I have written previously of the valuable work which the organisation Memorial carries out in Russia. With its roots in the glasnost era, Memorial has consistently striven to facilitate Russians who wish to remember and mark human rights abuses which scarred the Soviet era. In a state where many people have an understandably equivocal attitude to the past, the task has often been difficult.
I was saddened, therefore, to read in Sunday’s paper that Memorial’s St Petersburg office has been raided and important archives of Stalinist atrocities removed. Sean observes that information on why this raid might have taken place is thin on the ground. The Observer report suggests the authorities are implying there is a connection to an article accused of inciting racial hatred in the newspaper ‘Novy Peterburg’.
Whatever the motivation of the raid might be, Memorial is an organisation involved in a laudable project. The archive which has been seized details repression of many thousands of Soviet citizens in Leningrad and its surrounding oblast. Orlando Figes’ magisterial study of private life in Stalin’s Russia, ‘Whisperers’ draws heavily on material provided by Memorial.
If there is a criminal investigation to be pursued involving the premises of Memorial or staff who work there, the Russian authorities must do their job. However, this material should be returned as quickly as possible and the organisation must be allowed to continue its important work unhindered.