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Czech experts: Pressure on NGOs, historians in Russia rising

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Prague, Dec 11 (CTK) – The pressure on NGOs and independent researchers who study recent history in Russia is growing, Czech historians have said at the close of the two-day international conference History Versus Propaganda. Relationship to History in Present-Day Russia held in Prague.

Along with warning of Communist crimes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the groups often criticise the current Russian government policy.

They are being harassed and denied access to financing, the historians said on Thursday.

“We are in a close contact with researchers and archivists from the former Soviet Union,” historian Stepan Cernousek, from the Institute for the Studies of Totalitarian Regimes and author of the server, told CTK.

“We watch the situation. We can see that recently they have been under a growing pressure by the state,” Cernousek said.

“They are being targeted by a hateful media campaign such as that against the Perm-36 museum,” he added.

The Russian government is trying to dispute the totalitarian past, extolling dictator Joseph Stalin and building memorials to him, or describing the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia as friendly help, Cernousek said.

“This is a source of very big concern to us,” Cernousek said.

The visitors to the conference signed the Appeal of Czech Historians. They want to support free and critical examination of Soviet history in present-day Russia.

The organisations such as the Memorial, the Perm-36 original museum or the Sakharov Centre and others are being harassed or must work under the tarnishing name of a “foreign agent.”

The decisions on this label are made by the Russian Justice Ministry or prosecutor’s office.

The organisations have links abroad or are financed from foreign sources. Their activities are not banned, but they must regularly register and undergo restrictive financial checks.

“All of this takes place on the basis of a check. It can have various forms,” Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Centre, told CTK.

“Sometimes it looks like an unexpected raid. The people break in and start checking everything in the presence of armed forces,” Lukashevsky said.

He said after the introduction of the restrictions, the Moscow center had seen a falling number of excursions from schools, but the regional organisations were afflicted much more.

“These are not only the organisations that criticise the government, but also those that only staged a conference where some criticism occurred,” he added.

He said they could do independent work thanks to financial support from abroad as it was impossible to collect money through collections in Russia.

In present-day Russia, there is an obvious effort to rehabilitate the Stalin era, Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09), chairman of the Chamber of Deputies foreign affairs committee, said.

“Each nation creates its own myths, sometimes very dangerous myths about its history,” Schwarzenberg said.

Some in the Czech Republic, too, could succumb to the temptation of seeing the darkest pages of its history in a rosy light if it strays from democracy, he added.

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