The country Needs a National Programme to Commemorate the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime

Source: (info), 04/02/11

· Human Rights Defenders · Victims of Repression

A meeting of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights on 1 February 2011 in Ekaterinburg was chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev. One of the key issues discussed at the meeting was a proposal to introduce a nationwide public programme entitled “On Commemorating the Memory of Victims of the Totalitarian Regime and on National Reconciliation”.

The proposed Programme consists of seven themes:
Commemoration of the memory of victims of the totalitarian regime (monuments and memorials; museums; grave sites; books of condolence; and a unified database of victims of repression);
Social support for victims of repression (increase in compensation; transfer of financial responsibility for support from regional to federal levels, and other measures);
Provision of access to archives (changes in the procedure for declassification of materials and access to them);
Political and legal evaluation of the crimes of totalitarianism; concluding the process of legal rehabilitation of victims of terror;
Projects in education and public awareness; changes in Russian place names and other measures.

Member of the Council on Civil Society and Human Rights and Board Member of the International Memorial Society Sergei Vladimirovich Krivenko talked about the Programme and the Council’s meeting in Ekaterinburg.

- The idea to put the issue of historical memory on the agenda for the meeting with the President occurred to Council members back in spring. The idea was supported by Ella Pamfilova, who was head of the Council until July 2010, and by her successor Mikhail Fedotov. The Programme is based on proposals prepared by Memorial. In order to finalise the proposals, the Council organised a working group, which also included Memorial representatives.

- How did the meeting go?

This was the first time that a meeting of the Council with the President has taken place outside the capital. It was held in Ekaterinburg in the spacious premises of a library for children and young people. Apart from the President and Council members, the following people attended the meeting: Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration V. Y. Surkov, Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation V. P. Lukin, Governor of Sverdlovsk Region A. S. Misharin, Human Rights Ombudsman of Sverdlovsk Region T. G. Merzlyakova, and representatives of the Regional Administration.

The Council has formed a certain style of communicating with the President. We not only seek to identify a problem, but we also put forward recommendations on how the problem should be solved, sometimes as specific legislative amendments, or as suggestions on potential ways to improve the situation. Only well explored issues are brought up at meetings attended by the President, which take place once or twice a year.

The three main topics submitted to this meeting were the programme to commemorate the memory of victims of the totalitarian regime, policy on children, and judicial reform.

After the discussion of the main topics, other issues were briefly touched upon.

The conceptual justification of the programme “On commemorating the memory of victims of the totalitarian regime and on national reconciliation” was presented by the chair of the Council’s working group Sergei Karaganov. The head of Memorial Arseny Roginsky, invited to the meeting as an expert, gave his comments on our proposal. He emphasised that society has been addressing the authorities about these issues for the last fifty years and that the programme should not be reduced to individual particular issues, because the significance of the programme lies in its comprehensiveness. Mr Roginsky went on to define the programme’s component parts.

- What was the President’s reaction?

- He said that the propositions regarding commemoration of victims were clear and he had nothing to add to them.

On the provision of social support to victims of repression (transfer of financial responsibility for support from regional to federal levels; re-introduction of the idea of moral damage into the law on victims of repression, which had been removed from legislation at the adoption of the law on monetisation of benefits), the President said that this proposal would be difficult to implement, but it was worth a try.

He also voiced a positive view towards changing the procedure for declassifying archives.

The President raised a question about the legal evaluation of crimes. He said that everything was clear so far as political evaluation was concerned. It had already been voiced by him in his speeches, as well as by the State Duma. However, he said it was not quite clear to him how a legal evaluation could be developed, but it was something that should be given some thought.

- What other questions were raised by the participants?

- Two other issues on the agenda were childhood policy and judicial reform.

Additionally, there were questions about police reform, the Forestry Code and forest fires, military reform, detention of participants in the demonstration on 31 December 2010, the situation in Belarus, and the recent terrorist attacks.

The President himself pointed out that Khodorkovky’s name had been mentioned a number of times by participants and that this had not been in the sense of putting pressure on him, but a sincere request to understand what had happened in the case. The Council suggested that a group of prominent lawyers should prepare legal opinions on the cases of Magnitsky and Khodorkovsky.

President Medvedev responded enthusiastically to this suggestion, and he pointed out that, as a specialist in civil and not criminal law, he would like to know the opinion of respected experts, all the more since very few people had read all 200 volumes of the Yukos case.

Interview conducted by Nikolai Gladkikh, International Memorial Society