Voices from the Past
Source: A Chronicle of Current Events (33.1)
In early December 1974, in an issue almost wholly devoted to the situation in Soviet labour camps, the Chronicle of Current Events reported on a coordinated demonstration by political prisoners to establish 30 October as an annual date of protest over the conditions in which they were being held. Concern over the way today’s political prisoners are being treated and the “misappropriation of 30 October” Podrabinek comment are good reason to recall how and why the Day of the Political Prisoner first became an established annual event.
According to advance information received from the labour camps of Mordovia and Perm, a decision was taken there to designate 30 October 1974 as the “Day of the Political Prisoner in the USSR”.
On that day the prisoners intended to declare hunger strikes, which were to last for one or two days. Certain demands which the hunger-strikers intended to put forward on 30 October are known to us. These demands included:
The Chronicle does not yet know what actually took place on 30 October.
On the evening of 30 October a press conference was organized by Andrei D. Sakharov and the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, at which information about “Political Prisoner’s Day” was given to Western correspondents. Valentin F. Turchin, Chairman of the Moscow group of Amnesty International [its formation was announced in October 1973], attended the press conference as an observer.
“The organizers of this press conference look upon it as an expression of their solidarity with Soviet political prisoners. We are also counting on widespread support from world public opinion,” said a statement given to the journalists. The statement outlined the main difficulties of the life led by political prisoners; excessively long terms of imprisonment; bad and severely insufficient food, which cannot be supplemented from parcels, as these are strictly limited as to both their weight and numbers; widespread and unsupervised punitive measures; oppressive work conditions; bad medical services, and so on. The statement emphasizes that the political prisoners “have been convicted for actions, opinions and intentions which would not be regarded as grounds for prosecution in a democratic country”.
“We do not yet know,” the statement says, “what happened there today, behind the barbed wire. But we are certain that today, as always, the political prisoners will reassert their dignity as human beings and their feeling of inner justification.”
The journalists were handed copies of open letters by prisoners and other material received from labour camps.
These documents are presented in brief extracts below. The majority were written during October, especially for Political Prisoners’ Day.
An open letter to the Women’s International Democratic Federation signed by Kronid Lyubarsky, Sergei Babich, Israil Zalmanson, Zoryan Popadyuk, Alexander A. Petrov-Agatov, Boris Azernikov and Boris Penson appeals to the Federation to demand the following from the Soviet Government: the release of women political prisoners, the open publication of the materials of their cases, and the opportunity for members of the Federation to see for themselves the conditions under which women prisoners are held.
In an open letter to the World Postal Union, Azernikov, Lyubarsky and Penson speak of systematic “breaches of the obligations which the USSR Ministry of Communications assumed when the Soviet Union joined the WPU. They emphasize that they are not referring to the important matter of Soviet legislation concerning restrictions on prisoners’ correspondence and the censorship of their letters, as this is outside the competence of the WPU.
“Scores, even hundreds of letters … disappear without trace … with no explanation given, and with complaints remaining unanswered,” the letter states. Some political prisoners fail to receive 20 to 50 per cent of all their mail; and there have been individual cases of prisoners being completely deprived of letters over long periods. Letters are frequently delayed for months, telegrams for many days, sometimes for weeks.
Correspondence which, unlike that which “disappears”, is officially withheld by the censors, is usually not returned to the senders, and the latter receive no compensation. Incidentally, the confiscation of letters in such cases is against the law.
The letter goes on: “We ask you to take into account the extreme limitations on our own means of protest. We need the help of organizations with authority, which are directly concerned with the problems we have raised.”
Boris P. Azernikov, a dental surgeon, describes in an open letter the dangerously unhealthy conditions under which prisoners are held in the “strict-regime” labour camps of Mordovia, and the extremely low standard of the medical services in these camps.
The prisoners live in a state of “disguised starvation”.
“Even the maximum calorie count of the food is about 2,000 calories less than the amount necessary for the hard labour in which the prisoners are engaged. The food contains practically no animal protein or vitamins. Cases of food poisoning are not infrequent.
“The air in the workshops is thick with sawdust powder and abrasive dust, acetone and acid fumes. … This is conducive to the development of silicosis and other lung diseases. Medical treatment is begun only when an illness has reached a critical stage, and even then it is continued only until the symptoms disappear. Chronic illnesses such as gastro-enteric, cardiovascular and eye diseases, rheumatism, mycosis and periodontosis are not treated at all, although they exist on a massive scale in the camps. A sick man is permitted exemption from work only if his temperature is above 37.4 degrees Centigrade. Exemption due to illness, without a high temperature, is extremely rare. The doctor cannot exceed the limit of the so-called ‘exemption norm’, 1.7 per cent of all prisoners, even during influenza epidemics.”
There are no doctors in some camps; their place is taken by doctors’ assistants or nurses. Specialist doctors visit the camps once or twice a year or even less. Prisoners who are doctors may not help their sick comrades. They are expressly forbidden to do so, by order.
Camp doctors have only the simplest medicines at their disposal, and some of these have far exceeded their period of validity. The camp chemists lack effective modern drugs, for example many antibiotics. But “the sending of drugs into the camp from outside is forbidden”.
The dirt road between the camp and the hospital is so bad, "and the camp vehicles so unsuitable for transporting the sick, that the journey may cost a sick man his life. There have been cases of broken limbs and of spinal injury resulting from these journeys. For heart patients a journey over this road is simply unbearable."
“Often […] people who are completely healthy in mind when they arrive in the camp […] become mentally ill towards the end of a long term. Such sick people receive no treatment whatsoever; frequently prison cells and punishment cells are used to isolate them. There have been no instances when even the very seriously ill have been released.”
Azernikov asks for help for those suffering inhuman treatment. And he concludes: "This should not, and cannot, be delayed by transient political considerations."
The astrophysicist K. A. Lyubarsky, appealing in a letter to the Executive Council of the World Federation of Scientific Workers and to the Executive Committee of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, describes the effect of the camp routine and conditions on the professional future of prisoners who are scholars and scientists.
“We are not merely temporarily deprived of freedom. We are forever deprived of our profession, of the work we love,” writes Lyubarsky.
In a labour camp, it is strictly forbidden to receive any scientific or scholarly literature, even highly specialised, published abroad. Literature published in the USSR can be obtained from mail-order shops, but only recently published books in little demand are actually available there. Private individuals are categorically forbidden to send any literature. Private letters from colleagues – especially from those abroad – containing information about science and scholarship, are delayed by the censors for many months, and often withheld altogether.
Academics, mostly no longer young, are subjected to hard physical labour in the camps, which they are not used to, and which leaves them neither the strength nor the time for intellectual work, Lyubarsky considers that the impossibility of following developments in their field and the exhaustion and the systematic malnutrition eventually render scientists and scholars who serve long terms of imprisonment wholly incapable of continuing to work in their professions.
Lyubarsky calls on the Federation and the Congress, and on scientists and scholars all over the world, to obtain for Soviet political prisoners the right of free access to academic literature, the right to academic contacts; he calls on scholars to send scientific material to their political prisoner colleagues.
In an open letter, Boris P. Azernikov speaks of the reasons which first made him decide to leave the USSR, and thus brought him to a labour camp.
"Why am I here? Why could I not be elsewhere?"
“I realized that I had been robbed. I had been robbed of my history, my forbears, my language ... so that I would not even think of resisting the attempts to herd me into the faceless ‘new historic community’, the ‘Soviet nation’. And this realization has determined the whole subsequent course of my life.
“I did not try to shake the might of the Soviet Union ... I wanted only to leave it, for a country which, whatever it may be like, good or bad, has for me the unquestionable advantage of being the land of my people. However, in the eyes of the Soviet Government – which once [under Lenin] published ‘A Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia’ – this wish of mine alone almost automatically made me a criminal; and so here I am, in a labour camp …
"Today, on ‘Political Prisoners’ Day in the USSR’, remember those who, before they can step on the soil of their Homeland, are still fated to spend long years in Soviet labour camps. Today, they cry out: ‘Deliver me, o my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.’ (Psalm 71, verse 4).
“We shall not forget them! We shall say today with hope and also with them: ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’”
The Western journalists were also handed copies of an interview given by some of the prisoners in Perm Camp VS-389/35: Ivan Svetlichny, Igor Kalynets, Ivan Kandyba, Lev Yagman, Semyon (Slava) Gluzman, Zinovy Antonyuk, Arie Khnokh, Iosif Meshener, Evgeny Prishlyak, Vladimir Balakhonov and Bagrat Shakhverdyan. The interview deals with such matters as the legal position of political prisoners, the harshness of the labour camp regime, the prisoners’ relations with the administration, the many instances in which political prisoners have acted in defence of their rights, etc.
The prisoners say that the authorities, by imposing on them the strictest isolation, are trying to hide the truth about the kind of life led in the camps by people who have been convicted contrary to the declaration of civil freedoms in the  Constitution. The rules of censorship are such that they effectively allow for any letter to be withheld, and thus encourage the tyranny of the censors. The destruction of such letters rules out any possibility of checking on the reasons for which they were withheld.
Although the declared aim of the authorities is to win the prisoners over by force of argument, they are powerless and in fact make no attempt to do so; their real aim is to break a prisoner, to force him to renounce his views. The administration tries to achieve this aim by constant fault-finding and punishment, by illegally subjecting the prisoners to mental and physical suffering — humiliation, hunger, cold, etc. Heavy, sometimes pointless labour has become an instrument of punishment. “Reformed” prisoners do not even disguise the fact that the incentive in their “re-education” was a desire for the relative well-being and the small privileges provided to those on good terms with the authorities.
Supervisory bodies cover up the cruelties of the regime and the tyranny in the camps, always supporting the administration. So complaints by the prisoners are ineffective, unless the illegalities can be given wider publicity. In fact, the publicity which directs world attention to the evidence of tyranny is the corner-stone of the defence of human rights in the USSR. The efforts of the Soviet authorities and certain circles in the West to regard this kind of repression as the internal affair of the Soviet Union are dictated by unworthy considerations of political manoeuvring.
At the end of the interview I. A. Svetlichny says: “Please pass our warm greetings to Solzhenitsyn, whose courage we all deeply respect.”
The full text of the interview is published in the first issue of the Archive of the Chronicle.
The journalists were also given the following:
A letter from Andrei Sakharov to L. I. Brezhnev, dated 24 October 1974, was read out at the conference and handed to the journalists.
“The continuation of senseless and cruel repression of human rights and dignity cannot be tolerated on this earth, even in that part of it which is divided from you by barbed wire and prison walls. Brave and honest people cannot be allowed to die,” Sakharov writes.
The letter contains detailed information on hunger strikes by Valentin Moroz, G. Abel, Kronid Lyubarsky and Ivan Gel [Ukr. Hel]; it tells of lengthy collective hunger strikes by political prisoners, and mentions hunger strikes by the Baptists Georgy Vins and Boris Zdorovets. Sakharov maintains that these facts “bear irrefutable witness to the acute position regarding political prisoners and their conditions." He asks for immediate action, so as to avoid a tragic outcome in the hunger strikes at present taking place.
"Political prisoners in the USSR are the victims of ideological intolerance, partly anti-religious in character, of political prejudices, and of the cruel traditions of the system. ... A special position amongst political prisoners is held by people who have consciously devoted themselves to the defence of others.” Among these, Sakharov recalls the names of Vladimir Bukovsky, Leonid Plyushch, Semyon Gluzman, Reshat and Mustafa Dzhemilev, Igor Ogurtsov, and the late Yury Galanskov all of whom have become “symbols of the battle for human rights and against oppression and lawlessness”.
Sakharov’s letter to Brezhnev ends with these words:
"I ask you to consider again the granting of a full amnesty for political prisoners, including those in psychiatric hospitals, the easing of their conditions of imprisonment, and the shortening of the sentences of prisoners in all categories.
“Such decisions would have great humanitarian value, would greatly enhance international confidence and the spirit of detente, and would cleanse our country of the shameful stains of cruelty, intolerance and lawlessness.”
A statement entitled “30 October” by the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, and signed by Tatyana Velikanova, Sergei Kovalyov, Grigory Podyapolsky and Tatyana Khodorovich, speaks of the meaning of the term “political prisoner”. It details the different categories of political prisoners in the USSR, the punishment in Soviet camps through hunger and cold in contravention of corrective labour legislation (but provided for by various regulations and directives), and it lists the demands put forward on “Political Prisoners” Day in the USSR.
The statement adds:
"In giving journalists information about the camps, and, most important, the documents sent out of the camps by the prisoners at enormous risk and with great difficulty, we ask you to remember that the writers are risking the revenge and punitive measures of the authorities. Our friends are consciously accepting those risks. It is their wish that these statements and letters be published; it is the duty of those of us who are free to try to protect them from cruel punishment — that is our responsibility, and yours.”
The Action Group also gave the journalists a statement about the transfer of Kronid Lyubarsky from a labour camp to Vladimir Prison. The organizers of the press conference answered a number of questions put to them by the journalists.
Selected and annotated by John Crowfoot from A Chronicle of Current Events (1968-1982)
 Less than three years after putting his name to this letter Petrov-Agatov signed an article in Literaturnaya gazeta (2 February 1977) that gave the signal for the arrests of Alexander Ginzburg, Yury Orlov (CCE 44.2.2) and other members of the Helsinki Groups across the USSR. See The Fund to Aid Political Prisoners (Voices from the Past, 31 October 2016)
 Corrective-labour camps and prisons in the USSR were overseen by a branch of the Procurator’s Office in each Region, i.e. an official from the same body that investigated and prosecuted serious crimes. Political prisoners in camps for criminal offenders and in camps exclusively for those convicted of political offences also came informally under the oversight of the KGB.
 The death through medical neglect of political prisoner Yury Galanskov on 2 November 1972 (CCE 28.1) was one of the many reasons for this protest, in preparation since April 1974. Kronid Lyubarsky was sentenced to five years in strict-regime penal colonies on 30 October 1972 (CCE 28.4).
Source: A Chronicle of Current Events (44.2)
Collecting money for political prisoners and their families is a tradition that goes back to Tsarist times. In the early 1970s it acquired organised form, even before the protests the camps of Mordovia and Perm that marked the first Day of the Political Prisoner in the USSR (30 October 1974). The future of the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners and their Families was threatened early in 1977 by the arrest of veteran dissident Alexander Ginzburg. (An excerpt from CCE, Issue 44: 31 March 1977).
On 2 February 1977 an article, “Liars and Pharisees”, was printed in the weekly Literaturnaya gazeta under the signature of A. Petrov (Agatov). Its appearance aroused serious concern for the fate of Alexander Ginzburg and Yury Orlov.
The same day a press conference was called at Ginzburg’s flat. Ginzburg told correspondents that in view of the dangerous accusations made against him in the newspaper he had decided to report for the first time the details of his work as representative of the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners and their Families.
The fund was founded by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in April 1974 from the royalties for The Gulag Archipelago. Part of the money was left by the Solzhenitsyn family before their departure from the USSR [in February 1974]; part was received in 1974-75 in the form of money certificates. Ginzburg himself stopped receiving transfers from abroad in his name from the beginning of 1976. Ginzburg said that the only way in which he had received money from abroad since then was when people brought him Soviet money and said: “This is money which Solzhenitsyn asked to be given to you for assisting political prisoners.”
In addition, about 70,000 roubles were collected in the Soviet Union. A thousand people gave money to the fund. In three years 270,000 roubles were received and distributed. In 1974 assistance was rendered to 134 political prisoners and their families; in 1975 to more than seven hundred families; and in 1976 to 629 families. The decrease in the number of families in 1976 can be partly explained by the threats to which many people who benefited from the fund were subjected (in particular, those in exile were threatened that their situation would worsen). Besides regular help to political prisoners and their families, help was given on a once-only basis to people who had been released from the camps or from prison.
“If I am now arrested,” said Alexander Ginzburg, addressing the journalists, “then I ask you to pay great attention to the work of those who replace me, as they will certainly need it.”
The following day, 3 February, Alexander Ginzburg was arrested. Ginzburg’s wife described his arrest in a letter to Amnesty International:
“... On the evening of 3 February my husband went out, lightly dressed, to make a call from a phone box: the phone in our flat was cut off long ago by the authorities. He went out and did not come back. He was seized at the entrance to our building and it was considered unnecessary to inform me of this. Leaving my two small children at home, myself sick and with a temperature, I together with friends drove round police stations all evening, until, at the KGB reception, when it was by then night time, I was told that according to their information my husband had been ‘detained’. The following day it became clear that ‘detained’ meant arrested.
“The same evening, 3 February, KGB officials, knowing full well about my husband’s illness, took him to Kaluga Prison (Kaluga is 200 kms from Moscow) ...”
A. I. Ginzburg is being held at this address: Kaluga investigation Prison, 110 Klara Zetkin Street, postbox IZ 37/1. The case is being conducted by Lieutenant-Colonel Oselkov, a senior investigator for especially important cases of the Kaluga Region KGB.
Alexander Ilych Ginzburg was born in Moscow on 21 November 1936. After finishing school he worked in a theatre (as an actor and assistant director), and as a newspaper reporter. In 1956 he entered the faculty of journalism of Moscow University.
In 1960 he put together the samizdat poetry collection Syntaxis, which published the verse of the SMOG poets, and of Bella Akhmadulina and Genrikh Sapgir. Ginzburg’s own poetic efforts were also printed in the collection. The same year Ginzburg was arrested and convicted of forging documents: he had sat some examinations for a friend.
In 1962, after his release, having with difficulty registered as a resident of Moscow, he tried to get work of any kind, but everywhere met with opposition from the powers that be. He worked in sewage disposal, as a lathe operator, as a laboratory assistant and a librarian.
In 1964 Ginzburg was held for a few days in the Lubyanka. Shortly afterwards a letter appeared in the Vechernyaya Moskva [Evening Moscow] newspaper under Ginzburg’s signature, in which he dissociated himself from the sensation around his name in the Western press. Ginzburg actually composed a letter of this sort, but the published text had little in common with that of the author.
In 1966 he entered the Historical Archives Institute as a student. In 1967 Alexander Ginzburg was arrested for compiling the White Book, a collection of materials about the trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel. In January 1968 he was convicted together with Yury Galanskov, Vera Lashkova and Alexei Dobrovolsky under Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code. The “Trial of the Four” aroused a stream of protests, which proved to be the beginning of systematic resistance to the violation of human rights in the USSR and served as a stimulus to the founding of the Chronicle of Current Events (issues 1, 30 April 1968, and 2, 30 June 1968).
Ginzburg spent his five years of imprisonment first in the Mordovian camps, then in Vladimir Prison. In 1972 he was released at the end of his term and settled in Tarusa. In all subsequent years he was subjected to constant oppression and reprisals. Twice he was placed under administrative surveillance; he was not allowed to come to Moscow to see his mother, wife and children; difficulties were put in his way to prevent him from obtaining any, even the most unskilled job, whilst at the same time attempts were made to bring him to trial for parasitism.
Since 1974 Alexander Ginzburg has been the official representative of the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners and their Families. He has been a member of the Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR [the Helsinki Group] from the moment it was founded.
While Ginzburg was in the camps he developed an ulcer from which he suffers to the present time. Soon after the search on 4 January 1977 Ginzburg entered hospital with a diagnosis of pneumonia with an underlying tubercular infection. On being discharged he was referred to a tuberculosis clinic. At the moment of his arrest he was still undergoing regular treatment. In the first few days of February Ginzburg should have gone into hospital for treatment of his ulcer.
Ginzburg has two children, one aged four and the other two years old.
Selected and annotated by John Crowfoot from A Chronicle of Current Events (1968-1982)
The court case concerning the door of FSB headquarters burnt by Pyotr Pavlensky and the fine imposed (500,000 roubles) recall, by contrast, another notorious fire in the late 1970s. This mysterious conflagration broke out on 18 December 1976 in the room occupied by Malva Landa in Krasnogorsk, a town northwest of Moscow. As became obvious over the succeeding months, this was no domestic accident.
By the end of 1976 the newly-founded Moscow Helsinki Group, of which Landa was a member, had compiled 15 reports documenting violations of the rights the USSR pledged to uphold when it signed the Helsinki Accords. Acting openly the Group then circulated its findings to international bodies, Moscow embassies and the Soviet authorities. The Soviet regime was keen to move against the irksome monitors who already had companion organisations in other republics, Ukraine and Lithuania.
Arrests began in spring 1977. The authorities proceeded cautiously, however. They were concerned as to how the West might respond. On 1 July Helsinki Group members in the Ukraine Mykola Rudenko and Oleksa Tikhy received lengthy terms of imprisonment. The veteran dissident Alexander Ginzburg, and fellow activists Yury Orlov and Anatoly Shcharansky were kept in custody but not put on trial until the summer of 1978. Those still at liberty kept reporting and their persistence met with new rounds of repression. In May when Malva Landa’s trial was finally due to begin Andrei Sakharov issued a warning that this would be “the first in a series of trials being prepared for the Helsinki Group. …” and appealed to world leaders, especially those who signed the Helsinki Accords, to defend the accused.
The account of the trial (CCE 46.1, 15 August 1977) throws more light on the curious origins of the fire and, thanks to Malva Landa’s dissection of witness testimony, further exposed how the incident was planned. The court exercised leniency: it was her first conviction and she had suffered herself in the fire. A woman in her late 50s, already receiving a State pension, was sentenced in June 1977 to two years’ exile to the Chita Region (eastern Siberia). In March 1980 Malva Landa was prosecuted under Article 190-1 (CCE 56.3, 30 April 1980). This time she was sentenced to five years’ exile in Kazakhstan.
From 5 August to 9 October 1980 (Chronicle of Current Events, No 58) twenty two people were prosecuted in the USSR in a succession of political trials.
Many of the accused were arrested the previous year. TATYANA VELIKANOVA and FATHER GLEB YAKUNIN, the two most prominent detainees, were taken into custody on 1 November 1979, a month before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their trials were delayed until after the 1980 Summer Olympics, held in Moscow that year.
Today these events have a disconcerting echo. It was in 2014, after the Summer Olympics in Sochi, that Putin seized control of the Crimea and unleashed the ongoing campaign in east Ukraine.
*In 1980 some of those on trial admitted their guilt. They were given reduced or suspended sentences.
After a decade of reporting on Soviet political trials TATIANA VELIKANOVA (1932-2002) took a principled stand and refused to take part in the proceedings. She received a nine-year sentence. Her refusal to accept the conditions of Gorbachev’s pardon delayed her release until the end of 1988.
Note: This report appeared in the thirteenth year of the Chronicle’s publication. The text carries numerous links to earlier issues which can found on the CCE website.
Foreword and annotation, John Crowfoot
Source: A Chronicle of Current Events, November 1980, Issue 58
“Did you see your Mustafa, then, so small and thin?”
As a protest against the trumped-up charges brought against him (see Voices from the Past (No. 7): Mustafa Dzhemilev, Part 1) Mustafa Dzhemilev continued his hunger strike. It would be constantly halted and resumed over the following ten months, during which time he was moved to a prison in Siberia. As he explained to his alarmed supporters (Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner Pyotr and Zinaida Grigorenko) and to his family, on hunger-strike he was kept in solitary confinement, thereby avoiding the stool-pigeons and provocateurs who would otherwise be put in his cell.
By the time he came to trial his physical condition was appalling. As described by those who travelled to Omsk to support him there, and in Lydia Chukovskaya’s graphic denunciation by (“The Face of Inhumanity” CCE 40.3 (a)), Dzhemilev stood with difficulty and found it hard to speak after months of force-feeding. The verdict at his trial in May 1976 (CCE 40.3) was a foregone conclusion. The event was dramatic, nevertheless.
In court a fellow convict, Vladimir Dvoryansky, also aged 26, refuted all the testimony he had given against Dzhemilev under threats and intimidation, while both Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner were taken from the courtroom to the police station.
Dzhemilev was given two and a half years’ in a strict-regime corrective labour camp and sent yet further east, to serve his sentence in the Maritime Region of the Soviet Far East, several thousand miles from his family in Uzbekistan (CCE 42.4). This vindictive treatment, bearing no relation to due judicial process, was the subject of the first of many documents (CCE 41.8) drawn up and distributed by the newly-formed Moscow Helsinki Group.
Forty years later Mustafa Dzhemilev would appeal, as his friends had once done, to Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian air-force pilot imprisoned in Moscow, to halt her hunger strike.
Foreword and annotation by John Crowfoot
On 20 January 2016 a warrant was issued by a court in Crimea for the arrest of Mustafa Dzhemilev. [Court in Russian-occupied Crimea orders arrest of Mustafa Dzhemiliev 21.01.16 | Halya Coynash ]
This act and the charges against the Crimean Tatar leader, often referred to as the “Gandhi” or “Nelson Mandela” of his nation, have been met with justifiable outrage. In the context of a life-long, non-violent struggle on behalf of his exiled nation and of all those in the USSR who were denied their basic rights, it is just one more episode of persecution at the hands of the powers-that-be in Moscow.
In 1975, at the time of his fourth arrest (described below), Dzhemilev was serving a 12-month sentence in a penal colony in Omsk (Siberia). He was then 26 years old.
Source: A Chronicle of Current Events, No 37, 30 September 1975
*No 37 : 30 September 1975
On 19 June 1975, three days before the end of Mustafa Dzhemilev’s one-year term of imprisonment “for ignoring a summons for military service” (CCE 32.9 and 33), a fresh charge was brought against him under Article 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code.
Mustafa Dzhemilev declared a hunger strike. [Read more]
Among the many extraordinary stories of the post-Stalin years that of mathematician Revolt Pimenov stands out because of an indomitable character first displayed in his student years.
His troubles began in 1949 when he had the temerity to resign from the Komsomol. At regular intervals over the next twenty years the Communist system would bring new charges against him, and his unfortunate associates. In October 1970 he and Boris Vail were sentenced to 5 years’ internal exile.
A special piquancy of this report from the Chronicle of Current Events is the attempt it records by a high-ranking Party official in Leningrad to “talk some sense” into the uncompromising Pimenov. During perestroika the same Vadim Medvedev, now a Central Committee secretary in Moscow, was viewed as a leading reformer and comrade-in-arms of Mikhail Gorbachev.
In July 1970 Doctor of sciences Revolt Ivanovich Pimenov, a research officer at the Mathematical Institute, was arrested In Leningrad.
(For the search of Pimenov’s flat on 18 April see Chronicle 13.10 [items 17 & 18].)
R.I. Pimenov (b. 1931) graduated from the mathematics and mechanics faculty of Leningrad University. In 1949 he was forcibly hospitalised in a psychiatric institution with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, after he had submitted his resignation from the Komsomol. A second commission headed by Professor Goland then judged him to be healthy; the only thing the professor insisted on when discharging him was that he should withdraw his resignation.
In March 1950, threatened with a second hospitalisation, he agreed to remain in the Komsomol; in 1951 he was expelled from it, reinstated by the district committee, and then expelled from the University; but he was reinstated, and graduated in 1954.
He worked as a mathematician. [Read more]
Those who gathered on Pushkin Square this Saturday [12 December 2015 - see photo, left, courtesy of Eduard Molchanov] to mark Constitution Day met a tough response from the police. Ominously the present regime has dropped this day of celebration from the calendar.
The tradition of protesting against persistent human rights violations when basic liberties and freedoms were all guaranteed by the Constitution began in the Soviet era, first with the Stalin Constitution of 1936 and the Brezhnev Constitution of 1977. This excerpt from a report in the samizdat Chronicle of Current Events describes how the day was marked in the centre of Moscow and far away in the corrective-labour camps and prisons of the USSR.
See “Traditional Days of Protest in the Soviet Union”, A Chronicle of Current Events, 43.2, 31 December 1976
In Moscow the traditional 'silent meeting' by the Pushkin monument was held on 5 December for the twelfth time. The first demonstration on Pushkin Square took place on the same day in 1965.
Then the demonstrators were demanding glasnost, i.e. that the approaching trial of A. Sinyavsky and Yu. Daniel should be conducted openly, and that the  Soviet Constitution be observed. The latter demand became the traditional motto for the annual demonstrations on 5 December. At exactly 6 pm the demonstrators would bare their heads ‘as a sign of mourning’ for the absence of the constitutional freedoms in the USSR and stand in silence for several minutes. So far the number of those taking part has ranged from about ten to several dozen. The demonstrations have been relatively peaceful; the volunteer police [druzhinniki] have surrounded the demonstrators, forming a crowd of 100-150 people altogether.
This time everything was different.
The group of demonstrators, which included A. D. Sakharov, was surrounded by a tight ring of policemen, who began to shove and jostle them, energetically pushing them back from the Pushkin monument towards the benches and hedgerows around the square. N. Fyodorova had her spectacles broken; Victor Nekipelov was knocked off his feet. When, at 6 o’clock in the evening, the demonstrators in the group took off their hats, having failed to get through to the monument, those around them began to throw snow mixed with mud at them. (There was no snow on Pushkin Square that day; witnesses assert that the police brought the snow with them in paper bags.)
A group of Reform Baptists [initsiativniki] from Kiev, who had come to the demonstration, found themselves outside the ring. One of the Baptists threw a huge bouquet of carnations at Sakharov, but the bouquet was knocked out of Sakharov’s hands and trampled on. All this was going on to the accompaniment of jeers and yells (directed at Sakharov in particular) simulating ‘the indignation of the masses’.
A few hundred people gathered round those who had managed to reach the monument, but the situation there was much more peaceful. At about 6 o’clock the crowd stretched all the way from the monument to Gorky Street. Some part of the crowd was made up of volunteer police, but exactly how much remained unclear until 6 o’clock. At that moment many people — but not all — followed the example of the ’traditional’ group of demonstrators and bared their heads.
Unlike the state of affairs round the group that had been pushed away, the silence around the monument lasted undisturbed for five minutes. Afterwards P. G. Grigorenko made a short speech, this being the first speech in the history of the meetings on Pushkin Square:
Many people loudly repeated ‘Freedom for Bukovsky!'
Cameras were constantly flashing above the crowd. One of the most picturesque sights of the evening was provided by a certain person sitting astride the Pushkin monument and continually taking photographs of the crowd.
Three persons were detained on Pushkin Square for a short while, including Associated Press correspondent George Krimsky (se Chronicle No. 42), who on some pretext had been stopped on the edge of the square, pushed into a car and not allowed to get out until everything was over. The tyres of his own car then turned out to have been slashed.
On 4 December Alexander Gotovtsev was summoned to police station 73, where KGB officials were waiting for him. They told Gotovtsev that he was forbidden to appear on Pushkin Square with his guitar on 5 December. If he ignored this, it would be regarded as a breach of public order.
On 5 December, at 5.30 in the evening, A. Gotovtsev was seized on Razgulyai Square (together with his guitar), pushed into a taxi and taken to the local police sub-station; he was kept there until the demonstration was over.
A. Gotovtsev (stage name Rossiisky) is a composer and singer of songs who has taken an active part in the ‘Sunday Concerts’ (see ‘An Unofficial Entertainment’ in Chronicle No. 41, the ‘News in Brief’ section of Chronicle No. 42 and in this issue).
For the first time similar demonstrations took place in other towns — in Odessa and Leningrad. In Odessa 13 people gathered at 5 pm at the Pushkin monument on Primorsky Boulevard. In Leningrad 25 people took part in the demonstration at the Pushkin monument on the Square of the Arts.
On 5 December Armenian political prisoners Paruir Airikyan, Azat Arshakyan and Razmik Markosyan demanded the legalization of the National United Party of Armenia and a referendum in Armenia on the question of self-determination.
Their demands were upheld, in statements addressed to the Presidium of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, by the following political prisoners in the Mordovian camps: Mikhail Korenblit, Vasily Ovsienko, Vladimir Osipov, Oksana Popovich, Boris Penson, Nijole Sadunaite, Pyotr Sartakov, Irina Senik, Sergei Soldatov, Irina Stasiv-Kalynets, Vasily Stus, Mikhail Kheifets, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Stefaniya Shabatura and Artyom Yuskevich.
Political prisoners in Vladimir Prison have sent statements to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, pointing out the necessity of bringing the Constitution into line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN Covenants on human rights (1966) and the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference (1975), so that ‘the text of the new constitution [adopted in 1977] will not only proclaim the basic human rights and freedoms, but will also make provision for establishing a mechanism to guarantee those rights in reality'.
Photo courtesy of (c) Eduard Molchanov
Items in this section of our website are selected, introduced and annotated by John Crowfoot
A Chronicle of Current Events (No 8)
30 June 1969
On 6 June 1969, the second day of the World Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties [in Moscow], the Crimean Tatars staged a demonstration on Mayakovsky Square. There were five participants: Zampira Asanova, Enver Ametov, Reshat Dzhemilev, Aider Zeitulayev, and Ibraim Kholopov.
At a quarter past twelve they unfurled banners at the foot of the memorial to Vladimir Mayakovsky, bearing the slogans:
HAIL TO LENIN'S NATIONALITIES POLICY! COMMUNISTS, GIVE CRIMEA BACK TO THE CRIMEAN TATARS! STOP PERSECUTING THE CRIMEAN TATARS! FREE GENERAL GRIGORENKO! (The last placard carried a photograph of Grigorenko)
A large crowd of about three hundred gathered round the demonstrators, encircling them but not daring to approach very close. The crowd was silent. There were two shouts of “They shouldn't have betrayed Russia!” No one asked the demonstrators to disperse. [Read more]
A Chronicle of Current Events (No 40)
20 May 1976
At trials in Odessa, Moscow, Omsk and Vilnius, people have again been prosecuted and found guilty of thoughts they have expressed – and even thoughts they have not expressed.
Sentences have been passed as follows:
Vyacheslav Igrunov – sent to an ordinary psychiatric hospital;
Andrei Tverdokhlebov – 5 years' exile;
Mustafa Dzhemilev – two and a half years in strict-regime camps;
Valery Maresin – 6 months' corrective labour.
Certain citizens of the Soviet Union and of Western countries, have seen the seeds of liberalism in these sentences and sighed with relief. At last! A psychiatric hospital, not a psychiatric prison [“special” psychiatric hospital]; exile, not a labour camp; two and a half years imprisonment, not seven.
It is our duty to issue a warning: normal people should harbour no illusions about trials in the USSR! [Read more]
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