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Anna Pastukhova: “Sooner or Later We Shall Come to Our Senses”

7 November 2012 

Source: (info)

Rada Bozhenko: “ We live in a state of amnesia, not remembering our history. However, sooner or later we shall come to our senses”. Of this, Anna Pastukhova, head of Ekaterinburg Memorial and a board member of International Memorial Society is sure.

On 20 October 2012 Memorial Society in Ekaterinburg held a ceremony of reading the names of residents of the city shot in 1937-1938. Photos provided by LiveJournal blogger bukin-oleg. To view the photos, click HERE

The Day of Remembrance of victims of political repression has ended. Anna Yakovlevna, it seems to me that people remember this part of history only once a year. I would be more than happy to be wrong about this…

We, of course, constantly remember this. Here in this building belonging to Memorial, which we call the Hall of Memory, everything is focused on the events of the recent past. In general, yes, people tend to remember about this time of our history only once a year. And far from everyone. That is why not only are you not mistaken, you are idealizing the picture.

And this is the tragedy of our society. There is an illness, called amnesia, when one does not remember anything from the past, neither who one’s parents are nor what happened to them. It’s a terrible illness. It destroys the person as well as society. Metaphorically speaking, we are experiencing an epidemic today.

It also seems that no one is interested in treating the illness. It seems that some people really are nostalgic for those days, when everything was decided from above, when there were no initiatives by the citizens, when people were scared… A person is free when they can make their own decisions and be responsible for them. Society develops only thanks to people of this kind.

Are you for the absolute freedom?

I am for freedom regulated by law. We are not anarchists and value the role of the civilized state. The state in this case, however, shouldn’t be repressive, but should be an institution which regulates the most difficult relationships between different social groups: including faith groups, ethnic groups and social groups, and so on.

It is what is called a ‘social contract’. If the state does not function in this way, it is not a state but, I’m sorry to say, the administration of a prison camp.

Frankly, we shouldn’t forget about that terrible selection that our people went through. IN the first place those who were repressed were those with initiative, energetic and brave people. Today there are almost no camp inmates left, only a very few who have lived long lives. However, I remember these people, who went I knew from Memorial. These are the best people I have ever met.

They are noble and honest. Not only did they preserve their dignity but they also shared it with us. When we, for example, were occupied with our everyday activities or were mourning the tragic events that have happened in our country, such as in Nord Ost, Beslan, in our small company they would say: “How can we not come out into the streets to demonstrate how we feel about this?”

I always remember Vladimir Leonidovich Nekrasov, who at the age of 97 (!) never missed our human rights protests. What clarity of mind and nobility of nature he managed to preserve! He was sentenced to five years in Kolyma for telling a joke about Stalin, but they didn’t let him leave for the next 20 years and he worked in the most terrible conditions. However, it did not stop him telling jokes, he kept and even extended his brilliant sense of humour. And you know, those who survived, in general were a surprisingly morally healthy generation.

This, alas, cannot be said about many of us today.

We have lost our memory. Not many people know about the memorial complex in memory of victims of political repression which is situated 12 kilometers outside the city. But probably everyone knows the shopping centre which is located only slightly closer.

But there are those who care. An entrepreneur approached us one day as he was deeply touched by the memorial complex. Now he pays for whole classes of students to be taken there on weekly trips.

After that we take them to another outstanding place about which even fewer know. The Stone of Reconciliation, which is located by Shirokaya River at the cemetery of prisoners of the Second World War.

Now, when everyone is furiously fighting with each other, this object represents great moral strength. It has a huge impact on teenagers; I have personally seen this many times.

Do you think children’s souls are open to an understanding of the past?

It is very important to support the remembrance of the tragedies of the past. After all, those of us who are older are responsible for the development of the future generation. And there is a hidden potential among people which keeps me optimistic.

For example, take as an example Albert Dumanovsky who really wanted to put up an obelisk to everyone who was shot on the same day as his father, 7 March 1938. However, he did not have enough money. He decided then to make a display on which he put a copy of his father’s case file, and the rest of the space he left empty.

He attached the display case to two pine trees at the 12 kilometer mark on the road out of the city. Gradually people started adding documents of their own: some added a protocol of rehabilitation, some added a list of those who had been shot, some wrote by hand the name of a relative...

There was even a door from a prison cell there. And what is most impressive is that all this was hanging up in a field where there was no security, where drunken mushroom foragers sometimes like to go. And you know how our people like to leave rude comments!

But no one has ever done anything to spoil this display.

There is some kind of innate respect for these issues. That is why I think that the soul of our people has not died. We only need to let it be reborn and to let our memory grow strong.

Tolstoy said once: “Conscience is the memory of society absorbed by an individual.” I think we need to return to the individual conscience. After all, the world we live in today is in great need of this... 

Short Biography
Anna Yakovlevna Pastukhova was born in Orenburg. She graduated from the department of history and philology of Penza Pedagogy Institute. Later she worked as a teacher of literature and world art at a school and at a college. In 1992 she became head of Ekaterinburg Memorial. She is also a board member of the International Memorial Society.