For a series of events and meetings on 2-5 March 2015, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and Amnesty International invited representatives of Russian NGOs – Tatiana Kursina (Executive Director, NGO “Memorial Centre of the History of Political Repressions “Perm-36”, Perm) and Sergei Lukashevsky (Director, Sakharov Centre, Moscow) – to Berlin. The proclaimed aim was to discuss the current position of historical memory and education in Russia, situation of both organisations as well as latest developments in the field of civil society activities in Russia in general.
Exactly on 2 March 2015, worrying news came from the Board of the NGO “Perm-36”, which announced shutdown of the organisation. The reasons behind are “unsuccessful negotiations with the Governor’s Administration of the Perm Region and their further hopelessness as well as impossibility to comply with the Charter” of the organisation, as long as the NGO hasn’t had access to the memorial complex owned by the state since 2014 (see an open letter by the Board).
The preservation of the Sakharov Centre, which was put on the list of “foreign agents” in December 2014, is also endangered.  Sergei Lukashevsky joined the visit right after the ceremony of last respects for the murdered politician Boris Nemtsov, which took place on 3 March 2015 at the Centre. Naturally, this topic was highlighted by participants of meetings in a broader context of the Russian civil society field.
Speaking about the roots of public sentiments, Sergei Lukashevski pointed out that there was obviously a ground for that atmosphere of hatred in the Russian society. ‘In the 1990s, when people faced severe social difficulties, they were merely seeking the ways to survive,’ admitted the historian. ‘The principles of democracy and freedom regrettably lead to corruption and electoral fraud. Ideas and values, which we are trying to advocate and protect at the Sakharov Centre, turned out to be abstract concepts for the majority of people.’
The afternoon of 3 March 2015 started with the Round table “Coming to Terms or Obliterating History in Russia?” at the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship. This talk was held in a close circle of German, European, and Russian historians, who elaborated specific measures of support for both “Perm-36” and the Sakharov Centre. It was a great honour to have among participants Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the Board of the “Memorial” Society, who made valuable remarks on a broader context of the modern Russian doctrine affecting inter alia “Perm-36” and the Sakharov Centre.
In the evening, a round of sharing opinions and ideas was opened to general public. For the discussion at the House of Democracy and Human Rights, Prof. em. Dr. Wolfgang Eichwede, Founding Director of the Research Centre Eastern Europe at the University of Bremen, as a speaker and Peter Franck, Co-Ordinator of the Russian Group at Amnesty International, as a moderator joined.
On 4 March 2015, individual meetings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chancellor’s Office took place. Besides, a round with German journalists was held in the premises of Amnesty International.
‘In the course of the discussions and meetings in Berlin, our German partners suggested a number of approaches to influence and support the NGO “Perm-36” as an institution,’ resumed Tatiana Kursina. ‘We all have common understanding that this is the only way to save the unique monument and the museum in its original form.’
‘It is extremely important to strengthen the cooperation with Germany and increase support of international partners for the historical memory work,’ added Anna Sevortian, Executive Director of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. ‘It is especially important under these rough conditions of state pressure on the Russian NGOs.’
The visit to Berlin became possible thanks to concerted efforts of the partners – the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Amnesty International, the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship, German-Russian Exchange, Memorial Germany, and the Foundation “House of Democracy and Human Rights”.