I was lucky enough to be able to interview the recent Nobel Peace Prize 2022, President of the NGO Memorial that I present here.
How has the world changed, especially Russia in these years?
During perestroika, everyone had similar ideas. Glasnost brought freedom of expression and free thought and that was vital for Soviet society after decades of terror where people were killed and captured to be transported to the gulags. Couldn’t talk. At that time, although he opened up a bit, it was still impossible to speak and dedicate himself to seeking the truth.
What did glasnost mean? What was Memorial’s job?
It was an invitation from the government so that memory could be opened up and the past could be discussed, evidence searched, archives consulted, the damage suffered by the victims restored, and the fundamental objective was that it could come to light and work for the future.
Our job was to document what was happening and not so much to investigate the crimes of the past.
In the 90s the social movement was really important and many of us worked in the organization and we all wanted to know what had happened to our relatives.
With the serious economic situation that changed and the priority was none other than eating and many values were relegated to the background, education, civil rights and the memory of the past.
When did everything start to change?
As an organization we had neither the support nor the pressure of the government, but everything changed when, with the arrival of Putin in 2005, it was the first time that the figure of Stalin and his victory and the recovery of the Baltic countries and Poland were exalted, liberating them from the Nazis. From that moment on, Memorial was increasingly marginalized and separated from society. Despite this, we had thousands of requests to investigate different cases. In 2012 the escalation of the repression increased and after prohibiting different organizations from other countries, considering that they went against the interests of Russia and it was in 2014 that they included it in that group. It was not until 2019 that we began to be fined and in 2021 the expulsion process ended and the Tverskoi court ordered the expropriation of the headquarters in Moscow, accusing him of falsehoods such as wanting to “rehabilitate Nazi crimes.” Despite all the difficulties we continue to work for what we have always fought for and from civil society.
Now it is forbidden to demonstrate and even if you go with a blank sheet you can be arrested. There are many things that cannot be done, but there are others that can be done from a society with values that can transform the mentality of society.
So, have we returned to the old USSR?
In some aspects, we have returned to that old concept with important mechanisms of repression and not only at the level of power but also in the society in which there is gender, ethnic, religious discrimination, etc… Russia is somewhat different from the Soviet Union. Values have always been held, what happens is that the repression is very strong. The elite people have not really been harmed and we have the same social groups as then and the same are the victims of terror.
It is necessary to push people to mobilize them and change all this, it is the task that has to be done, that we have to do. Our most important job at this time is to ensure that society has certain values and we do not have to change the mentality of one person but that of everyone, activate civil society. At this time it is not possible to do it in a paternalistic way, the process is slow and is done little by little. We have to involve the entire society. It sure is complicated, but it is still possible and necessary.
With the war the panorama will have been complicated, right?
Now it is even more difficult to speak than before in Russia and despite this society not only wants to survive but also bets on values, morality and freedom. That is why we have to continue fighting and working from our organization.
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Yan Rachinsky, Nobel Peace Prize 2022: “In some aspects we have returned to the USSR with important mechanisms of repression”