“Return of the Names” at the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow. Reporting and photos from HRO.org

posted 2 Nov 2016, 12:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Nov 2016, 12:24 ]
30 October 2016

Source: HRO.org 

Text and photos by Vera Vasilieva

The annual “Return of the Names” event took place at the square by the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow this year on Saturday 29 October. The International Memorial Society has organized the event since 2007. For the first time, Memorial held the remembrance event with funds from a crowdfunding campaign, that is, with charitable donations from citizens.

Every year on the eve of the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repressions, from ten in the morning till ten at night, one after another people read the names of those shot in Moscow during the years of the Great Terror: name, surname, age, profession, and date of execution. The soulless, blunt machine that transformed people into “camp dust” spared nobody — be they man or woman, a person who had only begun to live or an elderly man, an apartment building janitor or a minister, a dissenter or a loyal employee of the “organs” or state agencies.

In Moscow the Terror’s topography is extensive, and Lubyanka Square is one of the central points on its map, a point where darkness and pain are concentrated.

At the square near the Solovetsky Stone the street exhibition “‘When We Return to the City…’ Varlam Shalamov in Moscow” was on display. The square was a starting point for several excursions organized by Memorial, such as “Varlam Shalamov’s Moscow” and “The Topography of Terror. Lubyanka and its surroundings.”

Those who came to take part in the commemoration of innocent victims were to take a red or orange lit candle, a piece of paper printed with several surnames in a large font, and stand in line behind the microphone. Waiting took a long time — an hour or more. Yet at some point every person must wait through this line in order to pass through the pain. Then, stepping away from the microphone, speakers placed their candles on the pedestal of the Solovetsky Stone. Thus each candle signified not one interrupted life, but several. Many also laid flowers there. 

During the years of the Terror in Moscow, according to Memorial’s information, more than 40,000 people were executed. Thanks to “Return of the Names,” these statistical figures that the human mind is unequipped to perceive or comprehend become personal stories and, as people, take on flesh and blood. Oftentimes people add “my grandpa,” “my mom” to the names and surnames. In two words they tell the stories of their lives. And thus these stories penetrate hearts and minds, and the victims of the Terror live on in our memory.

For this reason it is necessary to come again and again to the Solovetsky Stone and read these names aloud.

The weather this year turned out to be vile, with flurries of wet snow, raw wind, and a low grey sky; but the line behind the microphone only grew with new participants. There were remarkably many young people and children.

A darkness has curdled not only in Moscow’s atmosphere, but also over the whole of the country that once more erects monuments to the executioner and makes for itself a new idol, yet because of these people’s presence, here it has dissipated.

Translated by Caroline Elkin