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An Unsavoury Story

5 July 2013 

Aleksandr Podrabinek


It’s not for me to tell Olga Romanova about the importance in journalism of rigour  – the sister of authenticity. The inexperienced reader, reading her article ‘Four times convicted, four times acquitted,’ is invited to enthuse about her hero – the irreproachable Soviet dissident Viktor Krasin. Reading this extraordinary piece, I was myself almost carried away by excitement, especially when I got to where Viktor Krasin explains to a new generation of opposition activists how to behave in court. The patriarch of the anti-Soviet resistance shares with the young generation his deep experience! What a positive picture Olga Romanova has drawn for us, taking as a role model the "master of his fate and beautiful person," Viktor Krasin. 

I almost burst into tears, but remembered in time that in fact Olga Romanov has said far from everything about Viktor Krasin. Or perhaps it was that Viktor Krasin told Romanova his biography with key bits left out, and the journalist was too lazy to check the autobiographical fiction against historical truth. The truth is that the "beautiful person" Viktor Krasin was an active and enthusiastic collaborator with the KGB, someone who accused his former comrades in the democracy movement of anti-state activities. 

I shall fill in the gaps left by Olga Romanova in this unsavoury story.

A member of the Initiative Group for the Protection of Human Rights in the USSR, Viktor Krasin was arrested in Moscow on 12 September 1972. He was charged with anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, and placed in Lefortovo prison. In less than two months, Krasin and another well-known dissident, Petr Yakir, who was under investigation in the same case, began to cooperate with investigators and to give testimony.

Here is what was stated in The Chronicle of Current Events (№ 29 dated July 31, 1973), which was then published illegally:

"Krasin states that of late the ‘democratic movement’ has become dangerous for the state authorities, and that the state has been forced to protect itself, and is right to do so; consequently the defeat of the “democratic movement” should be accepted. The ending of all opposition activity is not enough to save people from repression: the authorities must be given guarantees, and these guarantees could be no less than a universal acceptance of the need to assist in the investigations. Krasin calls for this psychological barrier to be overcome, and for people to give candid testimony, not only about their own actions, but also about the actions of others."

This is not the advice that Viktor Krasin is now giving out on the pages of Novaya gazeta.

At that time Krasin testified against Father Sergei Zheludkov, Yury Maltsev, Yulii Kim, Gabriel Superfin, Ilya Gabai, Vladimir Rokityansky, Andrei Amalrik, Irina Yakir, Valentina Savenkova, and many others. In the case of Yakir-Krasin in total at least 200 people were questioned. Incriminating testimony given by Krasin and Yakir appeared in the judgments handed down against many dissidents.

The trial of Yakir and Krasin began on 27 August 1973 and lasted one week. The defendants confessed and asked for leniency, at the same time naming everyone they could remember. They were both initially sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and three years' internal exile, but then the appeal court reduced the three years’ imprisonment to the time they had already spent in pre-trial detention. So it remained only for them to serve their term in exile.

On 5 September 1973 at the House of Journalists in Moscow Yakir and Krasin gave a press conference in the presence of foreign correspondents. Extracts were broadcast on Soviet TV the same day. Both Yakir and Krasin expressed remorse for their “criminal acts, which objectively contributed to the hostile activities of foreign anti-Soviet organizations."

The betrayal by Yakir and Krasin was a serious blow to the democratic movement. A statement on the trial by the Initiative Group for the Protection of Human Rights in the USSR said:

"Both defendants fully admitted their guilt and expressed remorse for what they had done. Both also acknowledged that they had intended to harm the Soviet government. About 30 witnesses were questioned during the trial... Among those questioned were the psychiatrist Snezhnevsky, who among other things stated that for the whole his 50 years professional experience there had not been a single case where a healthy person had been placed in a psychiatric hospital.

We note that P.Yakir and V.Krasin during the investigation, the trial and at the press conference made false statements. Tragically, these lies also touch upon the fate and reputation of all the political prisoners in the camps, prisons, and psychiatric hospitals of the USSR. " 

Strictly speaking, there is nothing to add to that. It might just be worth adding that in those days people paid attention to the issue of reputation.