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"70th Anniversary of Operation North. Lessons of Persecution" press conference was held in Moscow


On April 1, 2021, in the Rosbalt press center, religious scholars and human rights activists talked about the anniversary of the events of April 1, 1951 - the mass deportation of almost 10 thousand followers of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses from the Baltic States, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine to Siberia, from Tomsk to Lake Baikal. The conference was broadcast in its entirety on the Internet.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, mentioned in his speech that Operation North directly affected his family. "By checking archival sources, we were able to establish that a total of 9,793 Jehovah's Witnesses and their family members were deported," Sivulsky said, "This figure includes those who died and were born on the road.” His presentation contained many additional details related to the operation.

Religious scholar Sergey Ivanenko spoke about the role of propaganda in the USSR, as well as its role in contemporary events in Russia with followers of this religion. Making a thorough review, Ivanenko emphasized: "The policy of forceful suppression of Jehovah's Witnesses, which has been carried out in the Russian Federation since 2017, is futile. The lessons of Operation North and the analysis of the current situation, including the steadfastness of Jehovah's Witnesses in defending their beliefs, bear witness to this. It seems advisable, from the point of view of Russia's national interests, to implement a set of measures to return Jehovah's Witnesses to the legal field".

Kazakhstan religious scholar Artur Artemiev, author of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kazakhstan: A Social-Historical and Religious Analysis, revised in 2020, described how the Soviet policy of exiles and camps applied to Jehovah's Witnesses affected the growth of the religion's followers in his country.

The topic addressed by human rights activist Valery Borschev of the Moscow Helsinki Group was formulated as follows: "The Soviet Roots of Modern Discrimination against Believers." One of his substantiated theses: "Persecution only strengthens Jehovah's Witnesses. The authorities must understand that."

Valentin Gefter, a member of the Expert Council under the Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia, addressed "How Prisoners of Conscience Emerge in Modern Russia.” Discussing the root of persecution, he said: "Jehovah's Witnesses are not against the state—they are outside the state." He went on to explain how and why this causes persecution.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, said that the organization he heads (the Sova Information and Analytical Center) keeps records of all cases of improper application of the extremism law to Jehovah's Witnesses. "Let's start with the good," Verkhovsky said, "Last year, 110 new defendants were added to the cases of banned Jehovah's Witnesses organizations. It would seem that what is good here? That it is half as many as the year before. Will this campaign be reduced? This is a very important question, and we do not know the answer." Verkhovsky is convinced that the state must sooner or later stop persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses. He cited several models of how this might work.

Participants had the opportunity to answer journalists' questions.

This press conference was not the only commemorative event on the anniversary of Operation North. A similar event was held in Moldova and is planned for Ukraine.