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