I was outraged and troubled to learn of the liquidation of the International Memorial Society by Russia’s Supreme Court, while the other branch of this NGO, the Memorial Human Rights Center, is also facing court proceedings.
In this 100th anniversary year of the birth of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, the organization’s founder, this announcement is deeply disturbing for the future of historical research and the defense of human rights in Russia.
As I emphasized at Charles University in Prague on December 6, 2019, “The temptation is great for certain people to conduct a ‘history policy’ in order to manipulate the past for their own ends, to stir things up, to add to the confusion, and to further a specific ideology… As the great French historian Marc Bloch once said, ‘the misunderstanding of the present is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past.’ It can also be the consequence of the manipulation of history. One of the European principles is academic freedom and if this freedom is threatened, democracy and peace will be threatened as well.”
France has praised Memorial’s efforts on countless occasions. Its extraordinary scientific work, which furthers a better understanding of the mass crimes of the 20th century through the amassing of archives, testimonies and historical studies, constitutes a vital contribution to contemporary history, to the rehabilitation of the victims of repression and, more generally, to collective memory.
The dissolution of the International Memorial Society is a terrible loss for the Russian people, who are entitled to have an accurate knowledge of their past and a society based on the fundamental values upheld by the Council of Europe. It is also a loss for the scientific, academic and cultural communities of both our countries, which are working to build an ambitious bilateral relationship independent of the vagaries of politics.
In this context, yesterday’s decision by the Petrozavodsk court to increase the sentence of Yuri Dmitriyev - a historian investigating Stalin-era mass graves, a human rights activist and local Memorial director – to 15 years in a penal colony is also very troubling. Together with its EU partners, France calls for his release and will continue to monitor his situation with the utmost attention.