Posted 17 января 2022, 09:25

Published 17 января 2022, 09:25

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Lyudmila Ulitskaya: "It is a natural desire to keep the memory of the executed ancestors"

17 января 2022, 09:25
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The work of the "Memorial" society (recognized as a foreign agent and liquidated by the court - ed.) Continued the process of "humanization" of society, which began from the moment one monkey selflessly helped another

As you know, on December 28, 2021, the Supreme Court of Russia satisfied the claim of the Prosecutor General’s Office and ruled to liquidate the International Memorial recognized as a foreign agent, and on December 29, 2021, the Moscow City Court made a similar decision on the claim of the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office against the Memorial Human Rights Center. However, the struggle to preserve these most important institutions for Russia is not over: the defense of both organizations will appeal against both verdicts. The ECtHR has already issued an order to Russia to suspend the liquidation until the end of the proceedings on the complaint of Russian NGOs regarding the law on foreign agents, filed in 2013.

The famous Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, whose parents were repressed by the Stalinist regime, wrote specifically for Novye Izvestia about the outstanding role of these organizations in Russian history:

“Today the society is faced with the question – is memory necessary? Let's try to figure it out.

The human species, the only biological species known to science, possesses not only individual memory, but also historical memory. It is this feature - the presence of historical memory - that makes our species unique. In essence, each biological species has its own history and its own geography, but only a person is able to record the events of his past, and it is for this reason that a person lives in history. And each person individually, and the family, and the whole nation.

Some unknown genius, and most likely several geniuses living in different parts of the planet, began recording human history. The first chronicle of mankind is the amazing drawings of our distant ancestors, made by them on the walls of dark caves, and next to these drawings one can also find traces of soot from the fire, which they have already learned to maintain. These drawings are the first evidence that an ancient man had a need to pass on his knowledge to his descendants. This is how cultural memory was born.

The transfer of knowledge from generation to generation does not happen automatically. In the old days, the craftsman passed on his skills to his growing son, and the shoemaker's son became a shoemaker. But the best way to transfer knowledge from generation to generation arose with the beginning of the first recordings. This is the beginning of human, not only biological history.

What an amazing, unique and incomprehensible phenomenon! Here a child is born, and by the age of two he learns by experience about many qualities of the world around him and judges the world according to his feelings: warm-hot, tasty-tasteless, comfortable-uncomfortable... Over the years, the human world expands almost limitlessly - he knows something about the universe, something about one's own organism, something about life as a unique phenomenon. And all his knowledge is stored in memory, as well as in those devices that a person invented and built to store knowledge, which are already called information. Knowledge is an ocean. No living being is able to contain everything that the collective humanity knows. In order to use this ocean of information, there are special methods: scientific libraries, special journals on branches of knowledge, today there are specialized sites. And where is the memory of our recent history kept, that history in which two directions have always fought: one filtering it for some special purposes and the other trying to provide its full stream, uncut and uncensored.

In post-Soviet society, the function of such a custodian of the memory of the post-revolutionary era was assumed by the Memorial society *. The Memorial Society was founded in 1988, when the society, accustomed to silence, began to acquire a language: discussions took place in clubs on various topics that seemed to have never existed before: about ecology and the preservation of ancient monuments, about terror and victims of repression . It was from this group of active people that the Memorial Society arose.

Society goes through different stages - in the late eighties it came out of deaf silence and acquired a language. It was then that the idea arises to erect a monument to the victims of political repression in the center of the capital. On this occasion, a group of activists wrote a letter to the government. No answer. The idea of creating a monument to the victims of political repression brought together a group of people who later became the core of the Memorial organization. Some of them continue to do this business, and some no longer exist. Arseniy Roginsky, one of the founders of Memorial, has died. But his companions remained, and new, young people came who today continue this sacred work of memory.

One of the "long-playing" projects is the "School competition" Man in history. Russia XX century. This competition is already twenty-three years old. For the last few years I have had the opportunity to work on this project as the chairman of the jury. Since 1999, these years, 24 collections of school work have been published. These books are difficult to attribute to any particular genre, because the memories of enlightened, educated young people alternate with the memories of uneducated people who are not able to write down what the memory has preserved. This "illiterate" memory needed helpers who could listen to and record the unique stories of eyewitnesses, whose time witnesses are almost gone today.

This enormous work has been done by the efforts of the staff of the Memorial Society. An archive containing hundreds of thousands of documents has been collected. Thousands of names have been restored, places of abandoned burial places have been found. A separate chapter in this story will someday be dedicated to the Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, who is now repressed, like those people whose names and graves he found. He published the materials of his research.

This is a natural and noble intention - to preserve the memory of their innocently executed ancestors. Why in recent years have we observed a clear unwillingness of the authorities to preserve this natural tradition of memory of ancestors accepted by mankind for centuries?

In recent tragic times, the world was not divided into victims and executioners. But this was only an illusion of the punishers, who did not foresee tomorrow, when they also ended up in the cells of prisoners. Yes, in fact, ancient history also shows us examples of how quickly an executioner becomes a victim, and a new executioner, who has taken the place of the former, trembles before those who will replace him.

This is an ancient social disease of human society: a person cannot exist alone, he builds a social structure called the state, and the state is given the right to judge, to punish those guilty of violating laws. And it is at this point that we face the most important problem: the creation of a just law and the observance of this law.

The Soviet government, from the moment of its existence, issued many laws that seem cruel to the contemporary and violate all natural, natural human rights. Can it be considered fair the eviction of entire peoples from their original habitats, the resettlement of individual families from their homeland to remote regions of Siberia and the Far East? There was a demographic catastrophe lasting for decades, the consequences of which have not been overcome. And all this is the history of our country, with its mistakes and crimes, which can be avoided in the future only in one single case: if the lessons of history are learned by those who direct the development of the state, and by society itself. And here a lot depends on society: is it sufficiently informed about the history of past years, does it retain the memory of the suffering that previous generations went through? Does it want the return of a rigid system of government or is it ready to become a participant in the process itself, discussing at all levels our common problems, illnesses, difficulties that arise in any, even the most comfortable society? It seems to me that the most natural and direct way is to comprehend our past, to have an honest and fearless conversation about the mistakes and crimes of the authorities, about the weakness of the Russian public consciousness - and all these problems are connected with our traditional forgetfulness. The Memorial Society is one of the most important tools for maintaining this higher and volatile matter - human memory.

The emerging threat of closing the International Memorial is a terrible symptom of the sickness of our government. Human, historical memory itself is not subject to the laws of the state, regardless of whether these laws are good or bad. In addition to that everyday history, those events that the daily newspapers tell us about, there is also a great human story that will tell our descendants about the struggle of the Memorial society for the preservation of historical memory, and about those people and organizations that were prevented from doing so. The motivation behind Memorial's activity is quite clear to me. But the motivation of those who want to ban it is much less clear. Maybe it will come to their consciousness that history has very powerful wheels, and over time it puts all the figures in their places. Depending on whether these figures worked for the good and humanization of human society, or they used all their strength to ensure that we all again find ourselves in a primitive society ruled not by the smartest, but by the strongest.

The work of the "Memorial" society was aimed at the idea of humanization of the world. The process of "humanization", which began from the moment one monkey selflessly helped another, continues. Let's save the "Memorial" society - it helps to humanize our dangerous world."

* Recognized as a foreign agent in the Russian Federation