Sigrid Rausing on Forgetting in Russia

This comes from Sigrid Rausing in the New Statesman:

My book on the collective farm was published in 2004. In it I predicted that the culture of memorials would take off: prison camps would be turned into museums, books would be written, documentaries made. I also wrote about the social amnesia under communism, when memories were no longer transmitted freely between generations. In the Soviet era the pre-Soviet past was forgotten, and in the post-Soviet era, it seemed to me, the Soviet past was also in danger of being forgotten. “Thus the revolution that caused the end of the Soviet Union,” I wrote, “has also brought with it a temporary amnesia about the Soviet years.”

I thought of it as temporary, because I believed that civil society would soon begin to generate countless memorial initiatives. The problem was that real democracy didn’t last long, at least not in Russia.

In December last year, the offices of Memorial, the most importantNGO dedicated to documenting the human rights atrocities of Stalinism,were raided. Thirty hard-drives containing 20 years of interviews andarchival material about the Gulag and post-Stalinist politicalpersecution were confiscated. Irina Flige, the director of Memorial,called it a “war over memory”: whitewashing Stalin in order to justifythe new authoritarianism.

The Financial Times reported recently that Gleb Pavlovsky,a Putin-friendly political scientist, had written a piece attackingMemorial and claiming, ominously, that Russia was vulnerable to”foreign projections” of its history. “Russia,” he wrote, “not having amemory policy, has become defenceless before defamatory projections andaggressive phobias.” No memory policy indeed. No national Gulag museum,no official attempt to mark the mass graves, no open access to secretpolice files. The future I imagined did not happen.

This is part of the context of political violence in Russia. TheCommittee to Protect Journalists estimates that at least 49 have beenkilled in Russia since 1992. Only in Iraq and Algeria is it moredangerous to be a journalist. The latest victims, Stanislav Markelov,the human rights lawyer representing Novaya Gazeta, andAnastasiya Baburova, a trainee journalist at the same newspaper, wereshot dead in central Moscow, in broad daylight, on 19 January. Markelovhad just announced that he was filing an appeal with the European Courtof Human Rights against Yuri Budanov’s early release. Budanov, a formercolonel of the Russian army, had been imprisoned for the murder of ayoung Chechen woman, Elsa Kungayeva, in 2000, following her arrest. Shewas violently beaten, raped and sodomised. Three of Budanov’ssubordinates were allegedly responsible for the assault, but chargesagainst them were dropped. Budanov is a hero of the Russian nationalistright.