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Fools have no future in Russia Meduza’s response to the dissolution of Memorial

Source: Meduza
Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Even when judged against the other miseries of 2021, the dissolution of Memorial’s historical research society and human rights center is an extraordinary, monstrous event.

The only conceivable purpose of destroying Memorial is an unbridled demonstration of force. This is naked intimidation and revenge by the men and women in uniform against the likes of Yuri Dmitriev (whose imprisonment was just extended to 15 years) and everyone in Russia who digs up the crimes committed by the nation’s police agencies past and present.

The rulings by Russia’s Supreme Court and the Moscow City Court shatter the fragile balance that Russian society has maintained for the last few decades. Yes, the state has quietly rehabilitated Joseph Stalin as an “effective manager,” thereby validating the legitimacy of the institutions he created (first and foremost, Moscow’s intelligence agencies and police organizations). Until now, however, the authorities had spared the memory of the Stalinist regime’s victims, which Memorial has guarded as reminders of both the price of Stalin’s “effectiveness” and the bloody origins of Russia’s modern-day law enforcement.

It was hardly reconciliation, but the situation allowed some level of coexistence.

The balance has now shifted dangerously. The Stalinist repressions were one of the worst consequences of Russia’s Civil War, which hooked Russian society on the daily cruelties and relentless pursuit of enemies that make this era infamous in human history. A century later, the authorities resume this war by dissolving Memorial. This act signals the system’s complete decay; the Russian state has been captured by its own police apparatus. This is now a government that has lost the capacity for reasonable compromises. Whatever the motives for the rulings against Memorial, the consequences of dissolving Russia’s most celebrated human rights group are irreversible.

Make no mistake: This is an attempt to ban the past, to seize Russians’ collective memory, and to force millions to forget their own family histories. The people responsible for this effort clearly hope to discourage all thought that is independent, critical, and autonomous from the state.

These people are fools.

Declaring war on history, the authorities mobilize society around those they wish to censor and doom themselves to comparisons to the very Stalinist regime at the center of Memorial’s own work.

Attitudes about history change, but you cannot undo history. And those who fight the past — like the officials responsible for the campaign against Memorial — have no future.

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