MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russian historians have raised concern authorities are playing down Stalin-era crimes after they learned that police destroyed the archive records of a victim of the Soviet dictator’s purges, citing a previously unknown government directive.
The Russian deputy interior minister has denied such records are being systematically destroyed. But the incident has given new life to allegations that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is discounting dark chapters of the Soviet past and glorifying triumphs like its World War Two victory instead.
Researcher Sergei Prudovsky was told by regional police in correspondence seen by Reuters that the registration card of Fyodor Chazov, who was sentenced to forced labour in a camp in the gold-mining region of Magadan in 1938, had been destroyed.
The police force in Magadan, which was home to some of the harshest camps in Stalin’s gulag system, cited a government order from September 2014 which police said designated registration cards more than 80 years old for destruction.
The finding prompted the head of Moscow’s state Gulag History Museum to appeal to the Kremlin’s human rights commissioner, asking him to launch an official investigation.
Millions were sent to forced labour camps or shot under Josef Stalin’s rule and the personal details of those who were released were kept on registration cards that were meant to be stored indefinitely.
“The registration card is the last thing that remains and it was destroyed after 2014 (in this case). Of course we couldn’t ignore this event. It really alarmed us and we appealed to the president’s human rights adviser,” museum director Roman Romanov said.
Hundreds of Russians have appealed in recent months to the Gulag History Museum for help obtaining official information about grandmothers and grandfathers who were caught up in the notorious purges, Romanov told Reuters on Saturday.
“If a person is told the record has been destroyed and there is no further information, then of course this is a personal tragedy on the one hand and on the other it’s a loss of a huge amount of information,” he said.
Romanov said this was the first time they had been told a document had been destroyed, and that they had otherwise been successful in obtaining information from authorities in the past.
On Friday, Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov told the Human Rights Council that no government directive had been issued to destroy historical records. Zubov said the destruction of registration cards by police should be treated as isolated cases, the council said in a statement.
Putin has dominated the Russian political landscape for 18 years, talking up Soviet achievements and making the victory in World Two under Stalin a central pillar to unite society.
In April, a Russian historian whose exposure of Stalin’s crimes jarred with the Kremlin narrative that Russia must not be ashamed of its past was cleared of child pornography charges after a long campaign by human rights activists to free him.
State prosecutors had accused Yuri Dmitriev of child pornography in charges his supporters called trumped up, demanding he be jailed for 9 years.
He was acquitted, although he still faced restrictions on his movements for three months under less severe charges of firearms possession. He also denied those charges.