Irina Fliege is a senior researcher at the Russian human rights group Memorial. We talked to her ahead of the conference to hear her thoughts on the Centre Memorial, some of the challenges they are facing and relations between Russia and the West. For the Russian Version нажмите здесь.
What is the purpose of the Centre Memorial in Russia?
Our aim is creating a public information resource for understanding and overcoming the legacy of the Soviet state terror; Research on the historical memory of the terror, the Gulag and resistance.
Who should be addressed by this work?
We want to reach cultural communities who deal with historical memory: historians, employees of museums and libraries, teachers, journalists.
What are the main challenges Centre Memorial is facing?
a) The uncertainty and vagueness of the hierarchy of social values that prevent the development of consensus judgment of the terror and the Gulag in the society
b) The lack of legal assessments of Soviet crimes
c) The fragmentation of the memory of the terror and the Gulag; peripherality theme of Soviet state terror in the mass consciousness, its weak representation in the “big historical narrative”
d) The contradictory attitudes of modern society to the Soviet past
What might possible solutions look like?
a) Initiating a wide public debate on the crimes of the Soviet regime, as well as mainstreaming of relations between the individual, society and the state.
b) The development of mechanisms of legal assessments of the crimes of the past and their efforts to introduce a modern legal framework.
c) The creation of integrated historical and educational resources on the topic, as well as an introduction of subjects in school and college courses of national history.
g) Understanding of the theme of state terror in a broad historical and cultural context of the Soviet era.
How did the conflict in Ukraine affect your work?
In our opinion, the annexation of the Crimea and the invasion of Donbass mean that the current Russian regime fully accepted Soviet legacy, including the practice of state violence and terror, and a large part of Russian society supported this heritage. This means that we, the „Centre Memorial” did not succeed with our work.
Perhaps it was because we considered the crimes of the Soviet regime, as an object of historical research and historical interpretation. Now, after the beginning of military aggression against Ukraine, we consider these crimes and the crimes of modern Russian authorities into a single political context.
What are your general expectations for the future?
It is hard to say what comes next, we live in a state tyranny, both in domestic and in foreign policy.
What can the West do to improve relations with Russia?
I’m not a politician. I do not know how to improve relations with today’s Russia unilaterally – only by the efforts of Western politicians due to the fact that Russian leaders are reliable. If there are any ways to improve relations between the West and Russia today, the effort must come from Russia – there is a need of change in the international and domestic policy. It is in the first place: the immediate cessation of military aggression, Russia’s compliance with the international conventions and law, the abolition of anti-constitutional laws and political persecution inside the country.