The article has been automatically translated into English by Google Translate from Russian and has not been edited.
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Children of Russians killed in the Gulag are suing the government for the right to return home

The children of the GULAG filed a lawsuit against the State Duma. They have been unable to return home for 70 years, reports BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

“Children of the GULAG” - children of people repressed during the Soviet years, as well as those born in exile.

For the first time, the children of victims of Stalin's terror filed a class action suit with the Supreme Court of Russia.

The authorities refuse to provide them with apartments in Moscow and other large cities from where their parents were evicted. Elderly people - 16 women and seven men - are demanding to comply with the 1991 law and the 2019 decision of the Russian Constitutional Court, which guarantee them the right to return home.

This is the first class action lawsuit for non-enforcement of the decision of the Constitutional Court.

Human rights activists demanded to ensure the right of victims of Soviet repression to receive housing at the former place of residence of their families at the expense of the federal budget as a priority.

The 1991 Law “On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression” obliges the Russian authorities to compensate those who were sent into exile or gulag camps, as well as their children born in these places.

Most of the repressed have already died, and almost 30 years later, only the children of the GULAG fall under the law. They have the right to return to their parents' previous place of residence and receive social housing from the state at the expense of the one that their families have lost due to repression.

But it is almost impossible to exercise this right: getting into the queue is difficult, especially in Moscow, and you have to wait for an apartment for 20-30 years. They have nowhere to return without receiving social housing. In fact, they have been in exile for over 70 years.

In 2019, the Russian Constitutional Court ordered the federal legislator to immediately amend the law in order to guarantee the children of the Gulag the realization of their rights.

Authorities have publicly stated that the decision concerns no more than XNUMX elderly people who are eligible but unable to return home. The number of these people is decreasing every year, some of them have been suing the authorities of Moscow and other regions for many years, but the ruling of the Constitutional Court has not been executed.

A class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court against the State Duma is the only legal way available to people to require deputies to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court, human rights activists believe.

Who went to the Supreme Court

The main plaintiff in this case was Alice Meissner.

Her mother lived with her parents in the center of Moscow. In 1941, as Germans, they were expelled from the capital for logging. Meissner was born in a special settlement and still lives in the village of Rudnichny, Kirov region.

A 70-year-old hereditary Muscovite lives in a city full of buildings in ruins, next to an abandoned mine and a cemetery of German prisoners of war.

It was Meissner, along with her peers Evgenia Shasheva from Komi and Elizaveta Mikhailova from the Vladimir Region, who reached the Constitutional Court.

From his rostrum, they told the judges how they were born in special settlements and exile, after the property and housing of their parents in Moscow was taken away by the state. And how all three unsuccessfully sued the Moscow authorities for the right to return there.

The victory in the Constitutional Court did not change the attitude of the authorities towards the applicants, and now they were joined by another 20 people from among the children of the repressed. The oldest plaintiff is 89 years old, the youngest is 64 years old. Another 74-year-old plaintiff died shortly before the lawsuit was filed.

All plaintiffs have the status of rehabilitated victims of political repression - they were either evicted with their parents, or were born in Stalin's camps or exile.

They still expect to return to where their parents were sent from - to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar Territory, Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014), Oryol Region, Rostov Region and Stavropol Territory.

The suit of the children of the Gulag is not only a legal document, but also historical evidence of the decisions of “special meetings” and “triplets”, criminal cases of “enemies of the people”, deportations on ethnic grounds, dispossession of kulaks.

They are represented in court by Grigory Vaipan, a lawyer at Memorial (recognized in Russia as a non-profit organization acting as a foreign agent).

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To the materials of the case, which was considered by the Constitutional Court of Russia, information from Memorial was added that the confiscated apartments were often taken over by employees of the repressive authorities - for example, in Moscow from August 17, 1937 to October 1, 1938, out of 6 rooms sealed in the houses of district councils, 887 6 were transferred to the NKVD.

Why the children of the Gulag cannot return home

Until 2005, the State Duma delegated the powers to the regions themselves to set the conditions on which former political prisoners can return home.

By the time when most of the children of the Gulag were able to achieve the rehabilitation of their parents, obtain the status of victims of repression and collect documents about their historical small homeland, the opportunity to return there was practically blocked.

The toughest obstacles were set by Moscow: just to get into the general queue for social housing, a victim of the Stalinist terror must live in the capital for at least 10 years (in most regions, at least they began to require registration for this), do not have their own living space and have the status of a poor.

The Constitutional Court demanded that the regulation be returned to the federal level, but this has not yet happened.

Eight out of 23 plaintiffs, after the adoption of the decision of the Constitutional Court, were denied registration of those in need of residential premises at their former place of residence. As a justification for such refusals, regional and local authorities point out precisely to the absence of federal legislative regulation, which the State Duma has not yet established.

Seven more applicants were still registered at the parents' former place of residence, but they were put at the very end of the general queue, the lawsuit says.

At the same time, in the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, where the plaintiffs mainly intend to return, the waiting period for housing in the general queue is at least 15 years, and in a number of regions - 25-30 years.

That is, they may simply not have time to live until they return to their former place of residence and actually move there.

In July 2020, the Russian government submitted a bill to the State Duma. On it, the children of the GULAG will get into the general queue. The bill managed to pass the first reading, but after criticism it was removed from the second. Since February of this year, he has been lying motionless.

A group of parliamentarians proposed amendments to the bill, according to which the children of the Gulag should receive federal payments that would allow them to buy housing where they have the right to return. These amendments would make it possible to enforce the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

But they are also left in the State Duma without movement.

The inaction of the State Duma “violates the rights and legitimate interests of persons who have the right to be provided with living quarters at their former place of residence on the basis of the law on rehabilitation,” the lawsuit says.

What a class action lawsuit can change

This is the first class-action lawsuit in the history of Russia for non-enforcement of the decision of the Constitutional Court.

Such a lawsuit, which requires at least 20 plaintiffs, allows them not only to protect their interests, but to act on behalf of everyone who has faced a similar problem.

That is, in this case, the plaintiffs go to court in defense of all victims of repression who have the right to return home.

“There are no formal procedures in the law on the Constitutional Court by which the Constitutional Court itself could control the execution of its decisions. And the State Duma can marinate such bills for years. The class action lawsuit of the children of the Gulag is both the only legal way available to people to demand the execution of the decision of the Constitutional Court, and a way to draw attention to this problem, and a possible tool for solving it, ”Vaipan told the BBC.

According to the law, it is the Supreme Court of Russia that considers claims against the State Duma - it has every reason to recognize the parliament's inaction as illegal and oblige it to immediately execute the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the lawyer explained.

“The class action lawsuit shows how people are willing to work together to enforce correct court decisions. And this is a manifestation of solidarity, which we now lack so much, - says Vaipan. “The fact that people of a very old age, traumatized by repressions, were not afraid to show such solidarity is an example for all of us.”

October 30 is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. The same days marks the 30th anniversary of the 1991 law “On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression”.

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According to the Constitutional Court, since 2010, the legislator has not complied with 35 of its decisions. At the same time, he, like the European Court of Human Rights, has no formal authority to enforce his own decisions.

But the authorities are required by law to comply with such decisions.

“Every year there are fewer and fewer children of the Gulag, and if the decree is not executed in the near future, then soon it will no longer help anyone,” the plaintiffs' representative emphasized.

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