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24th Anniversary of Founding of Memorial Society

28 January 2013 

Source: (info)
On 28-30 January 1989 several hundred deputies representing around 250 organisations and groups from all across the Soviet Union gathered at the Cultural Centre of the Moscow Aviation Institute and founded the Memorial All-Union Historical, Educational And Charitable Society. The biggest mass public movement of those years was transformed into an organisation, or to be more precise, a union of regional organisations. Subsequently, in 1992, "human rights" was added to the words "historical, educational" and the word "all-Union" was replaced with "international," since the Soviet Union no longer existed. The society's charter was adopted, a governing board was elected, as was its executive body the Working Board. The Memorial Society was born. But should the Founding Conference of 28-30 January 1989 be regarded as the real beginning of Memorial?
* * * 
Of course not, if only because three months earlier a Preparatory Conference had been held, which was just as significant. In truth, it was at this conference that the decision to found the Memorial Society was taken. Actually following through on the decision, however, proved impossible because of opposition from a number of the "official" founders, who took their inspiration, we later learned, from the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. But the Preparatory Conference was not the first milestone in the story of the creation of Memorial.

Should perhaps the "elections" for the Public Committee of Memorial that took place between July and August 1988 be considered as the real beginning? By today's standards these were highly unusual elections. Activists of the movement went out onto the streets and squares of big cities and conducted on-the-spot polls of the population: which public figures, academics, writers, etc.., would you like to see as part of such a committee? It had been decided beforehand that the people collecting the highest number of votes would be invited to join the 15-man committee. It is interesting that people on the streets were generally keen to take part in the poll, not even asking what it was all about: everyone already knew what Memorial was and what tasks it had set itself. It is also interesting that among the election "winners" - and it came as no surprise that these were in the main the most well-known of the "masterminds" behind the perestroika era - almost no one refused to join the Public Committee (the only person to refuse was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who said that he was living in exile and could therefore not commit himself fully to participating in the work of Memorial).

At its first meeting the Public Committee elected Andrei Sakharov as its chairman (he subsequently became the first chairman of the Memorial Society). At the same time, the Memorial movement also created an Organising Committee, which began to prepare for the Founding Conference.

The creation of the Public Committee and Organising Committee was an important milestone in Memorial's history. The movement had set out on the road that would lead to the creation of a non-governmental organisation, the first mass non-political non-governmental organisation in Russia's modern history. But that was still not the start of Memorial, only the start of the latest stage of its evolution, since by August 1988 the movement already existed and was, as already mentioned, sufficiently widespread and popular.

So what precisely marked the real start of Memorial?

Yury Afanasiev addressing Memorial's Founding Conference. On the podium: Ales Adamovich, Yury Karyakin, Andrei Sakharov, Elena Zhemkova and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Cultural Centre of the Moscow Aviation Institute, Moscow 1989.

                                                                                        * * * 

We need to go back a few months further, to September 1987, to a time when hundreds of "unofficial" organisations (as they were called at the time) were sprouting up like mushrooms all over the Soviet Union. Behind this strange terminology lay a simple reality: at the dawn of Perestroika unapproved civil initiatives were no longer regarded as criminal offences subject to instant penalties. As a result, within a matter of months a whole network of community clubs, youth associations, amateur organisations and cultural and educational societies of the most diverse leanings and interests had begun spreading out across the entire country. One of these clubs, known as "Democratic Perestroika," created a historical and educational section. Today it seems appropriate to list the names of the people who founded this section: Nina Braginskaya, Aleksandr Vaisberg, Elena Zhemkova, Aleksei Zverev, Pavel Kudyukin, Viktor Kuzin, Dmitry Leonov, Oleg Orlov, Lev Ponomarev, Yury Samodurov and Yury Skubko.

So what inspired the people responsible for setting up this section? What was their main motivation? 

It's worth remembering that 1987 was the year that finally saw the lifting of the ban (which had been in place for over 20 years) on publications shedding light on the most tragic chapter of Russia's 20th century history, the Stalinist Terror, which claimed the lives of millions of its citizens and ruined the lives of tens of millions of others. In truth, to say it was 'lifted' is not strictly accurate, since this was more a matter of relaxing a certain degree of censorship, while at the same time still maintaining fairly tight control on what was permitted: in terms of time periods (only the Stalinist era) and in terms of conceptual interpretations of events (nothing should cast doubt on the "Socialist choice"). But it was enough: the pages of the magazines of a bewildered country poured out a torrent of publications depicting the nightmare world of tyranny, injustice and violence that had prevailed in only the recent past. What was happening was similar to the Khrushchev Thaw, but only to an extent, because during the Khrushchev years barely a tenth of the truth about the past that had befallen Russia's citizens had been discussed. Of course it was naïve of the architects of perestroika to think they could rein in this torrent and redirect it in the right direction once the restrictions on civil initiatives had been eased. History, as it was in the Khrushchev era, became a public political issue.

From left to right:Andrei Sakharov, Elena Zhemkova, Arseny Roginsky 


Activists of the "unofficial" groups, incidentally, remember the decision of the 22nd CPSU Congress that it would be fitting to erect a monument in Moscow in memory of the victims of Stalinist repression. In 1987, this idea was transformed into a project for a memorial complex, complete with a public museum, archive and library which would gather together all the evidence of the era of terror. (It seems this idea was first raised in July 1987, in a memo by Vyacheslav Igrunov published in one of the "unofficial" publications). Advancing this project became the main task for the historical and educational section, which soon split from the Democratic Perestroika club, calling itself the Memorial Group.

It appears that a few months earlier the group which had congregated around this idea had simply petitioned the Central Committee and the government. But by the autumn of 1987 a distinct gap between government policy and public expectations had already developed. So the group's members decided to not only petition the authorities but also to enlist the support of public opinion, which, as they knew perfectly well, would be on their side. And not only enlist public support but turn it into a public demonstration. At the beginning of November activists from Memorial took to the streets of Moscow to collect signatures for a petition calling on the authorities to proceed with the creation of the memorial complex.

Literally within a matter of days, the Moscow initiative had been picked up by a number of other big cities around the Soviet Union (unsurprisingly Leningrad was the first). The process of collecting signatures united people: these cities founded their own memorial groups. In the months that followed memorial movements spread across the entire country. It is worth pointing out that opposition against the collection of public signatures on the part of the authorities was even weaker than the instigators had expected. All the authorities did was to arrest a few people, keep a watch on the demonstrations and take police footage. Admittedly in some parts of the provinces, where new ideas generally took longer to take hold, memorial activists faced major problems at work.

Of course signatures were not only collected on the streets and in theatre and concert hall foyers. Petitions were circulated using the old samizdat method of handing them from person to person and reproducing them along the way. By June of the following year around 50,000 signatures were handed over to the 19th Party Conference (today it seems naive to have chosen the Party Conference to petition, but at the time it seemed completely natural to the majority of Memorial activists).

* * * 

The petition had the desired outcome. Gorbachev himself in his speech to the conference formulated a proposal to create a memorial (making no mention of course of Memorial, or the museum, archive and library). But it eventually became clear that with a certain degree of persistence this too could be extracted from the authorities.

But at that time a completely new way of thinking began to develop inside the memorial movement. Memorial activists began asking themselves: is our role really just to get the authorities to promise to build a memorial complex to the victims of repression, as what people liked to call a form of "repentance"? And should it really be a matter for the authorities to build a memorial to those people who were murdered, the very authorities who not that long ago were the ones doing the killing? What were the odds that such a monument would not turn into a sacrilege to the memory of those who were killed? And what kind of memorial would the Communist Party build to its victims - some pompous monument to the "faithful sons of the Motherland, victims of unjustified political repression during the years of disregard for the rule of Socialist law," a memorial which would not encompass the millions of dispossessed peasants, the victims of the Red Terror carried out during the Civil War of 1918-1922, and the thousands of dissidents in the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras. Can the creation of a historical monument to the people really be entrusted to a state that for its entire existence has done nothing but lie about the present and falsify the past? How can we be sure that a state memorial will not be another falsification, only more subtle and sophisticated than all the previous ones?

Memorial Preparatory Conference. On the podium: Lev Ponomarev, Vyacheslav Igrunov and Oleg Orlov. Moscow. Dom Kino (House of Cinema), October 1988. 

And most important of all, should the government be charged with doing something that the whole of society should be involved in? As we were collecting signatures for the memorial petition, we realised that our country and our history did not belong to the government but to us, its citizens. It was up to us to shoulder responsibility for our history and our country. It is very likely that many of the tens of thousands of people who put their names to that petition felt the same as we did. So did we have the right to shift this responsibility onto the leadership? 

Today, more than a decade later, these arguments seem obvious, the answers practically stare you in the face, but back then, in 1988 the concept of civil responsibility was in its very early infancy in the public imagination (the maxims of dissident ethics were the exclusive domain of the very few dissidents who had survived and not emigrated from the Soviet Union). In all likelihood, the direct impetus that made the memorial movement rethink its aims were far simpler and more mundane considerations: So, we've collected a bunch of signatures, now what do we do, put our feet up?

Whatever the reason, by the spring of 1988 the idea had taken hold in the memorial groups that they themselves should be the ones to resurrect the past and perpetuate the memory of the victims of repression. In memorial groups in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities and towns, people began organising the gathering of information about people who had suffered repression. Following on from the Memorial petition, the same samizdat method was used to distribute a questionnaire put together by members of Memorial to make it easier for the former victims of repression and their relatives and friends to put down on paper what had happened to them and to those who had died. Tens of thousands of these questionnaires were filled in and they went on to form the nucleus of the future Memorial archive.

Memorial activists increasingly came to realise that while creating a memorial was of course an important goal, the main task of the future Memorial society should be focused not on the monument, but on remembering. It was then that it finally became clear that Memorial should become an all-Union non-governmental organisation, whose mission was to preserve the historical memory of the people, and to do this through their own efforts, independent of the state and state institutions. An archive, a library and a museum? Absolutely. But we will build up this archive, this museum, this library ourselves. And we will make them publicly accessible and free. We will develop our own historical research. And we will organise documentary and artistic exhibitions, make films, put together and publish books, organise social gatherings, and do everything in our power to ensure that the materials we collect do not turn into a dead weight and that the memory of the terror becomes part of the public consciousness.

And to this day we do not consider this task to have been completed. But we still believe that significant steps in the right direction have been taken.

From left to right: 
Aleksandr Daniel, Tatyana Kasatkina, Oleg Orlov 

Today the historical and educational work of the Memorial Society is being carried out via a number of memorial centres operating in various regions across the country. The Memorial Historical Educational and Centre in Moscow is responsible for coordinating all these activities. The centre includes an archive, a museum and a library. The Memorial Research and Information Centre is also developing a number of its own research programmes and is supporting similar studies in the regions. The centre's own publishing house, Zvenia, has recently been launched. 

Another important focus for the centre and regional research groups is identifying the sites of mass graves and Gulag cemeteries. Archival searches are accompanied by questionnaires targeted at the local population and fact-finding missions to the sites. Once the circumstances surrounding the mass burials are documented and legally confirmed, a new, even more difficult task arises, that of identifying the names of those buried in the unmarked mass graves. Sometimes it is possible to do this and people who never knew where their fathers or grandfathers were buried are finally able to lay flowers at the graves of their loved ones.

The next step is that Memorial asks the local authorities to put up a memorial plaque at the site of the mass grave. In some places they manage to erect an obelisk or even organise for a memorial cemetery to be set up. To date, dozens of these plaques, obelisks and memorials have been erected in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. 

It is said that a war is not over until the remains of the last soldier have been laid to rest. We hope that through our work to identify and commemorate the sites of mass burials we are nearing the day when the state's war of annihilation against its own people can finally be consigned to the past.


Nevertheless, Memorial still got its own "main memorial" in the form of the Solovetsky Stone. a granite boulder brought to Lubyanka Square in Moscow from Solovki Prison Camp on Political Prisoners' Day on 30 October 1999 in memory of all the victims of the totalitarian regime.

The date of 30 October has become the main date in the memorial calendar (calling it a holiday would be odd). Political Prisoners' Day was not our idea, this day came about long before us, way back in 1974 and was originally the idea of prisoners in prison camps in Mordovia and Perm. In all honesty, the fact that this date coincides with the day the 1988 Preparatory Conference for Memorial finished is pure coincidence. However, the following year, we deliberately chose this date to hold a rally, which is still remembered by many Muscovites: memorial activists and a large number of sympathisers formed a human chain around the KGB building in Lubyanka Square and lit candles in memory of the millions who had lost their lives.

Ever since the Solovetsky Stone was erected this date has become an annual event. A year later, at the same time as the Law on Rehabilitation was adopted, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation officially declared 30 October the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression. On this day mourning rallies are held in many cities, organised by local Memorial groups. In Moscow members of Memorial and the Association of Victims of Political Repression still gather at the Solovetsky Stone on 30 October.

* * * 

The memorial movement was started by young and middle-aged people. But since it has expanded and gained wider recognition in the public and cultural life of the country, its members now include people of various ages and from different social groups, with different life experiences and community spiritedness.

Thousands of older people have joined, people whose fates often hung at the mercy of state terror. And the memorial activists realised that it would be immoral and hypocritical to talk of perpetuating the memories of those who died, without mentioning the restoration of justice for those who are still alive. Those people who were persecuted but survived and are still alive at a time when their tragic fates can be talked about openly. Those people whose parents were mangled by the meat grinder of terror, at the same time condemning their children to orphanhood, leaving them at the mercy of relatives and children's homes and forcing them to carry the stigma of being a "child of an enemy of the people" for the rest of their lives.

What could we do to help these people?

Founding Conference of Memorial. Moscow, Cultural Centre of the Moscow Aviation Institute, 1989. 

What we could do above all was to help them to join forces. In all the regional Memorial centres or next to them communities of former victims of unjustified political repression and members of their families sprang up. That is understandable: people with similar fates are drawn to one another. Moreover, when they came together it became easier for them to identify their needs and stand up for their rights. In some places former victims of repression came together and became an integral part of regional Memorial organisations. In other places they preferred to set up their own organisations, but even then they needed advice and organisational support.

It was also necessary to restore the civil rights of those people who were not rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era (and during the Brezhnev years the rehabilitation process practically came to a complete standstill). Many did not survive to see perestroika but their relatives still had a moral need to see them rehabilitated. And that rehabilitation should not happen in the way that it did during the Khrushchev era: "Apologies, there was a miscarriage of justice, you (or your father) were not guilty of any crime." No, the rehabilitation process now should not be about victims of "miscarriages of justice" but about victims of state tyranny and political terror, victims of crimes carried out deliberately by the government. And this fact should be clearly set out in a special legislative act in which the state acknowledges its historical guilt to its people. And the acknowledgement of moral guilt should be accompanied by financial compensation. Of course there is no way the damage can ever be fully compensated. What sort of money would be needed for the Soviet state or its successor to compensate the deaths of people's close relatives, for years of torment and decades of humiliation? Nevertheless, legal rehabilitation should be backed up by at least a symbolic monetary settlement as a token of recognition of the state's legal guilt.

Getting even the perestroika government to adopt such a piece of legislation proved difficult. The Soviet government to the very end could not bring itself to approve such a measure, although it did take some tentative steps in this direction (a number of government commissions were set up, several resolutions concerning certain categories of victims of repression were adopted, etc...).

We went down a different road. In March 1990 democratic parliamentary elections took place in Russia for the first time in the country's history. Memorial did not take part in these elections as a political association since that is not what the society is. But in many places Memorial supported pro-democracy candidates, took on the task of organising their election campaigns and lobbied for them. It should be said that during those years Memorial's reputation and standing among the general population was very high: nearly all the candidates it supported gained seats in the new Supreme Soviet. One of Memorial's deputies, Sergei Kovalev, shortly afterwards became Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and immediately set about developing the draft law on rehabilitation. Experts from Memorial played an active role in developing this draft law. However, in the Russian Supreme Soviet the passage of the draft law met with some serious obstacles and it was only on 18 October 1991, two months after the events of August [the failed coup attempt against Gorbachev], that the Russian law On the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression was finally approved by parliament, signed by the President and came into force. 

Of course Memorial's efforts to restore the rights of those who suffered political repression is not limited to lobbying for this law and subsequent additions and amendments to it. Our society's ongoing work on the specific instances and legal conflicts that arise during the implementation of the rehabilitation law are just as important. The Moscow branch of Memorial runs a public legal centre where former Gulag inmates and members of their families can go to get legal advice. Similar advice centres operate in many regional branches of Memorial.

From left to right: 
Dmitry Shkapov, Yury Skubko, Aleksandr Sokolov 

Unfortunately the social work our organisations carry out in the advice centres is in the main being reduced. Providing medical assistance and home care help to former Gulag prisoners, for example, requires substantial funds. Memorial has virtually no financial resources of its own (that is money that we can dispose of at our discretion). The society exists on grants and donations from charitable foundations, mainly from abroad, to carry out specific projects. In some places (St. Petersburg for example) Memorial has learned how to organise charity concerts to raise funds that can then be used to help people who suffered repression. Unfortunately Memorial's efforts in St. Petersburg have so far failed to be replicated in other towns and cities. In the majority of cases the most they can do is come to agreements with individual healthcare facilities about arranging free appointments and consultations for former political prisoners, and campaign for various municipal benefits for them. 

* * * 

In the late 1980s, neither the concept of reclaiming historical truth nor compassion for the victims of political repression were the sole preserve of the Memorial Society. On the contrary, the widespread public support for the memorial movement shows that these feelings were shared by a significant proportion of the country's population. Russia, and for that matter the whole of the Soviet Union, was going through a phase that is rare in world history, where issues related to the past seem even more important and relevant to people than burning issues to do with the social life of the day. Strictly speaking the most burning question was this: what country are we living in? Without answering this question there is no way you can understand what country we are living in now, nor what country we want to live in.

The fall of the Communist regime and the collapse of the Soviet Union may have been answers to these agonising questions. It is also possible that these events, and the way they developed in subsequent years, were an indication that society did not want to follow the answers to either of these questions through to their full conclusion. Whatever the case, what cannot be denied is that there was a sharp fall in public interest in history at the beginning of the 1990s. The public somehow suddenly lost all interest in the issue of remembering, and discussions about the past gave way to a burning interest in current politics. 

<...> And yet, the memorial movement remained intact. What can that be put down to? After all, these years witnessed the disintegration of numerous other organisations that had flowered during the perestroika period, both at the level of Russia and of the Soviet Union. 

We believe that the "dried out remains" of Memorial were strengthened by our general perception of the world, which was handed down to us by our forebears on the road to a civil society, the Soviet dissidents.

As early as 1988, many professional humanists were aligning themselves with Memorial – historians, linguists and writers. They included those who had tried even before perestroika to find out the truth about the past and get it published, but came up against insurmountable obstacles erected by government censorship. Others, who found it impossible to break through the censorship controls and did not want to compromise their professional integrity, chose a different path, the one laid down by the dissidents, of publishing their works as samizdat or abroad.

Indeed overall, any problem to do with recent history was never an academic matter for the dissidents; on the contrary, for them it was a deeply personal, painful and hard-won topic. The fight in the 1960s and 1970s against Brezhnev's modifications of Stalinism in the spiritual life of society, against modern tyranny and modern political persecution was quite natural and inextricably linked with the search for historical truth - about the Stalinist terror, the Red Terror, dekulakization, and how a system founded on the violation of human rights and personal freedom was created and developed. The predecessors of the Memorial activists are Yevgenia Ginzburg, Varlam Shalamov, Roy Medvedev, Mark Popovsky and the editorial team of the samizdat historical anthology Pamyat (Memory). And of course Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book The Gulag Archipelago dealt the death blow to the collective code of silence on the crimes of the past.

An exhibition during Conscience Week. House of Culture at the Moscow Light Bulb Factory, Moscow 1988. 

That is why it seems only natural that many former dissidents joined the memorial movement. Most noteworthy among them: the first chairman of the All-Union Memorial was Andrei Sakharov (and the post of chairman is no honorary title but entails a lot of hard work). One of the co-authors of the document The Ethical Principles of Memorial, a document that along with the Charter went on to form part of Memorial's constitution, was Mikhail Gefter. In 1992 Sergei Kovalev was elected co-chairman of the society.

Dissidents brought their own valuable experiences to the memorial movement. This was not so much in the form of negative experiences of opposition to state violence (although these were to prove very useful to us further down the line), but more in the form of positive experiences of independent culture and civil initiatives, and experience of defending human rights and public freedom.

After all, from the very start Memorial never perceived itself as an isolated phenomenon in the public life of the country. There was no way we could focus exclusively on the events of the 1930s-1940s, which lay 70 years in the past, when in Karabakh people were being shot, in Tbilisi women were getting hacked to pieces with sapper shovels and in Vilnius freedom was being crushed with tanks.

And why could we not do that? Why shouldn't Memorial stay within the bounds of its own "ecological niche?" Why does it constantly have to climb out into the socio-political arena?

A passion for politics? Definitely not. Is Memorial trying to be detached from politics per se, trying to maintain an equal distance from the various political parties and movements, only offering its opinion when political events touch upon certain aspects of public life?

From left to right:
Dmitry Leonov, Lev Ponomarev, Yan Rachinsky 

So what aspects of public life does Memorial regard as its own? And what kind of outlook unites those who are passionate about digging in the archives in their search for the truth about the past, and those who are just as passionate about dodging machine gun fire in their attempts to get to the truth about events today? 

There was a time when we were unable to formulate the basis of our unity ourselves. But in the end we were forced to resort to self-analysis to determine our place in public and cultural life. This is where the dissident experience we spoke of earlier came in very handy. Using the language of this experience it immediately became clear that we had an equal interest in mass flagrant violations of human rights both in the past and the present. What's more, we tend to view violations of this kind today as inextricably linked with the past.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre was established some time after the Research, Information and Educational Centre. But Memorial's human rights activities began much earlier, in 1989. Today, Memorial is probably even better known among the general public as a human rights organisation than as a historical and educational society.

Memorial human rights activists began by making statements and with pickets, which were reported in the mass media. But we quickly found we needed to add our own, trustworthy information to the events that were taking place. That marked the beginning of Memorial's venture into hotspots. Today the backbone of the work of Memorial human rights campaigners consists of their activities in Karabakh, Baku, South Ossetia, Transdniestria, Tajikistan, and the Ossetian-Ingush conflict zone. Not to mention Moscow in September-October 1993.

These activities culminated in an observer mission to the North Caucasus, which operated during both Chechen wars. A whole host of humanist public associations and groups took part in it, but it was the Memorial Human Rights Centre that organised the mission and was the main coordinator of the activities of the observers. We can say with confidence and without any false modesty that if it hadn't been for Memorial the press, and through it the country and the world, would know far less about that war than they do now, and more importantly the information about it would have been far less reliable. 

Exhibition in the foyer of Dom Kino during Memorial's Preparatory Conference. Moscow, October 1988.

Of course the work of the human rights centre is not limited to trouble spots. It investigates incidents of mass violations of human rights in areas of interethnic tension (for instance in the Krasnodar Territory). Its team includes a special group that works with refugees and displaced persons in Russia. It monitors cases of political persecution in the CIS countries. But a particular speciality of Memorial human rights activists is monitoring the situation in areas of armed conflict and publicising violations of human rights and humanitarian law that arise during these conflicts.

* * * 
So what is Memorial?

It is a historical and educational society, motivated by the social ideal of restoring justice and regarding the tragedies of the past above all as violations of human rights.

It is a human rights movement, whose activists carry out their work thoroughly and meticulously, not allowing political passions to interfere in their work, and with the kind of attention to detail that is characteristic of academic humanists rather than public functionaries.

From left to right: 
Nadezhda Bogatikova, Valery Borshev, Aleksandr Cherkasov 

It is a charitable organisation with virtually no means of providing financial assistance to the people in its care, focusing its social work on improving their legal status. 

It is an association with specialist human rights and historical and educational centres, run by non-professionals, not lawyers or historians, who are nevertheless generally acknowledged as displaying high levels of professionalism in their work.

It is a union of victims of tyranny, researchers who are striving to restore the true version of this tyranny and activists who are fighting against tyranny today. The union is based on mutual understanding, mutual cooperation and human solidarity.

It is a confederation of regional societies from several countries: Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Germany. They operate completely independently of one another, under a common Constitution but always coordinating their activities with the leading memorial centres and between themselves.

Memorial's history is only just beginning. The oldest non-political mass public movement is still very young. Everything still lies ahead for it.

Nikita Okhotin, Elena Zhemkova, Aleksei Korotayev and Arseny Roginsky.


Resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU on the Memorial Society 

No. 147, paragraph 23. On the Memorial Society

In accordance with the considerations set out in a note by departments of the Central Committee of the CPSU of 23 January 1989 (attached)


On paragraph 23 of Protocol 147

On the Memorial Society

Further to the information provided by departments of the Central Committee of the CPSU of 11 November 1988 related to the Memorial Society, we hereby report that during November-December 1988 work was carried out to postpone the holding of the Founding Conference (scheduled for 17-18 December) and to increase the representation of various community groups in the future organisation, press articles aimed at confirming the positive aims and goals of Memorial were created, and a programme and entry rules for an all-Union competition to find the best project for a memorial in Moscow to the victims of repression during the years of the cult of personality was published.

On 13 January 1989 a meeting took place at the Ideology Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU with the leadership of the Memorial public council, which was attended by Andrei Sakharov, Yury Afanasev, Mikhail Shatrov, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Grigory Baklanov and Yury Karyakin.

During the meeting, members of the Public Council had the main ideas behind the CPSU Central Committee resolution "On Additional Measures to Restore Justice With Regard to the Victims of Repression Which Took Place During the 1930s-1940s and Early 1950s" explained to them. Particular emphasis was made on the need for future organisations to participate in the work of the committees under the Soviets of People's Deputies set up in accordance with this resolution. Specific comments were made on Memorial's draft statute (regarding the inadvisability of creating rigid centralised organisational structures and establishing a fixed membership; on the ambiguity of political language regarding support for party policies on perestroika, democratisation, glasnost, the construction of a legal socialist state, etc...). Also discussed were issues related to the misuse of the Memorial public council for a monopoly on the right to manage account number 700454, opened by Zhilsotsbank USSR in accordance with a resolution of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee of 19 July* 1988 on erecting a monument to the victims of unlawful acts and repression (at a time before the Memorial public council had been created).

The recommendations put forward and comments made were taken on board by individual members of the public council. However, it seems their influence on the active membership of Memorial, especially its extremist elements, is still limited.

In turn, Memorial's leadership spoke about the work of their action groups on the ground, and about their firm desire to hold the society's founding conference in Moscow on 28 January 1989, which more than 500 deputies from 110 cities and towns across the country are planning to attend. Andrei Sakharov had earlier declared that the conference would go ahead come what may, even it meant they had to hold it in people's flats. They were also requested to send Mikhail Gorbachev an invitation to address the conference.

On 14 January 1989 a meeting of representatives of the Moscow group of Memorial took place, which was essentially the founding conference and established the Moscow branch of Memorial. Sixty delegates were elected for the upcoming all-Union founding conference. Thanks to the preliminary work with the leadership of Memorial, despite the presence of representatives of certain extremist groups (The Democratic Union), this meeting went well and passed off without incident. The meeting was chaired by Yury Afanasev.

Taking into account the fact that several groups on the ground form part of the Memorial movement, as well as a large number of prominent academic and cultural figures, we think it would be appropriate to: 

1. Instruct the Ideology Department of the CPSU Central Committee:

In the time remaining before the society's founding conference to continue working with Memorial's public council on finalising the draft statute, advancing the implementation of the considerations set out in this note.

Together with the Moscow Committee of the CPSU conduct talks with Communist members of the organising committee of the conference and the Memorial public council, guiding them towards creating an organisation whose activities will be carried out in close collaboration with Soviet and party organs.

2. Instruct the Party Building and Cadre Work Department of the CPSU Central Committee to get local party organs to raise awareness among deputies of the society's founding conference, to take active steps to implement the CPSU Central Committee resolution "On Additional Measures to Restore Justice With Regard to the Victims of Repression Which Took Place During the 1930s-1940s and Early 1950s" and the corresponding decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and to get fully involved in the activities of the commissions set up under the Soviet of People's Deputies and various community groups, including the Memorial group.

3. In addressing the founding conference, to transfer the oral requests of Mikhail Gorbachev as follows: the CPSU as the initiator behind perestroika and the creation of a lawful socialist state is calling for the full restoration of historical justice and the rehabilitation of all innocent victims of Stalinist tyranny and repression. This work will be carried through to its completion by the Politburo Commission on Rehabilitation and by other bodies. In accordance with the decisions of the 19th Party Conference, work will be carried out on erecting a monument to the victims of repression in Moscow, putting burial locations into order and other issues.

We consider it appropriate to pool the efforts of party and state organs and associations in this worthy cause, and for which we intend to help in the creation of a special commission under the Soviet of People's Deputies, which ideally will include the constructive participation of Memorial activists.

4. To consider the issue of establishing in one of the organs of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (for instance, the Committee on Questions of Legislation, Legality and Legal Order) a group of deputies, who would carry out its work together with the leadership of the future non-governmental organisation in a similar way to how commissions under the Soviet of People's Deputies worked on the ground.

5. The Ministry of Culture of the USSR (Vasily Zakharov) and the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet (Valery Saikin) are to promote activities to create a memorial to the victims of repression in Moscow with the involvement of the wider community.

Ideology Department of the CPSU Central Committee

State and Legal Department of the CPSU Central Committee

Party Building and Cadre Work Department of the CPSU Central Committee

RGANI (Russian State Archive of Modern History) File 3, List 103, Case 163, Sheet 14, 133-136 Original copy. Typewritten

RESOLUTION of the Founding Conference of the Memorial All-Union Historical, Educational and Charitable Society 

1. The conference announces the founding of the Memorial All-Union Historical, Educational and Charitable Society, and approves its charter and decision-making bodies, accepts as members all delegates with the right to vote, as well as their delegated members from local societies.

2. The conference requests all all-Union, republic-wide, regional and municipal parties and Soviet leaders to provide all necessary support to local organisations of the Memorial Society in their activities.

3. Given the important role played by the popular movement for perpetuating the memories of the victims of Stalinism during perestroika and the democratisation of state government, and also in terms of implementing the spirit and letter of the decision of the 19th Party Conference and the statutory objectives of the Memorial All-Union Historical, Educational and Charitable Society, the conference considers it appropriate and requests the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the CPSU Central Committee to order the creation in Moscow of a memorial, to include a monument, archive, museum and library with materials on the victims of repression, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, the Moscow City Soviet and the Public Council of the Memorial Foundation, whose members include Ales Adamovich, Yury Afanasev, Grigory Baklanov, V Bykov, Daniil Granin, Evgeny Yevtushenko, Boris Yeltsin, Yury Karyakin, Vitaly Korotich, Dmitry Likhachev, Roy Medvedev, Bulat Okudzhava, Lev Razgon, Anatoly Rybakov, Andrei Sakharov, Mikhail Ulyanov and Mikhail Shatrov, and which is in charge of administering donations by private individuals and organisations that are paid into account 7004545 of the Memorial funds.

4. The conference supports the initiative of the Leningrad Memorial Society and believes that representatives of Memorial should be involved in the work of the commissions set up under the Soviet of People's Deputies in accordance with the CPSU Central Committee resolution "On Additional Measures..." (Pravda, 6 January 1988) and made up of deputies and members of the public.

5. In order to carry out a moral cleansing of society the Conference believes that acts of mass unlawful repression must be recognised as crimes against humanity and that a public trial of Stalin and all those guilty of repression should be held. In the interests of humanity and compassion anyone who is still alive should not be prosecuted.

6. The Conference supports the proposal of the working group of the Moscow Association of the Victims of Repression and the Leningrad Memorial Society on providing social benefits to victims of unlawful repression and believes that a specific draft law should be submitted to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on this subject. 

7. The Conference puts forward the following proposals to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR:

· recognise as illegal all decisions justifying repressive measures against peasants, and extend the rehabilitation process to the victims of this repression;

· adopt the resolution that equates people who went missing in the years 1941-1945 with those who died for their country; help in the rehabilitation of former prisoners of war and restore their status as veterans of the Great Patriotic War;

· establish public-private commissions, one on restoring the civil and political rights of deported peoples and returning them to their historic homelands, and one on launching an inquiry into the shooting of demonstrators in Novocherkassk in 1962.

8. The conference petitions the Supreme Soviet:

· as part of the legal reforms to remove from the Russian Criminal Code Article 70 and Article 190-1, and the corresponding articles from the Criminal Code of the Union of Republics;

· to undertake a review of the cases of all individuals who were victims of politically motivated repression in the post-Stalin period;

· to abolish the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of 28 July 1988 and replace them with a truly democratic law on rallies and demonstrations;

· to conduct an inquiry into the events that took place in penal colony No. 7 in Latvia in 1988, and which were reported in the magazine Ogonek (Issue 32 of 1988).

9. The Conference calls for the immediate release from custody of committee members "Karabakh" and "Krunk" and other activists of the Armenian national democratic movement. The Conference expresses particular concern at the condition of those who are currently being held in prisons in Azerbaijan.

10. The conference considers it unacceptable to locate leisure and entertainment centres on places associated with the memory of the victims of Stalinism.

11. The Conference believes that:

· state and non-governmental organisations should conduct an unbiased investigation into the circumstances and nature of the mass burial site near the village of Bykovnya near Kiev and similar mass graves in other locations.

· towns and villages, streets, institutions etc... named after people who participated in unlawful repression should be renamed

· efforts should be made to restore historical place names.

12. The Conference expresses support for the election programme of Andrei Sakharov, published in the Memorial Bulletin of 28 January 1988.

13. The Conference calls for support for Memorial members nominated as candidates for People's Deputies of the USSR: Ales Adamovich, Yury Afanasev, Vladimir Vinichenko, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Isakov, Sergei Kovalev, Vitaly Korotich, V Kuznetsov, Roy Medvedev, Revolt Pimenov, Vitaly Pomazov, Elena Proshina, Marina Sale, Andrei Sakharov.

14. The Conference expresses hope for productive cooperation between the Memorial All-Union Historical, Educational and Charitable Society and the Commission for the Investigation of Materials on Hierarchs, Priests and Believers who Suffered Political Repression, which was set up under the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as with other public and private commissions to study repression.

15. In recognition of the particular importance of educating young people to reject lawlessness, tyranny and political terror as means of resolving social problems, the Conference suggests that local societies establish active ties with all youth organisations, teaching them about Memorial's aims and objectives. The Conference proposes that the board of the Memorial Society sets up a working group to assist the Commissions of the Central Committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League with the rehabilitation of Komsomol members and Komsomol workers who suffered repression during the years of the cult of personality.

16. The Conference supports proposals to submit for public discussion the draft laws of the USSR currently being developed "On Information and the Press" and "On Archives."

17. The Conference calls for the immediate publication of the full transcripts of the 20th and 22nd CPSU Congresses, especially the report delivered by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th CPSU Congress.

18. The Conference supports the resolution which was adopted by Memorial's Preparatory Conference on 29 October 1988 on restoring justice to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in particular the need to ensure the speedy publication of his book The Gulag Archipelago.

19. The Conference urgently requests Goskomizdat (State Committee for Publishing of the USSR) to allocate paper funds and find a publishing base for the publication of the monthly magazine Memorial, an organ of the Memorial All-Union Historical and Educational Charitable Society.

20. The Conference endorses the Academic Council of the Memorial Society's Research Centre, the members of which are: Ales Adamovich, Yury Afanasev, Mikhail Gefter, Nikolai Pokrovsky, Vladimir Polikarpov, David Raskin, Marietta Chudakova, Yakov Etinger, Nikita Okhotin and Arseny Roginsky. The Academic Council may be expanded on the initiative of its members if they can reach consensus. Once an appropriate academic community consisting of academics from the Research Centre has been established, the Academic Council will become an elected body.

21. The Conference endorses the composition of an action group of citizens who acted as the founders of the Memorial Society - the society's Public Council and organising committee, the Moscow action group, Moscow 29 January 1989.
Further information about Memorial can be found on the Society's own website and in a special section on the Human Rights in Russia website (