January 5, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9712

Russian Reactions To The 'Memorial' Verdict: An Objective Court Decision Or Back To The USSR

January 5, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9712

On December 27, 2021, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, the country’s oldest human rights group, established and registered in the Gorbachev era when the USSR still existed. The organization engaged in documented the Stalin-era atrocities including compiling a database of the victims executed or consigned to the infamous prison camps. A sister organization, The Memorial Human Rights Center was also disbanded by a Moscow court for "justifying terrorism and extremism".[1]

Defenders of the decision claimed that the verdict was just because Memorial did not follow the laws that required the organization to clearly label itself a foreign agent. Others claimed that the organization had become superfluous since the database service was performed by the government, and current activities such as defending terrorists established it as a misguided organization at best. The Western pressure on behalf of the organization was proof positive that it was a foreign agent seeking to undermine Russia.

Critics of the verdict dismissed the legalism of the verdict's defenders. They claimed that this was merely the final touch to a long campaign of violence and harassment launched by the authorities against the organization. The prosecutors were not content with using dry legal arguments but sought to blacken the reputation of the organization as terror sympathizers and traitors to Russia.

Many critics of the decision believed that the decision went hat in hand with the rehabilitation of the Soviet Union and Stalinism in particular. Stalin the perpetrator of mass terror upon his own people was forgotten, Stalin the victor of World War II and the promoter of Soviet expansion was remembered.

A survey of reactions to the court decision to liquidate Memorial International and the Memorial Human Rights Center follows below:

Graffiti scrawled on Memorial's office accusing the organization of being a foreign agent and a lover of the USA (Source:

The Decision Was Justified

Russian officialdom with few exceptions closed ranks around the verdict. Vasili Piskarev, Head of the Duma's Security and Anti-Corruption Committee, termed the verdict logical, since Memorial did receive foreign funding.

"The Supreme Court's ruling is logical. The organization, which was created to restore historical truth and to preserve the memory of the victims of political repressions, stubbornly ignored the requirements of our laws and in its activities stretched far beyond the declared goals."

Piskarev charged that International Memorial was "among the main recipients of funds from abroad among NGOs that performed the functions of a foreign agent in Russia."[2]

Vassily Piskarev (

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov declined comment: "It is a court decision. We never comment on court decisions.[3] Incidentally, Peskov's own daughter Yelizabeta posted on Instagram a defense of Memorial.[4]

Olga Kovitidi, a member of the Federation Council Constitutional Committee, claimed that the Western intervention on behalf of Memorial proved that the organization was a foreign agent. the problem is in the West's support of human rights defenders. According to her, on December 25 the West tried to prevent the court hearings on the "Memorial" case through a note in the US "Foreign Policy" magazine.[5]

"The Western media perceive Memorial along with Navalny's extremist structures as phenomena of the same order, and voice fears that funding channels connected with this organization will be blocked," According to her, the magazine's article is " aimed to somehow justify our rivals' attempts to interfere in the work of the Russian judicial system."[6]

Vesti made an issue of the finding by Israeli historian Aron Schneer that three Baltic collaborators of Nazism, who had committed mass murder against Jews were included in Memorial's list of "Victims of Political Terror in the USSR" compiled by "Memorial." There are even protocols of their interrogations, in which they confess in their crimes.

Although Memorial had deleted their names from its database, 19 similar cases involving members of the puppet Ukrainian Insurgent Army had now surfaced.

Vesti returned to the legal argument: No one disputed the fact that the organization received funding from abroad, the issue was that "Memorial" stubbornly refused to comply with the law on foreign agents and label its publications accordingly.[7]

The conservative outlet Vzglyad published an article by Media manager Dmitry Mikhailin, who while expressing his respect for human rights organizations claimed that Memorial was superfluous and was naively defending terrorists as victims of human rights violations.

"The database of the repressed (my family is also there) is more than important, and even pointless to discuss. But. This database has not been replenished for many years. Simply because there is nothing to replenish it - all the data on the repressed and rehabilitated are disclosed, moreover, disclosed by the state itself. All these mournful lists exist in the mass of state databases."

Furthermore, the organization had brought trouble on itself by portraying terrorists as victims.

"But the section 'Human rights activities' provoked questions on my part, to put it mildly. For example, the organizers and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a terrorist organization banned in Russia, whose goal is to create a world caliphate, including in non-Muslim countries, are called political prisoners wrongfully convicted by Russia.

"I have great respect for genuine human rights defenders. And great suspicion for our judicial and law enforcement systems. But if some organization considers everyone who threatens the security of my country and my fellow citizens as political prisoners, I have serious questions for this organization, to put it mildly. The main one is - what does it stand for? What is the connection between Stalinist repression and security actions now?

"It is clear that they are trying to create this connection – 'the totalitarian machine is still working"' that's all. But this is faulty logic. We passed it [the security legislation]  in the 90s - when they responded to terrorist attacks after the fact, and did not eliminate the threat preemptively."

"And the logic of Memorial is as follows: if the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir did not manage to commit any terrorist acts and did not create caliphates in Crimea, Tatarstan, the Caucasus and other regions, but only created cells, discussed all this and carried out preparations - then why should they be judged? I am not speculating at all now - you yourself can read all this on the Memorial website."[8]

It is worth pointing out that there were exceptions among Russian officials. Sergey Mironov, a Duma member, whose family was struck by Stalinist terror decried the verdict: Memorial's work provided hope that the past would not repeat itself. By closing this public organization, the state, in whose name the court decision was made, assumes a very great responsibility before our people. I am sure that society will not remain silent."

He added: "No court can make people forget what happened to their relatives and friends not centuries-back, but just a few decades ago. What kind of court can make me forget about the tragic fate of my own grandfather, who was shot 15 years before my birth on an absurd accusation ?![9]

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, a consultative body tasked with advising the Russian President on human rights and freedoms condemned the verdict almost unanimously and had tried to stave it off. Nikolai Svanidze, Head of the CCSHR's Commission on Political Liberty and Civic Engagement, who had tried to intercede with Putin at a December 9, 2021 meeting called the decision "shameful" and a bizarre "present under the Christmas tree". He claimed that the authorities were trying to edit out national memory, but they would fail.[10]

Critics Of The Decision: The Legal Justification Is Window Dressing The Regime Had Memorial In Its Sights

The author and screen-writer Sergey Generalov sounded the general argument of those condemning the verdict that this was part of a campaign to liquidate any vestige of democracy in today's Russia." It is not surprising that Memorial, founded as one of the first [Russian human protection organizations], at the very beginning of Russian democracy, is now one of the last to be liquidated. Most other organizations, parties, or even politicians with a democratic background have already been liquidated"

Generalov claimed that the verdict was merely a coup de grace to a campaign of legal harassment, violence, death threats, and even murder against the organization that had begun over a decade ago. The prosecutors tipped their hand at the trial when they vented their real reasons for hounding Memorial.

"'Memorial' forms a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and enforces repentance for the Soviet past."

"'Memorial' complains that it, instead of the statem is doing the job of rehabilitating the victims [of repressions]. This is wrong! This job is being done by the prosecutor's office."

"'Memorial' argues that patriotism means obscurantism."

"'Memorial' doesn't want to mention in every publication, who paid for its actions to denigrate our history.

Generalov's ruefully concluded that history had come full circle" Putin is restoring the Soviet stat and the Soviet order back to us."[11]

Kommersant's Dmitri Drize wrote that while the verdict was a foregone conclusion the virulence of the prosecution recalled dark times. Drize mentioned Alexei Zhafyarov a member of the prosecution team who thundered "Why are we, the descendants of the victors, now forced to observe attempts to rehabilitate traitors to the homeland and Nazi collaborators? Probably, because someone is paying for it. And this is the true reason for the furious hostility, with which Memorial denies its foreign agent status." Drize asked how the security had previously tolerated such a fiendish organization. He made a modest proposal that the authorities ban everything for the sake of clarity:

"Well, you've liquidated Memorial, but then what? The idea is that the government should provide a clear answer as to whether or not it is allowed to investigate events from the Soviet past. Wouldn't it be simpler to just ban everything? Let's just announce that the Soviet Union was a state with no political repression in the first place. And those who claim otherwise are foreign agents and imperialist henchmen. It will be much easier after that, as there will be clarity. Otherwise we things are confusing, as it's not clear what we can and what we cannot do."[12]

George Bovt: The Public Was Indifferent To The Fate Of Memorial

Political scientist and columnist George Bovt believed that the verdict had been predetermined and that the General Prosecutor's Office first sounded out those in charge of domestic policy and had received the green light. The government, given public apathy, had no reason to walk back the charges or lean on the prosecution for clemency.

"In this regard, it's worth to look at the situation not from the perspective of human rights defenders and those public figures, who came out in Memorial's defense, but from the perspective of the representatives of the authorities and the security services in general. Let's ask a very simple question: what motives and arguments might the president have to formally take a stand against the Prosecutor General's Office, which filed the suit, and defend the 'foreign agent'? Are there million-strong support behind those, who came out in defense of Memorial?

"Its liquidation didn't instigate even a tenth as much commotion among the 'core [Russian] people' as the prospect of the introduction of QR-codes [for Covid vaccinations]. In the "QR-codes" case, these underlying sentiments (although there were no rallies either) were immediately noted by the fine-tuning "echo sounders" that the authorities use in such cases. Thus, the passage of unpopular bills was immediately curbed.

"And in [Memorial's case] there is complete silence and indifference, as far as society as a whole is concerned. The masses of ordinary people have long been concerned neither about the revelations of Stalinist repressions, nor about the compilation of lists of those, whom human rights activists believe to be political prisoners. At the level of the common people's mass consciousness, Stalin, the victor in the war, has long since replaced the figure of Stalin - creator of the Gulag...

"Finally, how could Memorial, an organization that by all standards is 'pro-Western' and an heir to perestroika and glasnost, survive at a time when the trumpets and drums of war with the very same damned West are already heard in the information space? In a situation like this, a 'foreign agent' is clearly equivalent to an 'enemy of the people.' If anyone of the younger generation even knows now exactly what the term meant back in the day."[13]

Protecting The Good Name Of The Soviet Union

Political analyst Alexander Pozhalov was struck by the fact that the prosecution invoked the new article in the Constitution dealing with the protection of historical memory and truth that translated into protecting the USSR's reputation." The ruling class' nostalgia for the Soviet period, including for the USSR's role as the ideological and geopolitical leader of an alternative pole in the international relations system, is becoming increasingly obvious."[14]

Historian Edvard Radzinsky viewed the ruling as a death notice for perestroika: Our perestroika turned out to be a miserable sip of freedom. And now it seems as if there was no perestroika at all. The bear just rolled over on the other side and everything went back to the old way." When he was writing a biography of Stalin, Radzinsky was told that the subject of Stalin was passé and "for old ladies" He had replied to the skeptics that by the time he finished, Stalin would be featured in election campaigns. He rued being vindicated.

Grigory Yavlinsky head of the liberal Yabloko party tweeted: "The liquidation of "Memorial" is a political decision. With this decision, the current Russian authorities announced themselves to be the successor of the Stalinist and Soviet regime.[15]

Memorial logo (

Putin snuffs out Memorial (Source:

Why Now?

While the general consensus among critics of the decision was that this was perhaps the final stroke in a process that has been gathering momentum and perhaps has assumed a life of its own, some saw a sense of urgency on the part of the Kremlin. Nicolai Ulyanov, editor-in-chief of the liberal Rosbalt believes that the Kremlin is planning to move up the presidential elections schedule for 2024 to reanoint Putin or to select a nominal successor, while Putin continues to pull strings from behind the scenes.

"The event I'm talking about is an early presidential election in Russia, while the situation is favorable for this, i.e. the [state] treasury is full, Europe is addicted to the hydrocarbon "needle" and is tired of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, and the West in a sense is raddled and frightened." Putin consolidated his power via a successful war in Chechnya and he may prepare the grounds for his successor with a small victorious war.[16]

Political analyst, Alexei Makarkin takes the prosecution's accusation that Memorial was influencing the young at face value, and this explained the decision to liquidate the organization. "Yesterday, the prosecutor uttered important words. He stated that Memorial is influencing the younger generation. Youth often perceives the past in a different way than the older generation." scientist.

Makarkin claims that, the extermination of 700,000 people during Stalin's Great Terror is assessed relatively calmly by most of the older generation, but young people are shocked by such figures.

"So, it happens that the documents and the work of "Memorial" have a rather prominent effect on the youth.[17]

Alexander Pozhalov believes that the zeal displayed by the authorities in implementing "defensive" laws indicates is a tip off that they are preparing for ramped-up foreign pressure on Russia and the Russian elites in 2022.[18]


[1], December 28, 2021.

[2], December 28, 2021.

[3], December 29, 2021.

[4], December 30, 2021.

[5], December 25, 2021.

[6], December 28, 2021.

[7], December 28, 2021.

[8], December 28, 2021.

[9], December 28, 2021.

[10], December 28, 2021.

[11], December 28, 2021.

[12], December 29, 2021.

[13], December 29, 2021.

[14], December 29, 2021.

[15], December 29, 2021.

[16], December 29, 2021.

[17], December 29, 2021.

[18], December 29, 2021.

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