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The 25th anniversary of the founding of Memorial

29 January 2014

Source: (info)
Twenty-five years ago, on 28-29 January 1989, the founding conference of the Memorial Society took place in Moscow. We have asked writers, sociologists, journalists, literary critics, historians, political scientists and economists to talk about how they see Memorial Society today. 

It would not be a great exaggeration to say that in the years of perestroika the creation of memorials about the tragic past of our country became – if not for long – a national idea. No less significant was the striving to renew the country on the basis of freedom and the law. 

The striving for historical truth and for civic responsibility for the present were the main motivating factors in the creation of Memorial, a civil society organization that arose on the wave of a previously unseen broad and spontaneous movement, that had already begun to take form in 1987.

At that time it seemed to us that the tasks we set ourselves were not so very hard to achieve. It seemed to us that our society was already prepared to make a clear and uncompromising assessment of the totalitarian past.

And for a long time before that we had been certain that our society was ready to part with the heritage of totalitarianism that remained, and that such Soviet propaganda clichés as ‘encirclement of enemies’, ‘intrigues of the West’ and ‘fifth column’ had been sent to the archives never to return; that the notions of ‘political prosecution’ and ‘political prisoners’ would never return.

We were mistaken. Probably, tasks such as these cannot be achieved quickly. Of course, we made mistakes ourselves. And although our work was in the right direction, we were not energetic or consistent enough.

Yu. Karyakin, A. Sakharov, Yu. Afanas’ev, E. Zhemkova, E. Evtushenko. Photograph from the Memorial archive 

But there have been some achievements, and these have not been the result of Memorial's work alone, but that of other civil society organizations and professional groupings (of historians, museum workers, teachers and others) as well, organizations that have taken up the same issues, whether jointly with us or independently.

Who are ‘we’? – We are all those people who today, as 25 years ago, support Memorial. 

There is a great deal we have not been able to achieve. And for many reasons.

The understanding of the past and the struggle for freedom and human rights remain issues that continue to face us today.

They remain the main issues not only for Memorial, but for all civil societies throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union.

And perhaps that will remain the case for another 25 years.

Perhaps for longer.

So we shall continue our work. 

Photograph from the Memorial archive 

We decided to ask a range of quite different people who have worked with us over the past 25 years, or who have observed our work, how they perceive our successes and failures. 

All our interlocutors were asked three questions:

– Why, in your opinion, has Memorial managed to survive so long?

– What do you consider to be the main achievements and mistakes (or, if you prefer, defeats) of Memorial?

– What place does Memorial have in society today, and what are its main tasks today?

We did not restrict our interviewees in the length of their responses. Nor did we set other limitations: each person could choose for themselves which question or questions to answer.

For us, what was most important was that there should be an honest expression of views. The honest views of people not directly working within Memorial about what happened to us over the past 25 years and what is happening today. A conversation about the essence of things. And a conversation we hope will be continued. 

Photograph from the Memorial archive of Elena Bonner.  

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Views on Memorial (click on the names to read the texts in Russian)

Father Aleksandr Borisov, dean of the church of Saints Kosmas and Damian (Moscow)

Aleksei Levinson, sociologist (Levada Centre)

Boris Dolgin, scientific editor (

Boris Dubin, sociologist, translator

Vladimir Bukovsky, human rights defender, writer

Genri Reznik, lawyer

Gleb Morev, literary critic, literary editor of the website

Dmitry Oreshkin, political scientist

Evgeny Gontmakher, economist

Elena Kaluzhskaya, head of the information department of the Sakharov Centre

Zoya Svetova, journalist, member of the Public Oversight Commission, Moscow

Igor Eidman, sociologist

Jens Siegert, head of the Moscow office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation

Lev Lurye, historian

Lev Timofeev, writer, human rights defender

Leonid Gozman, director of humanitarian projects, Rosnano

Liubov Borusyak, sociologist

Ludmila Alekseeva, human rights defender, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Ludmila Ulitskaya, writer

Marietta Chudakova, literary critic, writer

Maria Lipman, political scientist (Moscow Carnegie Centre)

Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council

Modest Kolerov, historian, publisher, civil society activist

Natalya Taubina, human rights defender, director, Public Verdict Foundation

Oleg Khlebnikov, poet, editor of the Truth of the GULAG insert, Novaya gazeta

Pavel Litvinov, human rights defender

Sergei Shargunov, writer

Tatyana Lokshina, human rights defender (Human Rights Watch)

Tatyana Yankelevich, human rights defender