On 23 January 2018, Anatoly Marchenko would have been 80 years old

posted 5 Feb 2018, 07:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Feb 2018, 07:36 ]
23 January 2018 

Source: HRO.org 

On 23 January 2018 Anatoly Marchenko would have been 80 years old. The author of memoirs and social and political writing, he fought for human rights in the Soviet Union and was a political prisoner.

The whole of Аnatoly Marchenko’s short life (he died before he was 49) was a heroic achievement, as a citizen, as a writer and as a human being. This isn’t a rhetorical turn of phrase, but a simple statement of fact.

Anatoly Marchenko was born in 1938 in Barabinsk into a working-class family. Even when he was a young man, in 1960, he ended up almost accidentally in a camp for political prisoners.

After he was released in 1966, he joined the circle of Moscow dissidents and human rights activists that was forming at that time and soon became one of the most notable and respected figures in this circle.

My Testimony (1967), his autobiographical account of the Mordovian labour camps and prison in Vladimir, was widely distributed in samizdat. It was this account that brought about a revolution in public awareness, bringing home to many the problem of contemporary political camps and political prisoners, a problem that became one of the basis themes of the Soviet human rights movement. My Testimony was subsequently published abroad and translated into many languages.

This action, which he took consciously, in full awareness of the inevitable consequences, condemned Marchenko to many years of cruel persecution.

He spent in total more than 11 of the next 19 years of his life in prison or exile.

In the intervals between arrests, prison sentences and labour camps, Marchenko continued to write. His manuscripts were seized during numerous house searches, but each time he stubbornly reconstituted what he had written.

His writings were primarily a protest against one or another instance of political persecution in the USSR. But he wrote not only about this, but also about the official hypocrisy and lies of Soviet propaganda, about the criminal nature of the regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and about the moral responsibility of those who keep quiet when crimes are being committed.

His texts were bluntly, ruthlessly truthful, stating the truth as he saw it, not softening it with ‘tactical ploys’ and considerations for his own safety.

His autobiographical texts were similar in nature: the essay From Tarusa to Siberia, and the fragments of a large autobiographical work which were preserved despite the house searches and which was published after his death with the title Live Like Everyone.

(We now know that My Testimony, From Tarusa to Siberia and the published version of Live Like Everyone constituted only part of Anatoly Marchenko’s legacy of memoirs. The New Publishing House (Novoe izdatel’stvo) has prepared and will soon publish three volumes of his writings, including texts that were removed during house searches in the 1970s. As a whole, they form a unique autobiographical epic, covering the author’s life from 1959 to the 1980s.)

Marchenko knew what he was doing and knew what he was dooming himself to. His final arrest in March 1981 and the dreadful sentence – to 10 years in prison and 5 years in exile – was the price he paid for remaining a free person in an unfree country.

Yet, even in prison, Marchenko remained a free person: he did not give up the struggle

He died on 8 December 1986 in Chistopol prison after being on hunger strike for 117 days to demand the release of all political prisoners in the USSR.

Fate demanded he pay the ultimate price, and he paid it. In January 1987, just one month after his death, Gorbachev began releasing political prisoners.
* * * 

In the annals of Russian culture and Russian civil society, the name of Anatoly Marchenko will always have a place of honour among the heroes and martyrs who opposed state violence. He was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the 20th-century Russian liberation movement.

International Memorial Society 

Pictured: Larisa Iosifovna Bogoraz and Anatoly Tikkhonovich Marchenko with their son Pavel [archive of the International Memorial Society]

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts