The Moscow Times - - LIVING HERE -

he con­demned were brought by car to a for­est. There, deep pits were dug and the pris­on­ers were told to lay down face down. Af­ter that they were shot”. So read the notes of the in­ter­ro­ga­tion of NKVD ex­e­cu­tioner Mikhail Matveyev, who per­son­ally ex­e­cuted 1111 pris­on­ers from the no­to­ri­ous Solovki is­land camp in Kare­lia in the Rus­sian Far North. It took him four days to ex­e­cute the whole group.

The time was Novem­ber, 1937, when Rus­sia had been plunged into the Great Purge, the cli­max of Stalin’s ter­ror. Ap­prox­i­mately 750,000 Soviet cit­i­zens were killed in 15 months.

Or­dered to main­tain si­lence and con­spir­acy, Matveyev de­vel­oped his own sys­tem for mass killings. Pris­on­ers were first stripped of their clothes in one room, then tied in an­other, and then knocked out with a wooden blud­geon, so that they would keep silent. The vic­tims were stock­piled in groups of 40-50 in a truck, and next taken to the place of ex­e­cu­tion.

The mass graves of Matveyev’s ex­e­cu­tion were only dis­cov­ered in 1997 in the woods of San­darmokh, Kare­lia. And twenty years on, this hor­rific story from a dis­tant past is trig­ger­ing what looks like a new re­pres­sion.

A shock­ing ac­cu­sa­tion

Talk­ing to re­porters in the of­fice of Memo­rial, an in­de­pen­dent watch­dog which fo­cuses on re­search­ing Soviet po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and hu­man rights, Yeka­te­rina can’t fight her tears. “They took Natasha,” Yeka­te­rina says. “She keeps ask­ing: ‘Where’s papa? When will he take me home?’’’

The fa­ther, Yuri Dmitriev, 61, is head of Kare­lia Memo­rial branch and was ar­rested last De­cem­ber. He is now stand­ing trial in a lo­cal court in the re­gional cap­i­tal of Petroza­vodsk.

Dmitriev is be­ing ac­cused of a shock­ing crime — us­ing his adopted daugh­ter, Natasha, to pro­duce porno­graphic ma­te­ri­als. The case against him con­sists of sev­eral photos of Natasha, naked. They were dis­cov­ered on Dmitriev’s com­puter in De­cem­ber, and later clas­si­fied as porno­graphic by the Cen­ter of So­cio-Cul­tural Ex­per­tise, act­ing on the re­quest of law en­force­ment agen­cies. This in­sti­tu­tion also pro­vided le­gal ex­per­tise in the Pussy Riot and Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses “ex­trem­ism” tri­als.

Those who know Dmitriev dis­miss the ac­cu­sa­tion com­pletely. “It’s to­tally ab­surd. Makes no sense”, says Yeka­te­rina, Dmitriev’s other daugh­ter. Col­leagues at Memo­rial and else­where say they are cer­tain the photos have noth­ing to do with pornog­ra­phy, and that the ac­tivist has been framed be­cause of his pro­fes­sional ac­tiv­ity.

“The charge against him is void, and ev­ery­one knows it,” Sergey Krivenko, Mem­ber of Memo­rial board and of the pres­i­dent’s Hu­man rights Coun­cil, told The Moscow Times. “It’s been brought about be­cause of his work of com­mem­o­ra­tion vic­tims of Stalin’s ter­ror.”

The photos of Natasha that were dis­cov­ered on Dmitriev’s com­puter amount to no more than nu­dity: a naked child, pho­tographed from all sides. Taken over sev­eral years, the photos were stored in a spe­cial file and never dis­trib­uted. But that did not stop an anony­mous tip-off from set­ting a crim­i­nal trial in motion.

Dmitriev’s lawyer, Vic­tor Anufriev, says that the pho­to­graphs have an en­tirely in­no­cent ex­pla­na­tion. Af­ter adopt­ing a lit­tle girl from an or­phan­age, Dmitriev, who was in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized as a child him­self, was con­stantly wor­ried that child pro­tec­tion ser­vices would take the girl from him.

When Natasha was 3 or 4 years old, nurs­ery car­ers found what they thought were bruises (in fact, they were later iden­ti­fied as traces of mus­tard plas­ter). Since then, Dmitriev kept record of the girl’s phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, the lawyer says.

Last Jan­uary, Rus­sian tele­vi­sion turned Dmitriev’s case into a crit­i­cal re­port about Memo­rial, which has long been tar­geted by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and pro-Krem­lin vig­i­lantes. This time, Memo­rial was por­trayed not only as po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion and an in­ter­nal en­emy, but also as a hot­bed for pe­dophilia.

“We know that the charges against him are bull­shit. We don’t know how it hap­pened and who framed him. But we know that af­ter this tele­vi­sion re­port he be­came a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner”, said Irina Fliege, di­rec­tor of Memo­rial’s Re­search and In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, who is also Dmitriev’s long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor.

If found guilty, Dmitriev faces up to 15 years of prison.

Bones of ter­ror

Stalin’s regime turned on its own ex­e­cu­tion­ers, who of­ten shared the same fate as their vic­tims. In 1938, a year af­ter Matveyev killed his pris­on­ers, he was ar­rested — on charges of mis­use of power and break­ing the Soviet le­gal or­der. He was ac­cused of un­law­fully ex­e­cut­ing a preg­nant woman and beat­ing pris­on­ers in what, iron­i­cally, the regime de­scribed as the “de­hu­man­ized treat­ment of pris­on­ers”.

Half a cen­tury later in the late 1980s, Gor­bachev’s Per­e­stroika was un­der­way. It was as much about the past as it was about the fu­ture. The na­tion wanted lift the veils from its dread­ful re­cent his­tory. News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines—sold in their mil­lions — were full of sto­ries about Stalin’s ter­ror. In­for­ma­tion spread across the coun­try, and rel­a­tives of the NKVD’s vic­tims started look­ing for their graves.

Matveyev’s in­ter­ro­ga­tion was de­clas­si­fied in 1989. The bloody fate of the 1111 Solovki pris­on­ers who van­ished with­out trace in 1937 fi­nally saw the light of day. But it was only in 1997, 60 years af­ter the ex­e­cu­tion, that lo­cal Kare­lian ac­tivist

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