Memorial, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Was Founded to Shed Light on Soviet Russia’s Oppression, Memorial Is Targeted by Putin

Memorial a Nobel Peace Prize Winner Was Founded to Shed

Memorial, a rights organization outlawed by the Kremlin last year, has spent decades trying to force Russia to come to terms with its totalitarian past — and, in the process, illuminated the crimes of its ever more repressive present.

The organization “is based on the notion that confronting past crimes is essential in preventing new ones,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its statement naming Memorial as a winner of this year’s Peace Prize, along with a human rights defender in Belarus and a rights group in Ukraine.

Co-founded by Andrei D. Sakharov, the physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Memorial grew out of a popular movement in the last years of the Soviet Union to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s terror. It documented the Gulag and the K.G.B.’s torture chambers by publishing history books, educating schoolchildren, hosting exhibits and even offering historical walking tours of central Moscow to reveal the horrors of Russia’s past that were otherwise hidden behind the city’s prim facades.

But with the rise of President Vladimir V. Putin, telling the truth about Russia’s history became a dangerous business, and revealing the Kremlin’s historical crimes can border on treason.

The chairman of Memorial’s branch in the northern republic of Karelia discovered a killing field where thousands had perished at the hands of Stalin’s secret police. In 2020, that historian, Yuri Dmitriev, was found guilty of sex abuse charges that were widely seen as retaliation for his work; he is now serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Late last year, the Kremlin shut down Memorial itself. Its Human Rights Center — an offshoot that focused on present-day crimes — “justifies terrorist activities,” Moscow prosecutors said. While some of Memorial’s staff members have left the country, others remain in Russia and are fighting in court to keep their offices in central Moscow from being seized by the government. A hearing in that case was taking place on Friday.

After the Nobel announcement on Friday, several Russian observers noted that Memorial was receiving the award on an auspicious date: the 70th birthday of Mr. Putin, and the 16th anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who chronicled the crimes of Mr. Putin’s rule.

“The time will come for the Court of History,” Lev Shlosberg, a veteran Russian opposition figure, wrote on Facebook about the symbolism of the Nobel’s timing. “But there are decisions that anticipate the verdict of the court.”

Memorial staff members were expected to hold a news conference on Friday outside the Moscow court where the hearing on the seizure of their office was being held. Their initial reaction to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, posted to Instagram: “For now, we have no words.”

Read the Full Article Here nytimes

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