The Wall of Sorrow: An Open Letter to the Ministry of Culture and the sculptor Georgy Frangulyan

posted 27 Nov 2017, 01:06 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Nov 2017, 01:38 ]

21 November 2017


‘In place of a stone plaque with the inscription FORGIVE, which is part of the Wall of Sorrow, there should be one inscribed NEVER AGAIN' insist the authors of an open letter to the ministry of culture and the sculptor Georgy Frangulyan.


To the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and the sculptor Georgy Frangulyan [...]

‘No one has the right to suggest that society should forgive the state’s crimes against humanity!’

In Moscow on the 30th of October 2017, at a ceremony attended by president Vladimir Putin and Kirill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, a very large bronze monument to the victims of political repression in the Soviet period - the Wall of Sorrow - was unveiled. An inscription on a slab of granite that lies next to the monument refers to a decree of President Putin which authorized the memorial.

This memorial of national significance, the Wall of Sorrow, is the work of the well-known Russian sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan. His design was chosen by the jury in a competition held in Moscow in February 2015. All the entries in the competition were shown at an exhibition in the Museum of Moscow.

The unveiling, in Russia, of a national memorial to the victims of political repression, and built with government support, was awaited by hundreds of thousands of people, possibly even by millions, and not only in our country.

Visually the bronze monument , the Wall of Sorrow, more than 30 metres long, and about 6 metres high, presents a mass of stylized figures of people standing crowded next to each other and behind each other in a series of rows. The contours and the outline of the figures, their bowed heads, and the clothes which reach their ankles, bring to mind the icons of the Orthodox Church.

The size of the monument, the huge number of icon-like figures huddled together, sorrowing victims whose faces are obscured, without any doubt creates a powerful emotional response, strong feelings and, indeed, stress. ‘Such a huge number of people were killed!’ ‘Oh, how one pities them!’ – probably this, or something like it, is the kind of intuitive response to this artistic representation from those who come to view the monument.

On the square in front of the monument there are a number of rectangular bronze tablets with the words REMEMBER in different languages.

Unfortunately nowhere has a place been found , not even for a reference, to acknowledge the endeavours of citizens, including the descendants of the victims of repression, to bring to trial those who committed murder in the name of the state: the country’s rulers and those individuals and government bodies that authorized the repressions, organized and carried them out.

The idea behind the monument, the Wall of Sorrow, is expressed in four words, carved in very large capital letters on four plaques on a stone mound, lying behind the Wall of Sorrow. On two of the stone plaques, lying side by side, the artist has carved the words REMEMBER, KNOW, and on two other plaques, lying next to each other, are the words JUDGE and FORGIVE.

Apparently these four words both reflect and emphasize the main idea embodied in the Wall of Sorrow. But even if the jury in the competition held in the Museum of Moscow approved the proposal to put the word FORGIVE on a plaque on the stone mound as part of the Wall of Sorrow monument, such a decision was illegal and has no moral force.

The fact is, that these are no longer simply the words of Frangulyan or anyone else. Whether we want this or not, the words inscribed on the bronze tablets and stone plaques included in the national memorial to victims of political repression establish and express the view of our nation and state both to the victims and to those persons and Soviet state bodies that carried out the political repressions and are guilty of the sufferings of tens of millions and the deaths of millions of their fellow citizens, including those close to us and our relatives.

The Wall of Sorrow proposes to Russian society, and to those who will see and read this fourth word on the stone plaques on the raised mound, not only to "know, remember and judge" the political repressions, which is quite correct and necessary, but also to "FORGIVE" Soviet power for the political repressions, the destruction of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  

No one has the moral right (and not only moral right) to propose to Russian society and Russian citizens that they forgive the commission by the Soviet state of crimes against humanity for which there is no statute of limitations - neither any higher power, nor the president, nor the patriarch, nor those who ordered the creation of the memorial. None of us.

This is why we insist that the plaque with the work "FORGIVE" be removed from the stone mound behind the Wall of Sorrow!

Instead of a stone plaque with the word FORGIVE, and in its place as part of the Wall of Sorrow, there must be a plaque with the words "NEVER AGAIN."

We call upon the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and Moscow City Department of Culture, that are responsible for the maintenance of the memorial Wall of Sorrow, and the author of the memorial, Georgy Frangulyan, to carry out our request and demand.

Precisely these words KNOW, REMEMBER, JUDGE and NEVER AGAIN are necessary and must be on the plaques of the Wall of Sorrow in order to express the attitude to the crimes, committed by the Soviet state and the political leadership of the country with regard to the people, that has been been learned and acquired through suffering by Russian society, including by the descendants of the victims of political repressions.

Yury Samodurov, former director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre, Moscow
Lev Ponomarev, human rights defender
Igor Shelkovsky, sculpotor
Igor Kharichev, writer, Moscow
Antonina Mikhailova, geologist
Andrei Chernov, writer, St. Petersburg
Valery Kuvakin, honorary president of the Russian Society for the Humanities, Moscow
Elena Volkova, culturologist, Moscow
Irina Karatsuba, historian, Moscow
Aleksei Sosna, poet, Moscow
Oleg Morozov, historian, Moscow
Peter Vins, member of the jury and founder of the Andrei Sakharov prize for "Journalism as an Act of Courage," Kiev
Sergei Mironenko, artist, Moscow
Mikhail Shneider, civil society activist, Moscow
Mark Kharitonov, writer, Moscow
Nikolai Shaburov, historian of religion, Kiev
Boris Vishnevsky, member of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly, writer and journalist
Denis Dragunsky, writer, Moscow
Nikita Sokolov, historian, Moscow
Elga Silina, daughter of victims of political repression, Moscow

This open letter can be signed on the website

Translated by Mary McAuley and Simon Cosgrove