Alexander Daniel on Arseny Roginsky

posted 15 Jan 2018, 03:28 by Website Service   [ updated 15 Jan 2018, 04:26 by Rights in Russia ]
20 December 2017

From an interview with Alexander Daniel, co-chair of the Memorial Research and Information Centre in St. Petersburg

Source: [original source: BBC]

Pictured: Arseny Roginsky [left] with Alexander Daniel [right]

Alexander Daniel, researcher into the history of dissent in the Soviet Union, spoke about his long-time friend and colleague at Memorial, Arseny Roginsky.

We first met on 21 August 1968, a date that is hard to forget [Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, ed.]. We remained casual acquaintances for five or six years, and then, at the beginning of 1976, we began to work together closely on a large samizdat historical almanac, called Pamyat (“Memory”). The guys came up with the idea. I was extremely interested and Arseny was the driving force behind it.

Arseny was my senior colleague and the editor-in-chief, but we didn’t have a formal organisation. We collected materials, and prepared documents, memoirs and articles for publication.

BBC: And after a few years the KGB took an interest?

The KGB were interested almost immediately. We had to work underground, even though the digest was anonymous. The KGB only got round to imprisoning Arseny in 1981.

BBC: The arrest happened suddenly?

No, it wasn’t sudden. A few months before they said to him: wouldn’t you like to go abroad, here’s a visa for Israel. He said he didn’t want to go. And three months later they imprisoned him.

BBC: How did you react?

The most important thing was to finish the fifth almanac: it was already compiled, but only in draft. Our late friend Sasha Dobkin took on the main role after Arseny: he finished the fifth issue, though of course without Arseny’s energy everything went more slowly.

And when the sixth issue was compiled – just as the deadline was approaching – Sasha was told: go ahead and publish, if you want your friend to have a second term in the camps.

Obviously, we did not dare to finish the sixth issue. We gave all the materials we had collected to our Parisian friend Volodya Alloi, and he began to publish his own almanac of a similar kind, called Minuvshee (The Past).

BBC: You met Arseny when he was released?

Yes. He was thin, clear-voiced and transparent. And he used exclusively criminal jargon. It took him a month to shake off the camp slang.

BBC: Did he suffer much from his years of imprisonment?

I think it was hard for him, but then he always said that it was important for him to see that world, to understand it and to get a grasp of it. It seems he succeeded.

BBC: What kind of person was he?

Marvellously energetic. You know, like а fireball. Cheerful. He simply generated electricity, especially when he was working, that’s the main thing.

BBC: That’s why Roginsky was editor-in-chief of the Pamyat almanac, and then the head of Memorial?

Yes, but also because on our team at the almanac he was the only historian. The rest of us were amateurs. Secondly, there was, of course, his creativity. He overflowed with ideas, concepts, approaches and techniques.

BBC: Why him in particular?

The main business of Memorial is historical and educational work; that was just what we had been doing earlier. We had the right experience. When we came to Memorial, people had a great desire to undertake historical research. But they didn’t know how to do it and professional historians didn’t join us then. However, Arseny knew how. So, Arseny came to head the historical and educational section of Memorial in Moscow.

It was a piece of good fortune for Memorial, but I’m not sure if it was so fortunate for him.

BBC: Why?

Because he was a scholar. If he’d devoted those thirty years to scholarly work, he would have become a major specialist in Soviet history. Instead, he was an organiser, curator, adviser, and consultant. To sit down and achieve what he could do as a scholar was side-lined. The field-defining monographs he could surely have authored were never written.

BBC: Do you think he was aware of the sacrifice?

Undoubtedly. But he viewed this as a choice, rather than considering himself a victim. He suffered, but he made the choice quite consciously. To him, the cause represented by Memorial seemed more important than gratifying his scholarly curiosity.

BBC: Did he explain why?

Together, we often worked out answers to such questions, but now, as you see, I have no one to consult… Perhaps, it was because he considered that restoring historical memory was an important social change. He was sure that he could make a greater contribution through Memorial to establishing a mass awareness of history, than through specific studies.

BBC: Do you think he managed to alter popular awareness of history?

When you consider popular historical awareness in Russia today, I immediately want to say: “No, he didn't succeed.” On the other hand, who knows what people would be thinking if we hadn't done what we did? Perhaps, their ideas would be even more primitive and bizarre? Social psychology has no subjunctive mood.

Translated by Anna Bowles