Vigils for victims of political repressions held across Russia

File Photo of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin

(Moscow News – themoscownews.com – Alina Lobzina – October 30, 2012)

The victims of Soviet political repressions are being commemorated on Tuesday with vigils held across Russia.

Seventy-five years since the Great Purge was started by Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Moscow’s now disused Butovo firing range hosted events honoring the hundreds of thousands who suffered, according to Interfax. The site on the city’s southern border itself saw about 20,000 people executed between 1938 and Stalin’s death in 1953.

For local activists and human rights groups, however, repressions are not a matter of the past: they announced they chose the date to rally in support of today’s political prisoners in downtown Novopushkinsky Skver.

Day of Memory

The day of Oct. 30 was first marked back in 1974, when some people in prison camps in the Perm and Mordova regions went on hunger strike to protest against political repressions.

The Day of Memory became an official date in 1991, about two months before the official dissolution on the U.S.S.R., to honor thousands of victims of government-orchestrated repressions.

Since then, 637,614 people previously found guilty have been rehabilitated under a respective law, according to Prosecutor General’s Office. In total, just over 900,000 people were sentenced in these cases.

Return of Names

On Monday, Russian human rights group Memorial held its annual Vozvrashcheniye Imyon (Return of Names) event, near the Solovetsky Stone monument to Gulag Prisoners, across the street from the former KGB headquarters.

From 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., people read the names, occupations and ages of Muscovites repressed in Soviet times. The event was first introduced five years ago and now similar events are held in other locations.

According to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, on Tuesday the names of repression victims are to be read in Voronezh, St. Petersburg and Tula.

‘It is just starting’

In Moscow, activists and human rights groups, including Memorial’s local branch, decided that this day can also be a good reason to address more recent matters.

“The latest events in Russia showed that the words of human rights advocates about the return of 1937 [when Stalin’s repressions were in full swing] are no exaggeration or metaphor, but the most precise way to describe what is happening now,” the rally’s Facebook page read.

People arrested for protesting President Vladimir Putin’s return to power one day before his inauguration are among contemporary political prisoners, according to activists, as well as two members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Putin song performed in Christ the Savior Cathedral earlier this year.

“Comparisons with 1937 might be a bit over the top since things haven’t gone that far,” Isabelle Magkoyeva, member of Komitet 6 Maya, which is among the rally’s organizers, told The Moscow News. “But it is just starting.”