January 01, 2022

Erasing Memory


Erasing Memory
Samples of Soviet-era camp garb from the Memorial museum. Memorial

Since 1989, Memorial has been the heart of Russia’s human rights community. The organization was initially established to research Soviet-era political repression, but its focus widened as time went on. Today it has an office in central Moscow, a library of 40,000 books, staff working in its archives, putting on exhibits, updating two online databases, and publishing books on the Soviet period. Meanwhile, legal experts are helping citizens in jeopardy, in particular, writing appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, and keeping track of arrests and detentions during political opposition events.

All these activities are now under threat of a complete ban, because the government wants to close Memorial.

The ostensible reason for this is that the organization has been declared a “foreign agent” based on a 2012 law. The government created this classification to single out groups that engage in politics and receive foreign funding. Organizations deemed “foreign agents,” a particularly pejorative notion in Russia, must label all their communications with a disclaimer (see above). Because the law is imprecise and applied arbitrarily, Memorial employees even had the disclaimer printed on staff business cards, to make sure they were not violating the discriminatory regulation. Prosecutors however argue that Memorial is a serial violator of the rule because ten different items, including a post on Facebook linking to their website, were not marked. This despite Memorial having paid fines in full on all ten occasions and promptly affixing the degrading label to the items in question.


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