30 October – Day of Remembrance and Day of Struggle


In Russia events were held to mark the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. Co-Chair of the “Memorial” Society and historian Jan Rachinsky points out that these days this anniversary has double significance, being both a day of remembrance for those whose families were touched by the repressions, and at the same time a day of struggle.

“There are usually two types of events. One is attended mainly by elderly people remembering their own relatives. At the same time there are protests demanding the release of political prisoners and observance of civil rights.

At the present time there are a number of people who can with reason be called political prisoners. They may not be prisoners of conscience in the strict sense of the world, yet they are people who were convicted either for what does not constitute a crime, or for things they didn’t do, or for what can only be considered an offence absolutely not warranting the form of punishment. Unfortunately the numbers are not falling.

Who can be called political prisoners, aside from the most well-known – Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his colleagues?

A number of members of Limonov’s party can be considered political prisoners. People get quite serious sentences for trivial offences, if one can call them that, like hanging up posters or distributing leaflets without agreeing this with the authorities. In my view this is a political decision by the authorities.

There are some so-called spy cases over which many well-known scientists have spoken out, saying that neither Sutyagin nor Danilov passed on any secrets. Yet these people, for political reasons, received real sentences and have been imprisoned for a long time, despite that fact that according to entirely competent experts they did nothing against the law.

There are examples of persecution of people who refused to do military service. There are less of these now since the adoption of the law on alternative service, however there were such cases until quite recently.

Has the Day of the Political Prisoner, or as it now is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression remained a memorable day on post-Soviet territory or is it now, for all that it arose in the Soviet Union more widely known?

It is nonetheless a day that in the first instance has significance for post-Soviet countries. However it was known in the world from when it was founded. At that time it was called the Day of the Political Prisoner in the USSR.

You get the impression that the Russian authorities on 30 October mark only the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression of the Soviet period, and there is no mention of the Day of the Political Prisoner. As a human rights defender, how does this ambivalent attitude look to a date which was originally devoted specifically to political prisoners, when there are such prisoners today in Russia?

This is a direct consequence of the fact that we don’t have an assessment of the Soviet regime. That’s why we observe such ambivalence in our public life. I turned on ORT today and there were two stories in a row: the first was about the ninetieth anniversary of the Komsomol which is marked virtually as a state holiday, and then about the premiere of the play based on Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate”. How one can place these things today is not at all clear. It’s just as incomprehensible how you can call a country democratic, yet mark the ninetieth anniversary of the creation of the Cheka [secret police] as happened at the end of last year.

It is a result of having given no adequate assessment. Why not? It’s not hard to guess that a very large percentage of our so-called elite in power are themselves from the Soviet apparatus. And for many years they said that it was absolutely unacceptable that our presidents always found the time to make speeches on the Day of the Chekist, but were never to be seen on the Day of the Political Prisoner.

Last year for the first time Putin went to Butovo. However, as you rightly note, this relates almost exclusively or totally to Staln’s repressions and those whom the Communist Party condemned back in Khrushchev’s period. Subsequent periods have not received assessment. And as you undoubtedly know, the present prime minister and until recently President, Mr Putin said that from his point of view the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century was the breakup of the Soviet Union. This also explains to some extent where such an approach comes from.”

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