World News

In Moscow, an Emotional Assembly to Remember the Victims of Stalin’s Terror

Posted October 29, 2018 6:30 p.m. EDT

MOSCOW — An annual ceremony to commemorate victims of repression under Joseph Stalin proceeded Monday after Moscow city officials backed down from a decision to bar it from its traditional site, a memorial near the headquarters of the former KGB.

Throughout the day, activists and descendants of victims gathered at the Solovetsky Stone memorial, which was brought from the former Solovki prison camp, a notorious destination for political prisoners in the 1920s and 1930s.

Bundled against the cold, they stood in line for hours to approach a rostrum and read out the names, ages, professions and dates of death of victims that included Soviet bureaucrats, factory workers, peasants and priests.

“This day is a reminder of tragic pages in the history of the country, when numerous people were patently falsely accused of crimes, shot to death or sent to corrective labor camps or into exile,” said Yelena Zhemkova, executive director of International Memorial, the human rights organization that created the event, in opening remarks.

Zhemkova said more than 30,000 people were shot in Moscow alone in 1937-38, the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, according to her group’s research.

“During the years of Soviet rule, 1,250,000 people were sentenced to death across the Soviet Union,” she said. “People were shot to death in secret — we will make their memory public.”

The first name was read by Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudswoman, who is appointed by parliament. But the site on Lubyanka Square was fenced off, invisible to passers-by, and the ceremony was ignored by Rossiya 24, Russia’s 24-hour news channel.

Solovetsky Stone stands amid one of the latest of Moscow’s huge urban beautification projects. When officials suddenly revoked permission 10 days ago to hold the “Return of the Names” ceremony at the site, they cited “construction and repair” work.

Despite the obstacles, by evening the crowd drawn to the 12-hour event stretched into an underground passageway and people did not disperse even when it was clear that they would not get a turn to read a name.

At the close, Zhemkova said more than 4,000 people had attended. Many clutched flowers or votive candles and ended their recitation under snow flurries with the words “Memory Eternal.”

Many participants added the names of relatives who had died, and many invoked the names of current political prisoners and called for change in today’s Russia.

A young man read out the names of a 28-year-old factory worker who was shot dead in 1934, followed by the name of his own great-great-grandfather, Nikolai Akimovich Khudyakov, a World War I and Russian Civil War hero on the side of the Bolsheviks. He was executed in 1938 on charges of participating in “a counterrevolutionary terrorist organization.”

“Shame to all Chekists and their successors and to all who do these awful deeds today,” said the young man, using a Russian term for Stalin’s secret police. They will one day be purged, he said, and “Russia will be free.”