Commentary No 11

No 11 :  31 December 1969

11.1 The expulsion of Solzhenitsyn from the Writers Union

[1] Sakhalin – an island off the Far Eastern coast of the Soviet Union, visited by Chekhov in 1890. His impressions of the forced labour camps and exiles’ settlements located there are  recorded in Sakhalin Island, first published in 1893-4.

[2] The USSR was not a signatory of any international copyright convention until the mid-1970s.

11.2 Grigorenko on the Special Psychiatric Hospitals

The noted Russian thinker Pyotr Chaadayev (1793-1856) was officially declared to be mad after the publication in 1836 of an essay in which he saw the only salvation for Russia’s backwardness in the traditions of western Europe and of the Roman Catholic Church. He was not, however, put in a mental hospital. Notwithstanding his oft-quoted  case, and many generalized assertions by Soviet publicists, virtually no hard evidence exists of the tsarist regime imprisoning opponents in mental hospitals, or that the practice ever became more than a passing, local phenomenon.

11.4 Samizdat update

Item 1 – Andrei Amalrik’s Involuntary Journey

Amalrik had been known to the world at large earlier, ever since, on 16 July 1968, he and his wife had demonstrated with placards outside the British Embassy against Britain’s (and the USSR’s) supply of arms to the federal side in the Nigerian civil war. Moreover, as he reveals in his autobiographical Involuntary Journey, he had known members of Moscow’s foreign colony (see 13.9, item 10) since the early 1960s, a fact which accounts in part for the period of Siberian exile (1965-6) described in that remarkable book.

Item 16 – The Action Group and its fourth appeal to the UN

The fourth appeal, dispatched on 26 November 1969 and signed by nine Action Group members, was, predictably enough, intercepted by the censorship. Unlike the previous letter two months before [Commentary 10], which was published in full a few weeks later (see 19 October, The Observer, London), the fast copy of the fourth appeal reached the West over a year later.

11.6 The arrest of Vladimir Gershuni

[1] The Socialist-Revolutionary Party (est. 1901) was the great rival to the Bolsheviks on the left of the Russian political spectrum. In elections to the 1918 Constitutent Assembly the SRs won over half of the votes [JC]

11.15 News in brief (Item 9)

The Chronicle later amended and clarified this item, pointing out first that the name’s correct form in Russian is Mender, in Latvian Menders.

A leading social-democrat, Dr Menders was deported to Siberia in the mid-1940s, but had the luck to survive and to return home in 1955. His 1969 sentence was in fact five years of banishment from Riga, on the charge that he had allegedly given some materials to a foreign tourist. But no memoirs of his have yet been published abroad. In 1970 he was allowed to return to Riga, after a sharp decline in his health, and in April 1971 he died.