Pavel Andreyev, from the Russian NGO Memorial: “In almost all Russian families there are conflicts over the war in Ukraine”

Pavel Andreyev shows the Nobel Peace Prize medal that Memorial received in 2022 (Maximiliano Luna)

You could almost use the famous phrase at the beginning of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to present this note, albeit with a distortion. Because what makes all Russian families similar these days is not happiness but tremendous division that causes the war in Ukraine: the elders choose to support Putin’s government, possibly due to a historical issue, they all belong to the branch “homo sovieticus”, they carry embedded in their memory the images of the West that the communist governments transmitted. The younger ones, on the other hand, criticize and question from their natural rebellion and without feeling indebted to the current government. “People over the age of 55 grew up in Soviet times and were affected by propaganda from their childhood. They were taught that the West wants to destroy our country,” he says. pavel andreyevmember of the Board of Directors of the Russian NGO Memorialawarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.

Founded in 1987 -one of the founders was the maverick physicist Andrei Sakharovhimself a Nobel laureate at the time – in what was still the Soviet Union, his objective is historical research (his work has been crucial in relation to the abuses and crimes of the stalinism) and also the defense of civil rights, with actions in Russia and several post-Soviet states. during the two wars in chechnyaMemorial collected documents and information about the abuses and crimes of the Russian military committed against civilians. Natalia Estemirovahead of Memorial’s Chechnya office, was assassinated for her work on the ground.

In 2016, the Russian government declared memonal as a foreign agent, and in 2021 the Russian Supreme Court of Justice ruled that “International Memorial”, part of the NGO dedicated to the investigation of the purges committed in Soviet times, she had to be liquidated for having defended the rights of people who allegedly had ties to terrorist organizations. In 2022, one month after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government declared Memorial illegal and took possession of its offices by force In October 2022, hours after the announcement that Memorial had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Russian justice system ordered the official seizure of the NGO’s headquarters.

EU Nobel Peace Laureates
Pavel Andreyev, left, with the EU ambassador to Argentina Amador Sánchez Rico, and the Editor-in-Chief of “Novaya Gazeta Europe” Kirill Martynov. Andreyev and Martynov participated in the “Dialogues with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates” initiative, organized by the EU embassies in the Southern Cone. (Maximiliano Luna)

The short chat with andreyev it takes place in a small room set up by the embassy of the European Union in the building where its offices are located, in Puerto Madero and in front of the silver river. In addition to being a member of Memorial, he is the director of one of the main independent media outlets in northern Russia, which has been blocked by the state regulator for failing to comply with new regulations that require it to describe the invasion of Ukraine as a “military operation” and not as a ” war”.

Unlike many of the members of critical journalism and NGOs, who were forced to leave Russia in the weeks following the invasion of Ukraine last year, Andreyev still lives in his country. These days, he is part of the procession called “Dialogues with the Nobel Peace Prize Winners”, organized by the EU embassies in the Southern Cone.

—How did being declared “foreign agents” by the Putin government impact the members of the organization?

“Memorial was declared a foreign agent in 2015. That was one of the reasons we have paid huge $200,000 in fines. We got penalized for many little things and together they turned into a huge amount of money. We were able to pay for it thanks to our donors. The government later decided to declare our two entities illegal: Memorial International and the Memorial Human Rights Center. We had already protested against this law in 2012 because we saw that it would make it easier to obtain information about the organization’s finances and that it would be a censorship tool. And finally we face her.

—Memorial is an NGO specialized in working on human rights issues. They used to work with files, but now files are more inaccessible and it must be much more difficult to get close to local voices that can serve as sources. How do they work today?

‘I can still visit the old gulag camps; for example, last year we did an exhibition in my city, Syktyvkar (in the north of Russia). The main problem is that for many years they were shut down and started working at a top secret level. There are two options to work on today: on a personal level, if you have some connections to family history, you can make a petition to be able to investigate the case. Then they can provide you with the documents, you can copy them and do the research. This is one way.

The second way is to collect independent archives, something that some people did during the Soviet era and also in the 90s and 2000s.

What we are trying to do now is to find these personal files because many of the people who collected them are already very old and in many cases their relatives no longer care about the subject. We are also trying to digitize all the archives, it is a really huge job. We scan them and then send copies to different countries to protect them.

Exhibits at the museum of the Memorial human rights group in Moscow, Russia, November 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)
Exhibits at the museum of the Memorial human rights group in Moscow, Russia, November 22, 2021. (REUTERS / Evgenia Novozhenina) (EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA /)

“It would give the impression that the end of the war is not near.” How do you see it?

I wish I could see that ending tomorrow. Unfortunately, however, I believe that we must prepare for a long tragedy.

“Are there families divided in Russia because of the war?”

-Yes a lot. I believe that in almost all families there are conflicts over this issue. There are big differences between people over 50 and people in their 20s.

And that’s because people who are over 55 grew up in Soviet times and were affected by propaganda from their childhood. They were taught that the West wants to destroy our country. That generation is also the majority of the classic television audience for the last more than 10 years, since the aggression against Ukraine began. And TV explains all the time why Ukraine is a failed state or a puppet state.

On the other hand, there are also some people who are very afraid because they see this strong government and are afraid of being punished. It must also be said that the last 20 years have been the richest in recent history and, especially those over 55, remember how poor they were in Soviet times and how poor they were in the 1990s. After that trauma they accept whatever the government does.

Meanwhile, the younger generation opposes the government’s policies. And there are many intra-family conflicts. People have stopped communicating between father and mother, brothers. When it is said that the polls indicate that the majority of Russians support the war, one must take into account the way in which the polls are conducted and the fear that people have of responding against the government. Everyone is at war today, war is a tragedy for Russian society.

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The history of Memorial, the human rights organization that confronted the Russian authorities and was closed