On School Competition “People in History: 20th Century Russia”


International Memorial Board's Statement

International Memorial has been running its annual competition of high school students’ research papers «People in History: 20th Century Russia» for twenty years, since 1999. About 50,000 school students all over Russia took part in the competition during these 20 years. Academician Sigurd Schmidt, and writers Daniil Granin and Svetlana Aleksievich were among the competition jury members. The jury is now headed by writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya. The main goal of the competition is to stir up the school students’ interest in the national history, history of their families and their home area.

Since 2016, the competition has been attacked by activists of radical organizations National Liberation Movement (Russian abbreviation: NOD) and SERB (South-East Radical Block) that receive information support from the federal TV channels, such as REN TV and Rossiya 24. This year, on the eve of the jubilee 20th prizewinner award ceremony, the state-run federal TV channel Rossiya 24 showed a defamatory piece about the competition and its participants. The organizers of the competition were labeled as «Judases of today» in the worst traditions of the soviet propaganda. The campaign continued even after the award ceremony. Charges with «anti-patriotism» and «re-writing of history» were thrown at the organizers, school students and their teachers.

The most outrageous developments began after the winners came back home. Since May 6 the Steering Committee of the competition has been receiving the following information: in most of the 24 regions where the competition winners live, teachers who have been their academic advisors are summoned to the school principal’s office to meet people who say they are officers of the local departments of education, local governments, or FSB. The teachers are asked how information about the competition is communicated, they are pressed to share the participants’ research papers (including those submitted to the previous competitions), and strongly recommended to discontinue their engagement with International Memorial. In some cases, school students who won the competition were summoned for preventive conversations.

The synchronized timing and similarity of such visits to schools in different regions suggest that these «check ups» are not a local initiative but a top-down directive.

We treat all these actions not just as attempts to throw mud at the educational work that Memorial has run for many years but as the wish to scare school students and teachers, and impose censorship. We point out that attempts to pressurize the competition participants are unacceptable, and we hope for support and solidarity of the public.

Moscow, June 4, 2019