Doug Smith is an award-winning historian and translator. He is the author of five books on Russia. His last book Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy won the Pushkin House Russian Prize in 2013. His new book is Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs published by Macmillian.
Boney M., “Rasputin,” Nightflight to Venus, 1978.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Anyone who watches the goings on in Russia knows about last week’s police raid of the human rights organization Memorial in St. Petersburg. The six hour search by masked, truncheon wielding agents has received forceful, cautious and hysterical condemnation as people try to figure out why the hard drives and computer files, financial records, archival documents about Stalinist repression were confiscated. While the English language press is shrieking Stalinism redux (A strange assertion since a very large international academic conference on Stalinism took place in Moscow this weekend.), the Russian media is hardly mentioning Stalinism and are playing up other but no less fantastic angles. For example, one theory that is gathering steam is that Memorial was raided because it recently screened the film Rebellion: Litvinenko Case.
If the conspiracy theories put forward to explain the raid weren’t strange enough, the official story is even stranger. According to LJ user lev_k, who has given a step by step account of the raid, the search is connected to an extremism investigation of Novyi Peterburg. The extremist track in question is an article published last summer called “General Rodionov – There’s a Real Candidate!” by K. Chernyaev. The article spews all sorts of anti-Semitic allegations that the Gluag was created by Jews and goes so far as to suggest the occurrence of a number of ritual blood murders in Krasnoyarsk in 2005, 2006, and 2008. The authorities say that Novyi Peterburg and Chernyanev have some connection to Memorial based documents seized in a search of the newspaper’s offices. Memorial, of course, denies any connection whatsoever. “Neither Andreev [the editor of Novyi], the article’s author, or Novyi Peterburg has any connection to Memorial. We have neither good nor bad relations. We are simply not acquainted. Just how Memorial is connected to this criminal case is unknown to us.”
I assume that if there is any real connection, it will (hopefully) come out in the coming days. I doubt it. Part of me thinks that the Petersburg authorities made a bad mistake, which could be even worse because now they’ll probably do whatever necessary to save face. Nevertheless, given how extremism is being applied in all directions these days also makes me wonder if something more nefarious is at work.
Many in the Russian press believe something is afoot and are attempting to peal back the onion and discover the real story behind the “official” one.
Nezavisimaya gazeta has connected the dots as follows. The head of the investigation is Mikhail Kalganov, who has already had his name “connected to many political cases” in St. Petersburg. The most memorable was his involvement in the arrest of the Yabloko leader Maksim Reznik earlier this year. Apparently Kalganov also detained a television crew for filming a large fire in Russia’s second capital. Therefore since Kalganov has a history of harassing liberals and media, the raid against Memorial must be part of this trend.
Russia’s liberals have fed this theory. Reznik told Kommersant that “It is difficult for me to comment of activities of Investigator Mikhail Kalganov. He leads my case at the moment. How can you comment on the actions of a person who has a portrait of Felix Dzerzhinskii next to an icon in his office? If this isn’t by his own initiative, then I don’t understand why the prosecutor gives him such political cases. If this is an order from above, then this is one of the most atrocious demonstration of the country’s legal system.”
In regard to whether the raid is connected to the 20 November screening of Rebellion: Litvinenko Case, Yulii Rybakov, a Memorial worker and former Duma rep, said the following: “This film asks questions that those in power don’t want to answer.” Well, it seems that Rybakov has never seen the film and is making assumptions based on Andrei Nekrasov’s other conspiracy laden films. I’ve seen Rebellion (it as called Poisoned by Polonium when it showed in LA) and I the only reason why I could see Russian authorities not wanting to answer any questions in it is because said questions are complete nonsense. If the raid is an atrocious example of Russian governance, then Rebellion is a similar example of filmmaking.
So what was the real reason for the raid on Memorial? Do they have an embarrassing connection of a nationalist rant as the official version suggests? Do the Stalinist redux, liberal or Litvinenko conspiracy versions hold water? Or was the whole thing a serious f-up on the part of the St. Petersburg’s keystones?
As of now, I’m with the latter. That is until more information is released. For some reason, I can’t help being reminded of Jello Biafra’s faint words at the end of Lard’s “Drug Raid at 4 a.m.”
“Um, sorry, wrong house.”
By Sean — 5 months ago
Guest: Keith Gessen on America’s Russia Hands and his novel A Terrible Country published by Viking.
By Sean — 2 years ago