Putin Unveils Memorial to Victims of Soviet Repression, While His Own Repression Continues

On October 30—the day that had been unofficially marked in the Soviet Union as Political Prisoner Day and was later designated by Russia’s first post-Soviet parliament as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression—a new monument was unveiled in downtown Moscow. Standing on the corner of the Garden Ring and Sakharov Avenue, the memorial—called the “Wall of Grief”—commemorates those who had perished at the hands of the totalitarian system and its repressive structures over the seven decades of communist rule. The stones for the memorial had been brought from former Gulag camps across Russia; the word “Remember” is written on it in 22 different languages; the faceless heads adorning the memorial symbolize tears. “This is an uncomfortable monument,” said its sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan. “It sends shivers down the spine.”

The unveiling of Russia’s first national memorial to the victims of communist terror was long overdue. It is astonishing that, 26 years after the end of Soviet rule, there was no such memorial honoring the millions of its victims.

Yet there was something equivocal about the occasion. Perhaps it was the fact that the unveiling coincided with the release of a new report by the Memorial Human Rights Center that lists the names of 117 current political prisoners in Russia. Or perhaps it was that the memorial was built next to what once was the headquarters of Yukos, the oil company that was dismantled and pirated by Vladimir Putin’s government and whose CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an internationally recognized prisoner of conscience, spent more than a decade in prison on politically motivated charges. The last of the Yukos hostages, Alexei Pichugin—one of the 117 political prisoners—is now in his 15th year of imprisonment, a sentence that would not have been out of place in Stalin’s time.

Most of all, though, the ambivalence was captured by the image of Vladimir Putin unveiling the memorial that commemorates  Russia’s victims of political repression—Putin, a senior officer of the organization that perpetrated that repression, and the head of a regime that has presided over the politically motivated prosecutions of hundreds of its citizens, as well as the assassination of the opposition leader steps away from the Kremlin. “Political repressions were a tragedy for our people,” Putin said at the unveiling ceremony. “There can be no justification for those crimes.” What about those committed on his watch?

“There is no doubt that there should be a memorial in Moscow to the victims of political repression,” a group of former Soviet political prisoners, including Alexander Podrabinek, Vladimir Bukovsky, and Mustafa Dzhemilev wrote in an open letter on Monday. “But [this should only happen] when there are no more political prisoners in the country; when the killers are punished; and when political repression itself ceases to be the subject of news stories, and becomes exclusively the subject of historical research.”


Photo Credit: Mos.ru

OG Image: