Repressions as the way of living

On the eve of the Memorial Day of the victims of the political repressions in Russia, 29 October, here in London, in Moscow and in many other cities of Russia and around the world, we hold the annual “Returning the names” event.

As the matter of fact, this year there were two such events in London. But the traditional one, and quite strongly attended in spite of week-day, after-hours and freezing conditions, were held at the Yalta Memorial, an unassuming sculpture in the centre of the small garden in front of the Victoria & Albert museum. Created by the British sculptor Angela Conner, the memorial symbolically commemorates people displaced as a result of the Yalta Conference at the conclusion of the Second World War. It is called “Twelve Responses to Tragedy”.

I have a strong belief, that there is no proper response to this tragedy, the victims of which we are coming to remember every year at this improvised “Solovetsky Stone”. Every year, reading about the forced repatriation on the nationality ground of the entire villages, or about executions of semi-literate peasants or working-men, charged with espionage for other countries, which they have not even heard about, thinking of all those cut off or broken lives, of terrible tragedies behind each of those lives, I can’t exactly describe my emotional response to it. Disbelief? Perplexity? Shock? Anger? Hatred? All those emotions I saw in people who attended the event? I do not know.

One elderly woman was standing at the Memorial for the whole evening, despite the piercing dank weather. She could not read the names because of some throat condition. She stood there, perfectly still, not far from those, who read the names from the list, and listened to them very closely as if they have been reading an interesting book. She seemed like she was standing guard.

The other, almost an old lady, was stoically reading page by page of the List, not stopping even for the minute to catch her breath, not showing even a little fatigue. An incredible performance!

A young woman came with her little daughter last year, and, while her mom was reading the names, the girl was chasing pigeons around the memorial and was arranging fresh tulips placed at it. This year the young mom has come with two little girls, the other one was born since the last event. The baby girl got frozen a bit while waiting their turn with her mom and her big sister, so she started to cry. Her Mom took her and calmly finished her reading routine, while the baby was playing with the phone lights, pointing to the list for a better view. It looked surreal.

I even got the thought, that my son, generally speaking, has grown up at such events. We have started to participate while he was still a teenager. Now, he is beaded young man of almost twenty, knowingly working through the sad routine.

It is impossible to ever get used to it. It is impossible to fathom or to accept it.

One friend of mine, Tatiana May, publicist and city-guide from St-Petersburg, quoted: ‘From the recorded memories of Boris Sokolov, regarding the cellmates from his cell number 9 (1937): Sobotinsky, 90 years old ex-Consul to the Persia, Zann, the ex-member of the Senate, same age, who were submissively  signing everything. Colonel Gvozdovsky, on the other hand, had signed the indictment, according to which he had stood with the bomb, allegedly getting ready to kill, at the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Sadovaya Street. Lately, however, he was told to change the address of the alleged terroristic attack in his testimony. And that is when Gvozdovsky had stuck his heels in. “No!” — he said. — “I actually got used to the idea of standing with the bomb exactly at the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Sadovaya Street!”.

From other memories.

‘There were a lot of actors too. They took them closely-grouped — 19 actors and other theatre’ staff — all, of course, Japanese spies, infiltrators, terrorists, who were planning the terrorist attack on comrade Zhdanov as well as the acts of sabotages at the Kirov theatre and at the Pushkin theatre. All of the alleged terrorists were going to coincide with 20th anniversary of the October revolution. They all were executed on the ground of these charges.

Lev Vitels, the lead actor of the Kirov theatre, prominent opera singer, was among them. The prosecutor on the case had forced the singer’s wife to have sex with him. Her husband was already executed by then, but the prosecutor intentionally forgot to mention that, in case she would refuse him. His surname was Slepnev. And that was the same prosecutor who tortured Alexandra Ljubarskaya, the translator of "Nils".

For many years we have been looking into this abyss. Will we fathom it one day? Will we realise the true scale of the tragedy which had befallen our country? The further we go, the stronger the feeling, that we have wrongly perceived the meaning of the word “occupation”. In my opinion, it was then, during this dark period of total terror, my country was under the occupation of the hangmen and torturers of all kinds, led by their moustached mastermind.

Sometimes, I think that this occupation isn’t over yet. Igor Kononko, who organised the event, pointed out an even more frightening thought. Here we are, standing at the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow, or at the Yalta Memorial in London, or anywhere else, where history considers with what we have for it in our hearts — many of us the very same victims of the political repressions.

Some of those, standing at the Stone in Russia, are being constantly persecuted for participating in the anti-Government rallies, for publishing anti-Putin content on their social networks pages. Some of us, who stood here, at the Yalta Memorial in London, have fled Russia avoiding the persecution for the political or economic reasons. We, who are being repressed now, are reading the names of them, who were repressed then.

What is wrong with our country? Are we cursed with this cycle of repressions in history? Will it ever end? There are victims in the official lists of the “Memorial” society of Russia, whose rehabilitation dated by 2006 and later. It is even possible, that the very same judges who are signing rehabilitative decisions regarding the cases for victims of political repressions of the last century, by one hand, while delivering new verdicts to victims of the new century. Which is unbelievable and frightening, in its prosiness, thought.

It is even possible to imagine our children, coming to the memorials, all familiar with the routine, to read our names. This is too painful to imagine though.

We ought to not forget. We ought to not let that happen again. This story ought to end with us.

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