Memorial (society)

Memorial (Russian: Мемориа́л, IPA: [mʲɪmərʲɪˈaɫ]) is an international historical and civil rights society that operates in a number of post-Soviet states. Founded in 1989, it focuses on recording and publicising the Soviet Union's totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states.

Memorial Logo.svg
FoundedJanuary 28, 1989; 31 years ago (1989-01-28)
ServicesHistory of totalitarianism, protecting human rights
Key people
Andrei Sakharov, Arseny Roginsky (Chairman), Sergei Kovalev (Co-chairman)
Award(s)Right Livelihood Award (English version)

Mission and activitiesEdit

Memorial's full name is MEMORIAL: An International Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society. According to its charter, Memorial aims:

  • To promote mature civil society and democracy based on the rule of law and thus to prevent a return to totalitarianism
  • To assist formation of public consciousness based on the values of democracy and law, to get rid of totalitarian patterns, and to establish firmly human rights in practical politics and in public life
  • To promote the revelation of the truth about the historical past and perpetuate the memory of the victims of political repression exercised by totalitarian regimes.[1]

It accomplishes the latter, in particular, by keeping an electronic database of the victims of political terror in the USSR. [2]

Memorial organizes assistance, both legal and financial, for the victims of the Gulag. It also conducts research into the history of political repression and publicizes the findings in books, articles, exhibitions, museums, and websites of its member organizations.

Political workEdit

Through the efforts of the society, on 30 October 1990, the Memorial to the Victims of the Gulag (a simple stone from Solovki) was erected at the Lubyanka Square in Moscow, near the KGB headquarters. For nine months the memorial stood beside the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, known as Iron Felix. The statue was removed in August 1991.

Memorial worked to achieve passage in Russia in 1991 of the Law on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression. In 1991 Memorial also contributed to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR making 30 October an official Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression.


Memorial also helps individuals to find documents, graves, etc., of politically persecuted relatives. As of 2005, Memorial had a database with records of more than 1,300,000 names of such people.[3] The archives have also been used by historians, such as British historian Orlando Figes when he was researching his 2008 book The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia.[4]


Memorial funds or helps to produce various publications and films related to this topic. One such film was the documentary The Crying Sun (2007), focusing on the life of people from the mountain village of Zumsoy in Chechnya, and their struggle to preserve their cultural identity in the face of military raids and enforced disappearances by the Russian army and guerilla fighters. The 25-minute film was produced in collaboration with WITNESS.[5]

Virtual GulagEdit

In the early 21st century, Memorial is working on a project to create the Virtual Gulag Museum. This will be a way to bring together research and archives from all over the former Soviet Union to commemorate and record the existence of the Gulag and the lives of its victims.[6]

Kovalevsky ForestEdit

Memorial are trying to build a National Memorial Museum Complex in Kovalevsky Forest to commemorate 4,500 victims of the Red Terror who were killed and buried there.[7] Memorial workers discovered the bodies in 2002.[8]

Sandarmokh killing field, 1937–1938Edit

In July 1997 a joint expedition of the St Petersburg and Karelian Memorial societies located a massive killing field not far from the town of Medvezhegorsk, capital of the pre-war White Sea Canal project. Led by Yury A. Dmitriev, Irina Flige, and the late Veniamin Joffe, the expedition found 236 common graves containing the bodies of over 7,000 victims of Stalin, who were executed in 1937 and 1938. A memorial graveyard was established there and became known as Sandarmokh.

In 2016, the Russian government attempted to revise this account of the shootings at Sandarmokh, and claim that among the dead were Soviet POWs, shot by invading Finns in 1941–1944. Memorial representatives challenged both the motivation behind this claim and the purported new evidence intended to support it.[9]

A Chronicle of Current Events (1968–1982)Edit

In 2008 Memorial HRC launched an online version of the noted samizdat publication, A Chronicle of Current Events, which had been distributed in the Soviet Union.[10] Appearing at irregular intervals during the year, the Chronicle had circulated in typescript form (samizdat) in the USSR from 1968 to 1983. All of its 63 issues were also translated into English and published abroad.[11] Western observers and scholars considered it to be a key source of trustworthy information about human rights in the post-Stalin Soviet Union.

The launch of the online version was held at Memorial's office in Karetny pereulok. Many former editors of the underground publication attended, including Sergei Kovalev and Alexander Lavut.


Andrei Sakharov wrote that Lev Ponomaryov, Yuri Samodurov, Vyacheslav Igrunov, Dmitri Leonov, Arseny Roginsky and others proposed in the late 1980s to create a memorial complex to victims of Joseph Stalin's repression during his reign. The concepts included creating a monument, a museum, an archive, and a library.

An all-Union informal movement expanded the original goals. It organized a petition to the 19th Conference of the CPSU. The petition resulted in the conference authorizing creation of a monument to victims of repressions. A decision of the 22nd Congress of the CPSU was earlier ignored.[12][13]

The Memorial was founded as the historical and educational society at the conference held in the Moscow Aviation Institute 26–28 January 1989. In 1991 a Civil Rights Defense Center "MEMORIAL" was founded.[14]

A poll was conducted in Moscow streets to identify candidates to be nominated to the Public Council of the society. Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn was named, but the refused to join. In his talk with Andrei Sakharov, he motivated his decision by his opinion that it was not right to restrict the scope of the project to the Stalin era since the repressive era in Russia had started as early as 1917.[12]

The Memorial was officially founded as the International Volunteer Public Organization "MEMORIAL Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society" on 19 April 1992.[15]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the society became international, with organizations in several post-Soviet states: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Georgia, as well as in Italy (since 20 April 2004).[16]

Awards and nominationsEdit

In 2004, Memorial was among the four recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, for its work in documenting violations of human rights in Russia and other former states in the USSR.[17] Quoting the RLA jury: "... for showing, under very difficult conditions, and with great personal courage, that history must be recorded and understood, and human rights respected everywhere, if sustainable solutions to the legacy of the past are to be achieved."

In the same year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) named Memorial as the winner of the annual Nansen Refugee Award for its wide range of services on behalf of forced migrants and internally displaced people in the Russian Federation, as well as refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.[18]

In 2008, Memorial won the Hermann Kesten Prize. In 2009, Memorial won the Sakharov Prize of the European Union, in memory of murdered Memorial activist Natalya Estemirova.[19] Announcing the award, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek said that the assembly hoped "to contribute to ending the circle of fear and violence surrounding human rights defenders in the Russian Federation".[19] Oleg Orlov, the chairman of Memorial, commented that the prize represents "much-needed moral support at a difficult time for rights activists in Russia",[20] and that he considers the prize "a mark of the high value placed on the work of Memorial and that of all of our colleagues - Russian rights activists who are working in a very difficult situation".[21] A cash reward, which comes with the prize, of 50,000 is to be awarded to Memorial in December 2009.[19]

Memorial was awarded the Victor Gollancz Prize by the Society for Threatened Peoples in 2009.[22][23]

On 4 February 2015 Lech Wałęsa nominated Memorial International for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize [24]


Confiscation of digital archiveEdit

On 4 December 2008, Memorial's St Petersburg office, which houses archives on the Gulag, was raided by the authorities. Officers confiscated 11 computer hard disks containing the entire digital archive of atrocities committed under Stalin, representing 20 years of research. The information was being used to develop "a universally accessible database with hundreds of thousands of names." Office director Irina Flinge believes that Memorial was targeted because their organization is on the wrong side of Putinism, specifically the idea "that Stalin and the Soviet regime were successful in creating a great country".[25][26]

Officially, the raid was related to an article published in the Novy Peterburg newspaper in June 2007.[27] Memorial denies any link to thatarticle. Some human rights lawyers in Russia have speculated that the raid was retaliation for Memorial screening a banned film Rebellion: the Litvinenko Case (2007), about the murder of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in Great Britain in 2006. The film was distributed in the West under the title Poisoned by Polonium.[6][28]

According to historian Orlando Figes, the raid "was clearly intended to intimidate Memorial".[29] Allison Gill, director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said "This outrageous police raid shows the poisonous climate for non-governmental organisations in Russia [...] This is an overt attempt by the Russian government [...] to silence critical voices."[29] Academics from all over the world, signed an open letter to Dmitry Medvedev that condemned the seizure of disks and material.[6] The United States declared that it is "deeply concerned" about the raid: State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "Unfortunately, this action against Memorial is not an isolated instance of pressure against freedom of association and expression in Russia."[6]

On 20 March 2009, the court of Dzerzhinsky District ruled that the search on 4 December 2008, in Memorial and confiscation of 12 HDDs was carried out with procedural violations, and actions of law enforcement bodies were illegal.[30][31][32] Eventually the 12 hard drives, plus optical discs and some papers, were returned to Memorial in 2009.[33][2].

Activities in ChechnyaEdit

Memorial had an office in Chechnya, to monitor human rights issues there. It was frequently raided by the authorities. A Memorial activist Natalia Estemirova, who investigated murders and abductions in Chechnya, was abducted in Grozny and shot to death in Ingushetia on 15 July 2009.[34] BBC reporters have suggested her death was connected to her investigations of government-backed militias in the country.[35] Memorial's chairman Oleg Orlov accused Ramzan Kadyrov of being behind the murder,[36] and claimed that Kadyrov had openly threatened her.[37] Kadyrov denied his involvement[38] and sued Memorial for defamation, naming Orlov specifically in his complaint.[38][39]

On 18 July 2009, Memorial suspended its activities in Chechnya, stating "We cannot risk the lives of our colleagues even if they are ready to carry on their work."[40]

Foreign agentEdit

Russian authorities declared that Memorial was a "foreign agent" under the Russian law that requires organizations that accept funds from abroad and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves as a "foreign agent". The management of Memorial has argued that the society's activities of the society do not meet the criteria of "political activity" under this law.[41]

Following this designation, Russia's Justice Ministry, in its annual "foreign agent" audit, accused Memorial of "undermining the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation" and of calling for "a change of political regime" in the country.[42][43][44] As of June 2017, Memorial was still listed on Russia's "foreign agents" registry.[45]

Possible closureEdit

In 2014, the Russian Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov called for Memorial to be liquidated. The lawsuit concerned technical details over the legal registration of Memorial.[46][47][48]

Arson attackEdit

On 17 January 2018, masked arsonists set fire to Memorial's North Caucasus office in Nazran, Ingushetia.[49]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "MEMORIAL Charter". Archived from the original on 6 September 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Жертвы политического террора в СССР". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  3. ^ FAQ about Memorial Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Stalin's new status in Russia". 27 December 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2018 – via
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 7 December 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ a b c d "Gulag files seized during police raid on rights group".
  7. ^ "A national museum to the victims of Stalinist repression: words not deeds?",
  8. ^ "Предание". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  9. ^ Anna Yarovaya, "Who is trying to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh - and why?", 7x7 - Horizontal Russia news website, 13 December 2017 (in Russian).
  10. ^ Khronika tekushchikh sobyty (Хроника текущих событий)
  11. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events, April 1968 to June 1982
  12. ^ a b Andrei Sakharov, Gorky, Moscow, Later Everywhere, 1990, Chekhov Publishing Corp. (Russian edition), pp. 101–102[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Sakharov, Andrei (1991). Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989. Antonina Bouis (trans.). Knopf. pp. 168. ISBN 978-0-394-58797-4.
  14. ^ "МЕМОРИАЛ: ПРАВОЗАЩИТА". Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  15. ^ "Memorial Charter". Archived from the original on 6 September 2006. Retrieved 1 April 2004.
  16. ^ Memorial-Italia Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine(in Italian)
  17. ^ 2004 Right Livelihood Award: Memorial (Russia) Archived 2014-08-01 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "News". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  19. ^ a b c "Russia rights group wins EU prize". BBC. 22 October 2009.
  20. ^ "Political Sakharov Prize Goes To Russian Rights Activists". Forex TV. 22 October 2009.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "Russia's Memorial group wins EU's Sakharov Prize". RIA Novosti. 22 October 2009.
  22. ^ "Waynakh Online » Memorial Received the Victor Gollancz Prize". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ "Лех Валенса выдвинул Международный "Мемориал" на Нобелевскую Премию Мира - Права человека в России". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  25. ^ Galpin, Richard. Stalin's new status in Russia. BBC. 27 December 2008.
  26. ^ "Eleven hard disks". openDemocracy. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  27. ^ "Memorial will have the property back but not the reputation", Fontanka.Ru, 20 January 2009 (in Russian)
  28. ^ "Russia: raid on Memorial HQ". openDemocracy. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  29. ^ a b Harding, Luke (7 December 2008). "Russian police raid human rights group's archive". Retrieved 11 January 2018 – via
  30. ^ "'Memorial' reverted the searches". Kommersant (in Russian). 21 March 2008.
  31. ^ HDDs will be returned to "Memorial" in presence of the Ombudsman, Fontanka.Ru, 27 March 2009 (in Russian)
  32. ^ Memorial Vindicated Again, by Sean Guillory, 31 March 2009
  33. ^ Memorial got back its confiscated HDDs Archived 16 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Lenizdat.Ru, 6 May 2009 (in Russian)
  34. ^ "Vow to catch Chechnya assassins". BBC News. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  35. ^ "Russian activist found murdered". 15 July 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2018 – via
  36. ^ According to Orlov, "Я знаю, я уверен в том, кто виновен в убийстве Наташи Эстемировой. Мы все этого человека знаем. Зовут его Рамзан Кадыров, это президент Чеченской республики.
  37. ^ [1] "Она рассказывала, что Кадыров ей угрожал, говорил буквально: "Да, у меня руки по локоть в крови. И я не стыжусь этого. Я убивал и буду убивать плохих людей."
  38. ^ a b Chechen leader sues rights group after activist murder, AFP, 18 July 2009. Retrieved on 19 July 2009.
  39. ^ Schwirtz, Michael (18 July 2009). "Chechen Leader Sues Over Accusations of Ordering Activist's Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2009.
  40. ^ "Rights group halts Chechnya work". 18 July 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2018 – via
  41. ^ "Мосгорсуд нашел в деятельности "Мемориала" признаки иностранного агента". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  42. ^ Service, RFE/RL's Russian (10 November 2015). "Russian Justice Ministry Accuses Memorial Of Calling For Regime Change". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  43. ^ Hille, Kathrin (10 November 2015). "Russia accuses human rights group of seeking regime change". Financial Times. ISSN 0307-1766. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  44. ^ "Russia censures Memorial rights group as 'foreign agent'". BBC News. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  45. ^ "Russia: Government vs. Rights Groups". Human Rights Watch. 28 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  46. ^ Rainsford, Sarah (30 October 2014). "Russian Soviet-era remembrance group Memorial risks closure". BBC. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  47. ^ Birnbaum, Michael (13 October 2014). "Russia's Justice Ministry targets Memorial, a human rights defender". Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  48. ^ "Russian Justice Ministry asks to close Memorial Rights Group". Radio Liberty. 10 October 2014.
  49. ^ "Arsonists Torch Memorial Human Rights Office in North Caucasus". 17 January 2018. Retrieved 17 January 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Adler, Nanci (1993). Victims of Soviet terror: the story of the Memorial movement. Praeger. ISBN 0275945022.
  • Cathy Merridale (2000), Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Russia, Granta publishers: London
  • Anne Applebaum (2003), Gulag: A History of the Soviet camps, Allen Lane: London