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Memorial (Russian: Мемориа́л, IPA: [mʲɪmərʲɪˈaɫ]) is an international historical and civil rights society that operates in a number of post-Soviet states. 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; 30 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]

This is done, 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 sat beside the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, known as Iron Felix, which was removed in August 1991.

The efforts of Memorial were behind the Law on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, which was passed in 1991. In 1991 Memorial also contributed to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR officially making 30 October a 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 of over 1,300,000 names of such people.[3] The archives were used by 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. One such film was the 2007 documentary The Crying Sun, focusing on the life of people from the mountainous 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

One of Memorial's main projects at the moment is the creation of the Virtual Gulag Museum, which will bring together research and archives from all over the ex-Soviet Union to commemorate and record the existence of the Gulag and the suffering 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.[7] Memorial discovered the bodies in 2002.[8]

The 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, executed in 1937 and 1938. The memorial graveyard established there soon acquired the name Sandarmokh.

In 2016, there was an attempt to revise this account of the shootings at Sandarmokh, and claim that among the dead were Soviet POWs shot by the invading Finns in 1941-1944. The motivation behind this claim and the supposed new evidence were both challenged.[9]

A Chronicle of Current Events (1968-1982)Edit

In 2008 Memorial HRC launched an online version of the famous samizdat publication, A Chronicle of Current Events.[10] Appearing at irregular intervals during the year, the Chronicle circulated in typescript form (samizdat) in the USSR from 1968 to 1983, but all of its 63 issues were translated into English and published abroad,[11] as a key source of trustworthy information about human rights in the post-Stalin Soviet Union.

The launch was held at Memorial's office in Karetny pereulok and 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 put forth an initiative to create a memorial complex to victims of Joseph Stalin's repression in the late 1980s. The idea suggested creating a monument, a museum, an archive, a library. This led to an all-Union informal movement which expanded the original goals. It organized a petition to the 19th Conference of the CPSU. The petition resulted in the conference decreeing the creation of the monument to victims of repressions. A decision of the 22nd Congress of the CPSU was earlier ignored.[12][13]

The Memorial as the historical and educational society was founded 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 carried out in Moscow streets of the names of the candidates to the Public Council of the society. Among others, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was named, but he refused to join and in his talk with Andrei Sakharov he motivated this decision by his opinion that it was not right to restrict the scope of the project to the Stalin era only, since the repressive era in Russia started as early as 1917.[12]

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

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the society became international, with organizations in 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 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, in memory of the 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 and 11 computer hard disks containing the entire digital archive of the atrocities committed under Stalin, representing 20 years of work, were confiscated. The information was being used to develop "a universally accessible database with hundreds of thousands of names." Office director Irina Flinge believes that they were 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 in relation to an article published in the Novy Peterburg newspaper in June 2007.[27] Memorial denies any link to the article. Some human rights lawyers in Russia have speculated that the raid is retaliation for Memorial screening a banned film Rebellion: the Litvinenko Case, about the murder of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko.[6][28] According to writer Orlando Figes, the raid "was clearly intended to intimidate Memorial".[29] Allison Gill, director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, has 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] The raid also prompted an open letter to Dmitry Medvedev from academics from all over the world, condemning the seizure.[6] The United States has 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 decided that the search on 4 December 2008, in Memorial with confiscation of 12 HDDs with information about victims of political repressions was carried out with procedural violations, and actions of law enforcement bodies were illegal,[30][31][32] and eventually the 12 hard drives, as well as optical discs and some papers, were returned to Memorial[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 herself abducted in Grozny and shot to death in Ingushetia on 15 July 2009.[34] It is suggested her death is 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, targeting Orlov personally with his complaint.[38][39]

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

Foreign agentEdit

Memorial was declared to be a "foreign agent" under the Russian law which requires organizations that accept funds from abroad and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves a "foreign agent". The management of Memorial argues that the activities of the society do not meet the criteria of "political activity" as demanded by the law.[41] Following the 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 on the "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". 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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)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. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-394-58797-4.
  14. ^ "МЕМОРИАЛ: ПРАВОЗАЩИТА". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  15. ^ Memorial Charter
  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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)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