44.16 A Fire at Malva Landa’s [18 December 1976]

<< No 44 : 16 March 1977  >>

On 18 December 1976 a fire broke out in the room of Malva Noyevna Landa, a member of the Moscow Helsinki group. There follows a summary of “The Case of the Fire or the Texts ‘of Illegal Content’,” an account by Landa, dated 20 February 1977.

Having failed to extinguish the fire through her own efforts, M. Landa ran out into the stairwell crying “Fire!”

A young man who was unfamiliar to her (although she lives on the third floor [and knows the neighbours]) immediately appeared. Instead of helping her put out the fire, he seized her and kept her on the stair landing, preventing her from going back into the flat until it was no longer safe to do so. The firemen took at least half an hour to arrive. They were hindered from entering the flat because the electricity had not been turned off, and only did so when everything in Landa’s room had burned.

The inspection record of the place where the fire occurred (the fire began at noon, the inspection was made at 3.30 pm) says:

During the inspection of the room and kitchen, hand- and type-written texts of illegal content [15 items] were discovered in the refrigerator and around the burned patch in the parquet floor of the room [of Malva Landa]:

1. The final plea of Vladimir Bukovsky at his trial on 5 January 1972, six sheets written by hand, beginning with the words: “Citizen judges, I shall not repent …”, and ending with these words on the last page: “I have accomplished too little for this cause”.

[…]

15. A typed text entitled “Repressive measures against political prisoners in Vladimir Prison between May 1975 and April 1976 (inclusive)”. It begins with the words “Torture by isolation in Vladimir Prison” and ends “We urge that these scandalous crimes be exposed as widely as possible,” the whole text on 16 sheets of paper.

The above-mentioned handwritten and typed texts have been removed from the site of the incident for appropriate examination  […]

Police Major I.D. Ilichcv,
Senior investigator
Investigations Department of Krasnogorsk OVD”

The housing office estimated the damage caused by the fire at 2,493 roubles. Malva Landa stated that she was willing to pay this sum in instalments.

Nonetheless, on 17 February she was given written notification that charges would be brought against her under Articles 99 (“Negligent destruction or damage to State or public property”) and 150 (“Negligent destruction or damage to the personal property of citizens”) of the RSFSR Criminal Code.Charges under Article 150 were brought against Landa after a complaint by B. M. Kutin, who is her neighbour in the shared flat. A claim by the “plaintiff Kutin” for the sum of 616 roubles was added to that of the housing office. The above-mentioned Resolution also refers to remains of ‘rolls of cinematic film” allegedly found after the fire.

Malva Landa describes in detail all the strange circumstances surrounding the fire.

“Analysing the events of the fire, and also how readily, or, more accurately, with what clear intent I am being presented with more and more charges, I have reached the conclusion that the KGB did not want this fire to be extinguished in its early stages (as could easily have been done), but for it to completely destroy my room and everything in it. They, as I now suppose, were also to blame for starting the fire.”

Investigator Ilichev who was in charge of the “Case of the Fire”, questioned Landa about the “Texts of Illegal Content” found after the fire.

I was curious to know on what grounds the investigator decided that the “Final Plea” of Bukovsky, for example, or the verdict on Kronid Lyubarsky were classified as having “illegal content”. “But we live in the Soviet state”, investigator Ilichev replied: “Bukovsky, isn’t he the one who was exchanged for Luis Corvalan?” When I asked whether he had read the text of Bukovsky’s “Final Plea”, the investigator explained that, naturally, as a “simple Soviet man” he would not read this text.”

The investigator told Landa that she had a negative attitude to the Soviet political and social system and regarded it as the cause of those negative phenomena in which she “took an interest”. On this subject Landa writes:

“Yes, I have a negative attitude to the Soviet political and social system, and in particular because people are harassed and punished under this system (openly or using various forms of falsification, deception, provocation, etc.) for having a critical or negative attitude, i.e. for their views and beliefs.

“I regard this system as organically corrupt, since it cannot exist and defend itself without recourse to lies and terror. I have a negative attitude towards it because the individual is not respected but suppressed under this system: it aids the spiritual and also, at times, the physical degradation of the individual.

“I find this system to be deeply corrupt because most of the population is in a condition of slavery or semi-slavery, enjoying benefits (large or small; more usually small than large), but without rights or legal opportunities to  defend its rights.”

After presenting Landa with written notification that charges would be brought against her, the investigator said that the investigation was over: on 21 February she could appear with a lawyer to study the “case materials”. Yet when Landa and the lawyer came it turned out that this part of the procedure had been postponed. The case had been sent for further investigation.