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Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. He died in a Soviet prison.

A Russian court on September 18 upheld the government's refusal to release unredacted documents that could shed light on how Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg -- who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust -- died in a Soviet prison.

Relatives of wartime Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg have pledged to appeal a Moscow district court decision that denied their demand that Russia's secret services release documents related to Wallenberg's death while in the custody of Josef Stalin's secret police.

Lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who is representing the Wallenberg family in the case, told RFE/RL that the court's decision last week was "unlawful and cynical" and said the plaintiffs will appeal the decision through the Russian courts and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights.

"Cases involving the search for historical truth -- if you'll allow a sports metaphor -- are not sprints but marathons," Pavlov said. "We knew from the beginning that we would have to run a long distance and we prepared for that. We are ready."

Moscow's Mechchansky District Court on September 18 rejected a request from the Wallenberg family to compel the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- as the successor to the Soviet-era KGB and other security agencies -- to provide uncensored documents that could shed light on Wallenberg's fate, which remains one of the enduring mysteries of the postwar period.

The court accepted the FSB's argument that revealing the documents would violate the privacy of other people mentioned in them. The FSB also argued that it was not technically the successor agency to the Stalin-era secret police, even though it controls the archives of those agencies.

A memorial bust of Raoul Wallenberg in Moscow
A memorial bust of Raoul Wallenberg in Moscow

Wallenberg was Sweden's special envoy to Budapest during World War II. Hungary was a German ally but was nonetheless occupied by the Nazis in 1944. Over the next year, virtually the entire Jewish population was rounded up and sent to death camps. Wallenberg is credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing them passports and sheltering them in Swedish diplomatic buildings. When the Red Army arrived in Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet secret police together with his driver, Vilmos Langfelder, on January 17, 1945, and taken to Moscow. What happened after that remains a mystery.

In 1957, the Soviets said Wallenberg died of "a heart attack" in the police prison on Lubyanka Square on July 17, 1947. His body was supposedly "cremated without autopsy." In 1989, the Soviet Union returned Wallenberg's passport and other personal possessions to Sweden, saying they had been found during the remodeling of a storeroom.

A Russian government investigation headed by Vyacheslav Nikonov -- the grandson of Stalinist Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov -- determined that Wallenberg was executed in 1947, a version that was confirmed by former Soviet Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev in 2000.

The same year, the Soviet government officially "rehabilitated" Wallenberg and Langfelder as "victims of political repression." Periodically, unconfirmed reports of sightings of Wallenberg by former Soviet gulag prisoners have emerged, many of which were collected by legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

The position of the FSB and the government is never to give anything in general. They want to keep all information that relates to our historical memory in an atmosphere of total secrecy, no matter what."

According to Canadian human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler in 1990, two men had reported seeing Wallenberg at a Soviet prison between Moscow and Leningrad as late as November 1987. Cotler was part of an international investigation into the Wallenberg case that was promised access to the Stalin-era secret-police documents, but never received them.

Russian journalist Aleksei Kartsev told The New York Times in 1990 -- using words that call to mind Pavlov's metaphor of the sprint and the marathon -- that trying to get documents from the KGB "is a process of water wearing away stone."

During that 1990 probe, however, one fascinating document emerged indicating that Langfelder was interrogated on July 23, 1945, and that the same day another prisoner was questioned who was only identified as "Prisoner No. 7." Wallenberg's relatives believe that Wallenberg was this mysterious prisoner and that the document proves he was alive at least six days after the Soviets said he had died.

Pavlov told RFE/RL he was certain the FSB archives contain information about Wallenberg's fate.

"Just like now, in the 1940s, remand prisons were regimented institutions where any movement of a detainee was documented and a note was made in the appropriate logbooks," Pavlov said. "This happens when a detainee is moved from one cell to another, when they are taken for questioning, when they are moved from one prison to another."

The FSB refused to release those log entries, citing the privacy rights of "third parties."

Pavlov said the legal protection of personal confidentiality expires in the 2020-22 period.

"But I am sure that by then the FSB will think up some new excuses to avoid making the information public," Pavlov said.

What is missing now is what has been missing from the beginning, Pavlov said -- "political will."

"The position of the FSB and the government is never to give anything in general," Pavlov said. "They want to keep all information that relates to our historical memory in an atmosphere of total secrecy, no matter what. Because if you give out even just a little, it just leads to requests for further information and, in the end, you have to open up all the archives -- something that I'm sure our secret services would like to avoid."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mark Krutov
A Communist Party lawmaker says she caught election officials arranging a large-scale ballot-stuffing operation at a polling station during the recent gubernatorial election in Russia's Mordovia region. (file photo)

A Communist lawmaker in the western Russian region of Mordovia says she witnessed organized election fraud that contributed to the reelection of the region's governor with 89 percent of the vote.

SARANSK, Russia -- During Russian regional elections earlier this month, pro-Kremlin candidates handily won all 15 of the gubernatorial elections that were held. In the western region of Mordovia, incumbent Governor Vladimir Volkov was among them, taking 89 percent of the vote according to official results.

Local lawmaker Valentina Zaitseva, of the Communist Party, says she knows a key ingredient in Volkov's recipe for success -- election fraud.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Zaitseva described what she and her assistant, Vadim Piksaikin, saw on election day when they were monitoring voting at polling station No. 527 in the Mordovian capital of Saransk.

"As soon as I arrived at the polling station, I noticed a bus and a rather large crowd of people out in front," she said. After going inside the polling station and speaking briefly with Communist Party monitors there, Zaitseva left the building and noticed that the bus and the people were still there.

"I sat down on a bench not far from them and noticed that they weren't the same people [that I'd seen before]," she said. "I tried to speak to them, but no one would say anything. Then I noticed the group started to move, so I decided to go with them."

Unmarked Entrance

Zaitseva said the group entered the building through an unmarked side entrance and went to a room on the second floor.

"I went into the room with them," Zaitseva said. "There were three women sitting there. One of them was Natalya Bogachyova, head of polling station No. 527. Later I found out that she was a librarian [at the school where the polling station was set up]. The second woman was Tatyana Chalykina, a member of the polling-station committee representing Governor Vladimir Volkov. She works in the Saransk city administration. I don't recall the name of the third woman, but she was also a member of the polling-station committee."

Bogachyova's mobile phone was turned off and could not be reached for comment. The number provided by election officials for Chalykina "does not exist."

Mordovia Governor Vladimir Volkov (file photo)
Mordovia Governor Vladimir Volkov (file photo)

According to Zaitseva's account, Bogachyova took a stack of ballots out of a cupboard and Chalykina distributed them to the group. After they filled them out, the third woman made sure they were all marked for Volkov.

Bogachyova then issued oral instructions to the group, Zaitseva alleged, telling them to go down to the polling station and that a particular member of the staff would help them get their ballots into the sealed ballot boxes. Zaitseva said she and Piksaikin were both given an additional pile of some 50 ballots, all marked for Volkov.

"Everyone hid their ballots and moved toward the exit," she said. "At that moment, I loudly announced that an election-law violation was taking place. Everyone froze and I told them to sit down. A few people actually did for about a minute. But after the shock passed, I saw Chalykina telephone someone. She said that the Communist Zaitseva had caught them. This means that they had some sort of falsification headquarters."

After a few more seconds, someone managed to open the door and everyone fled. Zaitseva went down to the polling station and returned with police officers. Searching the room together, they found 68 ballots all filled out for Volkov. In the face of such evidence and in the presence of Zaitseva, a member of the Mordovia legislature, election officials had no choice but to dismiss Bogachyova and annul the voting results from the polling station.

"Electoral Anomalies'

The official statement from prosecutors, however, said "during the course of a polling-station inspection on September 10, 2017, authorities established that unknown persons carried out the falsification of election documents...."

According to a new law adopted for this election, any election official involved in repeat voting or allowing people to cast ballots for other voters can be punished by a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,700) or imprisonment up to four years.

Law enforcement officials refused to respond to an RFE/RL enquiry asking whether anyone has been charged in connection with Zaitseva's allegations.

Moscow political scientist Konstantin Kalachev told RFE/RL that Mordovia is a "zone of electoral anomalies" and that the landslide result for Volkov could cause him problems during the presidential election scheduled for March 2018.

"What kind of result is [President Vladimir] Putin supposed to get if the governor gets 89 percent?" he asked. "That means that Putin will have to poll nearly 100 percent and the turnout will have to be nearly 100 percent. Maybe some people will think that result is a sign of hard work, but for residents of other regions and of the two capitals [Moscow and St. Petersburg], it will be evidence discrediting the election."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service correspondent Regina Gimalova

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