10/31/2017, 12.28
RUSSIA
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A 'Wailing Wall' in memory of Soviet terror

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Memorial Day of Victims of Political Repression marked yesterday. It is estimated that at least 20 million people were sentenced to detention, without counting prisoners, prisoners of war, and interns in psychiatric hospitals. A bronze barrier with the word "Remember" in 22 languages ​​and with stones from the detention sites of the whole country. Controversy on a monument to Solzhenitsyn.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Yesterday, throughout the country, the Day of Memory for Victims of Political Repressions was marked, a milestone in reconciliation with the tragic story that began 100 years ago with the October Revolution. The victims refer mainly to periods of "red terror" proclaimed right after the revolution itself and during the civil war between whites and reds (1918-1921), and that of Stalin's "great terror" from 1937 to 1939.

The number of victims of Soviet repression has never been officially established. The calculation must take into account not only the periods mentioned, but the entire 75 years of the Communist dictatorship. According to the official documents of the political police (in its various names of Ogpu, Nkvd, Mvd and Kgb) between 1930 and 1953, the year of Stalin's death, three hundred million people were sentenced for political reasons, and between 1923 and 1953, 800,000 people were shot; figures impressive in themselves, but according to historians definitely well below correct estimates.

The Association "Memorial", which deals with rehabilitation and documentation of persecution, has been able to confirm information regarding about 2.6 million citizens of the USSR, establishing their identity, arrest and sentencing, but many victims remain confined to oblivion. Among the most prominent Russian historians, Okhotin and Roginsky believe that from 1921 to 1953 there were 5.5 million condemned "politically"; according to other more general estimates, no less than 20 million people passed through Stalin’s lagers, without counting those in confinement, the prisoners of war and the interns in psychiatric hospitals.

The Russian state has neither confronted or sought to deal with  the gathering of information on lagers and repressions- even after the end of communism -  leaving this task to associations such as Memorial and others. The secret archives have been accessible only for a few years, and the Orthodox Church has for some time stopped proclaiming the "new martyrs" because of the impossibility of proceeding with archive research.

Meanwhile, at the main concentration camps - what Solzhenitsyn called "Gulag Archipelago" – events and ceremonies are held on a more or less regular basis, such as in the Butovo field on the outskirts of Moscow, or in the Sandormokh Forest, the preferred location for the mass execution by firing squads of priests and bishops detained in the lager of the Solovki islands. The orthodox monks of Solovki, on the other hand, have erased all memories of the prisoners, considering them an offense to the holiness of the place.

Symbols of memory

On Memorial Day, a monument to the victims of political repression Moscow was placed in the center of in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and the Moscow Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev). The work called "Wailing Wall" (Stena Skorbi in Russian) was chosen among 300 projects presented. Made by the sculptor Georgij Franguljan, this is a bronze barrier on which human figures are represented, among which there are panels with the word "Remember" in 22 languages, recalling the many nationalities of repressed Soviet citizens. Standing stones will be elevated around the sculpture, which according to the author must mean that "we must live standing, not kneeling." The stones will be taken from all the places of imprisonment scattered around the country.

On the occasion of the ceremonies for the persecuted, the controversy over a project to make a monument to the memory of the writer Aleksandr Solženicyn, narrator of prisoners of the lagers, has been re-ignited. The idea was advanced by an dissident poet Vitold Abalkin and former detainee, to the Rostov-on-Don city authorities in 2013, and since then the nation has been divided  over the great writer . The name of Solzhenitsyn has been renowned all over the world since the 1970s, when he received the Nobel Prize for novel Ivan Denisovič, a novel that describes life in the lager. He was then expelled from the country in 1974, when he began Archipelago Gulag, based on memories of prisoners from all over the country. The writer returned to Russia in 1994, and was one of the inspirers of President Putin's nationalist politics. Yet, for a large part of public opinion, he remains a "traitor of the homeland", one of the largest culprits in the crisis and the end of the Soviet Union, for which are still nostalgic. The Abalkin monument should be ready for the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth, which will take place in 2018 and will be another occasion for reconciliation of Russia's historic memory.

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