Estonian Institute of Historical Memory's statement concerning the closing of Russia’s human rights group Memorial

29. December 2021

On 28 December, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation decided to liquidate Memorial International, an organisation engaged in raising awareness about history, the commemoration of victims of communist terror, and protection of human rights. The basis of the liquidation is a request by the Chief Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, presented on the basis of systemic violation of the “foreign agent” legislation. The prosecutor also accused Memorial of creating a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state, the defamation of the memory of the Great Patriotic War, and an attempt to rehabilitate Nazi criminals.

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory condemns the liquidation of Memorial in Russia. During more than 30 years of its activity, Memorial has given an invaluable contribution to the investigation of the history of Soviet Union and the history of communist regimes in general, ascertained the fate of thousands of victims of communist terror, given families back the memory of their loved ones, contributed to the commemoration of victims of terror both in Russia and abroad, and created valuable databases about the victims of communist terror and the Gulag, the Soviet network of prison camps.

Memorial’s closure is a sign of a regrettable attempt to return to an official and a single valid narrative of history, which used to be the norm in the Soviet Union. Back then, the concept of a nation’s historical narrative was dictated by political need or the authorities’ mere perception of how much and what kind of history their subjects need. This pursuit has been summarised by George Orwell in his novel ‘1984’ as follows: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”   

Similar tendencies can also be noticed in other countries that have not overcome their totalitarian past, as they are trying to establish their national historical identity by covering up past crimes or even by heroicizing them. First and foremost, the old principle of “a nation that forgets its past has no future” still rings true. This was exemplified by the collapse of the Soviet Union and other communist regimes in Europe 30 years ago.

Many European countries have condemned communist regimes and the international crimes committed by them. They have done a lot to rehabilitate the victims’ honour and memory, and helped bring the perpetrators to trial. Same has been done by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights in their statements, declarations and decisions. However, a lot of work still needs to be done in the investigation of 20th century communist terror, and in establishing its victims, perpetrators and enforcers. Even more important is raising future generations’ awareness about the consequences of a desire to change the world with ideologically motivated and substantiated violence.

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory’s goal is to open the International Memorial Museum for the Victims of Communism in Tallinn by 2026. An important portion of the future exposition analyses the USSR’s communist regime and the terror it inflicted upon its own citizens, as well as upon the people of conquered areas. The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory has cooperated with Memorial’s historians for a long time. The Institute intends to continue this cooperation. We call like-minded institutions and organisations, as well as national governments, to offer their support and aid, so that both Memorial and other Russian historians’ research into the history of communist terror can continue in its current or even more extensive capacity.