Arseny Roginsky: "In my view, there will be no significant change for a long time"

posted 19 Sept 2016, 02:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Sept 2016, 02:24 ]
12 September 2016

Source: [original source: Novaya gazeta]

The Ministry of Justice, on the basis of a submission by the Prosecutor General, has begun an unscheduled inspection of the International Memorial Society. The inspection, which began on 5th September, is aimed at “ascertaining the presence (absence) of any indication of the organization’s acting as a non-profit organization carrying out the functions of a foreign agent”. Memorial has provided all the documentation required for the inspection, i.e. the protocols and reports of its work for the past four years. The results will be known no later than 30th September. Novaya gazeta put a number of questions to the historian Arseny Borisovich Roginsky, the leader of the International Memorial Society.

- Arseny Borisovich, why the new “unscheduled inspection” of the International Memorial Society?

- I myself don’t understand why. Maybe an “unscheduled” check-up is, in reality, part of a plan. Look, the Levada Centre has recently come under “attack”, now it’s our turn. All these inspections of NGOs, little islands of civil society, all the intolerance towards anyone who has their own views and insists on being independent. All the same, I didn’t notice any signs of great joy, or enthusiasm, in the faces of the officials from the Ministry of Justice.

- Does it bother them that this is happening before the elections or, on the contrary, makes them more enthusiastic?

- It seems to me that, quite probably, this is simply a bureaucratic story. Those who hold power are nowadays so scared of each other, it may well be that officials feel they have to respond to these kind of “attacks”, instigated by the nationalist-patriots (I don’t know how else to describe them – they are certainly not patriots).

- Was this the case with Perm-36, turning a museum of political repression into a museum of those who ran and guarded the camps?

- Just so. And the initiators were young people who thought that kind of museum was damaging to Russia. But I hope not all is lost as regards Perm-36.

- To what extent are these active young neo-Stalinist citizens really sincere in their hate for you?

- I’ve already said that they are no kind of patriots. They see neo-Stalinism as an ideology that gets support from above. They want to work their way up, they want to attract attention from those in charge…

- How do you think the situation will develop as regards Memorial?

- Well, given that the Ministry of Justice has been given the assignment by the Prosecutor General and has obediently stood to attention…I think they have already decided the outcome. But we won’t start hysterically shouting in response, although sometimes we would like to. We won’t play the game: so you do something to us, and we’ll respond with so and so…Although of course we shall appeal to the Constitutional Court.

- Then the story can drag on for a long time?

- Yes. In addition to everything else, we are an international organization – how then could we be a “foreign agent”? However, it’s easy to imagine that they’ll find some ruse or other: for example, refer to our being registered in the Russian Federation. All the same they won’t manage to shut Memorial down. And not only because we have already been in existence for thirty years and stood our ground in very different times.

- How does today differ from the first years of this century?

- Then, it seemed to me, the authorities had some kind of game-plan, you know like a chessplayer… and now it doesn’t feel like that, things just roll on through bureaucratic inertia.

- Well, but where are they rolling to?

- You must understand, we find ourselves in a time when nothing is going to change very quickly. In my view, there will be no significant change for a long time.

- In that case you will be termed ‘foreign agents’ and…How much more difficult will it then be to carry out your professional activity?

- Of course it will be more difficult! We are not some kind of office where people sit quietly in a corner, write, and then publish little books. We are constantly engaging with people: very often with officials of different ranks, with school teachers. And many of them will be scared by the term “foreign agent”, and that will make contact with them more difficult. Everything that is taking place today is so very unpleasant, because it hampers us in our work.

Oleg Khlebnikov, editor of the contemporary history section of Novaya gazeta

Translated by Mary McAuley