The erosion of free speech in Russia under Vladimir Putin has been an unfolding tragedy for Russia. As is often the case, the loss of freedom of speech often goes hand-in-hand with the loss of academic freedom. However, the arrest of a Russian historian, Yuri Dmitriev, 61, is particularly chilling and raises legitimate comparisons with the Stalinist period. That is fitting given the fact that Dmitriev is being forced into psychiatric testing after writing about the discovery of thousands of bodies from the 1930s — victims of Joe Stalin. Putin has ordered a revisionist history on Stalin to glorify his reign and downplay the millions killed by the bloodsoaked dictator.
Dmitriev remained committed to the truth despite constant pressure from the government. He excavated areas bordering Finland and focused on victims near the notorious Solovki prison camp. He found more than one mass grave in the region, documenting 13,000 of Stalin’s victims in Karelia alone.
After his academic work achieved international attention, Dmitriev was arrested on a variety of charges that critics insist are trumped up by Putin officials. They include child pornography (involving pictures of his adopted daughter), illegal possession of “the main elements” of a firearm, and depravity. They have now forced him into psychiatric testing.
The work of Dmitriev came out after Putin ordered the an end to the “excessive demonization of Stalin.” The Russians have worked tirelessly to scrub the history surrounding World War II, including not just the millions who died under Stalin’s rule but the Russian pact with Hitler (and subsequent invasion of neighboring countries) before Hitler turned on Stalin. Stalin by all accounts was a paranoid moron who left his country vulnerable to attack and made horrendous decisions both during the war and after the war that killed millions.
While Dmitriev was previously found sane, prosecutors are trying again with a new round of tests to look at his “sexual deviations.” As if to guarantee comparison with Stalin, the Putin government has flown Dmitriev to be evaluated at the Serbsky Centre, the infamous facility used during the Soviet period to lock up political dissidents as mentally ill.