Memorial Human Rights Center — the oldest human rights center in Russia — is to be liquidated by the orders of the Russian Supreme Court. The decision was made after the Court revoked the legal status of its sister organization, Memorial, which started off as an initiative group that served the preservation of the memory of Soviet repression. In 2015, the group was marked as a foreign agent in the government register, and the most recent court ruling concluded the lawsuit in which prosecutors warranted the group violated its regulations.
Why is this significant?
On the 28th of December 2021, the court stated that Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, [which] whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals”. The closure of this internationally acclaimed organization marks a point in Russia’s history, as recently, more and more NGOs and media outlets have been closed as a result of the “foreign agent” legislation, apart from the Memorial Human Rights Center. The efforts of independent media to spark a conversation about the crimes under Soviet leaders have been effectively shut down many times showing the sensitivity of the current government to criticisms of the country’s past.
The decision to close the organization was called “political” by Genri Reznik, a lawyer who represented Memorial in court, among many others. He defended the organization by stating the following: “The Memorial Society promotes the health of the nation. To eliminate this from the history of the country now means to contribute to the idea of ‘the state is always right’.”
Because of Memorial’s popularity among the Russian public, the group was hoping that large public support might negate the court’s decision. Memorial gathered more than 127,000 signatures in its support, followed up by testimonies from people who uncovered the stories of their relatives as a result of Memorial’s work of obtaining the necessary records.
People such as the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and the Novaya Gazeta editor, Dmitry Muratov have also spoken about this issue. “The long-term activity of Memorial has always been aimed at restoring historical justice, preserving the memory of hundreds of thousands of victims during the years of repression, preventing such things now and in the future,” they said in a joint statement.
Police arrested several protesters, out of around 100, who stood outside the court and chanted “shame” when the decision to shut down the group was made.
As such events increase day by day, public outcry becomes more and more significant on a global scale. Memorial, in particular, stated they would appeal the ruling before the European Court of Human Rights. It seems as though the closure of groups such as this one, results in a bigger acknowledgment of Russia’s past than it would have without the court’s extreme verdict. Capturing the attention of international media, the case was commented on by many, including Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, saying “A power that is afraid of memory, will never be able to achieve democratic maturity”.
- Al Jazeera. “Russian Court Orders Closure of Leading Rights Group Memorial.” Www.aljazeera.com, 29 Dec. 2021, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/28/russia-supreme-court-orders-closure-of-leading-rights-group. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.
- International Memorial. “Memorial – Memorial History. A Timeline.” Memo.ru, http://www.memo.ru/en-us/memorial/memorial-history-timeline/. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.
- Rainsford, Sarah. “Russian Court Orders Oldest Civil Rights Group Memorial to Shut.” BBC News, 28 Dec. 2021, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-59808624. Accessed 5 Jan. 2022.
- Roth, Andrew. “Russian Court Orders Closure of Another Human Rights Group.” The Guardian, 29 Dec. 2021, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/29/russian-court-orders-closure-of-another-human-rights-group. Accessed 5 Jan. 2022.
- —. “Russian Court Orders Closure of Country’s Oldest Human Rights Group.” The Guardian, 28 Dec. 2021, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/28/russian-court-memorial-human-rights-group-closure. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.