Memorial Vindicated, Again

When the St. Petersburg office of Memorial was raided in December last year, the international media was aghast.  Article after article saw the confiscation of Memorial’s database of archival materials and interviews of life under Stalin as proof that Stalinism was back in full force.  Why else would police bother to raid the human rights organization, they reasoned, if not to silence their voices of anti-Stalinism?

The exact reasons why Memorial was put through this ordeal remain murky.  The official explanation is that the organization was somehow affiliated with Novyi Peterburg, which was under investigation for extremism.  Others opined that the raid was connected to Memorial’s screening of Rebellion: the Livinenko Case. Still others maintain that the raid was part of a larger battle over Russia’s past, in particular the memory of the Stalin period.

While much ink was spilled on speculating why Memorial was raided, and its implications in regard to the memory of Stalinism, the English language press has been virtually silent in pointing out that the human rights organization won two cases in court that rebuffed investigators” search. The fist ruling came in January, when the Dzerzhinsky court ruled that investigators’ raid was illegal because they didn’t allow Memorial’s lawyer to be present.  The police, however, appealed and the case went back to court.

But then last week, the Dzerzhinsky court again ruled in Memorial’s favor. As for the return of the hard disks and archival materials, the organization received a letter from St. Petersburg’s human rights ombudsman saying that their materials have already been removed from the investigators office and will soon be returned.

One would think that this victory would be a perfect David and Goliath story.  A tale where the good guys won against the evil Stalinists, who despite their enormous powers and nefarious plots were defeated in the court of law.  One might even point out that in this case, the courts worked.  They upheld Memorial’s right to have a lawyer present during a search and seizure.  One would also think that given Memorial’s stature in the West as a defender of human rights, their victory would have been hoisted up as a great triumph.  But apparently, this good news is not fit enough for the English media to print.