Yuri Dmitriev: Historian of Stalin’s Gulag, Sufferer of Putin’s Repression | by Olivier Rolin


Gulag historian Yury Dmitriev
Olga Maltseva/AFP by way of Getty PicturesGulag researcher and rights activist Yuri Dmitriev following his first trial, during which expenses of kid pornography had been dismissed, Petrozavodsk, Russia, April 5, 2018

Western democracies have expressed concern and outrage, no less than verbally, over the Novichok poisoning of Alexei Navalny—and that is clearly proper and needed. However a lot much less consideration is being paid to the case of Yuri Dmitriev, a tenacious researcher and activist who campaigned to create a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror in Karelia, a province in Russia’s far northwest, bordering Finland. He has simply been condemned on enchantment by the Supreme Court docket of Karelia to 13 years in a jail camp with a harsh regime.

The listening to was held in digital camera, with neither him nor his lawyer current. For this man of sixty-four, that is virtually equal to a dying sentence, the judicially sanctioned equal of a drop of nerve agent.

After an preliminary cost of kid pornography was dismissed, Yuri Dmitriev was convicted of sexually assaulting his adoptive daughter. These defamatory expenses look like the newest fabrication of a authorized system in thrall to the FSB—a recent equal, right here, of the nonsensical slander of “Hitlerian Trotskyism” that drove the Nice Terror trials. It’s these similar expenses, most likely freighted with a notion of Western ethical decadence within the twisted creativeness of Russian law enforcement officials, that had been introduced in 2015 in opposition to the previous director of the Alliance Française in Irkutsk, Yoann Barbereau.

I met Yuri Dmitriev twice: the primary time in Could 2012, after I was planning the capturing of a documentary on the library of the Solovki Islands labor camp, the primary gulag of the Soviet system; and the second in December 2013, after I was researching my guide Le Météorologue (Stalin’s Meteorologist, 2017), on the life, deportation, and dying of one of many innumerable victims murdered by Stalin’s secret police organizations, OGPU and NKVD.

Semyon A. Maisterman by way of The Dimitriev AffairDmitriev working with stays at Derevyakenko, Karelia, 2008

In each instances, Dmitriev’s assist was invaluable to me. He was not a typical historian. On the time of our first assembly, he was residing amid rusting gantries, bent pipes, and machine carcasses, in a shack in the course of a disused industrial zone on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk—sadly, a really Russian panorama. Emaciated and bearded, with a grey ponytail, he appeared a cross between a Holy Idiot and a veteran pirate—once more, very Russian. He advised me how he had discovered his vocation as a researcher—a phrase that may be understood in a number of senses: in archives, but additionally on the bottom, within the cemetery-forests of Karelia.

In 1989, he advised me, a mechanical digger had unearthed some bones by likelihood. Since nobody, no authority, was ready to tackle the duty of burying with dignity these stays, which he acknowledged as being of the victims of what’s recognized there as “the repression” (repressia), he undertook to take action himself. Dmitriev’s father had then revealed to him that his personal father, Yuri’s grandfather, had been shot in 1938.

“Then,” Dmitriev advised me, “I needed to seek out out in regards to the destiny of these folks.” After a number of years’ digging within the FSB archive, he printed The Karelian Lists of Remembrance in 2002, which, on the time, contained notes on 15,000 victims of the Terror.

“I used to be not allowed to photocopy. I introduced a dictaphone to document the names after which I wrote them out at dwelling,” he mentioned. “For 4 or 5 years, I went to mattress with one phrase in my head: rastrelian—shot. Then, I and two fellow researchers from the Memorial affiliation, Irina Flighe and Veniamin Ioffe (and my canine Witch), found the Sandarmokh mass burial floor: tons of of graves within the forest close to Medvejegorsk, greater than 7,000 so-called enemies of the folks killed there with a bullet by means of the bottom of the cranium on the finish of the Thirties.”

Amongst them, in truth, was my meteorologist. On a rock on the entrance to this woodland burial floor is this easy Cyrillic inscription: ЛЮДИ,  НЕ УБИВАЙТЕ ДРУГ ДРУГА (Folks, don’t kill each other). No name for revenge, or for placing historical past on trial; solely an enchantment to a better regulation.

Memorial to Stalin Victims at Krasny Bor
Friedemann Kohler/image alliance by way of Getty PicturesMemorials to the victims of Stalin’s Terror at Krasny Bor, Karelia, 2018; the stays of greater than a thousand folks shot between 1937 and 1938 at this NKVD killing subject had been recognized by Dmitriev, utilizing KGB archival data

Not content material to persecute and dishonor the person who found Sandarmokh, the Russian authorities are actually making an attempt to repeat the identical lie the Soviet authorities advised about Katyn, the forest in Poland the place NKVD troops executed some 22,000 Poles, nearly the nation’s complete officer corps and intelligentsia—an atrocity that for many years they blamed on the Nazis. Stalin’s heirs at this time declare that the useless mendacity there in Karelia weren’t victims of the Terror however Soviet prisoners of battle executed throughout the Finnish occupation of the area originally of World Battle II. Historic revisionism, beneath Putin, is aware of no bounds.

I’m neither a historian nor a specialist on Russia; what I write comes from the conviction that this nation, for which I’ve a passion, regardless of all, can solely be free if it confronts its previous—and to do that, it wants brave mavericks like Yuri Dmitriev. And I write from the extra private conviction that he’s a courageous and upright man, one whom Western governments must be proud to help.


This text was translated from the French by Ros Schwartz. For additional details about Yuri Dmitriev, go to The Dmitriev Affair.



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