The Fund to Aid Political Prisoners (1974-1983)

posted 31 Oct 2016, 13:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 Oct 2016, 13:48 ]
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)