11.5 Investigation in the case of naval officer G. V. Gavrilov and others continues

No 11 : December 1969

On 20 June 1969, a KGB detective squad searched the flat of S. I. Soldatov in Tallinn. The search warrant, signed by Captain Bodunov, a senior investigator, indicated that citizen Olga Bondarenko had testified that Soldatov had been meeting a stranger in her flat. Confiscated during the search were personal correspondence with the Soviet writer V. M. Pomerantsev, the Declaration of Human Rights, poems called ‘Dream of Freedom’ and ‘On the Death of Kennedy’, extracts copied from the Confessions of J. Rousseau, and a samizdat philosophical manuscript, “Man and the World”.

FIRST INTERROGATION: 24 June 1969. In the Estonian KGB headquarters, 2 Pagari Street [Tallinn], senior investigator A. Nikitin.

INVESTIGATOR. We should like to question you …for the moment as a witness.

SOLDATOV. In connection with which case am I being questioned?

INVESTIGATOR. You are being questioned in connection with the case of Gennady Vladimirovich Gavrilov and a group of Baltic Fleet officers [see 10.5] charged with anti-Soviet activities. Are you often in Moscow?

SOLDATOV. That is irrelevant to the case under investigation.

INVESTIGATOR. Are you acquainted with Yakir?

SOLDATOV. I wish to state that I am not prepared to give you any information about my acquaintances or my inward life. (There follows a lengthy explanation about how refusal to testify can be a criminal offence.)

SOLDATOV. If you have any material evidence against me, lock me up without my collaboration.

INVESTIGATOR. We have a lot of evidence against you, you have had connections with these officers. We know that for certain.

SOLDATOV. Then draw up an indictment on the basis of that evidence.

(Soldatov is taken into another office.)

COLONEL BARKOV. You aren’t an enemy of the Soviet regime?

SOLDATOV. I am an enemy of lawlessness.

BARKOV. Then why don’t you assist the investigation, and confirm what is obvious? We know for sure that the accused Gavrilov got your address from Yakir and has been meeting you. Your obstinate refusal only increases our suspicions. Evidently you have some anti-Soviet peccadilloes on your conscience and feel uncomfortable …

SOLDATOV. I’ve already said ‘Lock me up without my help.’

BARKOV. We once interrogated and released a young man who had written an anti-Soviet poem. Later he started asking us to lock him up, if only for a year. Your vanity evidently makes you, too, aspire to appear a martyr.

SOLDATOV. I simply want to live my life as an honest man.

BARKOV. Then how are we to understand your attitude to Soviet law?

SOLDATOV. Those laws are themselves imperfect and frequently conflict with human rights.

BARKOV. But Solon said: ‘If laws are imperfect, then let the lawgiver’s error be forgiven.’ Think what sort of position you will put the worthy Captain Bondarenko in. After all, his daughter confirms that you have met the officers in her flat.

SOLDATOV. That’s a matter for her conscience. I know what I myself am talking about.

BARKOV. Think of the fate of these young officers. One of them is already completely beyond your help, but you could ease the position of another of them …

SOLDATOV. I can’t ease anyone’s fate by going against my conscience.

BARKOV. Now that’s simply cruel. How can you talk about human rights and struggle for them after saying that…

SOLDATOV. Well, then. I will confirm just the evidence of Bondarenko’s daughter and the officers—if that will save someone.

(Soldatov confirms that he had met someone; he cannot remember the time, place, appearance or names; the conversation was on general topics and he had noticed nothing illegal.)

BARKOV. Why didn’t you invite this person to your home?

SOLDATOV. My wife doesn’t like having strangers in.

BARKOV. Did they give you any documents? Did they discuss with you the foundation of a ‘Union of Fighters for Political Freedom’ and the publication of a newspaper called the Democrat? Did you promise to get hold of type-metal? Do you know a document called ‘To hope or to act?’ ? (Soldatov answers each question in the negative.)

BARKOV. What is your political credo?

SOLDATOV. The government is obliged to listen to the opinions of dissenters, of the democratic intelligentsia, and to implement democratic freedoms, which it is not doing. (Signs record of interrogation.)

BARKOV. Whether you like it or not, the question of your relations with Yakir will inevitably be brought into the open.

SOLDATOV. That won’t change my position.

BARKOV. You’re evidently dissatisfied with our policy in Czechoslovakia?

SOLDATOV. I’m not thrilled to bits by it.

BARKOV. You’d like West Germany to send its troops there?

SOLDATOV. I would prefer not to have this sort of argument in a KGB office. Goodbye.

***

SECOND INTERROGATION: June 28th, 1969. In the Estonian KGB headquarters, senior investigator A. Nikitin.

NIKITIN. What can you say about the letter to the Party Central Committee signed by you and your comrades at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute?

SOLDATOV. Only that the answer we got to it didn’t satisfy us.

NIKITIN. Where did you get the exercise-book containing political notes?

SOLDATOV. I found it in a lecture-hall and kept it.

NIKITIN. Where did you get the samizdat philosophical manuscript?

SOLDATOV. I don’t remember.

NIKITIN. Where did you get the poems ‘Dream of Freedom’ and ‘On the Death of Kennedy’ ?

SOLDATOV. I refuse to answer.

NIKITIN. How did your correspondence with the writer Pomerantsev begin? Is he your friend?

SOLDATOV. Just an acquaintance. It was on my initiative. I have no other information to give. I protest against the illegal confiscation from me of materials not relevant to the case, including the Declaration of Human Rights.

NIKITIN. Address your protest to the Special Department of the Baltic Fleet. It’s their instructions we’re carrying out.

SOLDATOV. I am a civilian. My documents are irrelevant to the case of these officers.

NIKITIN. We decide whether they are relevant or not.

SOLDATOV. That’s where the arbitrariness starts. Article 140 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure has been violated.

NIKITIN. But that sort of thing happened in the past. Things are different now.

SOLDATOV. What about the arrest of people for their beliefs, the confinement of healthy people in psychiatric hospitals?

NIKITIN. That question is decided by medical experts, not by us. We even help ex-political prisoners to find work.

SOLDATOV. Your charitable activities stare us in the face.

NIKITIN. We sent a couple of bastards to prison, and you’re up in arms, kicking up a fuss for all the world to hear. What about the country’s prestige? (A reference to Daniel and Sinyavsky.)

SOLDATOV. It’s a question not of the nation but of principle. It’s a matter of freedom of speech and artistic expression. Besides, one person who fights boldly for freedom is worth more than a million cowardly nonentities.

NIKITIN. Well that’s as may be. It’s all very abstract. But I still hope that you’ll change your negative attitude to the KGB.

SOLDATOV. Even if you managed to convince me that you are observing legality at the moment, who will give a guarantee for the future?

NIKITIN. Of course, if the international situation becomes tenser, we will take steps against those who have been shooting at us (??).

(SOLDATOV signs an order forbidding him to leave Tallinn.)

***

THIRD INTERROGATION: September 3rd, 1969. In the Special Department of the KGB for the Baltic Fleet, 8 Toompea Street, senior investigator Captain Bodunov.

BODUNOV. We are not satisfied with your evidence to the Estonian KGB I hope you’ve seen sense.

(The records of the interrogation of the accused A. V. Kosyrev are now quoted: T asked him (Soldatov) to assist in the establishment of a “Union of Fighters for Political Freedom” and in the publication of a paper, the Democrat, to which he very willingly agreed … He also agreed to get hold of type-metal … His telephone number was obtained from Yakir … ‘)

BODUNOV. What have you to say about that?

SOLDATOV. I can’t remember any such conversation. We talked about general subjects.

BODUNOV. Have you known Yakir long?

SOLDATOV. Why are you so persistently interested in Yakir? As far as I know, he is a universally respected citizen who in legal ways defends human rights.

BODUNOV. But his personal friend I. Gabai has been arrested. I had a word with the investigator who interrogated him. (Chronicle footnote: The investigation of Gabai’s case was carried out by senior investigator B. I. Berezovsky of the Uzbek Procuracy.) So he’s not involved only in legal affairs.

SOLDATOV. I have nothing to say on that score. It’s not clear why Kosyrev needed to meet me.

BODUNOV. He saw in you a fighter.

SOLDATOV. I hadn’t deserved that.

BODUNOV. Right, wait in the next room.

(There follows a confrontation and an identification procedure, in the course of which Kosyrev identifies Soldatov and confirms his evidence about their conversation.)

BODUNOV (to Soldatov). What have you to say to that?

SOLDATOV. I consider the base and cowardly conduct of Kosyrev unworthy of an officer.

BODUNOV (slapping his hand on the table). I will not stand for any insinuations. You’re sitting on a powder-keg which may explode at any moment.

SOLDATOV (to Kosyrev). There exists the KGB’s court, and also the court of your comrades and of history. To that court you will have to answer your whole life long.

BODUNOV. There’s no ‘KGB court’, only the Soviet People’s Court.

SOLDATOV. There’s also the court of conscience. It is important to remain honest in all circumstances.

BODUNOV. You and your honest conduct won’t be strolling around freely much longer.

SOLDATOV. Experience shows that honest people have frequently lost their freedom and become political prisoners. Then they have been rehabilitated. I’d rather be rehabilitated than a swine and free … I request the opportunity to speak at the trial.

BODUNOV. Why?

SOLDATOV. In order to express my opinion about this case.

BODUNOV. In whose name? Who has authorized you? A Komsomol or trade union organization?

SOLDATOV. In the name of the democratic intelligentsia.

***

FOURTH INTERROGATION: In the Special Department of the Baltic Fleet. September 4th, 1969. Senior investigator Bodunov. (Confrontation with G. V. Gavrilov, the chief accused. Gavrilov does not recognize Soldatov.)

SOLDATOV. I demand to be allowed to take part in the coming trial [see 14.10].

BODUNOV. There is nothing for you to do there. You aren’t helping in the search for the truth.

SOLDATOV (to Gavrilov). My name is … (gives his names). Remember that I shall always be glad to meet you. How can I help?

GAVRILOV. Perhaps we will meet. There’s nothing I need.

***

FIFTH INTERROGATION: September 23rd, 1969. Soldatov has been summoned to the Special Department of the Baltic Fleet, where he is awaited by KGB Major Tikhonov and three men in white coats, headed by military doctor Petrenko. They turn out to be doctors from the Republic Psychiatric Hospital. The examination proceeds as follows:

‘Were your parents ever sick?’ —’No.’

‘Are you an only child?’ —’Yes.’

‘Did you start school at the normal age?’ —’Yes.’

‘What were you keen on at school?’ —’Mathematics and sport.’

‘Did you aspire to be a leader?’ —’No.’

‘Why did you leave secondary school at the age of eighteen instead of nineteen?’ —’The war.’

‘Why did you choose mechanical engineering?’ —’I liked it.’

‘Did you do well in your examinations?’ —’Yes.’

‘How did you choose your friends?’ —Tor their honesty and intelligence.’

‘Why did you move to a different factory?’ —’I changed my line.’

‘Don’t your work-mates envy you?’ —’No.’

‘What are your relations with your work-group?’ —’Perfectly correct.’

‘Ah, only “correct”. Why not warm?’ —’One can’t make friends to order.’

‘Don’t you think you could make a technical breakthrough?’ -‘No.’

‘Are your parents hard-hearted towards you ?’ — ‘No.’

‘What made you marry your wife?’ —’I liked her.’

‘Have you ever had experience of unrequited love?’ —’Yes.’

‘Do you confide your views to your wife?’ —’She judges me by what I do.’

‘Is your wife content with you?’ —’Ask her. Pick your questions more carefully.’

‘Do you feel that life is hard and people are hard on you?’ — ‘No.’

‘Do you believe in the supernatural? In the hereafter?’ — ‘Those are controversial questions.’

‘Your favourite authors are … ?’ —’Zweig, Dickens, Tolstoy.’

‘Have you ever been to church?’ —’I have.’

‘When did you become interested in religious and moral problems?’ —’When I learned to think.’

‘Why are you interested in them?’ —’Not everything in life is as it should be.’

‘Why do you like Tolstoy?’ —’He explores problems of human existence.’

‘Your attitude to military service?’ — ‘I haven’t yet adopted a definite attitude to it, because it’s peacetime.’

‘What do you think of Man and the World, the manuscript found at your flat?’ —’There’s a lot I can’t understand.’

‘Where did you get it from?’ —’From acquaintances.’

‘What is your attitude to the sending of troops into Czechoslovakia?’ — ‘Negative.’

‘How should the question be settled?’ —’Peacefully.’

‘You wouldn’t like to head a delegation at negotiations?’ — ‘I’m not qualified in politics.’

‘What do you think of Soviet policy?’ —’To make an analysis you need information from both sides. I haven’t got that.’

‘Don’t you consider yourself able to change the Soviet political system?’ —’History is made by the masses.’

‘Why have we gathered here for this conversation?’ —’The KGB is worried about my health.’

‘Why is the KGB interested in you?’ —’Because of my inconvenient views and undesirable acquaintanceships.’

‘Don’t summonses to the KGB embitter you?’ —’I’ve got used to them.’

‘Does the present situation embitter you?’ —’At the moment I feel ashamed for the medical profession.’

‘Have you ever had bumps on your head?’ —’Yes, lots.’

‘Why do you have that ironic smile all the time?’ —’I’m enjoying this solemn ritual. It reveals your powerlessness.’