July 25, 2021

the fight against historical amnesia by Denis Karagodine, citizen investigator

By Benoît Vitkine

Posted today at 11:29 am

Russia has not known its “Nuremberg of Communism”, as we usually say, in other words major trials on the crimes of the Soviet regime. Certainly. But she has Denis Karagodin and his Tomsk investigations. The comparison, obviously daring, would not displease this 38-year-old man who likes to play his quasi-rock star status. Above all, it shows the fragility and timidity of memory work in Russia: Karagodine fights amnesia organized by the Russian state in perfect solitude; recently the machine has turned against him, a warning sent to all those who have made historical research a vital issue for themselves and for their country.

Denis Karagodine in 2019.

The story begins with a misunderstanding, a twist of fate – Denis Karagodin’s emigration project. In 2011, this native of Tomsk, in Siberia, thinks about leaving. The 2008 crisis has passed by there, his business (he worked in advertising and bought cafes) is not at its best; the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency blocks the political horizon. While updating his papers, Karagodin comes across a dusty document in the family cupboard: the certificate of rehabilitation for « absence de crime » of his great-grandfather, dated 1955. In short: the Russian peasant Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin, born in 1881 and executed in 1938, was not the head of a Japanese spy network dismantled by the NKVD, the political police.

Certificate of rehabilitation from Stepan Ivanovich in 1955.

It is the beginning of the “Karagodine investigation”, which Denis, a graduate in philosophy, attacks in the simplest way. The young man knocks on the door of the FSB, the successor of the NKVD, and declares to the orderly: “I’m coming for a murder. ” The rest is more complex. For four years, Denis Karagodine battled with the FSB and the judicial authorities to obtain the documents allowing him to reconstruct the life and death of his ancestor.

Universal dimension

The investigation is obstinate and its detailed report: on his blog, Karagodin.org, the publicist recounts each step, each failure, each victory. Everything is mapped, detailed. Each character in his great story, however “secondary”, is entitled to his entry, his biography is reconstructed thanks to dozens of documents that Karagodine puts online.

Stepan Karagodine, executed by the NKVD in Tomsk (Siberia) in 1938, then rehabilitated, surrounded by his son and his wife, in the 1930s. His grandson, Denis Karagodine, has been investigating his disappearance since 2011.

Russian and then foreign sites speak of him, the public is passionate about it. His quest may be intimate and family, it has an obvious universal dimension, which has the power to speak to many Russians. And Karagodine is a formidable representative: inexhaustible on his research, which he declines in podcasts, articles, he cultivates the mystery about his personality.

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