Russian Court Closes Memorial International, 2021 Michalski Prize Winner

From Publishing Perspectives:

On November 23, Publishing Perspectives reported that the Russian human-rights-defense organization and publisher Memorial International had been made the winner of the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature.

Today (December 28), Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova at Reuters Moscow report that Russia’s supreme court has ordered Memorial International to disband “for breaking a law requiring it to act as a ‘foreign agent.’”

The Michalski award named Memorial and four contributors–Alena Kozlova, Nikolai Mikhailov, Irina Ostrovskaya, and Irina Scherbakova–for a book called Знак не сотрется: Судьбы остарбайтеров в письмах, воспоминаниях и устных рассказа. It’s translated from Russian by Georgia Thomson as The Sign Will Not Be Erased: Letters, Memoirs and Stories from Ostarbeiter in Nazi Germany. Thomson’s English-language translation was released on November 18 by Granta Books at 496 pages.

The publication of the honored book–OST is for Ostarbeiter–was not a casual foray into publishing for Memorial International. In the organization’s mission statement, the first line says that Memorial International “reveals, publishes, and critically interprets information on crimes and mass human rights violations committed by totalitarian regimes in the past and carrying direct or indirect consequences in the present.”

. . . .

Today’s news of Russia’s dissolution order for Memorial International–part of a process that had begun earlier (before its Michalski win), with the designation of Memorial International in Russia as a ‘foreign agent.’ The culminating ruling from the court has triggered unusually robust international reportage. The organization has had standing chapters not only in Russia but also in Belarus, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Ukraine. And Moscow’s move to shutter it is not going down quietly in world reportage.

Osborn, who is Reuters’ Russian bureau chief, writes that the court order “caps a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics unseen since the Soviet era.”

At the Associated Press, Dasha Litvinova describes the supreme court’s move is part of “a relentless crackdown on rights activists, independent media, and opposition supporters,” and writes that the court ruling has “sparked international outrage. Memorial is made up of more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad,” Litvinova writes. “It was declared a ‘foreign agent’ in 2016—a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit the targeted organization.

“Prosecutors said the group repeatedly failed to identify itself as a foreign agent and tried to conceal the designation, accusations rejected by Memorial.”

In Germany, Deutsche Welle writes, “The organization faced charges under the Russia’s controversial NGO [non-governmental organization] laws, which demands groups which are funded from abroad to clearly mark all their material as issued by a ‘foreign agent.’”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Passive Voice is not a blog about politics or international affairs, but PG has been disturbed about a number of reports coming out of Russia and China that make it appear that the bad old days of Communism, including Dictators for Life, has returned to these two nations.

8 thoughts on “Russian Court Closes Memorial International, 2021 Michalski Prize Winner”

    • That’s not what has happened. Memorial International has been shut down altogether by the Russian government.

      Criticism of the regime will not be tolerated.

      • I said “on the face of it.” Undoubtedly, the critical stance they took on Putin was the actual motivation – but they were apparently violating the law about identifying themselves as a foreign agent.

        There are similar laws here in the US, but applying more to individuals, not organizations. And, yes, you can be shut down altogether (along with massive fines and possible jail time), if the powers that be want to nail you for it.

    • For me, that’s a slippery slope in nations with a history of dictatorship.

      There are more than a few of those types of governments that use the arrest-first, find a crime later approach.

      I would be surprised if there are not a lot of people who have received money from organizations or governments located outside of Russia who haven’t been arrested because they’re part of the nomenklatura. Indeed, I would be surprised if bribing one or more government officials is a simple cost of doing business in many places. Otherwise, how would Putin, who has spent his entire adult life in government, beginning with the KGB upon graduation from Leningrad State University (he was a law student).

      • PG, it doesn’t require a history of dictatorship. Only a widespread unequal application of the law – which happens in democracies and republics also.

        (Nor, although the most recent blatant cases of such happen to involve one party/ideology, is it limited to such. Once an “untouchable” class of any kind is allowed to establish itself, the society is in trouble.)

  1. That esteemed political commentator P.D.B. Townsend presciently remarked upon this in the 1960s:

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    There are centuries of history of authoritarianism to overcome east of the Vistula. All the way east to the Pacific. Color me Entirely Unsurprised (which used to be in the Crayola 256-color selection but was removed in 2000) that there’s backsliding.

    It could be worse. A little bit farther south, there are centuries of history of theocracy to overcome — and many of the worst actors aren’t even trying to pretend to overcome them.

    • In my projections, I see three Islamic theocracies becoming major powers: a Califate, a Sultanate, and an Umma. The only question Ihave so far is where the Califate will be headquatered; Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi.
      The second half of the century is not going to be any better than the first half. Lots of self-destructive societies.

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