50.2 The Trial of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava

No 50 : November 1978

From 15 to 19 May the Tbilisi City Court heard the case of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava.

The two men were charged with “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” (Article 71 of the Georgian Criminal Code [equivalent to Article 70 of the Russian Code]). The court was presided over by A. V. Kobakhidze, Deputy chairman of the Tbilisi City Court; the state prosecutor was G. A. Ugulava, Assistant Procurator of the Georgian SSR; the defence lawyers were M. V. Alkhazishvili and 0. Sh. Nikolaishvili.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia (b. 1939) is the leader of the Georgian Helsinki Group, a member of the Georgian Action Group for Human Rights, and a member of the Soviet group of Amnesty International (for details of his activities see CCE 34.13; 36.10, 37.4, 37.9, 38.16, 38.20; 42.8, 42.12, 43.20; 45.20).

Gamsakhurdia is a Candidate of Philological Sciences; he taught at the university and until his arrest he worked as a senior researcher at the Shota Rustaveli Institute of Literature of the Georgian Academy of Sciences. He was a member of the Georgian Writers’ Union. His father was the eminent Georgian writer Konstantin Gamsakhurdia.

Merab Kostava (b. 1939) is a member of the [Georgian] Helsinki Group. He is a musicologist by profession. Until his arrest he worked as a lecturer at a music college.

Both men were arrested on 7 April 1977 (CCE 45.9; see also CCE 46.5).

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The trial took place in the building of the Georgian Supreme Court. There were 126 seats in the courtroom; during the trial there were television cameras in the courtroom. Only those with tickets were admitted, but the tickets did not have names on and university teachers, for example, were able to obtain them relatively easily.

Gamsakhurdia, Zviad (1978)Relatives in the courtroom were Gamsakhurdia’s wife Manana, M. Kostava’s mother, and his 18-year-old son Irakly. On the last day Meraba’s former wife Rusudan Beridze was admitted. Between fifty and one hundred people gathered outside the court building while the trial was going on. The defendants were charged with preparing, possessing and disseminating anti-Soviet literature.

Most of the indictment referred to Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia.

He was charged with disseminating and in some cases duplicating “literature”: the Gulag Archipelago; the collection [of Solzhenitsyn’s statements] Peace and Violence; Sakharov’s book My Country and the World; a collection of articles by P. G. Grigorenko entitled Thoughts of a Madman; Yu. Orlov’s article “Is Socialism of a Non-Totalitarian Kind Possible?”; issues 32-34 of A Chronicle of Current Events; several issues of the  Russkaya Mysl newspaper, published in Paris; and other items.

Merab Kostava was charged with authorship of an article about Sakharov’s book My Country and the World (CCE 45.20), of a letter in defence of Pyotr Starchik [CCE 42.1], and of the article “Meshketian Turks or Meshketian Georgians?” (CCE 41.11). He was also charged with translating into Georgian Igor Shafarevich’s work Socialism, Sakharov’s book My Country and the World and the above-mentioned article by Orlov.

In addition, both defendants were charged with producing several “slanderous” journals, in particular the journal Sakartvelos Moambe (Georgian Herald; see CCE 45.20).

According to a bulletin of the Novosti Press Agency:

The defendants … over a period of several years systematically prepared, duplicated and disseminated anti-Soviet leaflets.

In 1976, in an attempt to systematize their anti-Soviet activities, Gamsakhurdia and Kostava organized the illegal publication of so-called journals. These contained material slandering the domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet government, exalted people who had engaged in armed struggle against the USSR during the Second World War on the side of fascist Germany, and propagandized material prepared by the defendants and others, including leaflets of the foreign émigré organization NTS (People’s Labour Alliance) advocating a struggle against the Soviet regime.

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In answer to the Judge’s questions, Gamsakhurdia said that he admitted his guilt and was sorry; Kostava answered both questions in the negative.

Gamsakhurdia made a two-hour speech explaining the charges against him (according to the reports of those who were present, he spoke with his usual fine oratory). He said that he had not admitted his guilt at first, but having thought it over he understood that he really had broken Soviet laws. He admitted that he was guilty of disseminating anti-Soviet literature, although not everything he disseminated was of this nature. He had changed his views on many questions. On religious, educational and linguistic matters, however, he retained his previous convictions: his national-patriotic views had not changed.

Judge. – No one is disputing that with you.

Z.K. Gamsakhurdia. – That is true and I am grateful.

Gamsakhurdia said that all the facts mentioned in the indictment were correct.

He had maintained earlier that all our shortcomings were due to the peculiarities of our system – now he understood that this was not so. He had based his ideas solely on the international covenants, and taken no notice of Soviet laws, thereby violating them. Gamsakhurdia had got to know people who were in possession of samizdat. Such is human psychology, whatever is forbidden is attractive. A great deal of literature was produced abroad. There they wrote that we lived poorly. This was untrue: most Georgian peasants owned their own cars.

Gamsakhurdia expressed his sorrow that he had disseminated the Gulag Archipelago: this book was written with great venom; its author saw everything in a black light. He forgot that it has been admitted that 1937 was a mistake; the year 1937 was the fault of individuals, not of the system.

Gamsakhurdia said that he used to have a negative attitude to everything, although men should above all look at what is good. He said that he wanted to convince the court and society that he was not an enemy. He had understood that he must respect the laws or leave the country. People called him a dissident, but this was untrue. He did not want to live abroad and had never been an adherent of capitalism.

Gamsakhurdia told the court that he twice met Belousovich (First Secretary at the US Embassy – Chronicle) and received literature from him, but this did not mean that he fulfilled any sort of assignment. According to the Novosti bulletin already quoted, Gamsakhurdia “noted the pernicious effect which the Americans Belousovich, Shipler and Friendly had on him”.

Gamsakhurdia said that in the West they were always trying to show that things were better there, but this was not true. Everywhere there were indications to the contrary: in the West there was anarchy; presidents were assassinated, and [Aldo] Moro was murdered. [note 1] He had come to the conclusion that it was wrong to act as he had done. The path he had chosen was incompatible with patriotism. “A patriot should follow the official path. We have such paths here. I say all this not because I am afraid of prison, but because I am aware of my guilt.”

Judge. – What led you to repent? Were you coerced in any way during the pre-trial investigation?

Gamsakhurdia. – I was not coerced. I thought things over, reanalysed my position and realized that it was a false one.

Judge. – Which foreign radio broadcasts did you listen to?

Gamsakhurdia. – Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Liberty. Radio Liberty is jammed and rightly so: its broadcasts seriously distort our reality.

Judge. – What do you know about these radio stations?

Gamsakhurdia. – That they are financed by Western intelligence agencies. Radio Liberty, for example, is financed by the CIA.

Judge. – Was your name mentioned in any of their broadcasts?

Gamsakhurdia. – Yes.

Judge. – And what have you disagreed with in the Soviet press at this time?

Gamsakhurdia. – With the allegation that I was employed by Western intelligence.

Judge. – What literature did Kostava disseminate?

Gamsakhurdia. – Shafarevich’s work Socialism.

Lawyer. – Did you transmit your own works to the West?

Gamsakhurdia – No.

Lawyer. – Have you fully understood the harmful nature of the literature you disseminated and especially of the books of Solzhenitsyn?

Gamsakhurdia. – I did not understand this earlier, but now I do.

In a resolution at a meeting at the Institute of Literature, where I was employed, I was quoted as saying that I would not stop publishing the journal. This is untrue. I said that its publication did not depend only on me. I have now chosen my path. I don’t expect any indulgence from the court. At the start of the pre-trial investigation I refused to testify, but then I was presented with a number of documents and I began to give evidence.

Merab is anxious that people will think that he gave evidence. Merab only confirmed facts and he did this at my request. I accept all responsibility. Merab was not co-editor of the journal Sakartvelos Moambe.

Judge. – Which human rights did you defend?

Gamsakhurdia. – I was mistaken.

Procurator. – You repent?

Gamsakhurdia. – Yes.

Procurator. – When did you realize your mistakes?

Gamsakhurdia. – A few months after my arrest.

Lawyer. – Is your repentance sincere, or will you perhaps subsequently change your mind?

Gamsakhurdia. – I don’t ask you to believe me. It is not worth trying to prove that nothing will change.

During Gamsakhurdia’s speech his horrified wife cried: “Zviad! Come to your senses! Do you realize what you’re doing?” He turned to Manana and answered: “It’s you who don’t understand what you are saying!”

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Merab Kostava began his speech with the declaration:

We did not conceal anything of what we were doing; we signed every article. Therefore our actions were not illegal.

He said that until March 1978 he regarded his arrest as unjust and refused to testify. Then, at Gamsakhurdia’s request, he confirmed the facts concerning events in which he had participated. Contradicting Gamsakhurdia, Kostava said that he wrote articles on his own initiative and not on Gamsakhurdia’s instructions, and that he was co-editor of Sakartvelos Moambe, with the same rights as Gamsakhurdia.

He also mentioned that neither during the pre-trial investigation nor in court had he said anything of which he needed to be ashamed. Kostava said that he had no complaints against the investigators. He had translated Sakharov’s book because he wanted to have it in Georgian. “I disagree with Sakaharov on some points,” he said, “but I have great respect for him.”

Judge. – Do you consider Sakharov’s book anti-Soviet?

Kostava. – I will refrain from answering that question.

Judge. – Is your article on the Meshketians anti-Soviet?

Kostava. – I do not regard it as such.

Judge. – You said that prisons and psychiatric hospitals are full of people fighting for justice.

Kostava. – This used to be true, but now the situation has improved somewhat. For example, when I was in a psychiatric hospital (in Tbilisi, for psychiatric examination – Chronicle) I was the only political there.

Judge. – In your journal you published an NTS leaflet. Do you not regret this either?

Kostava. – This leaflet had been severely criticized, but it had not actually been published. I consider that one should publish a text before criticizing it.

Judge. – What about the article about General Maglakelidze?

(During the war, Maglakelidze went over to the Germans and organized the “Georgian Legion”; he was kidnapped and brought back by Beria’s agents but was not brought to trial. He spent his last years in Georgia, working as a barrister – Chronicle).

Kostava. – Perhaps the publication of this article was premature, although future historians will probably interpret Maglakelidze’s fate in the same way as today’s historians interpret that of Georgy Saakadze (consternation in the courtroom); moreover, from earliest times man has tended to have respect for an enemy who is strong and wise – remember, for example, Aeschylus and Homer.

As regards my article on agriculture, I still maintain that the peasants should be given the opportunity to use their own initiative. This question still remains to be put right. Unsolved also is the problem of the Meshketians.

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Twenty one witnesses were examined in court. Among them was Victor Rtskhiladze (CCE 43.20, 45.9, 48.2) who was brought to court under guard. People who had taken part in a mass photocopying of the Gulag Archipelago (CCE 38.16) were also questioned.

During the trial Gamsakhurdia tried to shield Kostava in every way possible, even interrupting while Kostava was being questioned.

They both received the same sentence: 3 years’ in the camps and 2 years’ exile.

On 21 May Pravda published a TASS bulletin under the heading “Criminals Punished”; it concerned the trials of Yury Orlov (CCE 50.1) and of Gamsakhurdia and Kostava.

On 24 May the weekly Literaturnaya gazeta published a major article about Zviad Gamsakhurdia by Guram Gldaneli, entitled “Shadow in the Desert”.

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rusudan beridze da merab kostava

Rusudan Beridze and Merab Kostava

On 24 May Merab Kostava and his former wife Rusudan Beridze registered their second marriage in the Tbilisi KGB building. R. I. Beridze is an assistant professor at the Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty of Tbilisi University. Their son Irakly has completed two years of study at the faculty.

After the trial the Central Television Network [main Soviet TV channel] showed Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s “repentance” speech (see “Discussion of the Draft Constitution in Georgia”, CCE 49.17). In their articles American journalists Piper and Whitney wrote that in the opinion of people close to Z. Gamsakhurdia, his television appearance had been falsified. On 28 June the USSR State Radio and Television organization brought a court action against them in Moscow City Court under Article 7 of the Russian Civil Code (see “In Defence of Honour and Dignity”, Pravda, 29 June).

On 2 July Gleb Yakunin, member of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR, made the following statement for the press:

My friend Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s wife Manana, and other people on his instructions, have called me by telephone from Tbilisi and asked me to inform foreign journalists of the following: during Manana’s visit to her husband in prison after his “television appearance”, Zviad Gamsakhurdia told her that he had made no statements in front of television cameras and had no idea how the programme was made.

Isai Goldstein, a member of the Georgian Helsinki Group who had come to Moscow from Tbilisi to attend the trial of Yury Orlov, expressed his conviction that the official information about the trial of Z. Gamsakhurdia was incorrect.

The “television repentance” aroused suspicions that it was a fabricated film made in order to discredit Gamsakhurdia in the eyes of the Georgian people.

This suspicion gains particular support from the fact that, as Manana has stated, Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s appearance on the television screen differed markedly from his appearance, both in court and during her visit when he was thin, pale and emaciated by illness.

It has been suggested that the ‘television repentance” was filmed during the first stages of the pre-trial investigation and was the result of a photomontage of shots taken with a hidden camera …

On 18 July the Moscow City Court heard the case brought by the State Radio and Television committee. Z. Gamsakhurdia appeared as a witness at the hearing (Izvestia, 19 July). His appearance in court was filmed and shown on the Central Television Network.

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Merab Kostava sent an appeal to the Georgian Supreme Court, which was turned down. In the middle of August Kostava arrived in Perm Camp 37.

Gamsakhurdia did not appeal against his sentence. The Presidium of the Georgian Supreme Soviet exercised clemency and commuted the unserved part of his sentence to 2 years’ exile.

Since 26 July Gamsakhurdia has been serving his sentence of exile in Kochubei, a village in the Kizlyar district of the Dagestan ASSR. The things that were confiscated during the search at the time of his arrest have been returned to him. He is doing cultural and educational work among Georgian shepherds who move with their  flocks to pastures in Dagestan.

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According to Gamsakhurdia the attitude he adopted during the investigation and in court – his “repentance” – was justified, first of all, by the fact that he would otherwise have received the “maximum” sentence.

This would have led, one, to unrest in Georgia, which would have been severely put down by the authorities, as happened in Georgia in 1956 after the 20th Party Congress. Two, many people connected with him, whose activities were known to the KGB, would have suffered; three, all the positive results which he and his friends had achieved would have been wasted.

Gamsakhurdia also said that he had struck a deal with the KGB whereby Bishop Gaioz  was arrested (CCE 34.13), the bombardment of the David-Garedzha monastery was brought to an end (CCE 38.16), while three churches were opened, and the article of the Constitution which proclaims Georgian the national language (see CCE 49.17) was retained.

As regards his “repentant” appearance on television, Gamsakhurdia said that this was a videotape recording made by the investigators with his consent: “You say one thing now,” they told him, “but what guarantee have we that you won’t behave differently in court?”

According to Gamsakhurdia, he was unable to say what he wanted when he appeared as a witness in the Moscow City Court – the Judge and Procurator would not let him. Moreover, he had counted on the presence in court of the journalist defendants, who would have asked him questions.