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05.10.2009

Memorial criticizes persecution of historians and archivists in Arkhangelsk

   

The International Memorial Society has issued a statement condemning the criminal investigation against historian Mikhail Suprun and the Head of the Information Centre of the Arkhangelsk Regional Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA], Alexander Dudarev. “Professor Suprun is accused of gathering material for a database about Polish and German people resettled in the Arkhangelsk region, and Colonel Dudarev – with making this possible. In other words, the first is accused of engaging in his professional activities and the other – in doing his professional duty. The grounds for initiating the investigation are absurd: information about the people resettled has been interpreted by the investigator as a “personal secret”, and the inclusion of this information in the database as “a violation of personal confidentiality”.

Yet the information gathered by staff of the Pomorsky University according to material from the archive of the Arkhangelsk Regional MIA, is no different from information provided in most publications in Russia of Books of Memory of Victims of Political Repression. It is basic biographical information – date and place of birth, data and nature of repression, profession, family position and so forth. Around 300 such Books of Memory have been created in Russia and the information from them placed on the Memorial CD which contains more than 2,5 million names”.

Memorial points out that even more information is given in the Books of Memory of those who were killed in the Second World War, as well as in many historical reference books. These would also need to be taken out of circulation if one follows the arguments of the Arkhangelsk investigators.

Memorial stresses that there is no validity in referring to the Law on Personal Data Protection since the first article in this law states that it has nothing to do with archival information. It is convinced that this absurd case would be thrown out of court for lack of a crime.

“However the very fact of such an investigation, accompanied by searches and the removal of computers and copies of historical documents, could seriously complicate the work of investigators researching the country’s history and in particular those publishing the Books of Memory. For high-quality publications the participation is needed not only of staff of departmental archives, but also professional historians. It is improbable that historians will wish to carry out this difficult work if it also brings with it the danger of persecution by the law enforcement agencies. And in the context of the tendency seen in recent times to whitewash Stalinism and be silent about the crimes of the communist regime, one cannot exclude the possibility that those in charge of archives will take the criminal investigation in Arkhangelsk as a signal to them (one can only hope that it is not in fact one) and will stop cooperating both with individual researchers, and with scientific and public organizations in their work in studying the Soviet past.

This could be an irreplaceable loss to the work on the Books of Memory which is by no means complete. In the 20 years since the renewal of the process of rehabilitation of victims of political repression, the State authorities have still not made a full list of the names of the victims of the Terror. The publication of Books of Memory has still not been started in 15 parts of the Federation, although there are direct instructions on publishing lists of victims in the Law on Rehabilitation.

It is possible that in this case we are “merely” dealing with a serious regressive attack of a mania inherited from the Soviet Union – the mania for secrecy. However this illness is also by no means harmless: closing access to the archives Russia is deprived of its history, its memory – the foundations of normal national self-awareness.

We demand the immediate return of the removed copies of archival documents, databases and computers;

We demand the termination of the criminal investigation against M. Suprun and A. Dudarev.

We hope that the work of Professor Suprun will be continued and successfully concluded, and that researchers of Russia’s history will, as before, be able to enjoy the assistance of Colonel Dudarev.

The Board of Memorial

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