43.2 Traditional Days of Protest in the Soviet Union

<< No. 43 : 31 December 1976 >>

30 OCTOBER 1976 – POLITICAL PRISONERS’ DAY

In 1976 Political Prisoners’ Day was observed for the third time. [1a]  In camps and prisons the traditional hunger-strikes took place on that day; over sixty people took part. Among them were:

● the women prisoners Irina Stasiv-Kalynets, Oksana Popovich, Irina Senik and Stefaniya Shabatura;

● prisoners in Vladimir Prison — Abankin, Antonyuk, Afanasev, Balakhonov, Bondar, Budulak-Sharygin, Bukovsky, Gaiduk, Davydov, Denisenko, Zdorovy, Lyubarsky, Makarenko, Pashnin, Popadyuk, Prikhodko, Rode, Roketsky, Safronov, Sergienko, Stepanov, Superfin, Suslensky, Trufanov, Turik, Fedorenko, Khnokh, Shakirov, Shakhverdyan and Shinkaruk;

● prisoners serving their terms in a special-regime campSvyatoslav Karavansky, Kuznetsov, Rebrik, Romanyuk, Fyodorov and Shumuk;

● political prisoners in the Urals — Asselbaums, Altman, Butman, Verkholyak, Grabans, Zalmanson, Kivilo, Kalynets, Zakharchenko, Motryuk, Semyon Gluzman, Zograbyan, Kiirend, Sergei Kovalyov, //Marchenko, Iosif Mendelevich, Mikitko, Pronyuk, Soroka, Prishlyak, Shovkovoi, Petras Plumpa, Yevgeny Sverstyuk and Ivan Svetlichny;

and prisoners in the Mordovian camps — Vladimir Osipov, Sergei Soldatov and Mikhail Kheifets.

Those who took part in the hunger-strike demanded an end to forced labour and to the use of a starvation diet as a form of punishment; they asked that camps and prisons should be opened up for inspection by international humanitarian organizations and the independent press. They asked to be accorded the status of political prisoners.

In Perm camp No. 36 they declared:

“We understand why the Soviet Union demands freedom for political prisoners throughout the world, except in the socialist camp. As we are part of the world, we also demand freedom.

However, if the socialist camp cannot imagine itself existing without such institutions as prisons and camps for those who think differently, then let it fulfil the demand made by the world today and afford its political prisoners the status of political prisoners. We demand this on 30 October 1976. Political Prisoners’ Day in the USSR, and as a sign of protest we declare a hunger-strike.”

Signed аt Kuchino rail station [camp 36] by political prisoners Sergei Kovalyov (Moscow), Iosif Mendelevich (citizen of Israel), Petras Plumpa (Vilnius), and Yevgeny Sverstyuk (Kiev).

*

On 30 October the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR and the USSR Helsinki Monitoring Group organized a press conference in Moscow. Those who participated spoke of the position of women in political camps. Foreign journalists were given letters and statements from camps and prisons, documents asking for an amnesty, and No. 42 of the Chronicle of Current Events. Telegrams were sent to political prisoners, “Today we are with you”. Here follows the text of the statement issued by those who took part in the press conference:

“30 October — Political Prisoners’ Day in the USSR

Dear friends!

We have gathered here today to observe Political Prisoners’ Day in the USSR for the third time. This day was not chosen by us, by people living in freedom. The day was chosen by those who are suffering in Soviet concentration camps and in the terrible Vladimir Central Prison.

Today they are on hunger-strike in support of their demand to be acknowledged as political prisoners and to be accorded this status.

“For the third year in succession, political prisoners, joining hands, declare to the whole world: we are carrying on the fight,” writes Kronid Lyubarsky from Vladimir Prison, October 1976.

We have taken to calling this day Political Prisoners’ Day. That is the name given to it by those who are now behind barbed wire, so that’s what we too call it. However, we always have to explain what we mean when we use the generally accepted term ‘political prisoner’. Political prisoners in the Land of the Soviets are prisoners of conscience and the word.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are honest people condemned for their beliefs, for words they have spoken or written, for exchanging information.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are courageous people condemned because they fought with Words of Truth and Goodness against violence and lies, evil and hypocrisy.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are modest and talented people, condemned because they dared to defend their own national culture.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are religious believers condemned for their faith, for preaching their faith.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are people who have tried to escape from a country which has reached ‘the highest stage of socialism’, the country approaching Communism. The state has charged them with ‘treason to the Motherland’.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are citizens of the national republics who have tried to achieve — in a peaceful, legal manner — the realization of their nations’ right to independence.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are people who participated in or sympathized with the [post-war] national movements of liberation and who have grown old in captivity.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are citizens who have been trying to return to the lands of their fathers.

— Political prisoners in the USSR are compassionate, responsive people who have come to the defence of those like themselves.

— Political prisoners in the USSR have not committed any crime as regards generally accepted legal norms. That they have been convicted is the cruellest injustice. That they are detained in concentration camps and prisons is a crime against humanity.

We dedicate today’s press conference to the political prisoner Sergei Kovalyov.

“An exceptionally truthful and good man, Kovalyov could not admit the possibility of saying anything that was not true, even in the smallest detail. He never wished anyone ill, even those who behaved so cruelly to him. His social and political views added up to this: that people must strive to root out injustice, whatever the cost, that any violence committed by people against each other was unjustifiable. Kovalyov is truly enamoured of good, honest, truthful people devoted to high ideals. He believes that evil must be rooted out and does not spare his strength or even his life in the battle against it. He has no political platform and never had.”

A. Rozhansky, former citizen of the USSR, lawyer; Jerusalem, June 1976.

One of the main points in the charges against Kovalyov was his participation in the observance of Political Prisoners’ Day on 30 October 1974. It was then that the day was first observed.

From the speech for the prosecution:

“A significant part of the charges consists of evidence relating to the press conference which took place on 30 October 1974. This part of the indictment includes the following episode… Together with other members of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, meeting at Sakharov’s flat, Kovalyov participated in disseminating information about the situation of persons serving terms of punishment in places of imprisonment in the USSR. I draw attention to the fact that, as a result, this material was widely used in the ideological campaign against the Soviet Union…”

The next point in the indictment concerns Kovalyov’s participation in producing the Chronicle of Current Events, in particular Nos. 28 and 34, which were distributed on the territory of the Soviet Union and also abroad. “The accused Kovalyov is charged with gathering information and materials for the Chronicle of Current Events, with storing and editing this material with the aim of later publishing it in the Chronicle, and with distributing it.”

Today a new issue, No. 42, of the Chronicle of Current Events has come out. About one third of this issue is devoted to reports on the intolerable conditions in which prisoners of conscience exist, in which Sergei Kovalyov now lives.

However, in spite of all this, they remain true to themselves, and they support one another.

“… May we be strengthened by the names also of those who live among us and every day, through their lives, give an example of courage and high-minded civic duty!” wrote the political prisoner Kronid Lyubarsky in his letter. The letter reached us by a miracle, overcoming extraordinary obstacles, from the very centre of the penal system, Vladimir Prison.

The voices of the prisoners are heard ever more insistently and more often, demanding that the Soviet government should allow UN representatives, representatives of international humanitarian organizations, lawyers and doctors to visit them.

We support this demand.

We hope that international organizations will make the maximum effort to visit political prisoners in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

We are glad that the fate of Soviet political prisoners has become a subject of concern and attention in Western society. We thank all those who came to the meeting at the Mutualité (Paris) in defence of Vladimir Bukovsky and Semyon Gluzman. We are grateful to Laurent Schwartz in this connection.

In appealing to the Soviet government to declare a general amnesty for political prisoners, we clearly state at the same time that the only just decision would be the complete exculpation and release of all prisoners of conscience.

30 October 1976

Signed by Tatyana Khodorovich, Malva Landa, Alexander Lavut, Tatyana Velikanova, Alexander Ginzburg, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Yury Orlov, Viktor Nekipelov, Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner, Efrem Yankelevich, Pyotr Grigorenko, Zinaida Grigorenko, Valentin Turchin, Nina Strokatova, and Galina Salova-Lyubarskaya.

*

Malva Landa’s letter to the International Labour Organization and Amnesty International (entitled “The Mockery of Wages for the Labour of Prisoners”) was read out at the press conference. It describes how the application of the rules of prison accounting has led to Irina Stasiv-Kalynets not having had access to the camp shop since summer 1975 (CCE 42). The Chronicle has already reported that the artist Stefaniya Shabatura has been forbidden to draw (CCE 41 & 42).

Landa described Shabatura’s last visit from her mother. The visit was first fixed to last for one day. At the end of the first day Stefaniya and her mother were visited by the camp authorities. Shabatura’s mother was shown examples of her daughter’s ‘anti-Soviet’ works — bars and barbed wire. In spite of requests from S. Shabatura her other was not shown her bookmarks and drawings for children. Then Shabatura was asked to sign a statement saying that her new drawings were now not being destroyed. Only if she did so would the authorities agree to prolong the visit. Stefaniya wrote a statement saying that she was not sure that her drawings would not be destroyed again the following day. The visit was prolonged to two days.

*

Georgy Davydov, Kronid Lyubarsky and Mikhail Makarenko, prisoners in Vladimir Prison, have sent a letter to the executive committee of Amnesty International.

They mention once more the situation with regard to the correspondence of political prisoners, and describe the ploys of the administration, designed to cut the prisoners off from the outside world. These measures now extend to the ‘loss’ of letters and to open infringement of the Corrective Labour Legislation and the postal regulations.

*

From Vladimir Prison the political prisoners N. V. Bondar, Vladimir Bukovsky, Georgy Davydov, Kronid Lyubarsky, Mikhail Makarenko and Zoryan Popadyuk have appealed to the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

They describe the operation of assizes sessions of people’s courts in the camps. These sessions use a special, simplified judicial procedure. By decree of the court, prisoners can be transferred to a prison regime for up to three years. This sanction can be applied more than once. Although the court refers to Article 53 of the RSFSR Corrective Labour Code (which concerns malicious violation of the camp regime), the political prisoners are actually punished for their beliefs.

The authors illustrate their statements by quoting instances involving Ya. M. Suslensky and Gunar Rode. They write that the two men reported these trials to the USSR Procurator’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Party Central Committee, the Supreme Court of the USSR and the USSR Council of Ministers, but all the addressees expressed their approval of what had occurred.

At the end of their letter the political prisoners write:

“Now we find it necessary to bring all this to the notice of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. We are interested in knowing if, after this, democratically inclined lawyers can go on calmly conferring at conferences with Soviet lawyers who not only have failed to raise their voices in protest against mockery of this sort but have even participated in it personally.”

Another statement read out at the press conference analyses the report of G. Kozlov (concerning the meeting at the Mutualité) and the interview with Sukharev, both of which were published in Literaturnaya gazeta on 27 October 1976:

“We strongly protest against the use of such disgusting methods to discredit the Civil Rights Movement in the USSR and against the libelling of imprisoned activists of the Movement. This is the more repulsive, as those who are libelled are deprived of the opportunity to publish refutations in the Soviet press.”

5 DECEMBER 1976 — SOVIET CONSTITUTION DAY

In Moscow the traditional ‘silent meeting’ took place on this day for the twelfth time, by the Pushkin monument. The first demonstration on Pushkin Square took place on 5 December 1965.

The demonstrators then demanded glasnost, i.e. that the approaching trial of A. Sinyavsky and Yu. Daniel be conducted openly and that the [1936] Soviet Constitution be observed. The latter demand became the traditional motto for the annual demonstrations on 5 December. At exactly 6 o’clock in the evening the demonstrators would bare their heads ‘as a sign of mourning’ for the absence of the constitutional freedoms in the USSR and stand in silence for several minutes. So far the number of those taking part has ranged from about ten to several dozen. The demonstrations have been relatively peaceful; the volunteer police [druzhinniki] have surrounded the demonstrators, forming a crowd of 100-150 people altogether.

This time everything was different. The group of demonstrators, which included A. D. Sakharov, was surrounded by a tight ring of policemen, who began to shove and jostle them, energetically pushing them back from the Pushkin monument towards the benches and hedgerows around the square. N. Fyodorova had her spectacles broken; Victor Nekipelov was knocked off his feet. When, at 6 o’clock in the evening, the demonstrators in the group took off their hats, having failed to get through to the monument, those around them began to throw snow mixed with mud at them. (There was no snow on Pushkin Square that day; witnesses assert that the police brought the snow with them in paper bags.)

A group of Reform Baptists [initsiativniki] from Kiev, who had come to the demonstration, found themselves outside the ring. One of the Baptists threw a huge bouquet of carnations at Sakharov, but the bouquet was knocked out of Sakharov’s hands and trampled on. All this was going on to the accompaniment of jeers and yells (directed at A. D. Sakharov in particular) simulating “the indignation of the masses”.

A few hundred people gathered round those who had managed to reach the monument, but the situation there was much more peaceful. At about 6 o’clock the crowd stretched all the way from the monument to Gorky Street. Some part of the crowd was made up of volunteer police, but exactly how much remained unclear until 6 o’clock. At that moment many people — but not all — followed the example of the “traditional” group of demonstrators and bared their heads.

Unlike the state of affairs round the group that had been pushed away, the silence around the monument lasted undisturbed for five minutes. Afterwards P. G. Grigorenko made a short speech, this being the first speech in the history of the meetings on Pushkin Square:

“We thank those who have come here to honour the memory of millions of innocently murdered people! We thank you all as well for expressing your solidarity with prisoners of conscience by your presence here! The tradition of demonstrating on Pushkin Square was established by Vladimir Bukovsky, who is now a prisoner in Vladimir Prison. Demand freedom for Vladimir Bukovsky!

Many people loudly repeated ‘Freedom for Bukovsky!’”

Cameras were constantly flashing above the crowd. One of the most picturesque sights of the evening was provided by a certain person sitting astride the Pushkin monument and continually taking photographs of the crowd.

Three persons were detained on Pushkin Square for a short while, including Associated Press correspondent George Krimsky (CCE 42), who on some pretext had been stopped on the edge of the square, pushed into a car and not allowed to get out until everything was over. The tyres of his own car then turned out to have been slashed.

*

On 4 December Alexander Gotovtsev was summoned to police station 73, where KGB officials were waiting for him. They told Gotovtsev that he was forbidden to appear on Pushkin Square with his guitar on 5 December. If he ignored this, it would be regarded as a breach of public order.

On 5 December, at 5.30 in the evening, A. Gotovtsev was seized on Razgulyai Square (together with his guitar), pushed into a taxi and taken to the local police sub-station; he was kept there until the demonstration was over.

A. Gotovtsev (stage name Rossiisky) is a composer and singer of songs who has taken an active part in the ‘Sunday Concerts’ (see ‘An Unofficial Entertainment’ in CCE 41, the ‘News in Brief’ section of CCE 42 and in this issue).

*

For the first time similar demonstrations took place in other towns — in Odessa and Leningrad. In Odessa 13 people gathered at 5 pm at the Pushkin monument on Primorsky Boulevard. In Leningrad 25 people took part in the demonstration (at the Pushkin monument on the Square of the Arts).

*

On 5 December Armenian political prisoners Paruir Airikyan, Azat Arshakyan and Razmik Markosyan demanded the legalization of the National United Party of Armenia and a referendum in Armenia on the question of self-determination.

Their demands were upheld, in statements addressed to the Presidium of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, by the following political prisoners in the Mordovian camps: Mikhail Korenblit, Vasily Ovsienko, Vladimir Osipov, Oksana Popovich, Boris Penson, Nijole Sadunaite, Pyotr Sartakov, Irina Senik, Sergei Soldatov, Irina Stasiv-Kalynets, Vasily Stus, Mikhail Kheifets, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Stefaniya Shabatura and Artyom Yuskevich.

*

Political prisoners in Vladimir Prison have sent statements to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, pointing out the necessity of bringing the Constitution into line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1948], the UN Covenants on human rights [1966] and the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference [1975], so that ‘the text of the new constitution [adopted in 1977] will not only proclaim the basic human rights and freedoms, but will also make provision for establishing a mechanism to guarantee those rights in reality’.

10 DECEMBER – HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

On this day over 50 political prisoners in Vladimir, Mordovia and the Urals held their traditional hunger-strike in protest against the non-observance of human rights in the USSR.

A statement supporting their protest was issued by the Action Group in Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, the Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR [the Helsinki Group] and 19 other people.

Yu. F. Orlov, head of the Helsinki Group, made this appeal to L. I. Brezhnev:

“I appeal to you and other leaders of the CPSU. As you have an unlimited apparatus of repression at your disposal, you could safely carry out a series of reforms, such as allowing:

(1) a general political amnesty;

(2) freedom of activity for independent religious, professional, judicial, philanthropic, national-cultural and other non-political, non-party associations;

(3) freedom to function for independent centres of public information, particularly for independent cooperative publishing houses;

(4) the drafting of a law regarding the right of citizens to strike;

(5) freedom to emigrate, including the right freely to leave the country and return to it.

I would remind you that absolutely all the civil rights enumerated in points 2 to 5 are stipulated in the International Covenants, which already apply to Soviet territory: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [1966, effective 1976], the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [1966, effective 1976], and others.

The existing laws, as well as the repression going on in practice, are in glaring contradiction to the international obligations of the Soviet government.

The desire to avoid liberalization and democratization of public and social life at any price is a repetition of the mistakes made by the Tsarist government. It is in the national interest that reforms should be carried out long before such a critical situation arises that the same reforms will no longer pacify but rather excite social passions.”