8.16 Appendix to No 8. Reply to a reader

No 8, 30 June 1969

The Chronicle thanks the Leningrad reader for his letter analysing issues of the Chronicle in detail. Whilst agreeing with his evaluation of the Chronicle’s aims, and with many of his individual comments, the Chronicle would like to reply at greater length to two of his statements :

1. “The Chronicle will carry conviction only if its tone is calm and restrained, thus precluding the possibility of its readers entertaining the slightest doubt as to its legal character. This too will be conducive to increasing its popularity.” So writes the reader, having informed us that, in the opinion of some of his friends, the Chronicle has a ‘hysterical tone’. The reason for this, he thinks, lies in the abundance of value judgments.

The Chronicle makes every effort to achieve a calm, restrained tone. Unfortunately the materials with which the Chronicle is dealing evoke emotional reactions, and these automatically affect the tone of the text. The Chronicle does, and will do, its utmost to ensure that its strictly factual style is maintained to the greatest degree possible, but it cannot guarantee complete success. The Chronicle tries to refrain from making value judgments—either by not making them at all, or by referring to judgments made in samizdat documents. In certain cases one is obliged to give an appraisal of the facts, otherwise their true significance might escape the unsophisticated reader.

2. ” … I am not sure if one can classify the whole of the rich content of the Chronicle (for instance, the reviews of samizdat) under the heading of “the Human Rights Movement”, without stretching the definition. For this reason the title of the Chronicle, too, does not seem to me to be particularly apposite.”

The Chronicle disagrees sharply with this comment. On the contrary, the ‘rich content of the Chronicle‘ represents only a few of the many aspects of the concept ‘human rights movement’. To get an idea of just how much this movement can embrace, one has only to glance through the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Samizdat has a dual right to figure in the Chronicle: first, in so far as a part of it is expressly devoted to the question of human rights; secondly, the whole of samizdat is an example of freedom of speech and the press, of creative freedom and freedom of conscience, put into practice.

The Chronicle has to admit that Soviet legal practice, for example, is given very narrow coverage in its pages — only those arrests, searches and legal proceedings which clearly represent acts of political repression, irrespective of which article of the Criminal Code is involved. But what is the record of juridical practice in ‘purely criminal’ cases? No one has yet systematically gathered information on the numerous violations of the human rights in this area which are set out in the Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed by Soviet law.

Here is an example, of what we have in mind, as it happens from Leningrad. It has come to the attention of the Chronicle, because it does in fact have political overtones. But even if there were no such overtones, even if the criminal prosecution were justified, it would be no less striking an example.

On 1 June 1969, Yefim Slavinsky, a translator and graduate of Leningrad University, was arrested by organs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MVD]. He was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code — ‘drug-trafficking’ and ‘maintaining an establishment for the smoking of drugs’, and a search was made on these grounds. Slavinsky himself was taken away soon after the search began, and his wife, upset and frightened, signed a record after the search without making any protest. Meanwhile, apart from taking away old medicine bottles and boxes, and a small quantity of powder which they named ‘anasha’ [cannabis], the investigators removed 65 books without making an inventory, stamped them and threw them into a sack, and took also a number of papers, notebooks, and a diary—also without an inventory—and put them in a similar sack. Who knows what might disappear from these sacks, and—more important— what might ‘appear’ in them? But this is a violation of the law with which readers of the Chronicle are already familiar. In Slavinsky’s case there was an even more flagrant violation.

On 5 June, four days after his arrest, the newspaper Evening Leningrad carried a short report of the arrest, entitled: ‘He will surely pay.’ The editors and the author had both trampled on one of the basic human rights — the presumption of innocence. It was hardly surprising: the author of the article was a certain Lerner, who had earlier in his career directed the campaign against losif Brodsky, a campaign that was initiated by the Leningrad press and led to the arrest, conviction and exile of the poet. Incidentally, one of the polemical articles on Brodsky dating from that time included a paragraph devoted to Slavinsky, and Lerner was one of the authors.

Would you not say that this episode, which was not included in the Chronicle, indicates that, far from overstepping the bounds of the title, the range of the Chronicle is far narrower than the title would suggest?