“Members of the Memorial human rights society, relatives of victims and others come here once a year to stand near the Solovetsky Stone, brought from the White Sea island where the Soviets organized their first prison camp in 1923, and read from a list of the 30,000 Muscovites executed in 1937 and 1938,” writes the Washington Post’s Kathy Lally:
Memorial organized the first reading in 2007, the 70th anniversary of the terror. The names are read on the eve of Oct. 30, the day set aside to remember victims of political repression. The names, along with ages, professions and dates of execution, are read to defy a totalitarian system that tried to obliterate its victims — relatives of the executed often did not know when they died or where they were buried.
“It is our duty to return their names to them,” said Yelena Zhemkova, Memorial’s executive director.
Memorial has been working for years to build a database of the victims of Soviet-era repression and was among the agencies supported by funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which the Russian government forced out of the country Oct. 1.
Vladimir Putin’s Federal Security Service is reviving some of the worst practices of the Soviet secret police, including the kidnapping of dissidents and political opponents who had emigrated, Moscow-based journalist Victor Davidoff writes in The Moscow Times:
On the morning of Oct. 19, Leonid Razvozzhayev, an activist in the Left Front movement, arrived at the Kiev office of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, for a consultation on applying for political asylum status in Ukraine. At 1 p.m. he left his things in the office and went out to buy some coffee and a bite to eat. He never returned. A HIAS security guard saw several men in civilian clothing push Razvozzhayev into a minivan. He tried to stop them, but they pushed him away. They drove Razvozzhayev away.
On the evening of Oct. 21, Razvozzhayev appeared before the Basmanny District Court in Moscow, which ordered his arrest for plotting to incite mass riots. When he was led out of the court, Razvozzhayev shouted to journalists, “Tell people I’ve been tortured.”…..
The truth of what happened to Razvozzhayev came out only when a group of human rights activists met with him in Lefortovo. His story sounds like it came out of a sequel to “The Godfather.” One of the activists who met with him, Anna Karetnikova, posted Razvozzhayev’s statement on her LiveJournal blog.
“In the minivan, they taped my hands and feet. If I made any attempt to move I was kicked in the back or shoulder. They covered my face so I couldn’t see where I was going. After we crossed the border, they put handcuffs with chains over the tape, shackling together my hands and feet. Those shackles were kept on until we got to Moscow. They didn’t give me food or water, and they didn’t let me go to the toilet. They took me into the cellar of some house. They began to threaten me, saying that no one knew where I was. ‘Today you’re here, tomorrow you’re an unmarked grave.’ They demanded that I sign a confession and said only that would save me.”
The truth of Razvozzhayev’s story was confirmed by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which said he had been kidnapped by Russian operatives.
Putin’s critics allege that his crackdown on the opposition “reminds them of ….the worst of Stalin’s terror, when 1.7 million Russians were arrested and at least 725,000 of them were shot. [and] others were sent to the gulag,” notes the Post’s Lally:
“No,” said Vladimir Kantovsky, an 89-year-old survivor of the camps, after he had read four names of the dead and placed a candle next to the stone. “It cannot be compared. You cannot even imagine what it was like.”
He pointed across the square to the Lubyanka, the home of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB.
“There were guards there with knives,” he said. “People wouldn’t even walk near the building, they were so terrified.”
Putin’s Russia is by no means a totalitarian state. Nevertheless, the Kremlin’s pronounced authoritarian turn suggests that Western democracies aspiring to ‘engage’ the regime could learn a lesson or two from the Cold War.
“In the last six months, Russia has turned on a decisively anti-Western course,” writes Davidoff:
It is turning into a classic rogue state that doesn’t respect human rights or international law. It’s certainly useless to try to establish a partnership with such a state, and it may even be counterproductive.
In the 1970s, a similar policy of detente led to several proxy wars and extended the Cold War for at least 10 more years. A repeat of that mistake today could cost the West and Russian citizens dearly. RTWT
Memorial is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.