in Moscow, the NGO Memorial in the dock and on the verge of closure

Tied shreds, dresses with prayers sewn into the lining, quilted jacket flanked by a camp number… Secretly made by prisoners, recovered by their descendants, these makeshift books tell of the survival of the “Women in the Gulag”. They are currently exhibited by Memorial, in the small museum installed in the basement of the NGO in Moscow. Perhaps the last exhibition organized by the most famous Russian human rights organization in Russia and abroad.

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“We have never received so many visitors… Indirect public support when we are threatened with closure? “, asks Irina Chtcherbakova, one of Memorial’s deans. At 72 years old, the historian continues to organize programs and exhibitions to maintain the memory of the victims of the Soviet repressions, minimized in more than twenty years in power of President Vladimir Poutin. “We will continue to work. But a cloud of uncertainties hangs over us ”, she worries.

The NGO created by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov

On November 11, the news alerted all human rights defenders, in Russia and abroad: symbol of Perestroika, the NGO created in 1989 by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov and other dissidents are now threatened with liquidation. This Thursday, November 25, the Supreme Court must study the prosecution’s request to dissolve Memorial International. The organization overseeing the work of some 50 entities in Russia and abroad is accused by the authorities of having violated “Systematically” the controversial law on “Foreign agents”. A classification reminiscent of the Soviet years of “Enemies of the people”. The NGO, which criticized the imprisonment of Alexeï Navalny and the liquidation of the anti-Kremlin opposition leader’s movement, is also being prosecuted for having defended “Terrorists and extremists”.

“In thirty-three years of work, we have drawn up lists of 3.5 million victims of Soviet repression, defended thousands of people… How can we be shut down? “, denounced Elena Jemkova, one of Memorial’s main officials at a press conference last Thursday. “We are not working on anyone’s orders. We are nobody’s agents ”, she insisted. “If the worst happens, we will start from scratch, find more money to finance offices and projects”, she also promised. The Memorial archives, which included the exhibition on women in the gulag, are in a safe place and will continue to maintain the work of memory in Russia, she assured.

The weight of Putin’s government

For Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur for human rights defenders at the United Nations, such a dissolution “Would show a blatant disregard for UN values”. Accusing the authorities of wanting to destroy the work of remembrance and the defense of human rights, several Russian organizations similarly support Memorial. In the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin did not speak on the subject. But his spokesperson said that “The organization has long had problems with Russian law”. A message heavy with innuendo.

“After the wave of intimidation against journalists, opponents and other independent figures, classified as“ foreign agents ”, imprisoned or forced into exile, the championship in radicalism intensifies, fears political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov. A kind of competition of the absurd where the hawks around Putin seem to want to show the leader that they are fighting the suspected enemies. “ And he adds: “Far from its aura acquired in the 1990s, Memorial has limited influence in Russia today. It is above all a moral authority, a symbol. To attack and dissolve it is to take the risk of politicizing it, of creating a new divide with civil society. “ And to shock the foreigner.


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