Memorial (society)

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Memorial / Мемориал
Founded 28 January 1989
Type Non-profit
Services History of totalitarianism, protecting human rights
Key people
Arseny Roginsky (Chairman), Sergei Kovalev (Co-chairman)
Website (English version)

Memorial (Russian: Мемориа́л) is a Russian 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.

Mission and activities

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.

Research and educational work

Currently Memorial's Historical and Educational Center conducts nine research programs:[3]

  • History of GULAG
  • History of institutes of repressions in USSR
  • History of socialist opposition to regime
  • Destinies of political prisoners
  • Religious prosecution
  • Polish program
  • Victims of two dictatorships
  • History of dissent in USSR
  • Topography of terror

Political work

Through the efforts of the society, on October 30, 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 October 30 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.[4] The archives were used by British historian Orlando Figes when he was researching his 2008 book The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia.[5]


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.[6]

Virtual Gulag

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.[7]

Kovalevsky Forest

Memorial are trying to build a National Memorial Museum Complex in Kovalevsky Forest to commemorate 4,500 victims of the Red Terror.[8] Memorial discovered the bodies in 2002.[9]


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.[10][11]

The Memorial as the historical and educational society was founded at the conference held in the Moscow Aviation Institute January 26–28, 1989. In 1991 a Civil Rights Defense Center "MEMORIAL" was founded.[12]

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.[10]

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 April 19, 1992.[13]

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 April 20, 2004).[14]

Awards and nominations

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.[15] 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.[16]

In 2008, Memorial won the Hermann Kesten Prize. In 2009, Memorial won the Sakharov Prize, in memory of the murdered Memorial activist Natalya Estemirova.[17] 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".[17] Oleg Orlov, the chairman of Memorial, commented that the prize represents "much-needed moral support at a difficult time for rights activists in Russia",[18] 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".[19] A cash reward, which comes with the prize, of 50,000 is to be awarded to Memorial in December 2009.[17]

Memorial was awarded the Victor Gollancz Prize by the Society for Threatened Peoples in 2009.[20][21]

On February 4, 2015 Lech Wałęsa nominated Memorial International for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize [22]


Confiscation of digital archive

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".[23][24]

Officially, the raid was in relation to an article published in the Novy Peterburg newspaper in June 2007.[25] 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.[7][26] According to writer Orlando Figes, the raid "was clearly intended to intimidate Memorial".[27] 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."[27] The raid also prompted an open letter to Dmitry Medvedev from academics from all over the world, condemning the seizure.[7] 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."[7]

On March 20, 2009, the court of Dzerzhinsky District decided that the search on December 4, 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,[28][29][30] and eventually the 12 hard drives, as well as optical discs and some papers, were returned to Memorial[31][2].

Activities in Chechnya

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.[32] It is suggested her death is connected to her investigations of government-backed militias in the country.[33] Memorial's chairman Oleg Orlov accused Ramzan Kadyrov of being behind the murder,[34] and claimed that Kadyrov had openly threatened her.[35] Kadyrov denied his involvement[36] and sued Memorial for defamation, targeting Orlov personally with his complaint.[36][37]

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."[38]

Foreign agent

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.[39] 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.[40][41]

Possible closure

The Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov has called for Memorial to be liquidated and the society will face a Supreme Court hearing on the possible closure on 13 November 2014. The lawsuit concerns technical details over the legal registration of Memorial.[42][43]



  1. MEMORIAL Charter
  2. Жертвы политического террора в СССР (in Russian)
  3. Исторические программы общества "Мемориал" (in Russian)
  4. FAQ about Memorial
  5. BBC
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Timesonline – Gulag files seized during police raid on rights group
  8. A national museum to the victims of Stalinist repression: words not deeds?,
  9. На Ржевском полигоне почтили память жертв «красного террора»
  10. 10.0 10.1 Andrei Sakharov, Gorky, Moscow, Later Everywhere, 1990, Chekhov Publishing Corp. (Russian edition), pp. 101–102
  11. Sakharov, Andrei (1991). Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989. Antonina Bouis (trans.). Knopf. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-394-58797-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Civil Rights Defense Center "MEMORIAL"
  13. Memorial Charter
  14. Memorial-Italia
  15. 2004 Right Livelihood Award: Memorial (Russia)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "Russia rights group wins EU prize". BBC. 22 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Political Sakharov Prize Goes To Russian Rights Activists". Forex TV. 22 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Russia's Memorial group wins EU's Sakharov Prize". RIA Novosti. 22 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Wałęsa: Do pokojowej nagrody Nobla nominuję stowarzyszenie "Memoriał" (Polish)
  23. Galpin, Richard. Stalin's new status in Russia. BBC. December 27, 2008.
  24. Report on the December 2008 raid on Memorial's St Petersburg office
  25. Memorial will have the property back but not the reputation, Fontanka.Ru, January 20, 2009 (in Russian)
  27. 27.0 27.1 Guardian
  28. 'Memorial' reverted the searches, Kommersant, March 21, 2008 (in Russian)
  29. HDDs will be returned to "Memorial" in presence of the Ombudsman, Fontanka.Ru, March 27, 2009 (in Russian)
  30. Memorial Vindicated Again, by Sean Guillory, March 31, 2009
  31. Memorial got back its confiscated HDDs, Lenizdat.Ru, May 6, 2009 (in Russian)
  32. "Vow to catch Chechnya assassins". BBC News. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. 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.
  35. [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."
  36. 36.0 36.1 Chechen leader sues rights group after activist murder, AFP, 18 July 2009. Retrieved on 19 July 2009.
  37. Schwirtz, Michael. Chechen Leader Sues Over Accusations of Ordering Activist’s Death , The New York Times, 18 July 2009. Retrieved on 20 July 2009.
  38. BBC
  39. "Мосгорсуд нашел в деятельности "Мемориала" признаки иностранного агента"
  40. Service, RFE/RL's Russian (2015-11-10). "Russian Justice Ministry Accuses Memorial Of Calling For Regime Change". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2015-11-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Hille, Kathrin (2015-11-10). "Russia accuses human rights group of seeking regime change". Financial Times. ISSN 0307-1766. Retrieved 2015-11-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Rainsford, Sarah (30 October 2014). "Russian Soviet-era remembrance group Memorial risks closure". BBC. Retrieved 31 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. Birnbaum, Michael (13 October 2014). "Russia's Justice Ministry targets Memorial, a human rights defender". Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>