It was no apology, but the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did stun the world in 1956,
famously denouncing Stalin in a speech. The general trend in modern Russia is a growing
nostalgia for Stalin. Putin has spoken almost fondly—rarely critically—of him. And while
there is no organized campaign of fear and terror in today's Russia, Putin's regime has in-
creasingly clamped down on democracy, rounding up protesters and targeting human rights
groups like Memorial. Not to mention, of course, the corrupt and flawed system of justice
that sends innocent people to jail—maybe not at the hands of Stalin but at the hands of an
overzealous judge under pressure to rack up convictions. Russians today live in some state
of purgatory—told by their leaders that they live in a democracy, encouraged to go to the
polls and vote. But meanwhile, Russians can never be sure when the authorities might act
in a wholly undemocratic way—bringing terrifying memories of this country's past back to
Angelina finishes her tea, and we say good-bye.
As she puts on her coat, a young man walks swiftly into the office, hangs his coat on the
coatrack, and positions himself at his desk.
“I'm Robert,” he announces to us across the room.
“Ah, David,” Sergei says quietly. “This is the gentleman we are supposed to talk to.”
He's Memorial's local director.
We walk over to Robert's desk.
“Please. Please sit,” he says.
I ask Robert about the situation for Memorial since Putin returned to the presidency in
2012. He removes a letter from the top of a pile on his desk and holds it in front of me.
“You see this? We received this today from a prosecutor informing us of a 'checkup.'
They are looking for evidence of extremism. So I have to fill this out, confirming that I am
authorized to lead this group, how we spend money, and how we use foreign grants.”
Indeed, Putin angered the United States and other western governments by threatening
to scrutinize human rights organizations, forcing them to register as “foreign agents.” The
move was seen as a not-so-subtle effort by Putin to intimidate the groups and begin the
process of shutting them down. In March 2013, the government raided some of Memori-
al's offices as well as the offices of other rights organizations. Pavel Chikov, who leads
Agora, an umbrella group for human rights organizations, told my NPR colleague, Corey
Flintoff, that groups were deeply worried about bowing to Putin's demand and registering
as “agents” because, as he put it, “this means that we are spies of foreign government.”
Robert tells me he received the threatening letter because he gets charitable contribu-
tions from the United States.
“The situation in our country is constantly worsening,” Robert says. “I have this game.
Whenever I hear about some new initiative like this”—he shakes the letter—“I hold it in