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Thousands mourn victims of Stalin-era purges in Moscow

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Thousands of Russians on Wednesday gathered outside the former KGB headquarters in central Moscow for an annual ritual commemorating the tens of thousands killed in Stalin-era repressions.

Now in its eighth year, the event called "Bringing Back Names," was held over 12 hours starting at 10 in the morning.

It comes ahead of a day of remembrance for the victims of political repressions in the Soviet Union.

The participants took turns to read out the full names of people shot by Stalin's officials, as well as their age and profession and the date of their execution.

"May their memory live forever," each speaker said, laying flowers at a commemorative stone in the centre of the Lubyanka square.

The stone comes from the Solovetsky Islands in northwestern Russia, where one of the first prison camps of the Gulag system was created in 1923.

"I always come here. It's very important to remember, to hear these names and to read them out," Anna Borzenko, a 58-year-old French teacher, told AFP.

A man holds his father's portrait near the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repr...
A man holds his father's portrait near the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repression, the Solovky Stone monument, on Lubyanka Square in Moscow, on October 29, 2014
Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP

"We must not forget this. If we forget, this could happen again," said 17-year-old Sergei Koval.

Arseny Roginsky, the president of Memorial, Russia's most prominent human rights group, said the ceremony was "a symbolic act that links the two eras."

"It's impossible to build a rule of law if you do not remember what arbitrary rule is," he said.

In 1937 and 1938, at the height of the Stalin terror, more than 40,000 people were shot in Moscow alone, according to Memorial, which organises the event.

The Kremlin does not hold any commemoration ceremony for the victims of Josef Stalin's repressions.

Memorial, which investigates everything from the Stalin-era Gulag to government death squads in Chechnya, has come under increasing pressure from the authorities.

The justice ministry is seeking to disband its central umbrella organisation, which oversees groups nationwide, in a case set to be heard by the Supreme Court on November 13.

Earlier this year Memorial was ordered to register itself as a "foreign agent", a term with connotations of treachery and espionage, under a controversial new law that affects NGOs involved in politics that get international funding.

Thousands of Russians on Wednesday gathered outside the former KGB headquarters in central Moscow for an annual ritual commemorating the tens of thousands killed in Stalin-era repressions.

Now in its eighth year, the event called “Bringing Back Names,” was held over 12 hours starting at 10 in the morning.

It comes ahead of a day of remembrance for the victims of political repressions in the Soviet Union.

The participants took turns to read out the full names of people shot by Stalin’s officials, as well as their age and profession and the date of their execution.

“May their memory live forever,” each speaker said, laying flowers at a commemorative stone in the centre of the Lubyanka square.

The stone comes from the Solovetsky Islands in northwestern Russia, where one of the first prison camps of the Gulag system was created in 1923.

“I always come here. It’s very important to remember, to hear these names and to read them out,” Anna Borzenko, a 58-year-old French teacher, told AFP.

A man holds his father's portrait near the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repr...
A man holds his father's portrait near the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repression, the Solovky Stone monument, on Lubyanka Square in Moscow, on October 29, 2014
Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP

“We must not forget this. If we forget, this could happen again,” said 17-year-old Sergei Koval.

Arseny Roginsky, the president of Memorial, Russia’s most prominent human rights group, said the ceremony was “a symbolic act that links the two eras.”

“It’s impossible to build a rule of law if you do not remember what arbitrary rule is,” he said.

In 1937 and 1938, at the height of the Stalin terror, more than 40,000 people were shot in Moscow alone, according to Memorial, which organises the event.

The Kremlin does not hold any commemoration ceremony for the victims of Josef Stalin’s repressions.

Memorial, which investigates everything from the Stalin-era Gulag to government death squads in Chechnya, has come under increasing pressure from the authorities.

The justice ministry is seeking to disband its central umbrella organisation, which oversees groups nationwide, in a case set to be heard by the Supreme Court on November 13.

Earlier this year Memorial was ordered to register itself as a “foreign agent”, a term with connotations of treachery and espionage, under a controversial new law that affects NGOs involved in politics that get international funding.

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