. “It’s impossible to reconcile oneself to this. I can’t get used to it. For me personally, it’s not possible,” she added.

The animator, screenwriter and artist Garri Bardin said that, “when you see young people who are imbued with Dmitriev’s ideas, this raises the hope that maybe we will survive despite this system.

“Here is a person who sees to the root of the matter. He understands that a life should not be lived out, torn up and then forgotten. If we forget, we kill the person over again. For this reason, to create markers, people like Yury Alekseevich Dmitriev are essential.

Yury Dmitriev is a marker to which we must measure up, however many mouths are shut. God give him strength to endure,” said Garri Bardin.

The evening also featured journalist Viktoria Ivleva, translator and literary critic Lev Oborin, poets Dmitry Vedeniapin and Yury Gugolev, singer Tatiana Konkova, musician and artist German Vinogradov and others.

In total, more than a 100 000 roubles were collected.

Supporters of Yury Dmitriev say that people who want to support him, including by going to the trial, can do this through the Facebook community "The Case of Dmitriev" (in Russian).

Translated by Anna Bowles

Chechnya: Rights defenders report mass abduction of residents of Grozny

posted 11 Dec 2017, 05:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Dec 2017, 05:38 ]

December 2017

Information about the abduction of seven residents of Grozny, Chechnya, by unidentified “security agents” on the night of 21-22 November 2017 has been sent to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Novaya Gazeta, and the internet publisher Caucasian Knot.

Earlier, Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) had said that on November 22 Zelimkhan Dikaev, a thirty-two-year-old resident of Grozny, was abducted. The people who had taken him said that they planned to deliver Zelimkhan to the North Battalion (in 2010 the battalion was renamed the 141st special motorized regiment of the internal military forces of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

However, it turns out that at least seven people were abducted. At least two unidentified security in passenger automobiles took them at night from their homes in front of their relatives.

According to available information, those abducted are being held on the territory of the third squadron of the regiment of the National Guard in the Staropromyslovsky neighborhood of Grozny (in the microregion Solyanaya Balka) in inhuman conditions: they are being held in unheated rooms and are barely fed. Rights organizations have not as yet been able to obtain any details of illegal violence carried out against them.

Security forces have not confirmed that the abducted people are being held in that area, but rights defenders consider the information to be reliable.

Rights organizations currently have the following incomplete data about six of the imprisoned:

Zelikhman Dikaev, 32, resident of the Zavodsky neighborhood of Grozny;

Alkhazur, presumed Suleymanov (oncological surgeon), 32/33;

Hussein Akhmatov, resident of the Staropromyslovskiy neighborhood of Grozny, approximately 25;

Shadid Shadaev, resident of the Voykovo village of Grozny, approximately 32;

Zeyndi (last name unknown), village of Voykovo, approximately 32–35;

Magomed (last name unknown), village of Voykovo, approximately 32–35.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre will appeal to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and to the Federal Human Rights Ombudsperson to inquire about the disappeared people.

Translated by Julie Hersh

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