This news is not new, nor it is — alas — very surprising. But it is terrible nonetheless. Acting on what appear to be very trumped up charges, Russian authorities raided the offices of the St. Petersburg based human rights group Memorial in mid-December and seized the extensive files Memorial has gathered on the history of the Gulag in the former Soviet Union. Memorial is our partner on the Gulag: Many Lives, Many Days project.
This seizure included the removal of hard drives containing data Memorial has gathered on tens of thousands of victims of the Gulag and was in the process of making available through their Virtual Gulag Museum. For now, the website remains up and running, but the underlying data — much, if not most, of which is still not available online — is now in the hands of a prosecutor and, we can only assume, now removed from public view until such time as the political winds start blowing a different way in Russia.
This shameful act by the Russia authorities — masked men raiding a human rights organization doing nothing more damaging than documenting crimes of a former regime — means that there is now almost no way for citizens of the former Soviet Union to access information on the Gulag. Even more chilling, however, is the message it sends. At a time when Stalin was recently voted the third most important figure in Russian history (never mind the irony that he was a Georgian), anyone in Russia thinking of working on a project that might be haunted by Stalin’s ghost will now have to think twice before going forward.