Memorial (Russian: Мемориал) is an international historical and civil rights organization active in a number of former Soviet countries. Its full official English name is the International Volunteer Public Organization "MEMORIAL Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society". The organization was co-founded by Russian dissidents Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Kovalev and Arseni Roginsky. The latter was president of Memorial from 1996 until his death in December 2017. The organization has been officially banned by the Russian Supreme Court since December 28, 2021.
The organization has defined the following missions in its charter (translated from English):
"Promoting a mature civil society and democracy based on the authority of the law and thus preventing a return to totalitarianism";
"Helping the formation of public consciousness based on the values of democracy and the law, breaking away from totalitarian patterns and establishing solid human rights in practical politics and in public life";
"Promoting the disclosure of the truth regarding the historical past and perpetuating the memory of the victims of political persecution carried out by totalitarian regimes".
Foundation and history
The organization was officially founded at the founding conference on April 19, 1992, but was already active in the 1980s during the Glasnost period in the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it became an international organization and set up branches in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Georgia.
In 2004, Memorial was among four recipients of the Right Livelihood Award (sometimes referred to as the alternative Nobel Prize), for her work documenting human rights abuses in Russia and other ex-Soviet states. The jury stated itself: "(...) for showing, under very difficult conditions, and with great personal courage, that history must be recorded and understood, and human rights respected everywhere, if sustainable solutions to the legacy of the past are to be achieved."
Memorial was also nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In December 2008, Russian intelligence officials raided Memorial's offices and confiscated their archives. According to historian and Russia expert Orlando Figes, the raid fits into Putin's strategy to polish up Russia's past: "The Kremlin wants Russians to be proud of the Soviet past and not be burdened with guilt over Stalin's oppression".
There are regular retaliations against employees of the organization. For example, in mid-July 2009, the Russian journalist and head of Memorial, Natalya Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya. Her body was found in Ingushetia. Her killer(s) is/are unknown. Yuri Dmitriev, a historian who spent decades researching mass graves from the time of Stalinist oppression for Memorial, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2020 on charges of producing child pornography and misusing his foster daughter. The sentence was increased to 15 years in 2021.
Unpleasant to the government
The Russian State Duma enacted the Law on Foreign Agents on November 21, 2012. It requires any NGO (such as Memorial) that receives foreign funding and engages in what it loosely defines as "political activity" to register as an "organization that performs the functions of a foreign agent". A "foreign agent" is a person or group that unofficially represents the interests of another country. The relevant NGO must mention this designation in any communication, online or in print. In the same year, Memorial published its report "Roma, migrante