Russians gather against totalitarianism

 

Moscow

The muddy slush numbed the feet. Voices trembled, not because of the freezing cold but because of the weight of their words.

Russians gathered Monday in the shadow of the building where Stalin's secret police drew up their death lists, and spoke the names of the murdered.

Members of the Memorial human rights society, relatives of victims and others come here once a year to stand near the Solovetsky Stone, brought from the White Sea island where the Soviets organized their first prison camp in 1923, and read from a list of the 30,000 Muscovites executed in 1937 and 1938.

This year, the reading had more than the usual resonance. Opponents of President Vladimir Putin have been saying that his crackdown on political opposition reminds them of those two years, the worst of Stalin's terror, when 1.7 million Russians were arrested and at least 725,000 of them shot. Others were sent to the gulag.

"No," said Vladimir Kantovsky, an 89-year-old survivor of the camps, after he had read four names of the dead and placed a candle next to the stone. "It cannot be compared. You cannot even imagine what it was like."

He pointed across the square to the Lubyanka, now the home of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB. "There were guards there with knives," he said. "People wouldn't even walk near the building, they were so terrified."

Even so, Kantovsky said, it was more important than ever to read the names. "We must make people remember," he said. "We can't let them forget. If they do, it can happen again."

Memorial organized the first reading in 2007, the 70th anniversary of the terror. The names are read on the eve of Oct. 30, the day set aside to remember victims of political repression. The names, along with the their age, profession and date of execution, are read to defy a totalitarian system that tried to obliterate its victims — relatives of the executed often did not know when they died or where they were buried.

"It is our duty to return their names to them," said Yelena Zhemkova, Memorial's executive director.

Memorial has been working for years to build a database of the victims of Soviet-era repression and was among the agencies supported by funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which the Russian government forced out of the country as of Oct. 1.

A 45-year-old village laborer, a 52-year-old employee of a brick factory, a 42-year-old accountant, a 40-year-old newspaper editor, a 22-year-old unemployed man. The names went on and on. The reading began at 10 a.m. and would end at 10 p.m., still not enough time for every name.

Kantovsky was a 17-year-old high school student when he was arrested in 1941 for passing out leaflets defending his history teacher, who had been arrested. He spent time in six different prisons and camps, including the Lubyanka, and served on the front in World War II with a penal battalion. After the war, he finished his sentence and then spent five years in Siberian exile, finally gaining his freedom in 1956. He returned to school at age 33 and got an engineering degree. His old teacher, Pavel Dukovsky, had died in April 1942 near Nizhny Novgorod.

"Why were they arrested?" he asked rhetorically. "Why were they executed? Stalin did not like people to think and have their own opinions."

Natalya Leleka, a teacher, read four names, all young men named Alexeyev, none of them related. "It's important for our children and our grandchildren to remember," she said. "I'm here so those times won't be repeated."

After reading her names, 84-year-old Marina Lukoyanova squeezed the arm of an American reporter and thanked the United States for its support of dissidents during the dark Soviet years.

"Get ready," she said, smiling. "We may all have to start leaving for America again."

A framed picture of a handsome young man hung from a cord around her neck. It was her father, a scientist executed in 1938 at age 34 because he was Latvian. He was rounded up with thousands of other Latvians in Moscow by Stalin's paranoid henchmen.

"They arrested writers, poets, researchers," Lukoyanova said. "They were murdering the intelligentsia, the same kind of people who are in prison today."

Now, protesters who demonstrated against Putin on the eve of his presidential inauguration in May are being prosecuted.

"They are suffering for your rights," she told the gathering.

She was 9 in 1937 when the terror began. "I remember listening to the radio," she said. "Horrible things were happening, and they were playing waltzes, saying, 'Don't worry, we are destroying your enemies.' "

Lukoyanova said she is deeply worried about the arrests of today's dissidents, even though only a relative few are being pursued.

"We have such a great country, such great people," she said, "and once again, they want to destroy us."

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director
film

Mr and Mrs Smith star admits she's 'never been comfortable on-screen'

Arts and Entertainment
Australia singer Iggy Azalea has been attacked by Eminem in a new rap
music

Singer was ordered not to 'blow her rape whistle' in song 'Vegas'

News
Myleene Klass
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
News
Ashton Kutcher speaking at Human Rights Watch's Voices For Justice dinner in November 2013
people'What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?'
Life and Style
Jane Merrick rides on a Micro Scooter through St James's Park, on November 18, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was driven to a miserable death. His story is to be told in film
Sport
Qatar has very little football history

It is a crazy place to play in summer, writes Paul Scholes

Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
News
Actor Dave Prowse in his role as the Green Cross Code Man in 1982
peopleStar Wars actor to reprise his other role - as the Green Cross Man
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Brit Marling as PR woman Liz Garvey
tv

It was all about Liz’s cocaine-fuelled brainwave, 'The Metwork'

Voices
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad and Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov flank Fifa president Sepp Blatter
voices
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Solar Field Sales Executive

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Content / Copy Writer

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: IT Desktop Deployment Engineer

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A prestigious IT & Telecoms Sales and Su...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines