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 PhotographsGulag researcher and rights activist Yuri Dmitriev following his first trial, through which costs of kid pornography have been dismissed, Petrozavodsk, Russia, April 5, 2018

Western democracies have expressed concern and outrage, at the least 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 attraction by the Supreme Court docket of Karelia to 13 years in a jail camp with a harsh regime.

The listening to was held in digicam, with neither him nor his lawyer current. For this man of sixty-four, that is virtually equal to a demise 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 costs look like the newest fabrication of a authorized system in thrall to the FSB—a up to date equal, right here, of the nonsensical slander of “Hitlerian Trotskyism” that drove the Nice Terror trials. It’s these similar costs, most likely freighted with a notion of Western ethical decadence within the twisted creativeness of Russian cops, that have been introduced in 2015 towards the previous director of the Alliance Française in Irkutsk, Yoann Barbereau.

I met Yuri Dmitriev twice: the primary time in Might 2012, after I was planning the taking pictures 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 e book Le Météorologue (Stalin’s Meteorologist, 2017), on the life, deportation, and demise 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 circumstances, 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 midst 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 probability. 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 identified 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 concerning the destiny of these individuals.” 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 file the names after which I wrote them out at residence,” he stated. “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: lots of of graves within the forest close to Medvejegorsk, greater than 7,000 so-called enemies of the individuals killed there with a bullet by way of the bottom of the cranium on the finish of the Thirties.”

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

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

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, just about the nation’s complete officer corps and intelligentsia—an atrocity that for many years they blamed on the Nazis. Stalin’s heirs at the moment declare that the lifeless mendacity there in Karelia weren’t victims of the Terror however Soviet prisoners of warfare executed throughout the Finnish occupation of the area initially of World Conflict II. Historic revisionism, underneath 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 keenness, 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 ought to be proud to assist.


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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