Since the raid on Memorial is hitting more and more English language news outlets, the most recent being in the Chicago Tribune, I figured it was time to give an update to the story.
Since the raid on Memorial’s St. Petersburg’s office on 4 December there have been a few developments, but none that illuminates the real reason why police confiscated the NGO’s archival materials and financial records. The raid has gotten a lot of international attention. Orlando Figes, whose recent book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia is mostly based on interviews and materials collected by Memorial, has written a petition to President Medvedev. So far the petition has been signed by many well known American and European scholars.* In addition, the US State Department expressed concern about the raid and called for Russian authorities “to ensure the speedy and safe return of all seized equipment and archival material.” For a comprehensive description of the seized materials, see Tatiana Kosinova’s “Eleven Hard Disks” at Open Democracy.net’s Russia page.
The Russian authorities provided some hope that Memorial’s materials would be returned. On 12 December, Memorial’s director Irina Flige reported that she was promised that the materials would be returned on Monday. They weren’t and no call from the investigators as to when they will be returned remains unknown.
The one promise that authorities did keep was that Memorial’s petition to the court would be heard on 17 December. It was and a few interesting developments came out of it. Memorial still has not been provided with any evidence or really an really a believable explanation as to why its office was raided. The official reason is that Memorial is connected with an anti-Semitic article published by Novyi Peterburg, which is under investigation for extremism. Memorial has repeatedly denied any connection to the article, its author or the newspaper.
What the Wednesday’s hearing did reveal is that the case’s head investigator Mikhail Kalganov did not prepare the materials so the court could verify the legality of the raid. His excuse? He didn’t have enough time. The court gave him some more. His new deadline is 22 December.
In a statement to the press, Memorial’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov said, “The court gave him another chance and scheduled a hearing on 22 December to give him time. In our view, the court has no basis to grant this. He has a chance and I hope that the investigator understands that the postponement of the hearing and the granting of additional time for preparations is offer of good will from the court.” Then Pavlov dropped this bomb: “Moreover, according to our facts, a formal inquiry is preparing materials of all criminal cases for transfer to the General Prosecutor so it could analyze the legality of the search and also other investigative actions which were conducted by Kalganov in relation to this criminal case.”
Does this mean that there is an investigation of the investigator in the works? Stay tuned . . .
* The American Historical Association has also submitted an appeal to the Russian government urging the immediate return of Memorial’s materials.