Arseny Roginsky died

Arseny Roginsky. Photo: Tomasz Kizny

Arseny Roginsky
1946 – 2017

Arseny Roginsky, International Memorial Board chairman, died on 18 December 2017.

Years before Memorial came into existence, he began his struggle for historical truth and for human rights, losing his own liberty as a result. His struggle has continued till his last breath. Were it not for him, Memorial's work throughout the last decade and a half would have been impossible. The idea of Memorial without him seems impossible, either.

Thank you, Arseny Borisovich. You will always be with us.

Memorial Society


Zoya Svetova

Today, Senya Roginsky died. Arseny Borisovich Roginsky. A great man.
A prominent historian. A Soviet political prisoner.
First and foremost, the creator of Memorial.

Memorial was his brain child, although lots of other people have contributed to Memorial's establishment and growth.

But it was Senya Roginsky, who, every year and every month, indeed, every day, would come up with new ideas for the projects that in a remarkable way had changed the climate in our country.

His charming personality, or charisma (forgive me the buzzword) brought masses of people around him. They were all keen on chaning the climate and the life – working together with him and «Memorial.»

Those who believed Senya and loved him were not only people of his age.
These were not only people of my age.
These are the people who are today just as old as my children.

The «Return of the Names» was worth a monument in Senya's lifetime, the action uniting the society much more than a series of opposition rallies over the past few years.

Senya had been ill for about a year. It was incredibly difficult – difficult to perceive the idea of him not being around.
Of never again seeing him smilng and squinting.
Of never experiencing his tender attitude to people.
Of him – never being again.

It seemed as if geniuses could not die. As if they stayed with us in defence of life.

The life is unfair.

Senya said he would come back and have a drink with us «For your freedom and ours».

Zoya Svetova is a journalist and human rights defender.

Arseny Roginsky’s father, Boris Roginsky, used to work as an engineer at Leningrad’s Elektrosila industrial plant. He was persecuted  in 1938  and, after having served his term in Gulag, was exiled to Vel’sk, a little town in the Arkhangelsk Region, in the north of the then Soviet Union. Vel’sk became Arseny Roginsky’s birth place (20 March 1946). Boris Rogynsky’s second arrest in 1951 proved to be fatal and he died in imprisonment.

Rehabilitation of political prisoners under Krushchev allowed the Roginskys family to return to Leningrad (1956).

Arseny left Leningrad again in 1962-1968 to study history and philology at the University of Tartu, Estonia, famous for its innovative research into culture and semiotics under the leadership of Yuri Lotman who became Arseny Roginsky’s teacher. Roginsky focused on 19th century Russia, including the liberation movement and Narodnaya Volya.

It was also at Tartu where Roginsky came to know future dissidents and human rights defenders arriving from Moscow. Gradually, the scope of his research expanded to include Russia’s 20th century history.

Back in Leningrad, Roginsky taught Russian and literature at part-time evening schools and worked as a bibliographer at Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library (1968–1981). His research into history never stopped, giving birth to the formulas that brought together historians and human rights activists: “the need to bring back historical memory” and “recreating independent historical research.” Roginsky and his fellow thinkers bore both of these ideas in mind when launching Pamyat, the first samizdat collection of primary sources and articles pertaining to political persecution in the Soviet Union. The publications, featuring contributions from dissident historians and writers, appeared in five volumes in 1975-1981 under Arseny Roginsky’s editorship.

The KGB launched their investigation into samizdat activities led by Roginsky and his fellow historians in an attempt to identify Pamyat contributors who often wrote under pseudonyms. At last, the KGB arrived with a search warrant at Arseny Roginsky’s home on 4 February 1977. Two years later, on 6 March 1979, the KGB searched his home one more time. The KGB staff made sure Roginsky was fired from school. He was also prohibited from teaching at any educational establishment. In June 1981 Roginsky was denied access to Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library for “publicising documents abroad in anti-Soviet media.”

Interestingly, when the KGB investigation into Roginsky’s human rights activities drew to an end, the KGB officer in charge of Roginsky’s case urged him to emigrate. Roginsky was allowed several days to consider the option. As the deadline expired and Roginsky said no to emigration, he was promptly arrested (12 August 1981) and charged with using forged IDs to gain access to archives. When questioned about it in the court, Roginsky refused to discuss the matter saying that the very politics of restricted access to historical sources was unlawful. On 4 December 1981 Leningrad’s Oktyabrsky Court sentenced Roginsky to four years of imprisonment.

Roginsky served his term in full among inmates serving their criminal sentences – and made friends with them. He was released in 1985 when perestroika was about to begin, bringing changes to the political atmosphere in the Soviet Union. Roginsky continued his work as a historian, preparing a collection of Peasant Tolstoyans Memories, 1910s to 1930s (1989, English edition, 1993, co-edited by Tatyana Gromova) and a book on Dostoyevsky’s perception in Russia (1990, co-edited by Vadim Borisov) as well as editing books on political repression (Zvenya, published in 1990 and 1992). Roginsky was an active participant of the grass root movement that brought about the establishment of the Memorial society in 1988-1989. He was named the Russian Supreme Council expert on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and KGB archives as well as a member of the Political Repression Victims Rehabilitation Commission. (Roginsky’s own rehabilitation took place in 1992.)

In 1998 Arseny Roginsky was elected Chairman of the International Memorial board. While busy leading the activities of numerous organisations  and projects at Memorial, Roginsky continued research into Soviet repression and encouraged the emergence of new programmes and projects, including those which aimed at involving the younger generation and largely relied on the internet as a means of delivering historical data. He was an excellent lecturer and public speaker and often intervened in public discussions at Memorial and elsewhere.

Roginsky’s most recent work as an editor includes the award-winning Znak ne sotrёtsâ (The Sign Will not Fade, a book on Ostarbeiter history in the Soviet Union, 2016) as well as Papiny Pis’ma (second edition, 2017). A completely revamped political repression victims database, an effort of a large group of experts of which he was a part, was made available online just about a week before Arseny Roginsky’s death on 18 December 2017.