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“Don’t be afraid. This is our country and we have no other.”

Jan 18 2022

Alexei Navalny addresses supporters on the anniversary of his detention, as rallies were held all over the world demanding his release. A year ago, he bravely returned to Russia, having recovered from the Novichok poisoning — and was immediately detained by the government.

Opposition politician Alexei Navalny called on his fellow Russians to be brave and fear nothing. On the anniversary of his return to Russia after his rehabilitation in Germany, he published a post on his Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/navalny/p/CY01DoLoJec/

“Having served my first year in prison, I want to tell everyone the same exact thing that I shouted at the crowd near the court, when the guards were taking me to the back of the truck: Don’t be afraid of anything. This is our country and we have no other. The only fear that should remain is that we may allow our homeland to be looted by a bunch of liars, thieves and hypocrites; that we surrender without a fight, voluntarily, forfeiting both our future and the future of our children. Thank you all very much for your support —I can feel it,” Alexei Navalny addressed his supporters in an emotional post.

“There are a lot of honest people in Russia—tens of millions. There are far more of them than is commonly thought. But it is not honest people who scare the authorities— disgusting then, and even more so now— but those who are not afraid. Or rather, to be more precise: those who are afraid, but overcome the fear,” he wrote.

He said that the year since his return to Russia flew by quickly. All this time Navalny remained behind bars.

“I do not know when my cosmic journey will end and whether it will end at all — just last Friday I was told that another of criminal cases against me goes to court. And there’s another one coming up —charging me as an extremist and a terrorist. So, I’m one of those “astronauts” who doesn’t bother counting the days until the end of the sentence. There is no point in counting. There have been  people who spent 27 years in prison.

But I find myself in this group of “astronauts” because I tried my best to pull this end of the rope. I pulled to this side those among the honest ones who did not want to or could no longer be afraid.

I did it, I do not regret it for a second, and I will continue to do it,” Navalny wrote.

Navalny’s Arrest and What Happened in Russia Over the Year

On January 17, 2021, Russian politician Alexei Navalny was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was being treated for poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent. Navalny spent the following year in custody: first in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, and then in prison no. 2 in Pokrov in the Vladimir region. The formal reason for his imprisonment was parole violation. The authorities claim that while Navalny was treated in Germany, he failed to register with the Federal Penitentiary Service as required by the sentence from the “Yves Rocher” case.

According to the parole violation sentence, the politician must be released no later than fall 2023. However, several other criminal cases have been brought up by the government against him, including one for creating an “extremist community”. According to prosecutors, Navalny has created an “extremist community,” the purpose of which was to “discredit the state authorities.” Under this article Navalny faces up to 10 years in jail.

In addition, in late 2020, Navalny was charged with criminal fraud— the case is expected to be heard in court in late January or early February 2022. According to prosecution, Navalny had spent 356 million rubles collected as donations for the activities of non-profit organizations headed by him for personal needs. The fraud case is combined with the charges of insulting Judge Vera Akimova, who presided over the trial on the case of “defamation of a veteran.” The criminal case on “defamation of a veteran” was opened after Navalny called the heroes of RT TV channel’s propaganda video about amendments to the Constitution, in which Ignat Artemenko, a 94-year-old veteran of the World War II, appeared, “corrupt lackeys” and “traitors”. The Investigative Committee considered that Navalny’s comment attacked the veteran’s honor and dignity. The court sentenced Navalny to a fine of 850 thousand rubles.

In the winter and spring of 2021, mass rallies in support of Navalny were held in Russia, resulting  in mass detentions. In June, Navalny’s political network was declared “extremist organization” by a Russian court.

Navalny’s headquarters throughout Russia have been decimated, with dozens of their members either under arrest or forced to leave Russia, including Leonid Volkov, the former head of Navalny’s federal headquarters; Ivan Zhdanov, director of FBK;  and Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for the foundation. On January 14, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov were added to the list of terrorists and extremists. During the entirety of 2021, repressions in Russia continued to intensify: dozens of organizations and citizens, including media outlets and journalists, were declared foreign agents, and opposition activists were put behind bars.

Free Russia Foundation estimates that more than 1,500 activists and journalists left the country in 2021. This estimate includes only “political” emigrants.

At the end of 2021, the European Union recognized Alexei Navalny and awarded him the Andrei Sakharov Human Rights Prize. Navalny’s daughter, Darya Navalny, attended the ceremony to accept the prize on behalf the imprisoned politician. “This is a message to the tens of millions of citizens of my country who continue to fight for a better life in Russia,” she said, speaking at the European Parliament.

In January 2022, it was announced that CNN and the streaming service HBO Max had produced and intend to stream a documentary, “Navalny,” about the Russian opposition leader. The movie, with the tagline “Poison Always Leaves a Trace,” was created by Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher. The film’s synopsis says it is about “a courageous and controversial presidential contender who is willing to sacrifice everything to bring reform to his homeland.” The film’s premiere date has not been disclosed. Navalny wrote on Instagram from prison: “The film is ready, and you will definitely see it before I do.”

Navalny in Jail: Deteriorating Health, Hunger Strike, Doctors’ Denial of Access, and Torture by Prison Authorities

In March 2020, Navalny filed a formal complaint stating that prison authorities purposefully deprived him of sleep. Navalny said he was woken up eight times a night by guards asking him to confirm to a camera that he is still in his prison cell. Navalny also complained that he was not allowed to read newspapers or have any books including a copy of the Quran that he planned to study.

Navalny’s lawyers said that he was suffering from health problems, including a loss of sensation in his spine and legs, and that prison authorities denied Navalny’s requests for a civilian physician, claiming his health was “satisfactory”. On March 31, Navalny declared a hunger strike demanding proper medical treatment. On April 6,  six doctors, including Navalny’s personal physician, Anastasia Vasilyeva, and two CNN correspondents, were arrested outside the prison when they attempted to visit Navalny whose health significantly deteriorated. On April 7, 2021, Navalny’s attorneys claimed he had suffered two spinal disc herniations and had lost feeling in his hands, prompting international outrcy. Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International accused Vladimir Putin of slowly killing Alexey Navalny through torture and inhumane treatment in prison.

On April 17, it was reported that Navalny was in urgent need of medical attention. Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva and three other doctors, including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin, petitioned prison officials to grant them immediate access, stating on social media that “Our patient can die any minute”, due to an increased risk of a fatal cardiac arrest or kidney failure “at any moment”. Test results publicized by Navalny’s lawyers showed heightened levels of potassium in the blood, which may signal cardiac arrest, and sharply elevated creatinine levels, indicating impaired kidneys.

The following day, his daughter called on Russian prison authorities to let her father be checked by doctors in a tweet. Prominent celebrities such as J.K. Rowling and Jude Law also addressed a letter to Russian authorities asking to provide Navalny with proper medical treatment. U.S. President Joe Biden called his treatment “totally unfair” and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the Kremlin had been warned “that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.” The European Union’s head diplomat Josep Borrell stated that the organization held the Russian government accountable for Navalny’s health conditions. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also expressed her concern for his health. However, Russian authorities rebuked such concerns by foreign countries. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russian prison officials are monitoring Navalny’s health, not the president.

On April 19, Navalny was moved from his cell to a prison hospital, according to the Russian authorities, for a course of “vitamin therapy”. On April 23, Navalny announced that he was ending his hunger strike on the advice of his doctors and as he felt his demands had been partially met. His newspapers are still being censored as articles are cut out before the newspaper is given to him.

On May 20, Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov reported that Navalny had “more or less” recovered and that his health was generally satisfactory. On June 7, Navalny was returned to prison after fully recovering from the effects of the hunger strike.

In early November 2021 Navalny’s former prison-mates described his harassment in detention. An independent Russian TV channel Dozhd broadcast an interview “Torture for Navalny: Who Surrounded Him in the Penal Colony, How They Compromise Him and Break Him”. In the expose, former inmates at the Pokrov’s Correctional Facility Number 2, described the torture and abuse targeting Navalny.

Dozhd reporters spoke with former convicts Nariman Osmanov and Yevgeny Burak, who served time in the same quarters as Navalny. According to Osmanov, this unit was put together by authorities before the arrival of the opposition leader to the prison, and with each of the prisoners a conversation had been held in advance. Osmanov said that all prisoners in the brigade were instructed not to communicate with the politician and record each of his steps on a daily basis.

“Naturally, we suffered with him. Mentally, I still haven’t recovered, to be honest,” Osmanov told reporters. According to him, Navalny tried to talk to him, but he stopped these attempts.

During the hunger strike, which Navalny held from March 31 to April 23, inmates brought a bag of sausages into the barrack and roasted the sausages on the premises, perhaps with the intent to seduce Navalny with the smell of the food, which is not allowed could have only been done with the permission of authorities.

On another occasion, a detainee was placed in the same cell as Navalny, and later taken to the sanitary unit and declared to have a contagious form of tuberculosis.

Osmanov claimed both events had been staged and he managed to tell Navalny about that.

Another prisoner, Yevgeny Burak, talked about a movie screening that was held for the colony’s inmates on Navalny’s birthday, June 4. The movie insinuated that Navalny is a homosexual— which, in Russian prisons, would expose an inmate to grave danger of physical and sexual abuse by other inmates. The movie was attempting to discredit and threaten Navalny. These claims have been corroborated by Osmanov.

After Navalny returned from the hospital warden to the regular prison cell, he was again precluded  from sleeping for several days — an inmate was roomed in the same cell with him and “made different sounds,” and all this was done on the instructions of the colony’s leadership, Osmanov claims.

Global Support

To mark the anniversary of Alexei Navalny’s arrest, his supporters rallied in dozens of cities around the world to call for his freedom. Pickets and rallies were held in Russia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand, France, Canada, Norway, Belgium, Estonia, Australia, Spain, Finland, Georgia and other countries.

The U.S. Congress released a statement on the anniversary of Navalny’s arrest (https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/press-and-media/press-releases/helsinki-commission-marks-one-year-anniversary)

Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) wrote:

“In the past year, while Alexei Navalny has remained unjustly imprisoned, the Kremlin has doubled down on its absurd persecution of his anti-corruption organizations as ‘extremist’ /…/ Nevertheless, Mr. Navalny’s colleagues, friends and allies, in the face of grave threats, continue to risk their own freedom to expose Putin’s thuggery across Russia.”

“Putin would not have gone to the trouble to imprison Alexei Navalny unless he perceived a serious threat to his power,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Mr. Navalny and his team across Russia were instrumental in revealing the ill-gotten gains of Putin and his cronies. This tells you all you need to know about why they are a target.”

“During his imprisonment, Alexei Navalny has used his own suffering to call attention to the plight of the hundreds of other political prisoners in Russia,” said Sen. Wicker. “We have not forgotten him or others who are persecuted for their beliefs, and we look forward to a Russia in which they finally are free.”

“Despite the Kremlin’s attempts to push Alexei Navalny out of public view and prevent him from challenging Putin, we will not stop calling for his release,” said Rep. Wilson. “Russians who challenge Putin should not have to fear for their safety in their own country.”

“A Man Has Entered the Cage with a Tiger.” What Russian Public Figures are Saying on the Anniversary of Navalny’s Arrest

Vladimir Milov

“It’s been a tragic year. I don’t think it’s right to put it in the category of defeat, because the authorities had pretty obvious goals— to completely isolate Navalny from society. And it didn’t succeed. As you can see, we constantly get his messages of hope even from the colony, even from prison. The second goal was to completely destroy his team. And that also failed, although many of them had to go into exile, but we continue not just to work, but to influence the political situation in Russia <…> So we continue to fight. Of course, we received a very serious hit, but we have withstood, we are fighting, I am sure that we will win in the end.”

Kirill Rogov

“What a great man Navalny is. How great that he flew to Moscow a year ago. What a sensitive politician.

Have you looked in history books? There’s a lot of it there. At first, for a few years, everyone will say: Why did he do it? It made no sense, he miscalculated, he set us all up, do you see what happened as a result? But then. Everyone will say: can you imagine, it didn’t seem to make any sense, it seemed that he miscalculated, there were those who said “he set us all up”.

The Man went into the tiger’s cage, the Man puts his head into the beast’s mouth. And the beast is thinking— do I  bite off the head and show everyone, which is all they expect, that I’m a bloodthirsty scumbag, or do I not bite it off and appear weak?

A man risking his life is high stakes, it’s memorable for decades, if not more. History is made up of these actions. Here we have another entry in Russian history. Our backbone.”

Viktor Shenderovich

“When he returned a year ago, Alexei Navalny acted as a courageous man and a professional politician. Putin wanted to drive him out of the country, that’s why he allowed him to leave for treatment. Since Navalny could not be killed, Putin tried to throw him out of the country this way. He didn’t succeed. At the cost of his freedom, luckily, not his life, Alexei Navalny remains a huge factor in Russian politics even in prison. If he were free now, but outside, abroad, he would not be a factor in Russian politics.

He has acted as a politician, as a courageous, responsible and consistent man. The price he pays for his confrontation with Putin is enormous. It is not only the time he has spent in jail, but also his health. That said, Navalny is indeed Vladimir Putin’s number one political opponent.”

Fedor Krasheninnikov

“I believe that the return of Alexei Navalny was the catalyst that forced Putin’s regime to finally throw off its mask and unleash repressions against the entire class of political activists, human rights defenders, independent journalists and opposition activists. There is no point in talking about any kind of hybridity: we are dealing with an authoritarian police dictatorship that is actively using terror against its opponents as a permanent practice. Vladimir Putin’s main goal is to remain in power, and intimidation is a method for achieving this goal.”

Boris Akunin

Today is a year since Alexei Navalny has been behind bars. He will, of course, get a new sentence (they might even kill him), but the winner in this war of one man against the whole machinery of the police state is already clear. And that’s exactly what Alexei does, every day and every hour: he holds the front line. The first part of the oath— “one for all”— is done. Now it’ s time to fulfill the second part.

Ilya Yashin

“Exactly one year ago, Navalny flew to Moscow. They tried to kill him there, tried him in absentia, and made sure that he wouldn’t even think about returning to Russia. And as soon as Alexei crossed the border, they immediately snapped handcuffs on his hands.

Today again everyone will discuss— was it really necessary to take that risk? Was there a point in voluntarily going to jail? Maybe he should have stayed in exile? But the truth is that the question was never framed that way. There were no meetings, no discussions about Navalny’s return to his homeland. Because almost the first thing he said when he came out of his coma was, “I will definitely go back to Russia.”

And I understand very well why he did that. Many of us think that the point of Navalny’s work is to expose crooks and thieves in power. But this is a shallow view. The point of Navalny’s work is to demonstrate by personal example: in Russia, it is possible to live without fear, without hunching one’s shoulders or lowering one’s eyes. It is possible to remain a free man in an unfree country.

And when each one of us learns not to be afraid, the country will change very quickly. Navalny sets an amazing example of courage, and I am proud to call him my friend and comrade. And I believe he has a great future. Freedom to Alexey Navalny!”

Statement on the Situation in Kazakhstan

Jan 06 2022

Free Russia Foundation expresses solidarity with the people of Kazakhstan in their aspiration to reclaim the right to direct the political and economic course of their nation. 

We condemn the use of violence by government forces against peaceful protesters, and mourn the loss of life resulting from the brutal put down. 

Free Russia Foundation, and specifically the Russian citizens among us, fervently oppose the Kremlin’s decision to send military forces to prop the authoritarian and thieving regime of Kazakhstan whose people languish in poverty and suffer from environmental woes while its elites top the global wealth ratings.  

We are outraged by the lack of moral clarity in the official statements coming from the Western democratic nations— once again underscoring the profound corrosive influence that authoritarian regimes have been able to exert through corruption of western institutions and cooptation of Western elites.

Russia’s Supreme Court dissolves Memorial

Dec 29 2021

International Memorial Society, which documents Soviet-era repressions, was charged with breaching a law on foreign agents, as well as “whitewashing Nazi criminals” and “distorting the image of the USSR as a terrorist state.”

What Happened this Week

By a December 28, 2021 ruling, Russia’s Supreme Court dissolved the “Memorial” International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society, satisfying petition by the Attorney General’s Office, which charged that the organization repeatedly violated Russia’s laws on “foreign agents” by failing to disclose its “agent” status in content shared on social media.

In his closing statements, prosecutor Alexey Zhafyarov accused Memorial of “distorting the image of the USSR as a terrorist state” and said the group “whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals.”

“Why are we now, descendants of the victors, forced to watch impunity for traitors to the homeland, Nazi collaborators? Why, instead of being proud of the country that won the war and liberated the entire world, we are being asked to repent for our, as it turned out, hopeless past? Probably because someone is paying for it. That is the real reason behind the aversion with which Memorial vehemently denies its status as a “foreign agent”. That is the real reason why an organization that claims the honorable role of the nation’s conscience does not really want to be reminded in every publication that they are paid for. And if we take these motives into account, the state has requirements to consider that the repeated disregard of the requirement of the law to indicate the status of a ‘foreign agent’ is a gross violation of the law,” the prosecutor opined theatrically.

Representatives of Memorial rejected the claims of the General Prosecutor’s Office, insisting that there are no legal grounds for closing down the organization.

Henry Reznik, a prominent Russian attorney representing Memorial, emphasized at the end of his statement that “Memorial contributes to the health of the nation. And to remove it from our history would be to promote the idea that the state is always right.

Another Memorial advocate, Maria Eismont, said the organization was dedicated to fighting for the openness of information, yet was accused by prosecutors of hiding the truth. She quoted George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” to describe the prosecution’s case, saying: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

After the ruling, Jan Raczynski, chairman of the board of “International Memorial”, asserted that the organization intends to appeal the verdict, and if necessary, will file an appeal with the ECHR. He also noted that there would be no changes in the work of the organization until the appeal is considered.

After the announcement of the verdict, Memorial supporters chanted “Shame!” outside the court. Earlier same day, the police arrested several Memorial supporters gathered near the court building who held up signs with slogans such as “Hands off Memorial.”

On December 29, 2021, a day after Russia’s Supreme Court dissolved the Memorial International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society, the Moscow City Court ordered the closure of the Memorial’s Human Rights Center, satisfying petition by city prosecutors who argued that the organization’s financial activities are “non-transparent.”

Prosecutors claimed the Memorial Human Rights Center “justified the activities” of several Islamist terrorists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Artpodgotovka left-wing nationalists by naming them as persons persecuted for religion and as political prisoners.

Prosecutors criticized the organization for supporting uncoordinated protests allegedly aimed at “destabilizing the country.” They also accused Memorial of receiving foreign funding from Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, and other countries, as well as of compiling a list of political prisoners maintained by Memorial. All of this, according to the prosecutor’s office, is aimed at forming a negative attitude toward the judicial system of the Russian Federation.

Defense lawyers for Memorial say they plan to appeal the ruling.

Final court deliberations seem to have been deliberately set for the very end of the year, with the expectation of minimal public attention. But the plan failed. On December 29,  a crowd of over a hundred gathered near the courthouse, chanting slogans in support of Memorial.

Russian and International Reactions to the Court Ruling

On December 28, 2021, International Memorial issued an official statement regarding the decision of the Russian Supreme Court.

“The decision of the Supreme Court has once again confirmed that the history of political terror, organized and directed by state power, remains for Russia not an academic topic of interest only to specialists, but an acute problem of our time. Our country needs an honest and honest appraisal of its Soviet past; this is the key to its future. It is ridiculous to assume that the judicial liquidation of the International Memorial will remove this issue from the agenda. All of Russian society needs to remember the tragedies of the past. And not just Russian: the memory of state terror unites all former Soviet republics.”

Memorial assured that it will appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. “And we will find legal ways to continue our work,” the organization added. “Memorial is not an organization, it’s not even a social movement. A memorial is a need of Russian citizens for the truth about its tragic past, about the fate of many millions of people. And no one will be able to ‘liquidate’ this need.”

“Even by the standards of the year 2021, the liquidation of Memorial is an extraordinary event. It is monstrous. The only meaning of the destruction of Memorial is in the brazen demonstration of force… The Supreme Court decision shatters the delicate balance Russian society has been holding for decades,” says a statement from the authoritative Russian newspaper Meduza. “You can try to change attitudes toward history, but you can’t cancel history. Those who fight the past have no future.”

Nyuta Federmesser, head of the Moscow Palliative Care Center and founder of the Vera Hospice Foundation, called the court decision “a disgrace to live with at about the same time.” “Memorial was founded by Academician Sakharov. Memorial is one of the country’s most worthy endeavors. Memorial is memory. Memory cannot be liquidated, it cannot be killed,” she stated.

Boris Vishnevsky, deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, directly accused Vladimir Putin of closing the Memorial. “How the heirs of the executioners are afraid of those who keep the memory of the crimes. And yes, this decision could not have been made without the consent (or initiative) of Putin. He is the direct perpetrator of it,” Vishnevsky stressed.

Renowned Russian human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who fled Russia in September after authorities charged him with disclosing state secrets when he was representing a journalist charged with treason, said the verdict sends a message that anyone engaged in activism faces possible prosecution. “Yes, it’s a new, dark and difficult era, but it will end, too,” Pavlov encouraged.

Writer Viktor Shenderovich called the liquidation of Memorial “an empty fuss”. “Who can forbid us to remember our dead? The murderers are making a fuss in vain,” he pointed out.

Russian politician Grigory Yavlinsky stated that with this decision the Russian authorities declared themselves the successor of the Stalinist and Soviet regime. “Memorial was liquidated because it tells the truth. It is a transition from an authoritarian regime to a totalitarian regime. This is another step toward war,” he said in a statement.

Dmitri Gudkov, an opposition politician, stressed that the Russian court’s decision in the Memorial case is absolutely worthless for civil society. “Except that they will not destroy the memory, nor will they be able to declare political prisoners as criminals in the eyes of society. And the fact that we are declared a war of extermination is not news. Only we will win in the long run: they will simply die out in the long run.”

Condemnations of the ruling poured in from rights advocates and political figures around the world as well.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan called the ruling “a blatant and tragic attempt to suppress freedom of expression and erase history.” Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, called the decision “heart-breaking” in a tweet. Denmark’s foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, said Memorial’s liquidation “is another step in the deplorable degradation of human rights” in Russia. And Sam Zarifi, secretary general of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, called it “another step toward darkness” for Russia.

Over the past month, dozens of Russian and international organizations, politicians, scientists, and cultural figures have also spoken in support of Memorial. Among them were Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the first president of the USSR.

What Memorial Stands for and What it Symbolizes

The Memorial International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society, known simply as Memorial, is Russia’s oldest and most authoritative and respected human rights organization.

Memorial was established in the late 1980s during the “perestroika” reforms in the USSR. Between 1987 and 1990, while the USSR was still in existence, 23 branches of the society were set up and became active. When the Soviet Union collapsed, branches of Memorial in east and south Ukraine remained affiliated with the Russian network. By 2018, Memorial had more than 60 branches and affiliated organizations throughout Russia, with a quarter of them established in 2014 or later.

The organization was set up by Soviet dissidents — including renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov — during the final years of the Soviet Union. It is focused on researching and documenting the Soviet abuses in the gulag, a vast web of prison camps where political prisoners toiled and died, many of them executed on the basis of concocted evidence.

Memorial has developed an archive of the case files of more than 60,000 Soviet victims of state repressions, its searchable database containing 3 million names of victims, and its database with the names of nearly 42,000 people who worked for the Soviet secret police from 1935 to 1939, when repression peaked.

International Memorial was added to the “foreign agents” registry in October 2016.

The organization’s human rights wing, Memorial Human Rights Center, faced a similar court hearing to address charges of justifying terrorism and extremism, which could also result in its liquidation. The center focuses on contemporary human rights abuses. It released a tally of the 419 political prisoners jailed in Russia several months ago, and it has helped more than 1,500 Russians take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, to challenge rights abuses by Russian authorities

The Biggest Achievements of Memorial

Preserving Historical Memory

Since 1988, Memorial has been collecting personal effects of victims of political repression and their relatives. Over 33 years, the collection has accumulated tens of thousands of letters, photographs, items of clothing and other artifacts that tell about the Great Terror in USSR.

Memorial is also a scientific institution, which constantly replenishes the database of the politically repressed; it already contains more than three million records on the victims of terror. In archive of the organization it is possible to find lists of people shot in Moscow; lists of those sentenced to the highest measure of punishment by Stalin’s personal order; more than thousand memoirs about GULAG camps from its prisoners and workers; information on personnel structure of NKVD. The “Topography of Terror” project gives the memory of repression a geographical dimension: it is a directory of places in Moscow and the Moscow region associated with political terror. In addition, Memorial researches the repressions against religious groups, Russian Germans, and Polish citizens.

Commemoration of Victims of Repressions

One of the society’s first initiatives was to erect a monument to the victims of political repression in the USSR. It was decided to start with the collection of signatures. They were collected on the Arbat and Pushkinskaya Square, and when the police started detaining the agitators, they moved to clubs, theaters and concerts. After six months, the activists had several hundred thousand votes. By that time, the Memorialists had already decided that their goal was not just to erect a monument, but to create a whole memorial complex with a museum, an archive, and a library.

The memorial was opened on the Memorial Day of the victims of political repressions — October 30, 1990. So the relatives of the victims of repressions got a place where they could bring flowers and honor the memory of their relatives. In 2007 near Solovetsky stone an action “Return of Names” took place during which all people who wished could read out loud the names of victims of political terror. Memorial came up with the idea of this action as a counterweight to the official rallies. Since then it has been held annually.

Assistance to Refugees and Victims of Military Conflicts

Although Memorial was initially conceived as an educational organization, its members soon realized that they could not do no more than study the past and ignore the current political agenda. Thus in 1991 the independent Memorial Human Rights Center emerged. Its work was constantly expanding: in addition to political prisoners, Memorial members dealt with contemporary military conflicts, prepared reports from hot spots, searched for and released hostages from the First and Second Chechen wars.

Svetlana Gannushkina, who cooperated with Memorial on the problems of refugees, participated in the creation of the Human Rights Center. In 1996 she succeeded in separating the work with migrants within the framework of the Center for Human Rights into a separate field, with reception offices in the regions; this is how the network Migration and Law came into being (by 2021, 33 reception offices opened throughout Russia). Over time, there were fewer people fleeing the war conflicts, but the work of the organization did not end: the Human Rights Center focused on labor migrants who found themselves in terrible conditions in Russia.

Defending Human Rights in The North Caucasus

Memorial’s Human Rights Center has been one of the leading rights watchdogs in the North Caucasus, opening an office in Grozny in 2000, when thousands of civilians were falling victim to kidnappings, torture, and so-called “sweeping-up” operations by both Russian federal forces and local militia groups. Memorial was forced to close its Grozny office after the 2009 killing of activist and board member Natalya Estemirova, who was personally investigating cases of kidnapping and murder. Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial HRC, was sued for defamation after accusing Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov of orchestrating Estemirova’s assassination but was eventually acquitted. At a time when virtually no independent voices remain in Chechnya, Memorial continues to publish near-daily bulletins on human rights abuses in the North Caucasus.

Defense of Political Prisoners and Critics of the Regime

Throughout its existence, Memorial has provided legal and moral support to jailed government opponents in Russia, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Aleksei Navalny, Belarus’s Ales Byalyatski, and Andrei Barabanov, Aleksei Gaskarov, and other participants in 2012’s Bolotnaya Square protests. Memorial also maintains a closely watched list of political prisoners, fighting with Kremlin regime.

How the Kremlin Started its Prosecution of Memorial

The early 1990s were perhaps the only relatively peaceful period in Memorial’s history. To this day, some Russian human rights activists consider those years a “golden era,” a time when legislators listened to them and the security forces agreed to cooperate.

The pressure on Memorial intensified rapidly in the 2000s, especially in the Russian North Caucasus. In 2007, Memorial’s Oleg Orlov and journalists from REN TV were kidnapped from a hotel in Ingushetia and beaten up. The crime was attributed to unspecified “destructive forces” — no charges were laid. In 2009, Memorial human rights advocate Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya. The perpetrators were never found.

The pressure hasn’t let up since. Just a few years ago, the head of Memorial’s Chechnya office, Oyub Titiyev, was arrested for alleged drug possession. A week after his arrest, Memorial’s office in neighboring Ingushetia was burned down. The rights group decided to shut down its Chechnya office for security reasons.

After the start of Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term, the battle against Memorial and other human rights organizations became part of state policy in Russia. The law on “foreign agents” was adopted in 2012; the Memorial Human Rights Center was blacklisted as a “foreign agent” a year later. Its parent organization, Memorial International, was slapped with “foreign agent” status in 2016.

The Karelian branch of Memorial was deprived of its head in 2020: historian Yury Dmitriev was sentenced to 13 years in a strict regime penal colony on charges of child sex abuse. On December 27, 2021 Dmitriev’s sentence was increased by two more years: from 13 to 15 years. Memorial says that the case was a fabricated and politically motivated one. Dmitriev was responsible for drawing up lists of the repressed in Karelia and conducting search operations at the sites of the shootings. In the late 1990s, a search group led by Dmitriev discovered execution pits in the Sandarmoh woods where the victims of 1937-1938 repressions were buried.

Finally, on November 11, 2021, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has asked for the liquidation of International Memorial. The organization was accused of violating the legislation on “foreign agents,” specifically the absence of appropriate labeling in its materials.

During a recent meeting with the Presidential Human Rights Council, Vladimir Putin responded to a question about the federal case against International Memorial by pointing out that the group accidentally listed three Nazi combatants among the victims of the Stalinist Terror. Memorial’s executives say the group’s shortage of resources makes such errors possible, and researchers do their best to correct any inaccuracies as quickly as possible. Human rights activists warn that the Russian authorities want to establish a monopoly on all sensitive topics. “Unfortunately, the government is aiming to subjugate dangerous spheres,” says Memorial’s Sergey Bondarenko. “There can be remembrance. But it shouldn’t include any independent, [non-government] organizations. Everything should be understood by the authorities.

Dmitry Zimin, Russian Philanthropist, Educator and Founder of the Dynasty Foundation, Passes Away at 88

Dec 22 2021

On December 22, 2021 Dmitry Zimin, a Russian philanthropist, who was renowned globally for his strong support of science and education as key pillars of the societal progress, passed away in Switzerland. His son Boris Zimin announced it on his Facebook page.

Dmitry Zimin was 88 years old.

His son specified that Zimin had been battling an illness. “My father was a great lover of life and lived a great life. Thank him for everything, for what he created, for what he was <…> He left in full consciousness, peaceful, a little sad about us and life, but still with relief — he had been seriously ill for the last few months,” wrote Boris Zimin.

Dmitry Zimin was born in Moscow in 1933. He graduated from the Department of Aircraft Radioelectronics at the MAI. In the early 1960s he joined the Radio-Technical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, where he rose from laboratory chief to director of the Radio-Technical Equipment Development Center. He was involved in scientific research and published more than 100 scientific papers, including some of his own inventions.

Since the early 2000s, Dmitry Zimin had been involved in charitable work. He created the Dynasty Foundation in 2001, almost immediately after he resigned as CEO of VimpelCom. Zimin gave away almost all of his earnings — “with the permission of his family” — to a charitable foundation, from which none of his relatives are allowed to receive money. He formulated its mission as follows: “search and support of talents, their ideas and projects in the field of natural and social sciences.”

Zimin believed that one of the main problems of Russia is “washing out” of the intellectual elite from the country: “It is not only about financing, which is also a very important issue, but it is more about creating an atmosphere of creativity, an atmosphere of freedom. <…> So far we are witnessing degradation. <…> So far we see degradation. Personally I do everything that depends on me to solve this problem — I gave almost everything I had, trying to support scientists.”

The foundation awarded grants and scholarships to young scientists-physicists, mathematicians, and biologists. In addition, Dynasty sent young researchers to international scientific programs and helped organize scientific conferences in Russia.

The first thing the foundation did in 2002 was to award grants and scholarships to young physicists. Research projects are funded  by the Scientific Council of the Foundation through scholarship (5400 rubles per month for one year) and grants (10800 rubles per month for three years). Candidates of Science can receive support of 19500 rubles per month, Doctor of Science — 26000 rubles. In 2014 alone, 92 Russian physicists received support from the foundation.

Since 2004, the foundation has organized an annual all-Russian competition for teachers of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Winners are selected by university students votes. In 2014, about 500 teachers received grants of 38,000 rubles each; the four winners of the Award for Excellence in Education received 150,000 rubles each. Since 2009 there has been a contest of educational projects for schoolchildren: the scientific council of Dynasty selects clubs, science schools, and science tournaments, which receive from 300 to 600 thousand rubles in financial aid.

Since 2006, Dynasty has published 83 popular science books, including “God as Illusion” by Richard Dawkins, and “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond. The Foundation distributes all the books released to libraries throughout Russia.

In addition to natural sciences and mathematics, Dynasty has supported the Liberal Mission Foundation since 2005, whose mission was “to develop and disseminate liberal values and ideas in Russia.” Under the leadership of Yevgeny Yasin, the foundation held roundtables and published collections of articles. In 2004, the Liberal Mission published the book “Down Vertical Path”, and in 2013, the book “Law and Power.”

In 2012-2014, Dynasty invested more than 300 million rubles annually in scientific and educational projects.

In 2015, Zimin announced the liquidation of the foundation. This happened because the Ministry of Justice included Dynasty in the list of so-called “foreign agents.” The “foreign agents” registry also included the Russian Media Support Foundation “Sreda”, which was created by Dmitry Zimin’s son Boris. After that, the organization decided to liquidate.

In 2016, Dmitry Zimin and his son founded the Zimin Foundation, an international NGO that supports education and science around the world.

Zimin was the first and only Russian citizen to be awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy for his social investment work. He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Tel Aviv University in Israel. Zimin was also recogninzed by the Russian Ministry of Science and Education “For Commitment to Science.” He established the prestigious literary award Premya Prosvetitel (“Enlightener Prize”), which annually awards prizes to the best authors of popular science books in Russian language. Zimin established the Dynasty Library project to translate and publish over 100 international works on popular science in Russian language. In addition to the monetary prizes (700,000 rubles), the laureates receive the opportunity to widely distribute their texts — the Foundation is buying up 500 books by the finalists for distribution to Russian libraries.

Future of Democracy in Russia: From Aspirations to Plans (video)

Dec 09 2021

As a side event to the Biden’s 2021 Summit for Democracy, Free Russia Foundation, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group hosted  a conversation of the outlook for democracy and human rights in Russia, concrete steps that must be taken to advance this agenda, and ways the international community can support this agenda

The discussion featured three prominent members of Russian civil society: 

  • Vladimir Milov, Russian opposition politician; 
  • Vasily Gatov, USC Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership, and Policy; and
  • Evgeniya Chirikova, Activatica.org.

The December 2021 Summit for Democracy convened global leaders from 110 nations and partners to lay out new commitments to human rights and a democratic renewal. The summit served as a platform to non-governmental voices from civil society, independent media, activists, and the private sector to detail their priorities, demands, and goals for democratic progress. 

Not surprisingly, Putin was excluded from the list of summit invitees. The Putin regime’s actions —through grave human rights violations, endemic corruption, and hybrid aggression— have threatened democratic actors and institutions globally and intensified its domestic repression.

We must remember, however, that Putin’s government does not represent the Russian people and does not speak for the Russian people. Events of the past few months have shown that Putin’s government is undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and the political transition phase has begun. The Russian civil society remains committed to the pursuit of democracy despite brutal repressions at home and waning support from the international community.