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Aleksandr Rudnitsky on Anatoly Marchenko: "There is no such thing as anonymous testimony!" [Sibir Realii]

posted 5 Mar 2018, 06:57 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Mar 2018, 07:06 ]

11 February 2018 

By Aleksandr Rudnitsky, head of Memorial Society branch in Novosibirsk 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Sibir Realii

The Novosibirsk branch of the Memorial Society has declared 2018 to be the year of Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko. The life and fate of Marchenko serve for us today as a striking and important example of courage, honour, and the ability to think for oneself and keep to common sense under any circumstances. The biography of Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko, moreover, illustrates how the Soviet regime itself managed to create its most diehard enemies.

Marchenko was born in Barabinsk (330km from Novosibirsk), on 23 January 1938, to the family of an engine driver's assistant at a railway depot, Tikhon Akimovich Marchenko, and Elena Vasilevna Marchenko, who worked as a cleaner at the station. His mother was illiterate. In 1942, their family was provided with a room in the barracks together with eight other railroad worker families. People still live in those barracks today.

After completing eight years at school, he left home on a Komsomol trip to build the Novosibirsk hydroelectric power station, where he trained as a relief drilling foreman. However, his working career was cut short at the age of 20, as, although he continued work on the construction of the Karagandinsk regional power station, it was as a prisoner of the Karaganda corrective labour camp (Karlag). Having been sentenced to two years for getting into a fight, in which he had no part, Marchenko absconded from the camp a year later. A few days beforehand, a letter had reached the camp saying that his conviction had been overturned.

Whilst in prison, he became acquainted with the writer Yuli Daniel and was introduced to the dissident intelligentsia in Moscow. Those years spent in the company of political prisoners turned into a real university for Marchenko. Whilst in the camp, he read his way through a wide variety of literature, including, incidentally, the complete works of Lenin. He also mixed with the dissidents and, according to Yuli Daniel, was "deaf, but was beginning to see clearly". Marchenko subsequently continued with self-study throughout his life.

In 1967, Anatoly Marchenko wrote a book entitled My Testimony, in which he described the Soviet political camps and prisons of the 1960s. My Testimony was widely circulated underground. The book was translated into many European languages and became the first memoirs to show in detail how Soviet political prisoners really lived after the death of Stalin. It was suggested to Marchenko that his book be published under a pseudonym, but he refused, saying, "There's no such thing as anonymous testimony!" He saw this as his duty to the prisoners. Marchenko knew that the regime would not forgive him for his revelations. Once, in response to a light-hearted question about royalties posed by Liudmila Alekseeva, he said: "I'll take my payment in prison terms!"

Marchenko went on to become an active member of the human rights movement. On 22 March 1968, he penned an open letter about the threat of a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Marchenko was arrested a few days later and, on 21 August 1968, was sentenced to a year's imprisonment on a charge of violating passport regulations. Anatoly Tikhonovich later recounted his life in the Nyrob camp in his autobiography Live Like Everyone. After that camp, he spent just one year as a free man before facing a new charge under Article 190-1 of the Penal Code: ‘Dissemination of slanderous misrepresentations that defame the Soviet State and social system’. Marchenko was sentenced to two years in a camp.

After his release in 1971, Marchenko settled in Tarusa, married well-known activist Larisa Bogoraz, and continued his human-rights and journalistic work. Immediately upon his release, the authorities urged Marchenko to emigrate, threatening to arrest him again should he refuse. There were some complications for Soviet authorities concerning the fact that a worker who was denouncing the authorities' actions was subject to persecution by the workers' and peasants' state. It would have been more convenient for the authorities to send Marchenko off as an emigrant. But he refused to leave the country.

After his refusal to emigrate, Marchenko was once again convicted, this time on the basis of Article 198-2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialistic Republic (RSFSR) ("Willful violation of the rules of parole") and sentenced to four years in exile, which he served in Chuna, in eastern Siberia, with his wife and child. During this exile, Marchenko became a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and signed an appeal to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR with a plea for a nationwide political amnesty in the USSR. Anatoly Marchenko was released in 1978.

In September 1981, he was convicted for the sixth time, under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code ("Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"). He was sentenced to ten years in a high-security camp and five years in exile.

In 1986, Anatoly Marchenko went on a hunger strike, demanding freedom for all political prisoners in the USSR. He began being force-fed on September 12, 1986. Marchenko wrote to the Prosecutor General of the USSR, accusing prison medical staff of torture:

"The liquid food is deliberately prepared with large, lump-like pieces that can't pass through the tube. They get stuck and clog the tube and prevent the food from reaching my stomach. They torture me under the guise of cleaning the tube, rubbing and pulling at it without taking it out of my stomach. …

Usually one medical worker does the entire procedure. He therefore cannot mash up the food when pouring it out, since both of his hands are occupied: he uses one to hold the tube and the other to pour the mixture into it from a bowl. I repeat: in this scenario, under the guise of a humane act, the Soviet authorities act through the prison health facility to subject me to physical torture in an effort to force me to end my hunger strike."

Marchenko's hunger strike lasted 117 days. A few days after it ended, he fell ill and was sent from the prison to a local hospital.

On 8 December 1986, Anatoly Marchenko died at age the age of 48, in the hospital of the Chistopol Watch Factory.

According to some, his death and the world's reaction to it prompted Gorbachev to begin the process of releasing prisoners convicted on the basis of "political" articles of the Criminal Code. Sakharov, an academic, was released one week after Marchenko's death, and the remaining political prisoners began to be released. Thus Anatoly Marchenko was victorious in his final battle, but he was never able to learn of this himself.

On 2 June 1992 Anatoly Marchenko was rehabilitated by the General Prosecutor of the Soviet Union.

...Our teachers at primary school told us about the victory of the first Russian prince with a Slavic name, Svyatoslav Igorevich, who warned his enemies, “I’m coming for you!”. But the prince went into battle with his retinue and was confident of his victory. Anatoly Marchenko’s publication of My Testimony was equivalent to lifting his visor and declaring war on the all-powerful Soviet state armed with only his courage and a sense of justice.

He laid down his life as the most powerful argument he could muster in favour of the release of political prisoners, in the process becoming the last political prisoner to perish during that period. Psychologists tell us that the foundations of a man’s character are laid in his early childhood; if that is so, the residents of Barabinsk can be proud that on their patch of earth, in a Barabinsk lodging house and in a Barabinsk school, there grew up a man with such a heroic and truly Siberian character – courageous, honest, principled, capable of self-sacrifice and utterly devoted to his friends.

Yet the name of Anatoly Marchenko is known by few in Novosibirsk region and even in Barabinsk. In late October of last year, all of the schools in the area received copies of the textbook History of Novosibirsk Region, authored by leading historians under the leadership of academician Vyacheslav Molodin and funded by a local grant. Anatoly Marchenko’s name does not appear anywhere in this textbook, which is a sheer disgrace.

On 23 January 2018 at Barabinsk district library, Petr Oshchepkov – who works as an assistant driver at the Barabinsk Rail Depot where Tikhon Akimovich Marchenko once worked – organised an event to mark the 80th birthday of his famous fellow townsman, Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko.

Petr Oshchepkov is a local history enthusiast who has been collecting information on Marchenko’s life for a number of years, by talking to people who knew him and gathering documents and recollections. His achievements include identifying the lodging house where Tikhon Marchenko’s family had a room, and thanks to his work no one can say that Barabinsk is home to only “people who do not remember their kin.”

As well as members of the Novosibirsk branch of the Memorial Society, the meeting organised by Petr Oshchepkov was also attended by local journalists and residents of Barabinsk keen to preserve the memory of their distinguished fellow townsman.

It was decided by those at the event that the following steps should be taken over the next year to commemorate the memory of their fellow townsman:

· Organise a series of talks for school pupils on the life of Anatoly Marchenko.

· Erect a monument in memory of Anatoly Marchenko in Barabinsk.

· Rename one of the streets in Barabinsk after Anatoly Marchenko.

· Rename the district library (at ul. Ulyanovskaya, dom 83) the “Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko Library".

· Organise and open an exhibition dedicated to Anatoly Marchenko at the Barabinsk local history museum.

· Affix a commemorative plaque to the houses where the Marchenko family lived (at ul. K. Marksa, dom 32 or ul. Shkolnaya, dom 5).

Petr Oshchepkov plans to use money donated by people who share his views to print 100 copies of the book To Live Like Everyone and distribute them to schools, libraries and the Barabinsk District Museum.

Anatoly Marchenko had a remarkable life. Despite not even completing secondary education, his passion for self-education enabled him to become a famous writer who corresponded with Nobel Prize winners and members of the Academy of Sciences (such as Andrei Sakharov and Petr Kapitsa), received the prestigious international Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and will forever remain a shining example of tenacity and honour.

Р.S. A number of publicactions by and about Anatoly Marchenko can be read here.

Translated by Lindsay Munford, Joanne Reynolds and Nina de Palma