Case Against Historian Elicits Public Outcry

Mikhail Suprun. Source: arhcity.ruA criminal case against a historian who researched repressed German settlers in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia is now being transferred to the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General, according to a statement by authorities.

The case against Professor Mikhail Suprun and Police Colonel Aleksandr Dudarev had elicited a strong public outcry, prompting the investigation. According to the Investigative Committee (SKP), Suprun received a grant in 2007 from the German Red Cross and a German historical research society to work with forty thousand archival documents located in Arkhangelsk. He then built an electronic database of five thousand settlers of German and Polish heritage, repatriated from German territory to the Arkhangelsk oblast at the end of World War II.

“The information collected by Suprun contained biographical information, the composition of family ties, facts and grounds for moving…and information about service in the German army,” the statement says. It claims that Colonel Dudarev provided Suprun with “unhindered access” to the archives, with “the possibility of copying materials without the agreement of people about whom information was gathered, and their relatives.” Additionally, investigators believe that Suprun was “planning to transfer the information abroad.”

Suprun had been using the archival materials to compose a “Book of Memory” of repressed Russian Germans in the 1940s, as well as to research the fates of prisoners of war in northern camps of the USSR.

Police intercepted Suprun’s car on September 13, when he was taken by officials from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to an investigator. There, the professor was told that someone had informed the FSB of their reluctance to see their relatives’ information in the “Book of Memory,” and that the FSB suspected Suprun of distributing personal information from the archives.

An official search was conducted at the homes and places of work of both Suprun and Dudarev, and all personal archives in possession of the professor were confiscated. He called the search “shameless” and said that officers “told me to say thank you that we’re not breaking up your floorboards.” He also said that officers took “in general everything that was written in foreign languages,” and said that he had not been shown any court order allowing the search.

In an open letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on October 14, German politician and human rights advocate Marianne Birthler accused Russian authorities of intentionally hindering Suprun’s work. She said the work “sheds light on the dark times of Stalin” and called for all confiscated materials to be returned to Suprun.

The “Book of Memory” has already been published throughout Russia for the past decade. According to Yan Rachinsky, co-chairman of the human rights center Memorial, “various power structures (including the police and the FSB) participate in the preparation of these books.” The prosecutor, he said, is obligated to allow the work to go on despite any objections from relatives.

This is not the first time Russia’s federal authorities have confiscated historical documents. In a raid last December by the same committee now investigating Suprun’s case, armed and masked men broke into Memorial’s St. Petersburg office and confiscated its entire archive. Many of the materials contained unique information pertaining to victims of the Stalinist repressions, and noted historian Orlando Figes said the raid “was clearly intended to intimidate Memorial.”