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Aleksei Babii on the foundation of Krasnoyarsk Memorial Society [Sibir.Realii]

posted 15 Apr 2018, 13:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Apr 2018, 14:01 ]
19 March 2018

An extract from “Anyone can be jailed!”

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Sibir. Realii

In March this year Krasnoyarsk Memorial turned 30. On 9th March 1988 Vladimir Birger, Irina Polushkina and Aleksei Babii (all three are mathematicians, programmers) approached Vladimir Sirotinin, a member of the Political Prisoners’ Aid Fund, and proposed creating an organisation that would be devoted to finding information about the fates of victims of political repression.

That was what they called the organisation: Fates of People. This happened almost a year before the International Memorial Society was officially founded (in January 1989). Soon after this the Krasnoyarsk organisation was renamed. By that time information about several thousand victims of repression had already been collected.

Over 30 years the people from Krasnoyarsk Memorial collected data from about 200,000 people who had suffered repression. According to the chair of Krasnoyarsk Memorial, Aleksei Babii, this is roughly a fifth of the work which must be done: in the years from 1920 - 1980 more than one million victims of repression passed through Krasnoyarsk region.

“Politics was never far”

Aleksei Andreyevich, how did this all start? How did the idea of creating such an organisation appear?

In fact it all started in November 1987 when the journalist Yury Shchekochikhin and human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Yury Samodurov published an article in Literaturnaya gazeta in which they recalled that even Khrushchev had promised to establish a memorial to the victims of political repression, but it hadn’t been done. So they proposed collecting signatures for a petition, throughout the country, for the creation of such a memorial. As you know, it only appeared in autumn 2017. However, that very article became the catalyst for the work which Memorial has done since. It all began, for us as well, with that petition.

Volodya Birger brought us together – we met in a literature club called “Debut.” I was a regular member and Volodya turned up to collect signatures for the petition. It turned out that we were experts in the same field – computer programming – and we both knew Ira Polushkina (she had studied at the mathematics faculty two years below me). We started to work. We collected signatures. Volodya and I had access to a computer on which it was easier to print out the blank forms for the petition, than on the typewriter. My work at the time involved frequent business trips to Moscow, so I was able to hand over the signatures on the petition to Ponomarev.

But at some point it became clear that a memorial is one thing, but what was needed was to work to for people, to restore the rights of the innocent people who had suffered. Volodya Birger proposed creating just such an organisation. But he didn’t want to head it. In general, he was an introvert that he felt more at ease working with documents, or interviewing people – he left behind an enormous archive. I also dug my heels in: by that time I had already left all organisations a long time before, hadn’t joined any news ones, and had no intention of doing so – whether they were legal or prohibited. In short, we went to see Volodya Sirotinin and his wife, Svetlana Borisovna (now his widow), at their home and proposed that he should head up the new organisation. It was 9th March. And our organisation immediately began to work. [Read more in Russian]

Translated by Frances Robson