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‘Small brave steps’: Memorial opposing oppression in Russia


GENEVA: Moscow’s crackdown on Memorial has solely intensified because the rights group received the Nobel Peace Prize final month, however its government director says members are pushing on regardless of the risks.
“In fact it is extremely tough,” Elena Zhemkova informed AFP in an interview, stressing although that there had by no means been any query about whether or not or to not keep it up working.
“We proceed our work.”
Memorial, which shared this yr’s Nobel Peace Prize with Ukraine’s Heart for Civil Liberties and detained Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, is the biggest rights organisation in Russia.
Zhemkova mentioned the announcement on October 7 honouring the embattled organisation she co-founded in 1989 with Andrei Sakharov — himself the 1975 Peace Prize laureate — had come as an entire shock.
The 61-year-old described using in a taxi on her technique to open an exhibition when a colleague known as and mentioned one thing had occurred and informed her to “take a look at the information”.
Feared ‘atomic bomb’
“I could not think about that we have been speaking about such a grand award,” she mentioned, including that she feared “one thing very unhealthy (had) occurred”.
“I used to be truthfully considering it was an atomic bomb.”
When she realised that as a substitute Memorial had received the world’s most prestigious peace prize, she mentioned she was “very glad”, particularly to share it with rights watchdogs from the 2 different nations on the centre of Moscow’s battle in Ukraine.
This “emphasises that individuals from civil society of various international locations can and may battle collectively in opposition to evil”, she mentioned.
Russian authorities in the meantime appeared lower than thrilled with Memorial’s win.
The organisation, which has for many years labored to maintain alive the reminiscence of people that died in Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s gulags, whereas additionally compiling info on ongoing political oppression in Russia, has confronted a rising crackdown lately.
Final December, the Russian Supreme Courtroom ordered Memorial dissolved, and simply hours after the Nobel Committee’s announcement on October 7, a Moscow court docket ordered the seizure of its headquarters.
“We obtained the information concerning the Nobel award, after which sadly, that day our home was taken from us,” mentioned Zhemkova.
“So that is the response of the Russian authorities.”
‘No heroes’
However regardless of the challenges, she insisted that “we have to and we are able to proceed our work.”
Final week, Memorial was blocked from holding its annual tribute to Stalin’s victims, referred to as the “Returning the Names” ceremony, in Moscow.
However Zhemkova identified that the marathon studying of the names of these killed underneath Stalin’s regime had nonetheless taken place throughout 22 international locations and 77 cities.
“They can not cease our work,” she mentioned.
Inside Russia as effectively, she mentioned Memorial was persevering with to open exhibitions, organise excursions and “defend individuals’s rights in court docket”.
The Nobel win, she mentioned, was useful “as a result of it’s a essential signal of help”.
Zhemkova, who was in Geneva to present the annual Kofi Annan Peace Deal with, acknowledged that she and different members of Memorial concern for his or her security in Russia.
“There’s a mass persecution of individuals and establishments that are opposing the official standpoint,” she mentioned.
“In fact we’re afraid… We’re unusual individuals.”
“We are not any heroes,” she insisted, “however we try to take small brave steps.”
‘Illegal’
Along with the safety dangers they face, Zhemkova mentioned she and plenty of of her colleagues are being focused by “illegal and complex prison circumstances”.
The Memorial chief is at the moment staying away from Russia, however lamented that she mustn’t need to.
“I respect all the foundations. I did not break any legal guidelines, I’m doing lawful work,” she mentioned.
However, she added, “I’m in opposition to the battle, and in the intervening time, (that) is sufficient to have a prison investigation opened in opposition to you.”
Requested what she considered Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s actions, Zhemkova insisted: “I do not take into consideration Putin. I’m not all for him in any respect.”
“I’m fascinated by what number of generations of Russians might want to pay for what he did.”





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