Some Russian human rights lawyers are maintaining that the real reason goes back to Memorial's screening a month ago of the film Revolt: the Litvinenko Affair, which has been banned in Russia.
Only time will tell whether this initiative was the result of misplaced zeal by particular individuals, or whether it signals the start of a new and dangerous chapter in the precarious life of Russia's NGOs. The raid (which included two masked men) was made under Statute 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which covers incitement of hatred or hostility, damage to human dignity, publicly or through the mass media.
The search, which was timed to coincide with the absence of the director, Irina Flige, came out of the blue. ‘We can only hope this is a stupid mistake,' commented Nikolai Mitrokhin, ex of Memorial, now at the Centre for the E.European Studies at Bremen University. ‘It is a strange development, as in recent years Memorial has had quite good relations with the regime. Although Memorial has been harshly critical of the actions of the Russian government in Chechnya and SouthOssetia, in general Memorial has been a regarded as a very prestigious NGO, one which the government has been prepared to do business.'
The office of Memorial, which came into being in 1989 to retrieve the memory of Soviet repression, serves as an informal gathering point for local activists and provides a forum for discussion and debate.
(Sources: polit.ru, Grani.ru and Kommersant)
Statement from the Board of the International "Memorial" Society 04.12.2008
On 4 December on the orders of the St Petersburg Office of the Prosecutor General a search was carried out at the "Memorial" Research and Information Centre, which is mainly engaged in researching and studying the history of the Stalinist Terror. The search was carried out under the pretext of an investigation into some kind of ‘extremist' publication, according to the Prosecutor General's Office, which had appeared 18 months ago in a newspaper called "New Petersburg". Masked men with police truncheons occupied the building of the Centre and removed the hard discs from all the computers. These contain not only the results of 20 years of historical research, but also material belonging to the art historian Alexander Margolis, a member of the Centre who is well known for his speeches in defence of the preservation of the city's historical image.
The "Memorial" Society and its Centre know absolutely nothing about the newspaper publication, the ostensible pretext for the search, nor about the said "New Petersburg". It would seem that the publication is no more than an excuse to search the "Memorial" offices.
The confiscated discs contain databases with biographical details of tens of thousands of victims of the Stalinist repressions. It has taken "Memorial" 20 years to collect them. On the discs there are also collections of photographic materials and copies of documents related to the Soviet terror, as well as the results of attempts to identify camp cemeteries and execution sites within the former USSR and a sound archive of recorded interviews with former gulag prisoners.
The international society "Memorial" is demanding the immediate return of the confiscated materials, which do not and cannot have anything to do with any ‘extremist' publications. "Memorial" has warned the St Petersburg Office of the Prosecutor General that this material is of immense academic value and that the total responsibility for its safety must be borne by the Prosecutor General's Office.