Raoul Wallenberg (born in 1912) was a Swedish diplomat; in July 1944, he was appointed first secretary of the Swedish Embassy in Budapest. During his posting, Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Jews by issuing them Swedish documents or by hiding them in the buildings of the Swedish mission. Wallenberg was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title by Yad Vashem.
In January 1945, Wallenberg and his driver went to the frontline to meet with the Soviet command. Both were arrested on suspicion of espionage and secretly taken to Moscow. It is not known what exactly happened to Wallenberg and his driver in the NKVD (since March 1946, the MGB) prison. According to the official Soviet version of events made public in 1957, Wallenberg died of a heart attack in the Lubyanka investigative prison on 17 July 1947. However, other prisoners’ testimonies challenge the official theory. In addition to this, in 2009, the FSB revealed that on 22-23 July 1947, i.e. six days after Wallenberg’s officially reported date of death, his driver, cellmates and someone else named “Prisoner No. 7” were interrogated; researchers believe that the latter was Wallenberg. In 2000, Wallenberg and his driver were officially rehabilitated. In 2016, Ivan Serov, KGB chief from 1954 to 1958,published his memoirs stating that Wallenberg was liquidated, and the orders to liquidate him came directly from Stalin and Molotov. This allegedly became known from the interrogation of Abakumov, former state security minister arrested in 1951 and executed in 1954.
In September 2016, Wallenberg’s niece Marie Dupuy, who has been investigating the circumstances of her uncle’s death for many years, requested access from the FSB to certain documents, such as the records of Abakumov’s interrogations, the records of “Prisoner No. 7” interrogations of 22-23 July 1947, and the originals of Lubyanka and Lefortovo prison registries for 1945-1947 (which had been provided in heavily censored copies). Her request was denied, and in June 2017, Marie Dupuy requested a court to order the FSB to grant her access to these archival documents. Dupuy was represented by lawyers of the Team 29 human rights organisation (Ivan Pavlov, Daria Sukhikh and Anna Fomina).
In September 2017, the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow dismissed Dupuy’s claim, and on 20 February 2018, the Moscow City Court turned down the appeal against this decision. We interviewed the lawyer Ivan Pavlov, head of the Team 29.
Why has Wallenberg’s niece insisted on accessing these documents?
First, it must be said that neither she, nor any of the researchers have seen these materials. We have requested uncensored copies of the relevant pages in the prison interrogation registry and the registry of prisoners admitted to the Lefortovo prison and the Lubyanka inner prison. The pages we requested are sure to contain data on Wallenberg. We need this data to find out who else was interrogated alongside him and where. This information could help us identify these people and open a new investigation to find out more about them, why they were in prison, whether they were Wallenberg’s cellmates, and some other things. Were they perhaps interrogated by the same investigator? Therefore, we find these data crucial to our parallel search for any evidence of Raoul Wallenberg’s final days.
What was in the FSB’s position in the proceedings?
Their key position supported by the court was that the documents we requested contained private family information of third parties having nothing to do with Wallenberg. This was the central idea underlying the court’s decision.
Did they give any indication as to who these third parties were? It is my understanding that their argument concerned other prisoners in that disclosing this information might harm their descendants.
Yes, this is what I say: there is information about other prisoners on those pages. It’s obvious since their names are mentioned there. But the question is, whether or not that information constitutes their personal and family secret? We insisted that it does is not, because personal and family secrets are defined as those relating to individuals’ private life. The Russian Constitutional Court has held that such information is not subject to the state’s control and is owned exclusively by the individual concerned. So is it really a personal or family secret that a particular individual was incarcerated? No, it is not. Despite the absurdity of stating otherwise, their argument was accepted and used to deny access to the materials in question for another 75 years. We are currently also pursuing another case, the so-called “Lenin case.” It is about diaries kept by Vladimir Lenin’s attending physicians; at first, a researcher was allowed to access the diaries in the archives but then denied permission to make and keep copies. It turns out from his correspondence with the archives that back in 1999, one of Lenin’s relatives requested an extension of the 75-year period during which, according to the law on archives, access to private personal and family records must be closed to outsiders, and such extension was granted.
Can it be extended indefinitely?
No, it cannot be extended; it is impossible! The law does not provide for any extensions of the 75-year period.
So how can this be done from a procedural perspective?
There is no way it can be done legally. But it has been done. In response to the relative’s request made in 1999, Rosarchive, the Russian archival authority, issued a letter extending the term of restricted access to those documents.
Are you planning to take this case to court as well?
Yes, we have already filed an administrative lawsuit.
I have also heard that in the Wallenberg case, the FSB claimed it was not the right respondent, denying for some reason that it was the legal successor to the KGB.
It was some play on words. We insist that they are the successor, although [it has no legal significance]. They were just trying to clear themselves of responsibility for Wallenberg’s death as if it had nothing to do with them.
Is the court’s statement of reasons in the Wallenberg case already available?
It is available for the first-instance court’s decision, but not for the decision on appeal yet.
The first-instance court’s statement repeats the arguments put forward by the FSB, right?
The archives were beating around the bush, so to speak, by offering lots of [irrelevant arguments]. But just one argument made it to the court’s judgment: these are personal and family secrets, access restricted for 75 years, sort of “come back in 2022.”
I am curious, why would a personal secret suddenly cease to exist after that date? Why this number?
This is what [the court] says now, but in fact it means that after 75 years, we’ll see.
Now I understand. So you do not expect anything to change in the appeal court’s statement of reasons?
We don’t know, but we’ll see. They are unlikely [to offer different reasoning], of course. When we appealed, there were three judges sitting there who had heard about 50 cases before ours and there were still more to go … They did not seem to have enough time to be creative.
Have there been any similar lawsuits before? As far as I understand, there have been numerous stories of relatives being granted access to some documents but not to others.
Of course, there have been such cases, and this reasoning has been used in more cases than Wallenberg’s. At first, [the authorities] restricted access to the archives under the pretext of protecting state secrets. But this type of information must be declassified after 30 years which have nearly expired, and now they find it easier to deny access for 75 years using the pretext of personal and family secrets. It’s just convenient for them, that’s all.
So you are not aware of any such cases successfully appealed?
I need to look it up. I guess we did win a similar case.
How would you—or Wallenberg’s niece—explain it? Is it [the FSB’s] position in general or just in this particular case?
It is their position in general concerning all their archives, because they understand that by opening just a small part they will eventually have to disclose it all. But in the Wallenberg case specifically, I have a feeling that [they are particularly protective], as not only Russia but several other countries are interested in hiding this information. I will not name the countries.
Now I am really curious about the outcome. I understand that after the appeal you still have the option of cassation available?
Yes, we can pursue the cassation proceedings and then appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Does the case have any prospects of success?
We believe it does, under Articles 8 and 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]1Respect for private and family life and freedom of expression.. In addition to this, we have devised a particular strategy on how to approach this case to move things forward a bit. We are not making it public yet, but we have found a way to initiate other cases here which fall under the same rights.
Also by taking them to court?
Yes, with the prospect of going to court. But we will raise other issues before the court.
I see. Coming back to the case of Lenin’s physician: it is my understanding that the researcher was only allowed to view these diaries?
He was able to view them and work with them in the archives for two months, in January and February last year. He was allowed to peruse these diaries, and he made extracts from them. But then he asked for copies and was refused and told that by Rosarchive’s letter, the 75-year term was extended back in 1999. Now he is hesitating whether or not to use the information he already has at his own risk. Because there is article 137 [of the Russian Criminal Code] protecting personal and family secrets, and there have been cases under this article in our practice. The case of Professor Mikhail Suprun is pending before the European Court and has already been communicated. It raises articles eight and ten.
Could you remind me briefly what it is about?
Suprun is a professor at the Arctic University. He has been writing about Soviet Germans who were taken to work in Germany from the occupied territories during World War II. After the war, the NKVD found them and persuaded them to return, but instead of going home they were sent to prison camps. Suprun was researching the archives and planning a publication together with the German Red Cross. The FSB found out and put him under pressure. We represented him in this case. A court in Arkhangelsk found him guilty but discontinued the proceedings, as they could not punish him due to expired statute of limitations. But the fact that he was found guilty made it possible for us to take the case to the ECtHR.
Was he found guilty of disclosing private information?
Yes, personal and family secrets.
How could he have avoided it—by contacting the descendants?
Yes, and receiving written permissions from them. This is the same as in the Wallenberg case: they say, you should have obtained permissions. We say, give us the names, and we will obtain them! “No, you can’t have the names,” they say.