An Essential Line of Divide

7 September 2013 

By Viktor Shenderovich 

Source: Ezhednevnyi zhurnal

Today is a day of silence. There's no campaigning for mayoral candidates. So if you'll allow me, I'll tell you an old story to get the blood flowing in your brain again.

The KGB arrested Aleksandr Ginzburg five days before his wedding to Arina. Just to do something nice for once, taking into account the fact that by law a wife has the right to visit her husband in prison, but a fiancée has no such right.

The fiancée was expelled from Moscow State University where she taught, and Ginzburg was sent off to Mordova, to Potma, to Camp 17, famous for all the wrong reasons. Aleksandr and Arina were refused registration as husband and wife for two years straight. They didn't register them, and that's it. 

Why? Well, just because. 

Our Dear Soviet Power had its principles. Lawlessness was lawlessness, and they couldn't care less about the details! 

But political prisoners could also have their principles. And prisoners came together to take part in a hunger strike started by Ginzburg. 
Aleksandr Ginzburg. Mordovan camp ZhKh-385/17a 1969 (International 
Memorial archive) 

Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists, Marxists and monarchists, not to mention Ginzburg’s fellow liberals, took turns to hold hunger strikes and be sent to concrete punishment cells for Ginzburg's right to marry Arina. 

This lasted for 27 days, and the authorities eventually retreated. 

To mark the occasion, the poet Yuly Daniel' wrote:

To be sure, she's dearer than Paris,
And the answer to this riddle is easy: 
Paris is worth a single mass, 
But our Arina's worth a whole Lent. 

Where I am going with this? I'll tell you. 

Many things separate people in general, and Russians in particular. Sometimes it seems that everything keeps us apart: nationality, faith, experience, principles, tastes, social background, political passions...

But only one thing brings us together: we are free people.

Free people, alas, again living in an unfree country.

Freedom is a common denominator and an absolute priority. And when history offers us a dramatic choice (and it doesn't have any other kind) on exactly this priority, there appears an essential line of divide. 

Arina Ginzburg after her marriage to Alexander Ginzburg in a Mordovan 
camp. August 1969. (International Memorial archive) 

The rest, it seems, is detail: important, but nevertheless, detail.

Soviet political prisoners understood this very well.

But with our hysterical righteousness over petty details, we have a very, very long way to go to achieving that same level of understanding.

Архив Международного Мемориала