BASEES Members Share Their Recollections of Arsenii Roginskii

There have been many obituaries in the newspapers and social media of Arsenii Roginskii since his death in December 2017. These emphasise different aspects of his life and work: his birth in Velsk in Arkhangel oblast, the death of his father in exile, the impact on him of the events of 1968, his own arrest and detention for his samizdat activities, his co-founding of Memorial which under his leadership embarked upon the work of documenting and memorialising the gulag and Stalin terror.  Because of Memorial, and notwithstanding the current assaults it is having to endure, Russia will not been allowed to sweep the past under the carpet and survivors of the Repression and the relatives of its victims know that their sufferings will not be forgotten.    


(Image: Stephan Röhl. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.)

For those of us engaged in the academic study of the USSR, the death of Arsenii Roginskii is also the loss of a brilliant historian and agenda-setter for investigative research.  The Memorial archive have proved to be a fundamental resource for researchers across the social sciences, history and the humanities. Those of us who were privileged to meet Arsenii know that he was very generous with his time and always open to new research projects.  I first met him in 2009 shortly after a ban on my visiting the Russian Federation imposed in 2007 (associated with the breakdown of a joint research project with the Russian Prison Service) had been lifted.  I had spent my time “out in the cold” using the information in the Spravochnik: Sistema Ispravitel’no Trudovykh Lagerei v SSR 1936-1960 that he edited with Nikita Okhotin, to draw a series of maps plotting the distribution of camp HQs for an interactive website.  I made an appointment to see Arsenii  to check that Memorial was comfortable with what I had done, before the site went live. To this day, I remember his almost child-like excitement when I showed him a computer animation of the founding and dissolution of camps; he clapped his hands, jumped up and called in everyone from the outer office to come and have a look – not an easy task as his office was small and overflowing with books and papers.  Arsenii shortly afterwards came to the BASEES conference for further discussions about mapping the gulag. I recall that he spent most of his time in the Fitzwilliam bar, giving his time to answering question for a succession of old and new acquaintances. 

It occurred to us in BASEES that many of our members must have recollections they would like to share  of Arsenii Roginskii or who would like to record their debt to the work of Memorial. We are starting the ball rolling with these recollections of Rose Glickman (Russian Factory Women: Workplace and Society: 1880-1914) who knew Arsenii from her student exchange days.  Any members who want to add their recollections please send them to me and we will post them here.   


Arsenii Roginskii: A Farewell.   By Rose Glickman

One dreary Leningrad day in the winter of 1976, I went home to my room in the dormitory on Shevchenko and found a strange young man sitting on my bed. Brave soul, I thought.  Or foolhardy? In those years Russians were not keen to advertise their friendship with foreigners. But Senya Roginskii didn’t give a hoot. In the many years of our deep friendship I watched him violate all the rules of basic survival in the USSR.   Memorial, the jewel in Senya’s crown, was preceded by years of “samizdat.” Using a library card he got for allegedly researching Plekhanov, he was combing the archives for the evidence of Soviet chicanery, especially the kind that sent his father into the Camps and into prison where he died.  That very library card was the “violation” which the Soviet government used to send Senya as well to the Gulag for 4 years.   

Senya held a regular Friday night “salon.” If I close my eyes I can see myself getting off the metro at Park Pobeda, and walking through the park to his apartment on Ulitsa Gagarina where the most interesting people in Leningrad gathered—all, of course, dissidents.  Some of them, like Senya, subsequently became leading activists in the post-Soviet civil/human rights movement, connected in various ways to Memorial.   How lucky I was to have Senya as my guide through the intricacies of Soviet life as well as a faithful and generous friend.  How lucky Russia is to have had such an avatar of courage, intelligence and integrity: a guiding light through Soviet and post-Soviet times.  Russia is poorer for his death, as are all the friends he leaves  behind.   Слава тебе, Сеня!