Staunton, October 11 – The legal theory underlying the Russian justice ministry’s suit to shut down the Memorial Human Rights Society is taken not from any law but rather from the Soviet-era practice of democratic centralism, which most people had thought a dead letter since the demise of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
That practice, which was the norm in Soviet times, specified that Communists participate in discussions and elections but must obey decisions taken at higher ones, would, if restored in the Russian Federation now, destroy far more than Memorial. It would destroy any possibility of democracy and federalism in that country.
In a statement issued today, Memorial made that assertion in the course of a discussion of the case and the coverage it has received in government media over the last 24 hours, coverage that it said like the government’s suit itself contained not only “ill-intentioned lies” but “illiterate” ones as well (memo.ru/d/212424.html).
On the one hand, the media coverage claimed that the Memorial Human Rights Center supports “extremists and terrorists.” And on the other, it says that the Justice Ministry is seeking the liquidation not of the Memorial Human Rights Center but the Memorial Russian Historical-Enlightenment, and Human Rights Society.
That society was registered with the Russian justice ministry in 1992 and since that time has united “various ‘Memorial’ organizations acting in various regions of Russia and involving themselves with human rights, charitable and historical-enlightenment work,” the Memorial statement says.
Two years ago, 20 years after its registration, the justice ministry “suddenly” raised questions about its “all-Russian status,” even though nothing had changed in the composition of its member organizations.
What has changed, Memorial says, is “the position of the Justice Ministry which decided to again impose ‘democratic centralism’ which supposedly had lost any importance after the elimination of the leading role of the CPSU” at the end of Soviet times. Thus, the ministry said Memorial could claim as part of its organization “only those public unions which include in their names” an indication that they are part of the Memorial Society.
From the point of view of the ministry, Memorial said, “the legal requirement that an all-Russian status presupposes the presence of its structural subdivisions in more than half of the subjects of the Federation” is irrelevant. Instead, the ministry demands that these groups “have the formal status of regional” branches of the all-Russian organization.
Such a requirement has no legal foundation, Memorial continued, noting that when it requested a citation of the law under which this suit is being brought, the justice ministry could not supply it. And the organization said it was “impermissible” that the justice ministry is thus seeking to “limit the constitutional right of citizens to organize” in this way.
Russian Memorial, its statement said, will in the near future -- and presumably before the November trial date of the ministry’s suit – appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court, where it continued it hoped to find “greater respect for the law and the Constitution than is being shown in lower level judicial institutions.”