Staunton, October 28 – Last week, the Russian Constitutional Court heard the appeal of three ethnic German women whose families were deported from Moscow by Stalin on ethnic grounds but whom the city authorities in Moscow, in spite of Russian law on the rights of the deported to return, have erected so many barriers to them that they have not been able to.
For the first time in almost a quarter of a century, the Constitutional Court has heard a case concerning the rights of deported to return. In the 1990s, Yekaterina Butorina of Profile says, such cases were commonplace but not since then (profile.ru/society/vpervye-za-chetvert-veka-konstitucionnyj-sud-zanyalsya-zashhitoj-zhertv-stalinskix-repressij-188529/).
One of the cases of the 1990s, in 1995, had the court declare that the children of those deported had the same right of return as their parents, even if they were born somewhere else. The three cases before the court now involve children as few of the original deportees remain alive.
And even they, the journalist says, are declining in number. As of January 1, 2019, there were some 530,000 citizens of the Russian Federation who had the status of being victims of political repressions. That is 60,000 fewer than two years earlier, and the rate of the decline of this pool will only accelerate with each passing year.
That means that those like the three women in this case who are still in exile are running out of time. Under the 1991 law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression, they should not have had any difficulty going home; but the fact that they still aren’t back is a product of the complex legal changes of the last 30 years.
Until 2005, the federal authorities supervised this process and directed the federal subjects how to treat returnees and the order they were to be offered housing and other amenities. But in that year, Moscow handed off responsibility in this area to the regions and republics, and they took one of three paths forward.
Some adopted special laws; others amended existing reginal legislation, both to bring their arrangements int line with the 1991 law. But there was a third group, including Moscow, the object of this case, that did not adopt new laws but rather threw up all kinds of obstacles to the return of the children of those deported.
As a result, Butorina says, is that in Moscow, “the right of return” came to be understood quite narrowly: if people had already returned and lived ten years of more in the city, then they could aspire to an apartment; but without any special advantages, something that meant many would not live long enough to get an apartment from the state as the 1991 law requires.
The federal authorities both legislative and executive appear to be on the side of the women; but Moscow is arguing that if it gives privileges to the politically repressed, it will have to discriminate against the disabled. But what appears to be the case is that the Russian capital is seeking to run out the clock, outlasting those who have the right to claim the right of return.