So are they opening up the archives or in fact obstructing access?
The BBC reported on Sunday 8 July that the Russian Security Service – the FSB – has announced that it has declassified the Security Service archives of the years of mass repression.
In fact, Boris Yeltsin in 1992 signed a decree on removing classification restrictions from legislative and other acts used as grounds for mass repression. The Head of the FSB Department of Registration and Archives, Vasily Khistoforov stated that the process of declassification had been underway ever since. He told reporters that now anyone could gain access to archival documents from the 1920s to 1950s by writing a letter stating the material of interest and the reason for wanting to see it.
He stressed, however, that researchers could only have access to material with a notarized letter of authority from the relatives of the victim. He told Interfax that “there are unscrupulous authors trying to extract from criminal cases not the truth, but so-called “dirty linen”. Our duty is to stop such cases.”
Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alexeeva told Associated Press that the 1992 Decree had indeed opened up access to previously concealed material both for victims relatives and for human rights defenders and journalists.
However over the last seven years, she added, the archives had effectively become closed again. She therefore assumes that the FSB is now removing its own recently imposed restrictions. “We once again have a slight opening”, Ludmila Alexeeva said, but expressed dissatisfaction with a situation whereby access for human rights defenders and journalists could only be with the permission of relatives of victims of repression.
“87 years later we are finally opening the files up, but only for relatives, those still alive”.