Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Putin Call for Single Data Base on Political Repression Victims Faces Obstacles, Creates Problems

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – Vladimir Putin has directed the Presidential Administration together with the Russian State Archives, the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Penal Authority to consider creating a single data base of the victims of political repression and report back by October (

            In addition, he has asked this group to consider whether a new law is needed to define and protect mass graves of such prisoners and added his voice to calls by the city of Moscow, Moscow Oblast and the Moscow Patriarch to establish a museum at the Butovo site where many priests were executed (

            Putin’s actions came in response to a request by Roman Romanov, the director of the Museum of the History of the GULAG at a session of the Presidential Human Rights Council in December. But in doing so, the Kremlin leader noted that compiling such a list would be anything but easy.

            “We know how the NKVD worked in the 1930s,” Putin said; and there may be “compromising information” in the archives.” The central archives are accessible to researchers, but many in the regions, despite existing laws, are effectively closed making the compilation of such a list difficult.

            But the real problems lie elsewhere. Yekaterina Mishina, the coordinator of the Open List project, says that to compile such a data base would require that the FSB and Interior Ministry work closely with groups like Memorial whom the state has identified as “foreign agents.” That won’t be easy (

            “It is quite difficult to imagine cooperation of government structures and structures with such a label,” she says. But if that problem is overcome, “in the near future, we could obtain not only a general data base with personal data of the pressed but also open access to the archives of these agencies.”

            Unfortunately, that is only the beginning of the problem. If the state is involved, it will want to define who is the victim of political repression and who is not. Given the Putin regime’s justification of many of Stalin’s crimes, that will likely mean that many people who should be in the data base won’t be included.

            And if such a data base is created, it will no doubt be used not only to muddy the waters, challenging other lists and suggesting that only the government list is correct, but also allowing the authorities to argue that there is no need for other studies given that it has already done what is necessary.
            Thus, what may look to be a positive step forward could end by being another Kremlin means to limit coverage of the crimes of the Soviet system and of course its own as well.

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