“Trying to break the Kremlin walls”

24 February 2010 by Maria Morina

“The government does not understand that [we] should be working for them, not against them”, says Tatyana Kasatkina, Executive Director of Memorial, a human rights research centre based in Moscow. It was founded towards the end of the Soviet era with the goal of preserving the societal memory of political persecution and oppression. Today it works in post-Soviet states, monitoring human rights and helping “to promote mature civil society and democracy based on the rule of law.” Kasatkina spoke to the IJT at her office in Moscow. 

Could you start by explaining the background of Memorial – how it started?
It was a period when everybody tried to change something in this country. So Memorial appeared. In 1989-1990 we were witnessing people afraid to add their signature...They would say “yes, my relative was imprisoned”, but were too scared to share documents. So at that stage we helped people overcome their fear - fear that accompanied them during all those years. And after that Memorial started focusing on different subjects - human rights today and human rights history are interdependent.

How have things changed since you started?
In early days of Memorial there was euphoria. Now things are very different. We thought that we were building democracy, and now it turns out that what is built is nowhere near democracy. Now it is more complicated to work, more dreadful. At that time no one was killed. Now people are killed, imprisoned. Now it is even kind of nauseating to work, because the government talks about democracy, and everything being done for the people, while in fact everything is against the people.

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