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Russia honors victims of political repression

October 29, 17:35 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The commemoration dates back to the events of October 30, 1974, when Soviet political prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest political persecution in the USSR

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An event commemorating the victims of political repressions by the Solovetsky Stone monument in Lubyanka Square in Moscow
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS
© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

MOSCOW, October 29. /TASS/. October 30 is an annual day of remembrance for victims of political repressions, officially established by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR [Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] on October 18, 1991.

This day in history

The commemoration dates back to the events of October 30, 1974, when political prisoners of camps in Mordovia and Perm, as well as the Vladimir Central Prison, went on hunger strike to protest political persecution in the Soviet Union. Dissidents Kronid Lyubarsky and Alexei Murzhenko initiated the hunger strike. Meanwhile, on October 30, Russian nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov organized a press conference in Moscow in collaboration with the USSR Committee on Human Rights, during which they informed foreign media about the hunger strike.

Up until 1986, prisoners held numerous protests on this day. About 300 prisoners took part in the strikes in the year 1981.

On October 18, 1991, Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin signed a law "On rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions", aimed at rehabilitating Soviet citizens persecuted by the state. On the same day, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR established the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repressions.

Victims of political repressions

The exact number of people politically repressed in the USSR remains under discussion to this day. Two approaches exist to measure the total number of victims. The first one suggests that politically repressed people are those charged and imprisoned due to political motives. According to this approach, the number of politically repressed persons in the USSR varies from four to six million people.

Another, more extensive approach lists victims of political repression as people denied citizen and social rights due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs, people who suffered after Stalin’s policy of collectivization (consolidation of individual landholdings into collective farms), and people displaced on the basis of their nationality. The numbers according to this approach result several times higher.

In 2001, then-Chairman of the Commission for Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression Alexander Yakovlev stated that "about 32 million people were politically repressed, including 13 million during the Civil War." The Russian human rights group Memorial informs that from 1921 to 1953, about 11-12 million people fell victim to political repressions. Historian Viktor Zemskov estimates the number of victims at 10 million people, including 2.5 million peasants forced to relocate to remote areas of the USSR in the 1930s and the 1940s.

Rehabilitation

The process of the victims’ rehabilitation began after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. Special commissions were formed to oversee all existing cases related to "counter-revolutionary crimes". According to historian Olga Lavinskaya, 337,183 cases were considered before March 1956. The commissions made a decision to dismiss the case or to shorten the prison sentence in 153,502 cases. However, only 14,338 prisoners (4.2%) underwent full rehabilitation - that is, the commission deemed their sentence unlawful.

First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev first proposed the idea to erect monuments to victims of political repressions in 1961. During that period, museums and archives began to collect memoirs and personal data of people persecuted or killed in the USSR. From 1954 to 1961, 737 thousand people underwent rehabilitation, some of them posthumously, while 208 thousand were denied rehabilitation.

In the mid-1960s, the mass rehabilitation process had stopped. From 1962 to 1986, about 157 thousand political prisoners were rehabilitated.

In August 1990, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree on restoring the rights of all victims of political repressions of the 1920s-1950s. Over one million people were rehabilitated only from 1987 to 1990.

The law signed in 1991 declared that all victims of political repressions in the USSR must undergo rehabilitation. The document states that persons who suffered as a result of "various coercive measures", including imprisonment, execution, or expulsion, are considered victims of political repressions. The law is applicable not only to the victims of repressions, but also to their children and close relatives.

On December 2, 1992, the Commission for Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression was established. The commission reports that in the period from 1991 to 2014, over three million people were rehabilitated.

Lists of victims

Up until the end of the 1980s, the information about politically persecuted citizens was strictly confidential. In 1988-1989, the media first started to publish lists of victims. Many Russian regions, along with the Memorial human rights organization, began to establish memorial books, which included the victims’ names and short biographies. In 1998, a united database of USSR’s political victims was established. As of October 2018, it includes over three million entries.

On October 30, several events will take place in memory of the victims of political repressions. Various schools will hold special classes, inviting witnesses of the tragic events to talk with students.

On October 29, the Memorial human rights organization is holding the annual "Returning the Names" commemoration at the Solovetsky Stone in Lubyanka Square. From 10am to 10pm, people read out the names of victims of the Soviet Great Terror.

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