13.1 Moscow: The Trial of Vladimir Gershuni

No 13 : 30 April 1970

On 13 March 1970 the Moscow City Court heard the case of Vladimir Lvovich Gershuni (see Chronicle 11.6), a bricklayer aged 39. Gershuni was accused under Article 190-1 of the Russian Criminal Code (slandering the Soviet political and social system).

The case was heard in the absence of the accused as a psychiatric diagnosis had judged Gershuni to be of unsound mind. The Judge Baikova, the Procurator Piskaryova and the Counsel for the Defence Safonov questioned the sister of the accused and three witnesses: Maltsev, Afanasyev and Bunyayev. Two witnesses did not appear. (In all twenty people were questioned at the preliminary investigation. The investigator was Gnevkovskaya.)

The trial began after a fifty minute delay, and access to it was free. During the course of the session, on the Judge’s insistence, notebooks were taken away from those who were taking notes.

The charges against Gershuni were based on his possession of a single document: twenty copies of a leaflet in defence of Grigorenko, published in Paris by the International Committee for the Defence of Human Rights.

In the course of questioning witnesses from Gershuni’s place of work the Judge and Procurator tried to establish the sort of conversation he had conducted at work, the sort of literature he had brought to work, and whether he created the impression of a mentally ill person. The witnesses testified that Gershuni had condemned the sending of forces into Czechoslovakia, had brought newspapers, including Rude Pravo, to work; that Gershuni was well-educated, well read and convinced of the truth of what he said; they recounted that it was not only Gershuni who conducted conversations on political subjects – and not only Gershuni held a critical view of the present leadership’s home and foreign policy. The witnesses denied that Gershuni was mentally ill and emphasised that he was a good workman and a morally stable person.

Gershuni, Vladimir

After an intermission the Judge read out the conclusion of the forensic medical team, according to which Gershuni was judged to be of unsound mind (the diagnosis was chronic schizophrenia; the form of schizophrenia was not mentioned), and then the Conclusion of the Ideological Diagnostic Team:

  1. The materials of the case confirm their authors and disseminators active participation in a group whose aim is to fight against the Soviet social and political system.
  2. The materials are evidence of systematic ideological propaganda carried on by its authors and disseminators, whose main aim is to unite those who are dissatisfied with the Soviet social and political system, and organize them in a struggle against Soviet laws (freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and the like) so as to incite unstable elements in society both to fight against Soviet law and order and socialist democracy and, ultimately, to remodel the Soviet social and political system along bourgeois lines.
  3. [The materials] present and discuss tendentiously a series of problems relating to the sphere of state policy and legislation.
  4. A reading of Gershuni’s manuscripts allows one to draw the conclusion that they are the writings of a smearer and a slanderer.

The team’s members were: Masters of philosophical sciences V. A. Mezentsev [an editor of the journal Science and Religion (Nauka i Religiya)] and T. P. Garkovenko. The Procurator in his speech summarized the conclusions of both diagnoses and demanded that V. Gershuni should be sent to a special psychiatric hospital.

Counsel for the Defence Safonov submitted a request for a new [psychiatric] diagnosis, basing it on the inadequacy and inaccuracy of the first one; he drew attention to Gershuni’s difficult childhood (in an orphanage); to the fact that in Stalin’s time the defendant was illegally imprisoned; and that it was absurd to consider a decline in his educational success rate in 1947 a sign of schizophrenic illness, etc.

Conclusion of the Court: That V. Gershuni should be sent to a Special Psychiatric Hospital and should be released from custody on his arrival at his place of imprisonment. The court’s conclusion would come into force seven days after it was announced, if no appeal were made against it during that period.

*

On 16 March Vladimir Gershuni was taken to Butyrka Prison [in Moscow] and put in the same cell in the prison hospital as criminals who were seriously ill. In protest he declared a hunger strike, which lasted for fourteen days before his request to be transferred to the political prisoner category was granted.

He ended up in the same cell as the “politicals”, among them Vladimir Borisov from the city of Vladimir (see Chronicle 11.15 “News in brief” [item 12]). Ivan Yakhimovich also spent some little time here before he was sent [back] to Riga.