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Russia orders the disbandment of human rights outfit Memorial

In what’s being decried as yet another assault on Russian democracy, the state has ordered the liquidation of human rights group Memorial. 

Civil society within Russia has had a complicated history to say the least, and many are worried the authoritarian regime of decades past is creeping back. 

This week, Moscow city court ordered the dissolution of the nation’s most prominent human rights institution, Memorial International. Now officially deemed a ‘foreign agent’ the outfit will no longer be able to demonstrate legally or release commercial works, and all associated premises have been closed. 

While the court cited the ‘justification of extremism and terrorism’ as the reasons behind the decision, campaigners argue the post-Soviet state is attempting to gloss over its troublesome history whilst revelling in its role in defeating the Nazi war machine. 

Others suggest we’re seeing an insidious ploy to suppress civil rights and expand military influence beyond Russian borders. So, who’s closest to the truth?

The origins of Memorial 

Originally registered in 1990, Memorial was formed following the death of Andrei Shakarov – a revered physicist and human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. 

Its original aim was historical: chiefly, to document incidents of political repression and atrocities carried out during the Stalinist era, as USSR war crimes faced no real repercussions akin to that of Nuremberg (the mass prosecution of Nazi figureheads). 

Since the turn of the century, Memorial has continued to pay homage to victims whilst gradually becoming more engaged in educational and charitable events that promote democracy and mature civil society.

In that time, Memorial has received an assortment of awards for contributions to internally displaced people, research/literary works, and anti-authoritarianism projects. The latter two areas of expertise are ultimately where the group met its end. 

All the while Memorial has existed, there has been constant pressure and friction from political figureheads. But, in the big old age of 2021, its Vladimeer Putin’s reign that has destroyed it. 

Doesn’t quite sit right, does it? The story is far from over though.

The inevitable fallout 

Memorial International has posted a statement claiming it will ‘find legal ways to continue its work,’ highlighting the ‘demand of Russian citizens’ to honour the tragic fate of millions. 

The EU commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, has called the ruling a ‘deplorable move’ and lamented Russia’s ‘repressive character.’ UK foreign sectary Liz Truss and the UN human rights office are also among those in opposition to Putin’s decision. 

Rightfully grabbing headlines, it isn’t just Memorial that is bearing the brunt of Russian authorities. In the run-up to elections, dozens of rights groups, media outlets, and journalists have been driven into exile – with threats of further prosecution.

There’s a distinct lack of subtlety in internet freedoms being rolled back too. On December 24th, courts slapped a $100m fine on Google for ‘systematic failures to remove banned content’ and demanded some $27m from Facebook and Instagram. 

Somewhat ironically, one could argue that Putin’s leadership bares some of the hallmarks of Stalin – admittedly, watered down and far less savage. Those hit with accusations of being ‘foreign agents’ are no longer sent to the Gulag, but are systematically silenced on a democratic front. 

When it comes to outside intervention, the threat of war is always there tipping heavier than moral obligation. Civil society groups are labelled as ‘western collaborators’ and the Kremlin is still pushing the narrative that Russia is under threat from America and Ukraine. 

Make of the situation what you will. Putin ruling with an iron fist is hardly new, but when it comes to stifling democracy for his own gain, he’s definitely becoming more brazen.