• The Impermanence of Perm-36

    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca

    Пять заборов охраны.

    When hearing ‘gulag,’ many will associate the labor camps with the U.S.S.R.’s Stalinist era. Thus, some may be surprised to hear that the last camp holding political dissidents only closed in 1988. Located in the Urals, Perm-36 is the last intact camp standing in Russia. The site, since then, was converted to a museum on Soviet repression.

    But in the wake of Russia’s historical revisionism, Perm-36 is in trouble. After 20 years of operation, the historians managing the museum were supplanted by a state organization looking to change the historical narrative offered by the site. In light of the recent surge of approval ratings for Stalin, this shift comes as no surprise.

    Lately, Perm-36 has been the target of various investigations—the most recent focusing on accusations of the museum being a “foreign agent.” A recent Russian law stipulates that any domestic NGO accepting foreign funds must be documented as a “foreign agent”—a label evoking Cold War tensions and suspicion.

    Original plans to commemorate the victims of Soviet repression have been replaced by projects such as an anti-fascist World War II memorial, and an event celebrating Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—a gulag prisoner upholding ‘appropriate’ nationalist ideals. It is noteworthy that the first exhibition under the new state leadership will be devoted to the guarding system and technical aspects of incarceration. The focus will radically change, shifting from political prisoners, repressions, and Stalin’s crimes to the camp system in general.



    “Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom.” Gulag Museum. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://gulaghistory.org/nps/about/history.php.


    Roland Oliphant. “The Only Russian Gulag Preserved as a Museum is Under Investigation for Accepting Foreign Donations.” The Telegraph, March 20, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11481113/Russias-only-gulag-museum-faces-closure.html.


    Tom Balmforth. “Perm’s Big Chill.” Radio Free Europe, March 20, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-perm-liberal-bastion-no-more/26911622.html.


    “Whitewashing Russia’s Gulag History.” Radio Free Europe, March 24, 2015. Accessed March 30, 2015. http://www.rferl.org/media/video/russia-gulag-perm/26918475.html.


    «'Пермь-36' станет музеем паботников ГУЛАГА, все упоминания о репрессиях и Сталине уберут.» NewsRu.com, March 5, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://www.newsru.com/russia/05mar2015/gulag.html.

  • Last Address

    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca


    Last year, Russian human rights organization ‘Memorial’ set out to produce and hang commemorative plaques to individual victims of the Soviet regime. Named ‘Last Address,’ the initiative will manufacture inscriptions that can be installed on the former homes of those who were executed or taken to the gulags. The small memorials will provide information on the life of the victim. It will read “Here Lived,” prefacing the name, occupation, dates of birth, arrest and death, as well as that of rehabilitation.

    Those who wish to have a plaque made and mounted in memory of someone can pay around 3,500 to 4,000 rubles. The project website provides an interactive map indicating where plaques have been requested or already installed. Starting in Moscow, Memorial aspires to spread its plaques throughout the country.

    The project draws on the idea of a well-known European initiative, Stolpersteine (Stumbling Block), started by a German artist Gunter Demnig, over 20 years ago. Since that time the memorial project spread to hundreds of cities and towns in 18 European countries. Within its framework, as of August 2014, over 48,000 stolpersteine commemorating the victims of Nazi regime—predominantly those of Holocaust—have been installed.



    Tom Balmforth. “’Last Address’ Project Aims To Honor Victims of Soviet Repression.” Radio Free Europe, November 26, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2014. http://www.rferl.org/content/last-address-project-aims-to-honor-/26711340.html.


    Mahsa Lipman. “Humble Memorials For Stalin’s Victims in Moscow.” The New Yorker, December 13, 2014. Accessed December 15, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/humble-memorials-stalins-victims-moscow.


    «Проект 'Последний адрес.'» Мемориал. Accessed October 25, 2014. http://www.memo.ru/d/180566.html.


    “Stolpersteine: Here Lived 1933-1945. An Art Project for Europe by Gunter Deming.” Stolpersteine. Accessed October 25, 2014. http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/.

  • Canada's "Victims of Communism" Memorial


    By Maryna Polataiko for postcommunistmonuments.ca

    Photo: Memorial Design (tributetoliberty.ca)

    In 2008, Tribute to Liberty, a Canadian non-profit organization was founded with the goal of commemorating the victims of communism, as well as Canada’s participation in helping them. Designed by ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture, the monument will be located near both Canada’s Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court. A target of divided opinion, the National Memorial to Victims of Communism has become a subject of both acclamation and criticism.

    From a practical standpoint, the National Capital Commission (NCC) advisory committee displayed concerns regarding the placement of the memorial. The plot of land across from the Supreme Court had been set aside for parliamentary and judicial precincts, having enough room to construct an additional building if need be.

    Many have weighed in with political and ideological standpoints. Supporters suggest that the monument will offer recognition to Canadian immigrant populations who have suffered at the hands of communist regimes, which continue to participate in historical disavowal. Some detractors, however, insist that the monument is too imprecise—claiming to represent victims across borders and time. Others argue that it is a flagrant artifice of conservative partisanship. The problem of having such a subjective monument straight across from the Supreme Court—an institution aspiring towards neutrality and objectivity—has also arisen.

    Chris Selley documents a list of complaints made against the memorial. In reaction to critics arguing that the monument has no central place in Canada’s history, he declares that diasporas from communist regimes do, in fact, constitute an important part in the nation’s historical narrative and social fabric.

    Writing for The Globe and Mail, Bob Ramsay casts aspersions on the project’s funding techniques, where donors can get their name inscribed on the monument for 100,000$. Though the NCC’s policies once prohibited the acknowledgement of donors on monuments, this rule was rescinded three years ago. Two years ago, the NCC’s jurisdiction over the memorial was taken away and put under the auspices of the Federal Department of Heritage. The department claims that the abovementioned policy changes were unrelated to Tribute to Liberty.

    Amidst the outpouring of editorial pieces on the controversial monument, Conrad Black made a curious remark: Most monuments face public backlash before their erection. Whether memorial projects frequently provoke comparable levels of ire within liberal democracies is debatable.



    “Canadian Memorial to Victims of Communism Unveiled” (editorial). UpNorth, December 11, 2014. Accessed November 25, 2014. http://upnorth.eu/design-canadian-memorial-victims-communism-unveiled/.


    “Ottawa’s Monuments Men Panned” (readers’ letters). TheStar.com, December 27, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2015. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2014/12/27/ottawas_monuments_men_panned.html.


    “Letters: Ottawa Memorial to Victims of Communism.” Ottawa Citizen, December 15, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2015. http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/letters/letters-ottawa-memorial-to-victims-of-communism.


    Kelly Egan. “Monumental Mistake? Victims of Communism Memorial Seems Too Vague to be Poignant.” Ottawa Citizen, December 16, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2015. http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/egan-monumental-mistake-victims-of-communism-memorial-seems-too-vague-to-be-poignant.


    Black, Conrad. 'Conrad Black: Almost All Monuments Are Opposed Before They Are Unveiled. Let’s Build Them'. National Post, April 18, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2015. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/conrad-black-almost-all-monuments-are-opposed-before-they-are-unveiled-lets-build-them.


    David Frum. “Critics of Canada’s Monument to the Victims of Communism are Wrong. Here’s Why.” National Post, December 20, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2015. http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/12/20/david-frum-critics-of-canadas-monument-to-the-victims-of-communism-are-wrong-heres-why/.


    Don Butler. “Documents show NCC Concerns about Victims of Communism Memorial.” Ottawa Citizen, April 22, 2015. Accessed April 2, 2015. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/documents-show-ncc-concerns-about-victims-of-communism-memorial.


    Ramsay, Bob. 'Where Else Can You Buy Your Way Onto A War Memorial?' The Globe and Mail. April 6, 2015. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/where-else-can-you-buy-your-way-onto-a-war-memorial/article23808495/.


    Selley, Chris. 'Chris Selley: Tallying Up The Formidable, Over-The-Top Objections To The Memorial To Victims Of Communism'. National Post. April 9, 2015. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/chris-selley-tallying-up-the-formidable-over-the-top-objections-to-the-memorial-to-victims-of-communism.

  • Iron Felix in the News Again

    Two articles discussing the latest interest in - and failure to - return Dzerzhinskii's statue to Lubianka Square in Moscow, courtesy of Johnson's Russia List:

    Awesome Soviet era symbol keeps Russian society split in two
    By Lyudmila Alexandrova

    MOSCOW, February 11. /ITAR-TASS/. Lenin called that man, son of an impoverished Polish noble, "a proletarian Jacobean", and put him in charge of fighting counter-revolution. Felix Dzerzhinsky was appointed first head of the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-revolution and Sabotage, reorganized into the State Political Directorate - a section of the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs - the then Soviet equivalent of the Interior Ministry) in 1922. Described by his Bolshevist comrades as the "Iron Felix", he initiated massive terror and repressions, hostage-taking and other methods to "defend the Revolution".

    After an abortive coup against the USSR's first and last president, Mikhail Gorbachev, in August 1991, the first thing jubilant Muscovites did was to remove the monument to Dzerzhinsky off the plinth. This work of famous sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, had been in the centre of the square, called after the first KGB chief, in front of the secret service headquarters for decades. A year earlier, months before the breakup of the Soviet Union, a huge stone from the Solovki islands, used in the first Soviet years as a prison for political opponents, had been placed near the Polytechnic Museum. The square itself was renamed to Lubyanka Square.

    This gesture, commemorating all victims of political repression, was then perceived as the final farewell to the darkest pages of the Soviet past. Yet now some are eager to bring the monument back to the square again. The issue lists among the twelve questions the Communist Party's Moscow branch referred to the Moscow election commission requesting a citywide referendum. The commission will rule on the feasibility of resolving such issues via a referendum on February 20.

    There has also been a personal initiative of a group of individuals, lodged with the Moscow Duma's commission on monumental art, for renovating the monument and returning it to its original place from Muzeon Park, where Dzershinsky's statue can be seen alongside other Soviet era monuments. Interestingly, this is an eighth appeal for the Iron Felix statue's return since 2001. This is rather unlikely to happen, though, since it also requires the government's approval. The statue is a monument of federal importance. But the issue has already provoked heated discussions in the society.

    In the meantime, a large-scale program is now on across the country for erecting monuments to some heroes of World War I. The upcoming ones are monuments to Admiral Alexander Kolchak, generals Nikolai Denisov and Anton Denikin, later leaders of the White Guard movement, the Bolshevik's arch foes.

    One can only wonder at how Russians are still concerned about the events of almost one hundred years ago - the Revolution and the Civil War. The war between the Reds and the Whites seems to be going on - in many people's minds. Although eliminating monuments of any epoch, however cruel it may have been, is by no means the best possible way to assert justice, some symbolical personalities in Soviet history invariably split the people in two implacable camps. The personalities on top of that list are Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky.

    Each time someone says Lenin's embalmed body now lying inside the Mausoleum in Red Square should be buried, the Communists and their allies stand up in Lenin's defense, whereas the authorities evade the issue for fear of a flare-up of social tensions. Any event, which the liberal community sees as exoneration of Stalin and his policy of repression, causes uproars in the media. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that attempts to bring the monument back have caused such a tumult again. Should we be ashamed of our history, should we demolish or restore monuments?

    "If the monument to the Iron Felix comes back, this place will become the scene of an open-ended rally against it, and I am determined to partake," said Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin.

    "Dzerzhinsky was simply a butcher of his own people. He executed the Red Terror policy. He has no other achievements in the eyes of our people - if it is to be considered an achievement, of course" believes the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva.

    "The issue of bringing Felix Dzerzhinsky's monument back to Lubyanka square cannot be viewed from the purely artistic perspective, in terms of the city's appearance, of restoring the square's historical face and so on," a member of the human rights organization Memorial, Oleg Orlov, is quoted by the Novyie Izvestia daily as saying. "One could then indulge in similar speculations about restoring the way some Germany cities looked in the 1930s. Some may say Hitler's monument stood here once, so why not bringing it back irrespective of what we think about this personality? Such reasoning is possible, but it would be absolutely blasphemous and unacceptable."

    Yet, some voice other views. The leader of A Just Russia party, former speaker of the upper house of parliament, Sergey Mironov, has spoken in favour of the monument's comeback.

    "I think such issues are to be voted on by the people of Moscow in a city referendum, and if I took part in such a voting, I would vote for bringing the monument back," Mironov said. "I am concerned about the fact we have such an easy attitude towards our monuments, we should not be ashamed of our history.


    Moscow commission rules not to reinstall monument to Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanskaya Square

    MOSCOW. Feb 11 (Interfax) - The Moscow City Duma's monumental art commission unanimously decided on Tuesday not to return a monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, a prominent Soviet statesman and founder of the Soviet security services, to Lubyanskaya Square in central Moscow.

    "Taking into account the current circumstances in society, I propose refraining from returning the monument. This is more of a political issue," Lev Lavrenov, the commission's chairman, said at the Tuesday session.

    The commission has considered the return of the monument to Dzerzhinsky to Lubyanskaya Square for the sixth time since 2000.

    "We are firmly convinced that it is inappropriate to erect a monument to Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanskaya Square, as it could produce undesirable tensions in society," Lavrenov said.

    A number of commission members noted that the monument to Dzerzhinsky, which used to be located on Lubyanskaya Square in Soviet times, is good artwork, and the place where it is located now, the Muzeon park, is best.

    Some commission members suggested during the discussions that the monument could be returned in the future, while others objected to this in principle.

    "When those who don't remember this man come several generations later, they might reinstall [the monument]. Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin] and Dzerzhinsky started the repression," commission member Valery Perfilyev said at the session.

    Officials from the Moscow city culture department and Moscow City Architecture Committee also noted that it would be inappropriate to reinstall the monument now.

    The monument to Dzerzhinsky was transferred from federal to municipal ownership in 2008 and is officially considered a cultural heritage object. Its condition has been found to be unsatisfactory, and its restoration is planned in 2014.

    Two individuals known as Zilinsky and Terekhov had earlier filed petitions on reinstalling the monument on Lubyanskaya Square. The commission is supposed to consider any incoming proposals on installing monuments.

  • Russia's Missing Memorial

    Ben and I have written a few times on Russia's "missing memorial" - that is, a proper national memorial to the victims of the gulag and Soviet terror. Although the initial intent was for Memorial's Solovetskii stone on Lubyanka square to be an initial marker for a larger, government-sponsored memorial-to-come - perhaps in the square's center, where secret police founder Dzerzhinsky used to stand - government interest in the project waned after the Soviet collapse. Below is the latest Western newspaper article noticing this long-time omission.

    The Spectator (UK)
    January 4, 2014
    Why doesn't Russia have a Yad Vashem for the gulag?
    One of the 20th century's great crimes is still awaiting a fitting memorial
    By Mary Dejevsky

    Yad Vashem, Israel's vast Holocaust memorial complex, dominates a hillside above Jerusalem, surrounded by bare rock and pines. Vast though it is, it manages to be both harrowing and restrained; both rooted in the times it commemorates and thoroughly modern ­ not just in style, but in the way it harnesses the most advanced technology to its cause.

    As an enterprise, let alone a monument, it is impressive: a testament to the commitment of Israel and the survivors of Europe's Jewry to ensure that what happened is never forgotten. But it aspires to more: to convey a sense of the communities that were destroyed and to memorialise, so far as possible, every last individual. The idea is to humanise those who had been stripped of their humanity: to establish each victim's identity, to name every name.

    To date, the archive at Yad Vashem has four and a half million names, many with dates of birth and death, even photographs. Two thirds of its holdings have been digitised and are available worldwide. No one accepts that the task is anything like complete.

    The new museum at the centre of the complex is a model of what a modern museum can be. By the age of 25, practically every Israeli will have taken part in several group visits ­ as a pupil and as a military conscript. Such exposure to the catastrophe of the last century helps form the outlook of every citizen of Israel.

    Contrast this with the Museum of the Gulag I chanced upon in Moscow a couple of years ago, its presence indicated only by a handwritten sign. Sparsely staffed by elderly volunteers and comprising just a few rooms, it was heroic proof of personal dedication. There was a faithful reconstruction of camp accommodation; fragments of letters and diaries, official documents authorising banishment or rehabilitation; the wooden spoons and food tins that have become, in their simplicity, icons of life in the Gulag.

    It would be wrong to accuse post-Soviet Russia of doing nothing to remember the victims of communism. The works of Solzhenitsyn, including The Gulag Archipelago, are now prescribed reading in Russian schools. As President, Vladimir Putin ­ yes, even Putin ­ has spoken at gatherings to commemorate victims of Stalin's purges. The 30th of October is designated the day of remembrance of political repressions. Local newspapers, and now websites, have regular features publishing appeals from people trying to trace missing friends and relatives.

    And the admirable organisation, Memorial, works to identify burial sites and establish the fate of the missing. In 1990, it placed a monument ­ a huge boulder from the prison complex in the Solovetsky Islands ­ in front of the notorious Lubyanka in Moscow. But Memorial is a non-governmental organisation, and commemoration depends, all too often, on individual initiative.

    It could justly be argued that integrating such a painful past takes time. Although the law establishing Yad Vashem was passed just five years after the foundation of the state of Israel, the project advanced only by stages and not without controversy into the extensive complex that exists today. There is a crucial difference, too, between the situation of Russia and Israel. As has been said epigrammatically: half of Russia did time in the camps; the other half sent them there. There is as yet no agreement on a common past.

    But more than 20 years have elapsed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the number of those who passed through the country's prison camp system is estimated at between 15 and 50 million. Is it not time for today's Russians, and the Russian state in their name, to start incorporating that past trauma into their present? Regrettably, there is little evidence that this is happening.

    Take Memorial. The bulk of its funding comes from Germany. It is not only the state that has denied funding; Russia's oligarchs, it seems, would rather spend their wealth on foreign football teams, Fabergé eggs or English public school fees for their offspring. Contrast this with the long list of eminent Jews who helped fund Yad Vashem.

    It is not just Russia, of course, that could usefully take the Holocaust memorial as a blueprint for commemorating a tragic past in a credible and modern way. Rwanda is one of the latest countries to ask Yad Vashem for advice on compiling an archive to remember its ugly recent history. But the scale of Israel's project as it was conceived, the spirit in which the 700 or so staff work there, and their determination to continue until each and every victim has a name, all offer Russia a model of how it might proceed. For it is only when the state and its citizens restore the memory of their past, that Russia will become a fully normal country.

  • Commemorating Victims of Communism in Russia

    Business New Europe

    November 7, 2013

    A memorial day few Russians want to remember

    Julia Reed in Moscow

    "Who was killed in your family?" A man in a beret in his early 60s asked me as he joined the long queue of people. We were both attending the annual recital of the names of the victims of political repressions in Russia by the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow's Lubyanka square, right next to what was the KGB headquarters. This stone was brought from the Solovki Islands in the icy seas off the far northern coast of Russia, where the first Gulag prison camp was opened in 1919. (Bizarrely, the RUB500 bank note pictures the island's monastery.)

    I wasn't ready for this question since I somehow assumed that repressions should concern all members of the society and not just the families of the victims. Yet a large number of people in the queue held photographs of their loved ones. The man next to me had a small self-published booklet that contained photocopies of the verdicts and even names of the people who gave evidence or signed the papers that led to his father being executed and his older sister sent to Mordovia, one of the locations of the Gulag prisoner camps (and where until last week Pussy Riot leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was being held).

    "Last year I waited for three hours," said Arkady Grymov, 62. "It's because many people do not just read out the names they are given (by the members of Memorial, a history preservation society that researches and archives information on repressions in the Soviet Union and about the Gulag system), but they also recite poems, make speeches and add the names of the victims they knew personally."

    Indeed, it seemed as if every third person that came to the microphone would call out the names of their family members. Along with each name came the age, occupation and date of the execution. The occupations were strikingly ordinary: worker, shopkeeper, janitor, guard, usher, vet, priest, secretary, low-level government employee. Some of them were junior NKVD (the Soviet secret police in the 1930s and 40s) officers. No famous names or important jobs.

    "Perhaps you know somebody?" insisted the same man behind me in the queue. I realized that I could not think of anyone who I was certain was repressed, and this was telling of the environment of secrecy and avoidance that surrounded my Soviet upbringing.

    Unwanted history

    If you have never heard that October 30 is a memorial day to commemorate the victims of political repressions in Russia, you are not alone. In fact, only a fraction of Russians know. This is not surprising: not only does this date not come up in the top news of the state television channels, it hardly even makes it into the liberal internet news as a newsworthy discussion topic.

    Yet just in Moscow there are archived records of 30,000 people killed between 1937-1938. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's landmark speech denouncing Stalin in March 1956 made the fact of repression in the USSR public and gave rise to the process of rehabilitation and release for the victims. The topic became widely publicized and debated again in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when even the ban on the Communist Party was being discussed but rejected by the Constitutional Court.

    However, Russia's mass media pay little attention to the subject. It is safe to say that today's Russians have chosen to ignore the darkest days of their history. "My mother told me when I was 15 that my great grandfather was repressed during the war for wanting to build a church in his village, but I never gave it much thought because I was told that it was a regular event for such times," says Natalia Belova, 35.

    There are reasons for that. The current political climate does not favour any other view of the Soviet past other than as a period of heroism and dedication by the people. This year on the annual day when members of the public can come to the Solovetsky Stone to remember the victims, the state channels dedicated airtime to Putin giving out awards to distinguished members of society in the Kremlin Palace and to the celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the Komsomol (the youth division of the Communist Party of the USSR).

    Soviet history is being rewritten in soft and warm tones, portraying life in the Soviet Union with its normal ups and downs, great enthusiasm and romanticism of large national construction projects involving the youth, with a strong emphasis on the real achievements of the "socialist paradise": the rapid industrialization of the economy, the victory in World War II, and Yuri Gagarin's first flight into space.

    Unlike in Germany where there was an official denunciation of Nazism, Stalinism has never been officially denounced. Stalin is still largely perceived as an effective hardliner who won the war and built the nation and is, if not exactly a source of pride, at least not a source of shame either.

    Even the families of the repressed continued to join the NKVD and write letters to "Great Comrade Stalin" in those days. The generation who are now in their 60s ­ the sons and daughters of those who lived under Stalin ­ still don't see him as evil; the truth of his crimes and the revelations of this macabre period in the Russian history have not transformed their psyche. "Those who worked for NKVD had no choice, they were just recruited there. If they protested, they would be killed themselves. Such were the times ­ they were also the victims of the regime", says Lyudmila Kozlova, 66.

    Today's older generations perceive Stalin as akin to Peter the Great or Napoleon: probably lacking some humane qualities, but a strong-willed patriot who did good things for the country.

    Memorial holds tours of the sites in the centre of Moscow that are associated with Soviet terror. None of these places are known to the Russian public and only a few are on tourist maps, like the KGB building (which houses the successor FSB) or the Solovki Islands.

    Tours that give an insight into the history of repressions are not routinely conducted in schools, institutions of higher learning or Moscow-awareness tours. What's more, some of these buildings that should have become memorial museums, such as the Military Council of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, (where 31,456 people were executed in 1936-1938), have been privatized and turned into offices and commercial property.

    Political repressions of today

    This year's memorial service at the Solovetsky Stone sparked a little more interest than usual from that small segment of the public concerned with the plight of the more recent political prisoners such as jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his partner Platon Lebedev, the jailed members of punk rock band Pussy Riot, and the protestors arrested and imprisoned following the clashes with the police during the protests in May last year.

    Stalin-style policies of sacrificing individuals for the sake of grand ideas or persecuting those who are seen as different have not only not been denounced, but have taken strong root in the Russian mentality and are silently accepted by the majority. This is seen in the adoption of new laws restricting the freedom of gays, NGOs and in daily treatment of migrants.

    Human life continues to have little value in today's Russia, much the same as it was under Stalin, and the judicial and prison systems have experienced little reform since the Gulag times. Prisons are still characterized by harsh, un-dignifying conditions and almost slave labour, as described in a recent letter from a prison in Mordovia by Pussy Riot's Tolokonnikova. Her observations are echoed by many other former inmates of Russia's prisons.

    Putin is expected to endorse a new unified version of a Russian history textbook soon. One can only wonder if it is going to be history described from different points of view or continue the trend of emphasizing Russia as a "Great Country" and ignoring the suffering of its people.

    "There is no family in Russia who have not been affected by the repressions," says Irina Ostrovskaya of Memorial. Indeed, as I started writing this piece thinking that no one was affected by repressions in my family, I discovered that my great grandfather spent 10 years in jail, was released severely ill and was only rehabilitated in 1991, years after his death.