11.4 Hunger strikes in the political camps of Mordovia

No 11 : 31 December 1969

In November-December 1969 there was a wave of hunger-strikes in the Potma camps for political prisoners: Dubrovlag (Institution 385) [see Map 3].

In the work area of Camp 3 (not to be confused with the hospital area which is also a part of Camp 3) there was a hunger-strike in protest at the confinement of prisoner Berg in the punishment block [BIR]. Berg, who was convicted under Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code for setting up, with Vyacheslav Aidov, an illegal printing press, had been transferred to Camp 3 from Camp 19, being a specialist in non-standard equipment. However, in Camp 3 he was put on unskilled labour and then sent to the punishment block for attempting to protest. Participants in the hunger-strike were: Vyacheslav Aidov and Nikolai Tarnavsky, convicted under Article 70 of the Russian Code, also for attempting to set up an illegal press; Ivan Zukovskis, Article 67 of the Lithuanian Code (equivalent to Article 70 of the Russian Code), a journalist specializing in international affairs, convicted for conducting an interview which the authorities found objectionable; Valentyn Karpenko, Article 70 of the Russian Code, eighteen months; Valery Rumyantsev, Article 64 of the Russian Code, fifteen years; and Lev Kvachevsky, Article 70, three [in fact four] years.

After a collective hunger-strike which lasted several days, the administration released Berg from the punishment block, decided his protest had been justified and the actions of Aleksandrov, the head of the camp section, who had put Berg on to unskilled labour, wrong. Vyacheslav Aidov, who refused to appear for an interview with the authorities when summoned, since he was too weak and could not walk after his hunger-strike, was put in the punishment block without further ado. Berg, Tarnavsky, Zukovskis, Karpenko, Rumyantsev and Kvachevsky then went on hunger-strike in protest. This strike lasted several days and forced the camp administration to release Aidov too from the punishment block.

In mid-November Berg was suddenly sent to Vladimir Prison, and this provoked a third hunger-strike, which lasted three days, and in which Aidov, Tarnavsky, Zukovskis, Rumyantsev and Kvachevsky participated.

In mid-November there was also a hunger-strike at Camp 17a of Dubrovlag. One of the reasons for the strike was the camp administration’s refusal to allow Victor Kalnins to receive a parcel from relatives. Kalnins is serving a ten-year sentence: he was arrested and convicted in 1962 under Articles 66 and 67 of the Latvian Criminal Code (equivalent to Articles 64 and 70 of the Russian Code), in a case about an “anti-Soviet underground nationalist organization”; an objection was lodged against the sentence first by the Procurator of the Latvian Republic and then the Procurator-General of the USSR, but the sentence was confirmed. One of those who went on hunger-strike, Yury Galanskov, was transferred during his strike to Camp 3 (the hospital) and continued his fast there.

Ronkin, Ginzburg & Mordovia (1969)

Ronkin, Ginzburg and a Mordovian camp in winter

In December there were hunger-strikes in almost all the political camps of Dubrovlag. The strikes were in connection with International Human Rights Day, 10 December. In the first week of December at Camp 17a there was a hunger-strike by Alexander Ginzburg, Victor Kalnins, Leonid Borodin and Vyacheslav Platonov (the latter were convicted under Article 70 in the Leningrad Christian Democrats case [see 1.6]). The strikers were protesting at the transfer of Yuly Daniel and Valery Ronkin to Vladimir Prison [see 9.10, item 10]. All four were put in the punishment block. Yury Galanskov fasted in the hospital area of Camp 3 from 3 to 10 December for the same reason.

In the work section of Camp 3, Aidov, Tarnavsky, Zukovskis, Karpenko, Rumyantsev and Kvachevsky went on yet another hunger-strike in protest at the transfer of Berg to Vladimir Prison.

In Camp 19 P. M. Goryachyov went on hunger strike for two days, 10-11 December. (He was sentenced under Article 64 of the Russian Code. Until 1964 he was a detective in the KGB, then a lawyer. He was convicted for attempting to cross the border.) Goryachyov was put in the punishment block.

In connection with the transfer of Daniel and Ronkin to Vladimir Prison about seventy inquiries were made to various official authorities between July and November 1969, mainly from relatives of the two prisoners. These inquiries were sent to the Zubovo-Polyana district Procuracy in Mordovia, the Mordovian Republic Procuracy, the Procuracy of the Russian Republic, the USSR Procuracy, the district people’s court of Zubovo-Polyana District, the Mordovian Supreme Court, the administration of Camp 17a, the central administration of Dubrovlag, the USSR Ministry of the Interior, the Presidium of the Russian Republic Supreme Soviet, and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. So far, not one of these inquiries has received an answer of any substance.