Strong Representation of Young Talents in Russian History Competition

Award ceremony in the Nikitsky Gate Theatre in Moscow | Photo: Körber-Stiftung
Award ceremony in the Nikitsky Gate Theatre in Moscow | Photo: Körber-Stiftung

This year’s call for participation in the Russian history competition showed a strong representation of 14 and-15-year-olds. In total, more than 1,600 entries were submitted, and the best works were honoured at the award ceremony in Moscow at the Nikitski Gate Theatre on 25 April.

Forty-three winners were invited to attend the award ceremony. In the days leading up to the event, they presented the results of their research to each other and showcased their results in an exhibition in the foyer of the Nikitsky Theatre during the award ceremony.

The organisers of MEMORIAL celebrated the 20th anniversary of their competition at the ceremony. Since 1999, they have been encouraging pupils from all over the country to explore their family history and find out more about the fate and everyday life of their ancestors. On the occasion of their anniversary, MEMORIAL presented a short film about their competition. A map of Russia visualised how well the organisers managed to attract students and teachers from all over the country.

Winners presenting their research results in the foyer of the Nikitsky Theatre | Photo: Körber-Stiftung
Winners presenting their research results in the foyer of the Nikitsky Theatre | Photo: Körber-Stiftung

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to carry out the competition. Since MEMORIAL was declared a foreign agent by the state, employees have been fighting for their freedom and ability to act. Like last year, this year’s award ceremony was accompanied by a small counter-demonstration and slanderous television coverage. Behind these campaign is an official historical policy in Russia, in which a critical confrontation with the victims of Stalinism is pushed into the background in favour of a patriotic historical image - the fates of millions of people in Russia thus remain in the dark.

In her closing speech, Irina Scherbakowa, who founded the competition in 1999 together with the late Arseni Roginski, stressed that even after 20 years in Russia there are still far too many empty spaces, unexplored graves, and gaps in archives that need to be explored by interested and curious young people so that people's fates and experiences are not buried and forgotten. "Without the commitment of teachers throughout the country who motivate their pupils to search for clues, MEMORIAL would only be a small stone in the Russian taiga. But the debate about the history of the 20th century is not over yet and we hope that the next generation will continue to review the events."

As in previous years, the winners were congratulated by a large number of sponsors and friends of the competition, including the chairman of the jury, the award-winning Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, the chairman of the Human Rights Council to the Russian President, Mikhail Fedotov, Irina Prokhorova, director of the Prokhorova Foundation, Markus Ederer, ambassador of the EU to Russia, as well as other Russian actors, journalists and alumni of the project. Two former prize winners, now a historian and a lawyer, looked back on their competition experience. One of them "complained" to the organisers that when doing research for the competition he discovered that history was more complicated than previously imagined and that he could no longer believe in simple black-and-white interpretations.

Katja Fausser, head of the EUSTORY network, invited the Russian prizewinners to engage with history across borders and to exchange their views about the past with young Europeans at the EUSTORY Summit or on the History Campus blog.

Video of the award ceremony (in Russian)

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