On October 30, 2017, the Memorial Day for the Victims of Political Repressions, in Moscow, solemnly, with the participation of President Vladimir Putin and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, a huge bronze monument to the victims of political repressions of the Soviet period, called “Wall of Sorrow”, was unveiled. The inscription on the granite block, placed next to the monument, reports that the monument was erected by the decree of President Vladimir Putin. Putin, who came to the event, as usual, a little late and examined the illuminated monument and was pleased. He called the “wall” grandiose and piercing.
This national monument was created by the famous Russian sculptor Georgy Frangulyan. His project was chosen in Moscow in February 2015 by the jury of a special competition. The projects that were submitted for the competition were then demonstrated at the exhibition in the Museum of Moscow.
Visually the bronze monument “Wall of Sorrow” is over 30 meters long and about 6 meters high. It represents a huge mass of uniformly stylized figures of people standing in a row close to each other and in several rows one on top of the other. The contours and outline of the figures are very similar to those of Orthodox icons. The size of the monument, the huge number of iconic images of closely crowded sorrowful figures of martyrs, whose features are not visible, certainly produces a strong emotional impression and evokes strong feelings and emotions. In front of the monument, there are several rectangular bronze steles with the word “REMEMBER” in various languages.
There is not the slightest hint in the monument of condemnation of the Soviet authorities and leadership who ordered executions and the government bodies that organized and conducted political persecutions and executions. In his opening remarks Putin did not mention Stalin, the main person responsible for the terror against his own nation. In his speech, Putin advised against confrontation: “Now it is important for all of us to rely on the values of trust and stability.” In conclusion, he quoted the words of Natalia Solzhenitsyn, the widow of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was present at the event: “To know, to remember, to condemn and only then to forgive.”
Several words are incised on two big stone slabs standing behind the bronze wall. On one of them are the words “REMEMBER” and “BE AWARE”, and on the other, the words “CONDEMN” and “FORGIVE.”
The last word “FORGIVE” caused the immediate reaction of Russian intellectuals and human rights activists, including Yurii Samodurov and Lev Ponomarev. In an open letter, they wrote:
This is not just the words of Frangulyan or someone else’s. Whether we like it or not, but the words inscribed on bronze steles and stone slabs as part of a national monument to the victims of political repressions establish and express a national and governmental attitude to both the victims and those figures and those bodies of the Soviet government that carried out political repression and were guilty of causing suffering of tens of millions and the death of millions of their fellow citizens, including our relatives.
The “Wall of Sorrow” offers the Russian society and those who look at the wall not only “to know, remember, and condemn” political repression, which is absolutely right and necessary, but also to “FORGIVE” Soviet authorities for political repression, the destruction of hundreds of thousands of people.
Nobody has a moral (and not only moral) right, neither the President, nor the Patriarch, nor the customers of the monument, none of us. Therefore, we insist that the plate with the word “FORGIVE” be removed from the stone slide behind the “Wall of Sorrow”!
We strongly suggest the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Department of Culture of Moscow, which are responsible for the “Wall of Sorrow” monument, and the monument author, Georgy Frangulyan, fulfill our demand and request.
These words “BE AWARE, REMEMBER, CONDEMN, DO NOT REPEAT” are needed and should be on the plates of the “Wall of Sorrow” to express the attitude towards the criminal acts of the state and Soviet leadership achieved by the Russian society, including the descendants of the victims of political repressions, through suffering.
The same day 38 former Soviet political prisoners, including such well-known figures as Vladimir Bukovsky, Pavel Litvinov, and Aleksandr and Kirill Podrabinek, published one more open letter regarding the monument:
We, former political prisoners and participants of the democratic movement in the Soviet Union, consider untimely and cynical the opening in Moscow of a monument to victims of political repressions. The monument is a tribute to the past, and political repressions in Russia not only continues, but also grow.
The current Russian government, sponsoring the opening of the monument, is trying to pretend that political repressions are long, and, therefore, the memory of the victims of these repressions can be perpetuated. We state with confidence that the current Russian political prisoners are worthy of our help and attention no less than the victims of the Soviet regime are worthy of our memory and respect.
It is impossible to sincerely grieve over the past and slyly turn a blind eye to the present. One must not divide the victims of political repressions between those to whom monuments could be already created, and those who cannot be honored yet. One must not participate in commemorative events of the authorities, that supposedly regret the victims of the Soviet regime, but, in fact, continue political repressions and suppress civil liberties in the country. One must not allow the authoritarian leadership to open monuments to the victims of repressions with one hand, and to create arbitrariness and lawlessness with another. Cooperation with the authorities in this matter is at least immoral.
The monument to the victims of political repressions, no doubt, should be erected in Moscow, but only when there are no political prisoners in the country, when the executioners are punished, and the political repression cease to be in the news reports and become only a subject of study by historians.