The attack on Memorial: “We’ll cut your head off because you’ve had a bad haircut"

posted 23 Oct 2014, 13:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2014, 13:29 ]
14 October 2014

Source: (info)
Kristina Gorelik: Russia's Supreme Court may close down the Russian Memorial Society in November in line with a demand from the Ministry of Justice. Memorial stresses that it will not stop its work, even if the court agrees with the Ministry of Justice’s demand.

Memorial turned 25 years old this year. It was created in 1989 as a national association of regional organisations. When the USSR dissolved, Memorial split into two – an International Organisation and a Russian Organisation. The Russian organization brought together the regional organisations located in Russia.

With this organizational structure Memorial has successfully worked for more than 20 years, until two years ago when the campaign against NGOs began. Part of this campaign involved the mass inspections by prosecutors of various civil society organisations, especially human rights organisations.

During one of such inspections the Ministry of Justice filed claims against the Russian Memorial Society. A member of the board of Memorial, Aleksandr Cherkasov, explains what these claims consisted of:

"The Ministry of Justice believed that the organisations, which are part of Memorial, are wrong, because they do not have in their titles the words 'Branch of the Russian Memorial Society' ”

And this is demanded by law?

"No. But it is just like the introduction of a school uniform. If you don't have the school uniform, then you aren't a student. The majority of organisations were created in their local areas, they have their own charters. It isn't a structure created from top to bottom, which would impose its own charter and strictly manage things from the centre.

The legal battle between the Russian Memorial Society and the Ministry of Justice has lasted almost two years – Memorial lost in the district court, and then in the city court as well.

A national conference has been designated for the end of November at which Memorial planned to honour the demand from the Ministry of Justice and had written to officials about it.

But a session of the Supreme Court of Russia has been unexpectedly scheduled for 13th November, i.e. literally a week before the conference, to hear the demands of the Ministry of Justice that the Russian Memorial Society is liquidated.

Memorial stresses that even if the Supreme Court agrees with the Ministry of Justice's arguments, this does not mean the end of the organisation's activities. However, Aleksandr Cherkasov recognises that such a decision would seriously complicate their work:

It will seriously harm the opportunities for cooperation, if not the work in one team, then at least in a single network, as well as opportunities for mutual assistance. It's like saying: "We’ll cut your head off because you’ve had a bad haircut" – that’s the kind of claim that the Ministry of Justice is making about us

To what extent did this coincide with the inspection of Memorial?

It did coincide. The investigation has been going on for a couple of years now. The vector and wind changed, it blew from one side and then it blew from the other. But the problems of the Russian Memorial Society is a matter separate from the “foreign agent” issue. We need to understand that there are other ways of exerting pressure on civil society organisations apart from the “foreign agent” law. The Russian Memorial Society doesn't receive foreign money. In fact it doesn't receive any money at all. But then in this case they will get at it in other ways, for not wearing a uniform or for not having the proper haircut.

The Human Rights Centre is a separate structural division of Memorial. In the course of those same prosecutors’ inspections it was demanded that we register as a foreign agent, according to the new law on NGOS. And when the Centre refused, we were involuntarily entered on the appropriate register of the Ministry of Justice.

Source: Radio Svoboda

Translated by Chloe Cranston