Mourning in silence, rejoicing aloud

A large memorial complex devoted to the victims of political repressions will be built in Moscow. Moreover, it will be located not in the suburbs, but in the city center. This follows enactment of changes in the Russian legislation, which gives authorities the right to support citizens’ initiative in preserving the memory of victims of political repressions (identifying mass graves, creating memorial places, researching information in the archives, etc.). Draft law “On countering rehabilitation of the crimes of the Stalinist totalitarian regime (Stalinism)” was also introduced into the State Duma.

However, although these recent developments ought to demonstrate the government’s efforts to condemn Stalinism, they in fact look pale against the background of other recent events. Here and there in Russia museums devoted to Stalin are being opened, his busts are installed in public places, and in Arkhangelsk a full scale monument to the dictator is going to be cast and installed on the same square which features a monument commemorating his victims. It would seem that these events are mere initiatives of private persons (or “citizens’ initiatives”), which are not officially supported by the federal government, but in the case of repressed peoples, unfortunately, Stalinism and its contemporary mediated forms seem to be winning.

On February 23 Chechen authorities celebrated first and foremost the Army Day, decorating the servicemen of the law enforcement ministries with awards, and only briefly mentioning that on the same day deportation of Chechen and Ingush people also happened. The rhetoric of the official speeches was rather bizarre: “Today is a national holiday – our people endured unjust persecution, though they had defended their land – our situation in the 1990s was similar to the one in the 1940s – but thanks to the defenders of the Motherland today Chechen people once again live in peace and happiness”. Broad public discussion of the tragic events of 1944 doesn’t take place, mass commemoration rallies not only do not take place, but are in fact being banned, and a local journalist and social activist Ruslan Kutaev was detained for holding a conference on the 70th anniversary of deportation of Chechens.

The memorial dedicated to the victims of deportation was dismantled in 2014, its fragments were transferred to the memorial dedicated to the law enforcement officers who died on duty (human rights defender Natalia Estemirova had protested against this dismantling at the time, but later she was abducted and killed for her human rights work). If we think about it, the most recent persecutions of human rights defenders and journalists in Chechnya are also part of the same sad logic: human rights defenders try to defend the very same Chechens, who are victims of the regime, which is the heir of Stalin’s totalitarian regime, in spite of all the rhetorical figures. In the past whole ethnic groups were unjustly accused of “collaboration” with Nazis and “complicity” in their crimes, but today we witness some very real “collaboration” in Chechnya, thus Chechnya’s “ombudsman” Nurdi Nukhazhiyev publicly claimed that human rights defenders organized attacks on themselves in order to receive grants and prizes… Current Crimean authorities, same as in Chechnya, called on the population to “mourn solemnly and rejoice loudly” on the day of the deportation of Crimean Tatars on May 18th and neither in 2014, nor in 2015 public events were not allowed on that day, although they had become traditional before the annexation of Crimea. This was done in spite of the fact that the Russian president issued a decree on the rehabilitation of victims of deportation of Crimean Tatars and called to assist in the organization of commemorative events (at least, he did so in 2014 when the 70th anniversary of deportation was to be commemorated). But what kind of commemoration and rehabilitation can we talk about, while the authorities try to ban the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people for refusing complicity in the actions of the imposed, but not recognized new Crimean authorities?

There are too many events in our current life, which were determined by an evil will in the past as huge masses of population throughout the XX century were forcibly moved from east to west or from west to east. Besides the forced relocations and displacements that have affected everyone without exception (during Second world war and evacuation or the repression against the peasants, the Gulag, etc.), this evil will was also rather selective: out of 52 deportation campaigns in 1928-1953 38 were based on ethnicity. Even the mere list of all orders on deportation is very impressive: it alone occupies a few pages, not to mention that the full text of all deportation orders published together makes a 900-page book. While one can hear at least something about the repressed Crimean Tatars and Vainakhs (Chechens and Ingushs) in the media, there are whole ethnic groups about whose repression ordinary citizens in our country do not know anything.

For example, the Koreans, who were the victims of the first ethnic mass deportation in the USSR (first plans for deportation of Koreans from the Far East date back to the late 1920s, and in 1937, even before the war and “deportations in retaliation”, which involved several ethnic groups from the Caucasus and the Kalmyks, more than 172,000 Koreans were deported to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, while more than 28,000 people died in the course of deportation). Although there is a special decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation dated April 1, 1993 “On the rehabilitation of Russian Koreans”, the latter have not returned to the territory of their former residence, neither they received any privileges for settling in other parts of Russia. Following the collapse of the USSR migration of Koreans has increased (however, not to the Far East, where the descendants of the deportees already didn’t have any connections, nor have they received any public assistance in settling there, but for the most part to the European regions of Russia). During the years of exile Koreans lost their mother tongue and switched to Russian language. While trying to re-settle in Russia, they found themselves in a very peculiar situation: belonging historically to a specific ethnic culture, they later adopted Russian culture, but in Russia itself they belong to a visual minority and have re-settled there from Central Asian countries . Therefore, in Russia, they are faced with the same challenges as many other immigrants: xenophobia, racism, difficulties in acquiring citizenship or other legal status.

In 2011 Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” started a special project devoted to legal aid to ethnic Koreans. It was then that we discovered the stories of dozens of people, the descendants of deportees, who were trying to obtain Russian citizenship and often could not succeed. A common question was asked by lawyers back then: do you have any privileges when applying for Russian citizenship? Sadly, Russia has never accepted responsibility for the broken lives of a whole ethnic group. I remember an interview with an elderly Korean woman, who found herself in Smolensk at an old age. Every year on October 30 she attended commemoration of the victims of repression of Koreans in the Katyn memorial. For several years she struggled in court for her rehabilitation and said that “rehabilitation was received only by those who were able to insist, but it was only granted on an individual basis, while earlier repressions were held in a mass fashion”. One of the consequences of Stalin’s deportation that remains until now is the problem of stateless persons, and members of ethnic minorities are more vulnerable in this situation because they were deported to former Soviet republics, which became independent states after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People with residence permits issued in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan find it very difficult to legalize themselves in Russia. Until now many people belonging to ethnic minority groups remain stateless persons – their Soviet passports had never been recognized as valid and they still cannot prove their right to Russian citizenship.

The fate of Roman Kim, an ethnic Korean, is very illustrative in this respect. Kim was born in Uzbekistan, but since 1990 lived in Russian Federation and remained a stateless person as he didn’t have a valid identity card (Kim had been previously prosecuted for a criminal offense and this had greatly complicates his further legalization in Russia). As an “illegal alien” Kim was arrested and detained “with a view to further deportation” for more than two years, he had spend this time in an institution for temporary detention of foreign nationals in St. Petersburg. The European Court for Human Rights later found the conditions of detention in this center to be inhumane, while also condemned the absence of the opportunity to challenge the impossibility of deportation from the country, as no other country could accept a stateless person. Paradoxically, but even after Kim won the case at the ECtHR, he could not obtain a document legalizing his stay in Russia. The same problem is quoted by other persons without citizenship.

It appears that the Russian authorities prefer the only form of life for ethnic minorities, that of being of a “folkloric nation”, as was aptly expressed by Ahtem Chiygoz, one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatars, who was arrested on trumped-up political case of “February 26”. We can see a Roma folklore ensemble on stage for the International Romani Day on April 8 while thousands of Roma people suffer the consequences of the war in Donbass, or a festive lezginka dance on stage of the House of Nationalities and Peoples’ Friendship, but, please, do not even start to talk of human rights!

Olga Abramenko

This article was firstly published on the website of Radio Liberty

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