„Memorial“ – four years later

„Memorial“ – four years later

„That can’t be true!“ – the reader exclaims in a surprise – „Memorial“! They still exist? What are they doing there? All have been unmasked since long: not only Stalin, but also Lenin and Marx, Brezhnev and Gorbachev!“

It seems that the people in our country identify public relations by unmasking. Take to the streets, tear one’s shirt up to the navel and say about the State everything you please – and the louder you are shouting, the more the public considers you as an activist.

This phenomenon also happened to „Memorial“ during the first time of ist existence – how many people took part in ist activities then! Strictly speaking it was the first legal movement. Remember what an event it was, when „Memorial“ had its first assembly in 1988. It was no secret „DC“ (Democratic Alliance; translator’s note) underground meeting in someone’s apartment, but a public gathering in the „House of Movies“, packed to capacity with correspondants from abroad ... Under no circumstances do I intend to play down the role of the „DC“. I merely want to say that just in this „Memorial“ organization people, who felt attracted by politics, were able to act freely, and that „Memorial“ itself was the first „alternative“ organization, which tried to obtain a regular registration (which, by the way, was only successfully carried through in 1991 – on that very wave that followed the coup d’etat. Lots of organizations had themselves registered at that time – even the Monarchists, but „Memorial“ was always rejected – and this puzzles us and makes us think, doesn’ it?).

I tell you all this, because in the beginning some members of „Memorial“ considered the organization as a stage, some kind of starting point or some other applied science or art – they have levft the organization since long. And as soon as they had disappeared, all noisy events and all this much ado about nothing ceased automatically. „Memorial“, however, was founded to fulfill certain tasks, and this immense heap of work has remained with us. A hard and ineffective work, which is quite difficult to deal with.

We are trying to find former victims of political reprisals, who are still alive, interview them, work on questionnaires (by type-writer), make entries on index cards, send information to other places. We help those, who have not received their rehabilitation yet by making the necessary application. We tell those, who have already been rehabilitated, what they can do further, explaining them that they have the right to demand social allowances and how to obtain them. Archives, expeditions, preparations to have the memoirs of former victims of reprisals printed, practical support and assistance. Copy photographs and documents. Handle index files about former victims of political reprisals. Search the places, where victims were buried. And now we hav reached the point of „running aground“: all this work (which comprises and applies to the whole territory of the Krasnoyarsk region, except for Norilsk, Achinsk and Minusinsk, where they have their own „Memorial“ organizations) is done by six people only. Three of them can only dedicate themselves to these tasks in their leisure time or after work. The other three are pensioners, who are in quite a weak health.

I hope the other „Memorial“ members will not feel offended by my remark that Volodya Birger is the greatest among them. Not less than one third of the work rests upon his shoulders. He alone carries through the interviews with former victims of political reprisals (assisted by Klara Andreevna Dzyuba). The concrete assistance for victims of political reprisals (get legal advice, apply for the rehabilitation, constant appointments with the social welfare office and other authorities) – is also done by him. And many other things, as well – and, of course, he is doing all this after work or in his leisure time.

Collect information: question a victim of political reprisals (the interview must be good in quality, and it must be complete; and Volodya does not work in a different way) – which means at least three home visits, each lasting about 3 to 4 hours. Then all the received information has to be revised, edited and printed, and copies have to be sent to other towns (in case the person was arrested in Lvov, served his sentence in the Berlag, Siblag or Karlag, then Volodya has to send copies to Lvov, Magadan, Novosibirsk and Karaganda). In Krasnoyarsk alone there live about one-thousand victims of political reprisals – and nobody else helps Volodya in doing his job. He fulfills all these tasks, while you go and search for foodstuffs, run from one shop to the other and think about how to survive. If one would add another unit of unselfishness to the IS International System of Standards, then I propose to call this unit

„1 Birger“. I suppose one would not find many people, who reach an unselfishness of „0,9 Birger“. Even if one would trace a few people reaching „0,56 Birger“ on this scale, this would, in fact, be a rarity.

Vladimir Georgievich Sirotinin, the „chef“ as the „Memorialists“ call him, or even „chefa“. All necessary contacts with the vertical and horizontal lines of the public and political life rest upon his shoulders, all the problems which one must overcome to „pave the way“, to fight one’s way through, to get something officially approved. The „chef“ does not really like this job, but someone has to do it – and he does it. And for relaxation he usually sits in front of the card indexes night after night, making entries about former victims of political reprisals. The card index already comprises more than 8000 file cards. He answers numerous letters addressed to „Memorial“. He works on the files kept in the KGB and regional archives about former victims of political reprisals (for, from time to time, he is allowed to look at them). Owing to the „chef’s“ efforts, some people even know a little bit more about „Memorial“ than others: every now and then he gives an interview, organizes an expedition by ship to one of the former camp sites or holds a lecture.

Marina Georgievna Volkova is „in charge“ of the intelligentsia that suffered from political reprisals – beginning with her father and his friends (executed in Krasnoyarsk); and her work becomes more and more extensive: musicians, artists, scholars; the Institute of Forestry, the Teachers’ Training Institute ... Heaps of materials comprising all information copied in the archives by hand („Memorial“ does not dispose of a photocopier yet, and having papers manifolded „externally“ turns out to be three times more expensive), lots of experiences, events, impressions (and Marina Georgievna is an extremely emotinal person) – lots of work, indeed. And she is not in a good health: not long ago they transported Marina Georgievna away from the archives by ambulance. She was ordered to stay in bed for some time – and set to work again. (Another example for such a self-sacrifice: Ludmila Andreevna Gorelova from Narva, Mana district; she is a pensioner, as well. Her legs are paralyzed, and so she practically crept on all fours to the homes of her fellow-villagers and former victims of political reprisals to interview them. And you say there are no good people in our country ...).

Ivan Ivanovich Yegorov. The „Memorialists“ love him a lot. He is an upright and witty pensioner, full of warmth and sincerity. He served his sentence in the Kraslag. Three years ago, when they founded the Association of Victims of Political Reprisals with some pomp and magnificent display here in Krasnoyarsk, Ivan Ivanovich was elected into ist council. He is the only one who, since then, is still working there. The others have all left or are already very far away from this earth, but Ivan Ivanovich goes through the whole town, examines and looks into the respective living conditions and delivers indigent victims of political reprisals some money, provided that „Memorial“ succeeded in raising a small amount for this purpose.

Sasha Yershkov, photographer of the „Memorial“ organization. He does not get down the stars from the sky; he harnesses himself to the cart and draws it forward. As long as we do not dispose of a photocopier, he is also making all needed duplications and reproductions. And every Thursday a certain Volodya Birger throws him a big pile of documents and photographies. Sasha estimates what he is in for with all this new work, smokes one of his rolled-up cigarettes and says: „We will do it!“ And he does it.

And this is all about „Memorial“, although there is still another man, who is leading a giant work about repressed Lithuanians – Alexander Konstantinovich Lielais; but he is doing this work autonomously, in Lithuania, in a specially founded cultural center. And Volodya Tsurikov is in charge of the crimes against humanity committed in the Krasnoyarsk psychiatric hospital. Every now and then „Memorial“ experiences some assistance and support by different people and organizations.

Referring to the helpers: „Memorial“ is regularly being sponspored by the firm of „Demos“. In 1990 they, as well as the company of Solo-Polyus“ paid for all the costs that arose from an expedition (to the peninsula of Taymyr) to the Nordviklag. In 1991 „Demos“ sponsored „Memorial“ with about 17.000,- Rubels, 8.000,- Rubels of which were directly handed over to needy victims of political reprisals. „Demos“ succeeded in scraping all this money together, although they only have quite low takings themselves (less then ten people are working for „Demos“, the company does not make big money by speculative transactions, but teaches other people how to use a computer; and we were all very well aware of the fact that intellect has never been judged very favourably in our country).

We are also very grateful to the House of Science and Technics: at the time, when „Memorial“ did not yet dispose of any own premises, the House of Technics and „Demos“ gave us a roof over our heads – in the true sense of the word. Here we partly keep our „Memorial“ archives, here we installed our computer (American „bourgeois“ gave it to us); here is one of „Memorial’s“ telephones (27-95-40); this is the place, where „Memorial“ is keeping something like ist headquarters.

Thanks a lot to the Information and Computer Center of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Works, which repaired our „Memorial“ computer for nothing (something had to be scolded).

We also feel very obliged to the company of „LongoVitas“, who paid the registration fees for „Memorial“ (by the way, the Krasnoyarsk „Memorial“ organization is registered and disposes of a bank account: 700089 with the Krasnoyarsk Main Branch of the MosBisBank, MFO 144018).

But nevertheless all this is only a drop in the bucket. How can you support „Memorial“?

- by means of money.

And yet private contributions will not solve the problem, although „Memorial“ does and will not refuse them, either. It would not be a bad idea at all, if rich companies would be prepared to „divert“ a few thousand rubels. Most of the money could then be used to give financial support to former victims of reprisals, the rest to continue and intensify „Memorial’s“ work. Moreover, one could rid the collaborators of „Memorial“ of their struggle for their daily bread. Two or three people working for the whole region – it can’t be too difficult to manage that. The above-menzioned company of „Demos“ is already supporting one of „Memorial’s“ collaborators and would even be prepared to pay the salary for a second one, but the company was imposed new taxes, and so they, unfortunately, had to drop this idea: they have to stay above water themselves ... Of course, the very best would be to include them in the personnel of the regional committee for the realization of the Russian Rehabilitation Law. But when will this ever happen! For the time being I address you, businessmen: is it expecting a bit too much to pay some salary to that very Volodya Birger? This, in fact, would be by far less expensive, than showing a dog’s nose on TV for a period of half an hour!

- by means of a Xerox (photocopier).

To be more precise: there will soon be a Xerox to „Memorial’s“ disposal. The Sorosa Foundation, from which we have already received a computer, will give it to us. However, as long as we do not have our Xerox, it would be great, if someone would be willing to copy our documents free of charge.

- by making premises available to us.

„Memorial“ needs two or three rooms in the city center, with telephone connection and, if possible, they should be situated on one of the lower floors (since „Memorial“ is mainly contacted by old people, who are sometimes unable to get to the 4th floor in the House of Technics). The chief of the KGB administration (as this institution is called nowadays) offered us a room in the so-called „Taiga“ Fotosalon, sincerely hoping that „Memorial“ would refuse the offer. But „Memorial“ accepted and, as expected, the chief of the KGB administration then immediately changed his mind, so that „Memorial“ continuous to be „homeless“.

- by hand and feet, and especially by using one’s brains.

„Memorial“ does not dispose of sufficient manpower to make all the interviews, enter family names in the index cards, type out the memoirs of former victims of political reprisals. We are also confronted with a disasterous situation concerning the presence of lawyers (their number is entirely insufficient) during the consultation hours or when carrying through other concrete tasks, particularly in connection with the restitution of formerly confiscated property.

- by use of power.

During the last four years the situation has slightly improved: the passing of laws, the foundation of commissions, etc. But even the regional committee, in fact, only succeeded in recovering damages in favour of former victims of political reprisals – in the same amount as war veterans are entitled to. This commission is not even able to help needy victims of reprisals in the delivery of firewood or the installation of a telephone. This commission is not even able to force the editorial staff of the „Krasnoyarsk Worker“ (local newspaper) to print out a list with the names of former victims of reprisals, as well as the text of the Russian Rehabilitation Law (of which – I am very sure of that – 90% of the victims have never heard of before, although they are entitled to compensation payments in quite significant amounts!). When the commission is unable to help doing all this, the commission with the chairman of the regional executive committee at ist head, a commission, in which are represented the heads of all necessary regional services (social welfare, municipal economy, etc.), then you please tell me, who else will be able to do all this, to achieve the objectives and to enforce the claims – and who is just holding the power in his hands!

On the blanks of the regional executive committee, which bears the signature of the deputy-chairman, a letter is being sent to the district administration: help, decide, guarantee. The reply is: „We cannot do that, because various things are missing!“ This exchange of letters can go on for years, and in the meantime the former victim of reprisals concerned simply dies away, just „because various things are missing“.

And we can make another rather revealing observation. Due to the existence of the Russian Law of Rehabilitation, by means of which former victims of political reprisals are to be paid out 180 Rubels for every single month they sepent in prison, the payments for rent, medicaments, etc. are now less by half - and this was signed by Yeltsin on the 18th of October 1991. Within two months, i.e. until the 18th of December 1991, the government is supposed to elaborate and introduce all necessary instructions to practically apply the above-mentioned law and make the financial means available. Now its even spring, but there are no instructions, no money from above, from the authorities; neither the employees of the social institutions, nor the members of the executive committee have the slightest idea about what is going on and, consequently, they do not pay. And there we have the Russian Law on the Value-Added Tax, signed and passed in December, and already in December all public authorities and administrative bodies received instructions and declared its quite imaginative application: they do not impose this tax by the month, but every ten days. We better refrain from any further comments on this: who would not like to be one of the leading figures of the government, no matter whether in the function of a Kremlin dreamer, a filthy fellow or a supporter of progress - nevertheless, things will always develop into one direction: to take away and share, but not pay off one's debths.

By the way, there was another decree signed by Yeltsin concerning party funds: their distribution to indigent persons. This is how the deal with the victims of political reprisals - they merely wait, delay, postpone, and who suffered from this party more than they did?

Finally, we have to mention the memorial. As you will certainly remember, "Memorial" is dealing with the idea of erecting a memorial in honour and memory of the former victims of political reprisals. Things do not look too good for the erection of a memorial in Krasnoyarsk. A few thousand rubels were collected for this purpose, however the amount was too small to cover the costs. It seems that we better distribute the money among the needy victims as long as this source of money has not ebbed, and insist on having the memorial built as a "national" construction project. It would probably be much better, if some firm of builders and contractors made a crane or a bulldozer available for a couple of days, instead of having someone collect money, and for the architect and the sculptor it would certainly be the greatest honour and fee if this memorial were linked to his name forever. And we will most probably find hundreds of people in our town, who are prepared to do the necessary work free of charge. If you can help us with the carrying out of the project in one of the following points, then please contact "Memorial", Prospect Mira 3, 66049, Krasnoyarsk.

1. Look for a suitable place and plan the memorial project

Generally speaking the whole project has to be carried out by specialists. But the selection of the place is of decisive importance. According to the opinion of the "Memorial" members, the memorial stone should be erected somewhere in the town center, in the public park near the "Children's World" (a shop for children's clothes and toys; translator's note), for example. What do you think about this suggestion?

For this call for tenders we will need a room, a commission. Who is able to help us to find a room (free of charge!) and who is supposed to be part of the commission after all? Are there any architects willing to manage without remuneration? Or is anybody prepared to undertake the financing of these steps?

2. Decision of the city executive committee about the erection of a memorial.

One has to "fight one's way though", which means, one will need active deputees, who seriously intend to commemorate the perished, one will need specialists, who have free admittance to the authorities. Who is ready to help with this?

3. The actual erection.

We will need construction materials, hard-working hands and again people, who gather all necessary information and make inquiries with institutions and authorities. Will we succeed in finding them?

"Memorial" is waiting for your letters. If someone is prepared to assist with all the above-described points, then we will be able to start. If this is not the case, then ... - well, thene even the emperor has lost all his rights; sure thing that you have enough worries yourself. But then better stay away from all this, and see that you take care of your own worries.

Published in: "Krasnoyarskiy Komsomolets"
Alexey Babiy, 1992