July 30, 2021

How Vladimir Putin gags historians to better rewrite Russian history

By Isabelle Mandraud

Posted today at 6:17 am, updated at 6:43 am

In 2019, a young lawyer, Grigory Vaïpan, had won a remarkable victory before the Russian Constitutional Court, which had ruled in favor of three elderly plaintiffs, united in a collective called Les Enfants du goulag. Born in a labor camp like 1,500 other survivors of the Stalinist terror, Alisa Meissner, Elizaveta Mikhailova and Evguenia Chacheva, the three victims, demanded a right “of return”.

“These people still live in internal exile, thousands of kilometers from their hometowns, sometimes in the same parts of the country as those where their families were turned away decades ago”, argued their lawyer, relying on a 1991 law that opened the door to reparations after recognizing the Soviet era as a period of “Terror and mass persecution”. Without being able to recover their homes, the children of deportees had to, at the very least, benefit from social housing in their town of origin. A promise never kept.

Grigory Vaïpan, Alisa Meissner, Evguenia Chacheva and Elizaveta Mikhailova before the Constitutional Court of Russia alongside other descendants of Gulag survivors, in Saint Petersburg (Russia), in October 2019.
Judges of the Constitutional Court, in Saint Petersburg (Russia), in October 2019.
During hearings at the Constitutional Court, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in October 2019.

The Court’s decision also went unheeded, despite a petition of support gathering 100,000 signatures. In 2020, the government tabled a bill aimed at tightening the conditions for the allocation of such housing, with the result of an average waiting period of twenty to thirty years. Giving early access to victims of Soviet-era persecution could put WWII veterans at a disadvantage, authorities argued.

Protect “historical truth”

A Harvard graduate and doctor of international law from the University of Saint Petersburg, Grigory Vaïpan did not stop there. He is the main author of the report “Russia: crimes against history”, made public Thursday, June 10 by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “I was born in 1990, I am part of the first post-Soviet generation in Russia and yet today I am witnessing the return of repressions, he confides to World. However, I believe that our country has no future as long as it does not honestly and resolutely address its totalitarian past. “

Precise and documented, the 80-page report lists all the generalized and systematic attacks carried out in recent years by the Russian authorities against those working on historical memory. A “Mode of governance of which Putin’s Russia has become a precursor state”, underlines FIDH. The Kremlin, continues the NGO, “Is now pursuing an aggressive policy which not only marginalizes alternative viewpoints, but also seriously endangers all historians, publicists, journalists and activists of independent civil society.” The scale of the assault has already reached the threshold of “crimes against history” ”.

You have 76.15% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.