Monday, July 31, 2017

Russian Historian on Trial

By Stephen Wilson

A prominent historian , Yuri Dmitriev, who discovered the location of execution sites
used in the late 1930's , is facing a trial in Petrozavodsk city court on charges of
'preparing child pornography' as well as the possession of an 'illegal firearm'. The
next legal session is due on the 1st August. If found guilty of the charges, Dmitriev
could face a severe prison sentence of 15 years . Very few people take those charges
seriously and regard them as just ludicrous ! The real reasons for the charges is a
political attempt to silence any honest historians who wish to remind Russians on just
how harrowing their history is and how repression can't be played down or even
condoned .Since the return of Putin to power in 2012 there has been a concerted effort
to rehabilitate Stalin . As many as 40 monuments to Stalin have been erected throughout
Russia and only one month ago a plaque commemorating Stalin's speech was placed
on the walls of The Academy of Moscow State Law .According to recent opinion polls,
almost half the population of Russia view Stalin positively. The Minister of Education is
also thought to be an apologist of Stalin.

Dmitriev was not just any historian . He remained an outspoken person who spoke his own own mind. He was his own man. Dmitriev is the chairman of the Karelia Memorial society and a specialist on Stalinist repression. He actually found the sites of mass execution centers where thousands of people were callously murdered in secret. Dmitriev discovered such a site at Sandarmokh as well as Solovki at Sekirnaya Gora. In the former, 9000 bodies were buried. Dmitriev decided that those victims should not only be named but reburied. He declared : " Old women need to know where their dead are buried and I'm going to do everything to make this happen".

For twenty years Dmitriev has been performing such work. It was all unpaid. He regards
such a mission as a sacred duty to the forgotten victims of repression as well as their

His good friend Anatoly Razumov stated : " A person should live a long life . Why are the
tormented deprived of not only life but even of a grave ? "

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates or welcomes such sentiments. For this year
represents the anniversary of the Great October Revolution and many officials don't want
to disown or distance themselves from what they see as the achievements of this revolution.
It is inconvenient for the government to have Stalin's atrocities remembered. It is not just
embarrassing and annoying but an affront. The change in mood is reflected by the fact
that last year, both the local Karelian government and the Orthodox church refused to
officially commemorate the dead at Sandarmokh . And in October 2016, the organisation
Memorial was declared 'a foreign agent '. Shortly afterwards, Dmitriev was arrested in December

2016. Dmitriev is not alone in facing dubious allegations. A state channel made a crude
documentary smearing the organisation of Memorial as a house of pedophiles. Such
crude and contrived allegations are not new. During the Soviet era it was a standard practice to smear dissidents as pedophiles. The aim was to blacken their reputations . The problem is that many people naively believe such claims. For example, I came across a few people who were working in a charity organisations who accepted at face value the claim that one dissident, Alexsandr Ogorodnikov was a pedophile . When I asked them to offer concrete evidence to support such claims none was forthcoming . An Orthodox priest who would rather not be named informed me : " I would not give any credence to such claims. It was a standard practice of the Russian secret services to make such allegations'".

The whole case against Dmitriev was entirely demolished by a brilliant in depth article by an
investigative journalist called Shura Burtin . Burtin , through painstaking investigation, found
there was not a single shred of evidence which could support the charges against Dmitriev.
The case against Dmitriev rests on photos he took of his adopted daughter which show her
naked. They were stored in his apartment not for distribution but to prove to social workers
that he was not inflicting any harm or physical abuse of his adopted daughter. They were
intended to be a record to prove he was not physically abusing his own daughter in any way.
This is because he was genuinely afraid that local social workers might mistakenly believe
he was physically abusing his child. So the photos were intended to reassure officials no abuse of any kind was taking place. So there are innocent and well-intended reasons for the presence of photos. Burtin interviewed many people asking what kind of man Dmitriev was and what emerges is a person incapable of the allegations made against him.

As far as the illegal possession of firearms goes, even this claim is absurd. There is nothing
very exceptional or sinister about this. Many local people need firearms to protect themselves from bears .

The case against Dmitriev was drawn up by a team of 'experts' from the Center for Social cultural Expert Analysis. But none of those staff have proper qualifications . When Dmitriev 's lawyer asked whether he could consult his own team of experts , the court refused ! Journalists have not been allowed to be present at court. All the evidence against the accused appears to be 'loaded'. A member of Memorial stated : " The charges against him are void, everyone knows it. It has been brought about because of his work commemorating victims of Stalin's terror."
The case of Yuri Dmitriev has become a popular cause not just in Russia but abroad. When
people hear about Dmitriev's case it continues to badly mar Russia's reputation. People all
over the World wonder whether Russians condone Stalin's repression, or are either ignorant, idiotic or worse, very cruel. Even supporters of Putin should be embarrassed at the harm which this case is doing to Russia's reputation. The sooner Yuri Dmitriev is released the better!
This article acknowledges the aid of the brilliantly researched one of Shura Burtin. 

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