"Truth in Dmitriev’s case – this is what we speak up for"


To: Dunja Mijatović,
Commissioner for Human Rights,
Council of Europe

Dear Mrs. Mijatović, 

We are driven by anxiety about the life and destiny of Yuri Dmitriev, the Russian historian, prominent researcher of the GULAG and discoverer of the Stalinist era execution site in Sandarmokh (Republic of Karelia, Russia). The hearings in his criminal case are now being conducted in the Petrozavodsk City Court.

As Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, you are certainly aware of this case: it began in December 2016 with a heinous accusation of making child pornography, and ended – as it seemed at the time – with Dmitriev’s full acquittal in March 2018. We are convinced that the close attention to the case and the public outcry it generated not only in Russia but also in other countries played a role in this positive outcome.

However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office succeeded in getting the acquittal verdict overturned and made a more terrible accusation, this time it was of sexual abuse against Yuri’s underage adopted daughter. It seems that the choice of a disgusting criminal article was strongly influenced by the negative stereotype ingrained in the mass consciousness: a single father is a potential rapist. 

This case, judging from what we have read about it, is based – as well as the first one – on the desire to drown out the memory of Stalin’s purges and to do away with Dmitriev who has unearthed undeniable evidence of the darkest pages of Soviet history. The Russian authorities are seeking to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh by slandering its discoverer and groundlessly accusing Dmitriev of an outrageous crime. We also need to take into account the current Russian context, which, alas, can be described as a creeping rehabilitation of Stalinism... 

Dmitriev, who has established the names of several thousand citizens of fifty-eight nationalities shot in Sandarmokh and who has created a national memorial there, seems to be a bone in the authorities’ throats. 

The 64-year-old historian may be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail. Such a sentence will be the end of not only his research, but of his life as well.

It is hard to even imagine the ruined fate of his adopted daughter.

In a sense, Dmitriev’s case resembles two famous criminal cases that once shook Europe: of officer Dreyfus in Paris and of factory superintendent Beilis in Kyiv. These cases also had a clear political background and made use of mass prejudice and bias.

Both Dreyfus and Beilis were supported by outstanding intellectuals from various European countries who did not believe in their guilt. Today, ordinary citizens and people of art and science from all parts of Europe have united their efforts in the struggle for Yuri Dmitriev’s freedom and good name. Twenty ambassadors of European countries to Russia visited the Sandarmokh memorial complex in autumn 2019, paying tribute to the victims of terror and to Yuri Dmitriev’s civic feat.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights reads that everyone is entitled to a fair court hearing. We are convinced that Dmitriev will be released if his trial is fair. 

«Truth and justice, so ardently longed for!» wrote Émile Zola in his famous article «I Accuse!»

Truth in Dmitriev’s case – this is what we speak up for.

Mrs. Mijatović, please, add your voice to ours!

Signed by:

Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize laureate in literature, 2015

Herta Müller, Nobel Prize laureate in literature, 2009

Jonathan Littell, winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Prix de l'Académie française, 2006.