Aleksandr Kalikh: ‘Perm-36 – a memorial to whom? Of what?'

posted 9 Mar 2015, 00:09 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Mar 2015, 00:18 ]
5 March 2015

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Sadly the fate of ‘Perm-36’ has reached its logical conclusion. All the dirty tricks that are taking place in the country are reflected in this little story as in a mirror: a weak-willed governor who twists and turns and finally gives in to pressure from the communists; former camp guards write the history of the GULAG (no, that’s not a metaphor).

Despite all the efforts of the board of directors of the ANO (Autonomous Non-commercial Organization) Perm-36 to convince the governor Viktor Basargin, despite all our demands (and we collected more than 70,000 signatures), a decision has been taken to change course. Now ‘Perm-36’ is to be a museum that will tell the story of the hard and noble work of valiant GULAG staff, of the technology they used to defend our great people from fifth columnists and Ukrainian Nazis.

Just imagine – I am quite serious! The first exhibition in the new ‘Perm-36’ is devoted to ‘guarding’, to the technical means of holding in custody the dastardly nationalists, fascists, and those who betrayed the motherland

In October there was a meeting which Mikhail Fedotov and Vladimir Lukin attended. It was thought that agreement had been reached with the administration, all that needed to be done was to draw up a contract for cooperation between the non-profit and government bodies. But when the steam had been let out, everyone fell silent, closed meetings began to take place, pressure was exerted… It’s a strange story. It seems that in discussions in the President’s Administration there was talk of the need to preserve the museum in its existing form, and to end the bureaucratic tangle. Many promises were made. But it seems that there was an intervention by some ‘unknown forces’. It’s a shameful and dirty business.

People have been left with no option but that of dissolving the non-profit organization. Although there have been constant attempts to give the ANO the status of ‘a foreign agent’, and a stream of cavils and fines, the main reason for such a decision is the new management’s commitment to changing the museum’s course, to change its profile.

The whole scandalous affair started when there was talk of ‘Perm-36’ becoming part of a federal programme for the commemoration of the victims of political repressions. This would have guaranteed financial support of the order of 500 million rubles [approx. £5 million]. What followed was the equivalent of a corporate raid: a state organization was quickly set up without the knowledge of the non-profit organization, the museum’s director was changed, and only then was the ANO ‘Perm-36’ informed. This despite the fact that it was the NGO which created the museum, established it through its efforts; I personally was involved in laying the first foundations.

Now the issue has arisen – should the ‘new’ museum be a commemorative site or not? UNESCO has been interested in the fate of this cultural site. Decision to give Perm-36 the status of a historical memorial of world significance was just about to be taken. What is the response of the Perm Memorial Society? At the forthcoming meeting of the International Memorial Society on 19-20 March we shall propose that the museum, in its present form, should not be included in the programme for the commemoration of the victims of repressions, nor in the UNESCO list.

There was a time when Perm was referred to as the capital of civil society. Now it’s a place in decline and decay. Just, by the way, as is the whole of Russia. The story of ‘Perm-36’ blends in to the background of what is happening in Russia today: war, Nemtsov’s murder…It’s difficult to breath.

Aleksandr Kalikh, member of the board, International Memorial Society 

Original source:

Translated by Mary McAuley