Once people began to learn the details of the deaths of their ancestors, their first question in many cases she says was “where are they buried?” During the 1990s, some 120 mass graves were identified, Irina Fliga of Memorial says; but taking the next step of identifying individual victims was hampered by lack of records and the resistance of the authorities and the church.
Moreover, many cases – and Platonova documents some of these – officials had already constructed buildings or roads over the sites, making it even more difficult to treat the victims of Stalin with the respect that they deserve. And things have only gotten worse in recent years with the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church throwing up roadblocks of various kinds.
Some other countries whose populations were victimized by Stalin’s system have shown that it is possible to address this problem more adequately, with Lithuania and Poland being two prominent examples where governments have taken active roles in protecting the graves and identifying as many of the bodies as possible, Platonova says.
Unfortunately, in Russia, one can count on one’s hands the few cases of professional exhumation and personal identification. But what may be even worse, Flige adds, is that “in Russia, there is still no public demand for the personal identification of those who were shot.” There is no agreement among Russians even that every victim should have the right to a grave.