43.4 The Trial of Pavel Bashkirov

No 43 : 31 December 1976

The Chronicle can now correct and expand on certain details in the short report (CCE 42) of the court proceedings of 7-8 October in the Supreme Court of the Yakut ASSR, Judge Lukin presiding.

There were about fifteen relatives and acquaintances of Pavel Bashkirov in the courtroom, together with a specially selected public. (The courtroom, which holds sixty people, was full.)

P. E. Bashkirov was charged under Article 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code with disseminating the following works:

  • Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four;
  • a stenographic record of a seminar on A. Nekrich’s book 22 June 1941. (The seminar took place in February 1966 at the Department for the History of the Great Fatherland War, Institute of Marxism-Leninism at the CPSU Central Committee. 500 people were present. The speakers gave the book a positive assessment, but later the book and its author were subjected to criticism);
  • a letter in defence of Solzhenitsyn from L. Chukovskaya to Izvestia;
  • Rzhevsky’s book The Creator and his Exploits (on Solzhenitsyn’s works);
  • Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to the Soviet Leaders; and
  • two issues of A Chronicle of Current Events.

The evidence in the case also included cassettes containing recordings of telephone conversations and others with recordings of songs (by Galich and others — in court neither the songs nor the authors were named). In addition Bashkirov was charged with carrying on slanderous conversations in his cell in the investigation prison.

Bashkirov pleaded not guilty.

With regard to the book by Orwell he said that the prosecution had not proved in any way that the story was libellous, particularly with reference to the Soviet system. Bashkirov stated that the stenographic record of speeches made in an official Soviet institution in the presence of many well-known persons could not form part of a criminal charge against him.

“The Chronicle“, said Bashkirov, “is an informational publication and contains nothing except objective reporting of facts.” He also pointed out that there was no proof that he had distributed the two issues confiscated from him in Nyurba. The investigators had declared that he was taking them to Tverdokhlebov, which meant that he intended to “disseminate” them. Bashkirov explained that he had brought them with him because he did not want to leave them at home; he could not say whether he would have given them to Tverdokhlebov or not, as he had not come to any final decision about this.

With regard to the recordings of telephone conversations, he said that these were of his conversations with Tverdokhlebov’s sister [Julia Zaks]; he had merely wanted to give Tverdokhlebov the pleasure of hearing her voice — no slanderous conversations had taken place between them.

*

Witnesses were questioned. There were ten of them: Bashkirov’s father, his wife Asya Gabysheva, his wife’s brother, three of his cell-mates from the pre-trial detention centre, three people from his former place of work and the artist Shavlov.

His father and wife did not confirm the charge of dissemination. Shurin said that Bashkirov had given him Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Letter to the Soviet Leaders. Bashkirov objected, saying that he had never been in possession of the Letter.

Shavlov testified that he had himself asked Bashkirov to give him Nineteen Eighty-Four, after seeing this book on his shelf; he had read 16 pages and then stopped reading it, as he found nothing of interest in it (neither had he found anything anti-Soviet).

The witnesses who had shared his cell testified that Bashkirov had carried on anti-Soviet conversations. For example, according to evidence given by one of them, he had spoken of his wish to go abroad. Bashkirov asked the witness: “And what else did I say?” He replied: “You said that you would tour around and then come back.” According to another witness, Bashkirov had told a joke about Brezhnev and some other government leaders in an aeroplane. Bashkirov asked him to recall what he had said about the joke. The witness replied that Bashkirov had said he considered such jokes to be stupid.

The remaining witnesses gave a positive account of Bashkirov’s character and said nothing concerning the charges.

In his speech the Procurator called all the above-mentioned works criminal, spoke of Bashkirov’s aims in disseminating them and of the “warning” given to Bashkirov, in accordance with the decree, not long before he was arrested (CCE 41), and demanded that he be given a 3-year sentence.

Defence counsel Medvedev agreed with the assessment of the works in the indictment. He asked the court to take into account the fact that Bashkirov, not having any legal training, could not judge their contents competently; he spoke of the good references he had from his place of work, of the fact that he was a conscientious father, and asked for a mild sentence. (Medvedev first met Bashkirov half an hour before the trial began. The report in CCE 42 of their studying the case evidence together was wrong.)

In his final speech Bashkirov said he would serve the sentence of 3 years suggested by the prosecutor, but the authorities would hardly be able to change his views by this means; on the contrary, he was sure it would only confirm them. “You should either convince me by argument to change my views or — if you cannot do so — shoot me.”

At the end of one session Bashkirov tried to throw his friends a note, but it was taken away from him; he was led away and brought back into the courtroom in handcuffs.

*

While still in the courtroom Bashkirov had asked his lawyer to visit him in prison and help him draw up an appeal. However, he was in effect deprived of the possibility of appealing against the sentence.

The lawyer Medvedev wrote to his client in prison, advising him not to appeal, and, by deceiving Bashkirov’s relatives in various ways, he avoided any meeting with him until it was too late. As a result Bashkirov sent in his appeal late; at the same time he sent a request for an extension of the time required to appeal. When the court refused the request for more time Bashkirov could not appeal against this decision as he had been put in the cooler for the whole period allotted by law for such appeals (the reason is unknown to the Chronicle).

On 23 November Bashkirov was sent to serve his sentence (11 years, commencing 23 June 1976) in an ordinary-regime camp near Yakutsk, in the settlement of Bolshaya Markha. In the camp Bashkirov was offered work as an artist, but he preferred to do odd jobs.