Why is Russia against Tending the Deportees‘ Graves?

At the end of last year people were talking about several absurd proceedings in Russia, the participants of which became both citizens of Lithuania and people who communicated with them. The main ‘blame’ of the mentioned pers…

At the end of last year people were talking about several absurd proceedings in Russia, the participants of which became both citizens of Lithuania and people who communicated with them. The main ‘blame’ of the mentioned persons is that at some time they helped Lithuanians who came to Russia and took care of the abandoned cemeteries in Russia where remains of people deported from Lithuania are resting.     
The expedition that attracted the attention of Russian law enforcement bodies was organized at the beginning of August 2019 in Perm region. It was organized by the Russian public organization ‘Memorial’, which is trying to honour memories about mass repressions. It was reported that participants of the expedition were tending the abandoned Lithuanian-Polish cemetery in Galyashor village.     
Representatives of the Russian law enforcement bodies brought criminal charges against participants of the expedition ‘in wilful appropriation of the forest areas’. As a result of this, five citizens of Lithuania, who were participants of the expedition, Head of ‘Memorial’ branch in Perm and the organization were penalized and total amount of the penalty was 250 thousand roubles (5 thousand Euro). It was reported that the Russian police also initiated two pre-trial investigations.
At the end of 2019 Leonid Ladanov became the prisoner in the dock. It was stated that at his house that is located at Velva-Baza settlement (3 km apart from Galyashor village) participants of the mentioned expedition were living. He was accused of ‘factious registration of foreign citizens (according to Russian laws foreign citizens coming to this state have to be registered, i.e., they have to indicate the address where they will be living, etc.).  According to this accusation 68-year old L. Ladanov might have to pay not just a fine of  500 thousand roubles (i.e. over 7 thousand Euro) but also up to three years imprisonment.     
Of course, Russian government is trying to present this story with a criminal touch (appropriation of forest areas, etc.). However, it is quite obvious that the roots of this story are much deeper. It should be treated as a warning to all those who try to honour the memory about mass repressions, the victims of which were people of various nations. It was stated that accusations that were made against participants of the expedition are quite absurd and unreasonable. By the way, Lithuanians who were penalized, succeeded to contest this order at court. Kudymkar town court that was considering the appeal, finally cancelled the fines and admitted that circumstances based on which fines were imposed, had not been proved.   
They don’t want to see ‘Mission Siberia’
All this story makes us recollect the circumstances that stopped expeditions of the Lithuanian project ‘Mission Siberia’ to Russia. This happened in summer 2018.    
Firstly, we have to remind that ‘Mission Siberia’ was born in 2005 and the first expedition was organized already in 2006. The official website of the project says that ‘the goal of the expedition is to tender to places of our deportees from Lithuania, abandoned cemeteries, to erect obelisks, crosses decorated according to traditions of cross-crafting to remember the dead Lithuanian’. It should be mentioned that ‘Mission Siberia’ used to go Russia without any problems from the very beginning – to visit burial places of deportees, however as it was mentioned above, in 2018 this history stopped. In summer of this year the Embassy of Russia in Vilnius refused to issue visas to participants of ‘Mission…”.   
It should be mentioned that the Embassy has its own arguments. Officially such a step was described as a reply to the fact that Lithuania ‘made its position in regards to memorial activities in the territory of Lithuania stricter’. We are talking about activities of the Russian Embassy relating to tender graves of the soldiers of the Soviet army in the territory of Lithuania. The Embassy blamed Lithuania that it did not want to work on the bilateral agreement regarding soldiers’ graves. Here we should first mention that there is no need for such an agreement. Nobody ever prohibited and prohibits the Embassy of Russia to tender to the soldiers’ graves – in Lithuania these activities are being regulated by ‘Regulations for taking care of immovable cultural heritage significant to foreign states’ approved by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. The last version of regulations was actually adopted at the end of June 2018.
On the other hand, it is probable that the Embassy was not happy about these regulations. Firstly, they actually prohibit erection of new obelisks and monuments in memorial places without coordination with corresponding Lithuanian authorities. Besides, it is allowed to re-erect old monuments that are in the emergency condition; however Soviet and Nazi symbols that are prohibited in Lithuania cannot be used. We can presume that the Russian Embassy saw the obstacle in the new regulations to spread its propagandistic narrative in Lithuania via so-called memory policy that is being realized through tending Soviet heritage objects. Refusal to issue visas to participants of ‘Mission Siberia’ can be interpreted both as a revenge and attempt to make a certain political pressure against Lithuania.     
It should be also mentioned that visas to participants of ‘Mission Siberia’ were not issued in 2019, either. Participants of the expedition now go to Kazakhstan instead of Russia, where Lithuanians were also deported. Astana is not against tending the graves of deportees.   
However, Moscow could get rid of regular visits of ‘Mission Siberia’ for other reasons, too. If this assumption is right, we can say that in 2018 Russia just saw a possibility to do so.   
Peculiarities of the historical memory of Russia
The history of the 20 century is a field where the Kremlin still has an active battle. Particularly in this context we should see both the situation with Perm ‘Memorial’ and the decision not to let the expeditions ‘Mission Siberia’ to Russia. This is not just a political revenge to the state of Lithuania but also an attempt to form the picture of history that is handy to Russia.
It is not hard to see that in interpretation of the history of 20 century the Kremlin still goes back to the essential Soviet narratives. Sometimes it recollects even quite exotic – the early Soviet narratives. An example of this can be a quite surprising attempt of Moscow to blame Poland for the outbreak of World War II (and correspondingly devalue significance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols). Namely such statements we can find in propagandistic narratives of the Kremlin last year when 80 anniversary of the outbreak of this War was commemorated. In other words, it goes back to what Vyacheslav Molotov, the former Commissioner of the Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, wrote in his note to the Ambassador of Poland Waclaw Grzybowski on 7 September 1939.      
We can also notice that the present authorities of Russia attempts to rehabilitate Stalin and his works to a certain extent. Here we can have several assumptions why this is being done. Firstly, Stalin is related to the history of the Great Patriotic War (this is how the period of 1941-1945 World War II is called, which started after Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union). This war is recorded in the memory of the society of Russia as the main event of the 20 century. This historical period in particular is usually used in the contemporary propaganda, the cult of commemoration of 9 May is also related to it, which is actively supported and cultivated by Moscow.   
Stalin is also presented as a model of ambitious politician and a symbol of ‘strong fist’. In contemporary authoritarian Russia justification or even exaltation of his style is also understandable. Finally, the image of Vladimir Putin is also based on the same ‘strong fist’, autocracy, decisiveness in making decisions, etc.
However, history and historical memory still comprises things that cause the biggest problems to the historical image of Stalin. Firstly, massive repressions in the Soviet Union. Both information and material monuments reminding of them become a problem to propagandistic narratives of the Kremlin – both in tales that Baltic States joined the Soviet Union ‘at their own wish’ and statements about equality, brotherhood and friendship between nations during Soviet period.    
It seems there is a lot of information about massive repressions so this historical fact could not be deleted from the memory of people. However, it seems that the Kremlin has a long-time plan. Finally, when we focus on one thing (industrialization and ‘tasty Plombir ice-cream during Soviet time) and don’t focus on other things (such as aggressive and expansive policy, massive repressions) it can reach comprehension of the desired historical period of the society – with all achievements and without repressions.   
In this context we understand that the power of Russia would like graves of deportees and political prisoners be swallowed by forests and marshes as soon as possible and the memory about them vanish even in the regions where these people were deported against their will, where they tried to survive and start their life anew. Therefore, neither ‘Mission Siberia’ nor activities of local ‘Memorial’ are desired in Russia, since tending the graves and erection of memorials remind of repressions, about painful (firstly, of Russia) history and does not allow saying that Stalin was just a ‘good manager’ who took care of a bright future of the Soviet Union.  
Viktor Denisenko         

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