December 17, 2018

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Ceremony for Stalin Victims Is Blocked in Moscow, Group Says

Ceremony for Stalin Victims Is Blocked in Moscow, Group Says
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MOSCOW — Moscow officials have abruptly withdrawn permission for the annual commemoration of the victims of Stalinist repression that has been held at a memorial stone near the headquarters of the Russian intelligence services since 2007.

The human rights organization that organizes the event said on Friday that city officials had revoked permission, citing “repair and construction work that is threatening to daily life activities” at the site.

Descendants of the victims of Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror and opponents of Soviet repression usually gather for a stark ceremony on Oct. 29, during which they hold votive candles and read aloud the names, ages and professions of those who were killed. In 2017, 5,000 people attended the memorial, which lasted nearly 12 hours, according to news reports.

The event, called “Return of the Names,” has been held near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service on Lubyanka Square, with a microphone set up in front of the Solovetsky Stone from Solovki, one of the first Soviet concentration camps, which was a model for the Gulag prison system.

The stone is a monument to the victims of the Communist government in the Soviet Union. Across the street is the F.S.B. building, formerly K.G.B. headquarters, where prisoners were tortured and killed.

International Memorial, which oversees the event, announced in a statement on Friday that it had been negotiating with officials since the spring, and had been assured that construction at the site would not interfere. But a post on its Facebook page showed a letter it said it had received from the Moscow city government, denying permission for the event.

On Saturday, the site was fenced off and desolate, with construction equipment piled around and the Solovetsky Stone visible from a distance.

Memorial said the Moscow mayor’s office had called for a meeting at the memorial stone on Monday to determine a location for the event. It was not clear whether it would be near the stone or at an alternative site proposed by the city: A state-supported monument to victims of political repression.

But Memorial has rejected an alternative site, saying in its statement that the event is “inextricably” tied to the Solovetsky Stone.

“It is erected on Lubyanka Square, which in and of itself serves as a reminder of state terror,” Memorial said.

The media office of the prefecture that issued the decision repeated the offer of a new site in comments on Saturday, and said that it had “deep respect for the memory of victims of repression,” the Tass news agency reported.

Memorial, based in Moscow, began the event in the late 1980s, during the periods of glasnost and perestroika under President Mikhail Gorbachev, to catalog the crimes of Stalinism. The group was labeled a “foreign agent” by the Russia’s Ministry of Justice in 2016.

Yuri A. Dmitriev, a regional director of Memorial, who had spent decades digging up the remains of Stalin’s victims who were executed and buried in pits, is set to go on trial in Karelia, in northern Russia. Last April, after public outcry, he was cleared of child pornography charges, but the case against him was quickly reopened.

Colleagues say he has been targeted for his work.

Kirill Rogov, a political commentator, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday that officials’ attempt to squeeze the Memorial event out of Lubyanka Square was an obvious trial balloon.

“We need to know and not to hide our heads from one simple thing: If there is no event at the Solovetsky Stone this year — it will never be there again,” he wrote.

Activists point with alarm to the growing number of monuments to Stalin appearing around Russia. On Friday, Olga Romanova, the founder of a prisoners’ rights organization, posted a photo of a mural of Stalin on the wall of a new barbershop near her office.



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