Trying to Blur Memories of the Gulag, Russia Targets a Rights Group

Prosecutors are trying to shut down Memorial International, Russia’s most prominent human rights group, as the Kremlin moves to control the historical narrative of the Soviet Union.

MOSCOW — In the days after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the upheaval and uncertainty that gripped Russia were accompanied by a liberating climate of openness, in which free expression, historical examination and political dissent could flourish.

But in the two decades since Vladimir V. Putin took power, the government has steadily rolled back those rights. Mr. Putin has tamed the oligarch class, muffled the media, jailed religious groups and dissidents and suppressed political opposition.

Now Mr. Putin has set his sights on rewriting the memory of one of the most painful times in Russia’s turbulent history: the era of the gulag, when millions of Russians toiled and died, mostly in the first half of the 20th century. Russian prosecutors are moving to liquidate the archive and human rights center of Memorial International, the country’s most prominent human rights organization, which is dedicated to the remembrance of those who were persecuted by the Soviet Union’s often-brutal regime.

Activists and dissidents consider the threat to Memorial awatershed moment for independent thinkers in Russia — a sobering example of the government’s determination to silence its critics and sanitize the narrative surrounding the Soviet Union,which Mr. Putin views as a heady era of Russian influence and power.


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