Underground News in the USSR (2017)

<<‘Journalism is not a Crime’ — Freedom of Speech in Iran>>

Since this website was launched late in 2015 it has been moving and, at times, remarkable to see how universal is the curiosity about the Chronicle, its history and its background.

Following up a lead from the Wikipedia page about the Chronicle or, perhaps, other mentions, there have been visitors from every continent (apart from Antarctica). Interest is by no means restricted to Western Europe and North America.  One of the most enthusiastic and appreciative responses came from a Mexican media monitor, a colleague from Article 19, who was deeply impressed by the dispassionate tone of the reporting and the punctilious correction of the slightest mistake.

Nevertheless, a request for an interview from a website primarily concerned with the plight of journalists in contemporary Iran is  something special. This suggests that the story of the Chronicle is not just a lesser known facet of Soviet history, but may also continue to resonate today, and in countries that were never part of the Soviet bloc.

What follows is a slightly expanded and annotated version of the June 2017 article by Roland Elliott Brown on the Journalism is not a Crime website. It was published there in English and, naturally, translated into Farsi.

John Crowfoot

====================================================

Underground News in the USSR:
A Chronicle of Current Events (1968-1982)

Two decades before Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev brought the word glasnost, or ‘transparency’ into official Soviet politics, a small group of dissidents and their families risked intimidation, loss of employment, arrest, and imprisonment or exile, for editing and circulating in the USSR an underground, typewritten periodical that documented abuses of human rights and publicized uncensored writing.

cover of issue 6 (Russian)

A Chronicle of Current Events, Issue 6, 28 February 1969

Launched in 1968 to mark the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A Chronicle of Current Events (at first titled “Human Rights Year in the Soviet Union”) reported on hundreds of political trials and human rights abuses during its 15-year existence. As one of the Chronicle’s contributors, Alexander Podrabinek, has noted: “There just came a moment when society was ready for something like it.”

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40.1 — Tatyana Khodorovich, “No Thought Trials in the USSR”

<< No 40 : 20 May 1976 >>

Statement by Tatiana Khodorovich

At trials in Odessa, Moscow, Omsk and Vilnius, people have again been prosecuted and found guilty of thoughts they have expressed – and even thoughts they have not expressed.

Sentences have been passed as follows:

Vyacheslav Igrunov – sent to an ordinary psychiatric hospital;

Andrei Tverdokhlebov – 5 years’ exile;

Mustafa Dzhemilev – two and a half years in strict-regime camps;

Valery Maresin – 6 months’ corrective labour.

Certain citizens of the Soviet Union and of Western countries, have seen the seeds of liberalism in these sentences and sighed with relief. At last! A psychiatric hospital, not a psychiatric prison [“special” psychiatric hospital]; exile, not a labour camp; two and a half years imprisonment, not seven.

It is our duty to issue a warning: normal people should harbour no illusions about trials in the USSR!

It is not just that people are arrested for nothing. It is not merely that people are sent for trial with no specific criminal charge and condemned only for their beliefs, i.e. for having the courage to exist as individuals. That is not all. Trying people for their beliefs means a judicial charade is being staged. It is only a means to an end, a formal pretext for the future isolation and destruction of the individual, of a human being.

Trying people for their beliefs, for their thoughts, is only the outward function of State Security. Its goal is not to punish people for their convictions, for their “seditious” thoughts, but to root out all thoughts and eliminate all those who go on thinking.

A trial removes the individual from the world and delivers him to State Security. It is the beginning of a martyr’s life for that person.

The Odessa Region Court has now labelled Vyacheslav lgrunov, 27 years old, as “off his head”. Remember that, when you open your mouth, when write a few lines, moved by some injustice, remember that when you read a “forbidden” book: you are not yet in hell, you are only on the threshold. From now on Vyacheslav Igrunov will for ever live with the threat of doors slamming shut in a psychiatric prison. It will keep his friends and relations in fear and trembling.

The sentence passed by a Soviet court is not a punishment for a crime committed: it is an unlimited opportunity for further unobserved reprisals, psychological and physical, against the individual.

Two and a half years ago a court in Kiev declared prisoner of conscience Alexander Feldman to be a criminal and sentenced him to the company of real thieves, rapists and murderers. At the end of March this year Alexander was the victim of an attempt on his life when his head was split open by a spade. Feldman was taken to the hospital. The camp commandant, Aleinikov, did not report either the date of the attack or the name of the culprit. He refused to allow Feldman’s father to visit his son or send him a parcel.

The prison in Vladimir is today full of prisoners who can testify how the law courts give the KGB an opportunity for further unobserved reprisals. The isolation afforded by the barbed wire fence around labour camps seems insufficient to State Security. At its behest camp tribunals have passed sentence on the following behind prison walls: Vladimir Bukovsky, Kronid Lyubarsky, Alexander Sergienko, Vladimir Balakhonov, Georgy Davydov, Zinovy Antonyuk and many others.

As they say, it is the first step that counts.

Simeon Gluzman, a young psychiatrist and doctor well known for his defence of people declared mentally ill by Soviet courts, is being threatened with new charges in the camps. This is because the documents he produced there, including the “Manual on Psychiatry for Dissenters” (dedicated to Leonid Plyushch), have been published in the West. In March this year, Gluzman was transferred from the camp to a prison in Perm [Urals District], where attempts were made to “re-educate” him. He was warned by State Security officials that a “case” was being prepared against him in the camp under Article 70, paragraph 2 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (“Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”). Simeon Gluzman has now been sent back to the camp from the prison. There has been no further news of his fate.

It is not so much that the legal norms of judicial procedure are not observed: it is that they cannot be observed.

There is no legal justice. Nor will there be, while courts are given the right to try a man because he is an individual, because he thinks for himself. So we should ask not for mercy or pardons for prisoners of conscience – we should demand their immediate release! Freedom and, in the name of justice, their acquittal on all charges. Freedom for those who have already been incarcerated for a long time: for all prisoners sentenced for Free Speech in Vladimir Prison, for all the Free Speech prisoners in Soviet camps and psychiatric prisons.

Freedom for those who have been sentenced, quite recently, to such torment: Sergei Kovalyov, Anatoly Marchenko, Vyacheslav Igrunov, Mustafa Dzhemilev, and Andrei Tverdokhlebov.

Freedom for them all, and their acquittal on all charges. They are guilty of no crime, they are not criminals.

[This translation is the slightly abridged version published by Amnesty International in January 1979]

19.8 Extra-judicial Persecution

No 19 : 30 April 1971

[1]

On 1 March Sandor Fodo, Lecturer in Hungarian Philology at Uzhgorod University [on the Czechoslovak border], was dismissed from his job. The order, signed by L. Chepuro, rector of the university, gives the grounds for his dismissal as absenteeism and an attempt to bring anti- Soviet literature across the frontier. The “absenteeism” was an approved journey to Hungary by Fodo during the student vacation; the “anti-Soviet literature” was seven issues of New Symposium, a Yugoslav journal appearing in Hungarian, which Fodo had voluntarily given up to customs officials at the station of Chop.

A less superficial reason for Fodo’s dismissal is the inimical attitude on the part of the Uzhgorod authorities towards the cultural enterprises of the local Hungarian intelligentsia (Fodo had formed a Hungarian folk-song ensemble).

Note:

Magyars make up a large group of the population of the Trans-Carpathian Region (approximately 160,000 people). Until the Second World War this Region was part of Czechoslovakia, and the Ukrainians and Magyars who had settled there enjoyed cultural autonomy. Under the Czechoslovak-Soviet peace treaty of 1946 Trans-Carpathia became part of the Ukraine. Mass deportation of the male Magyar population to the interior of the country began at the same time.

Only in recent years have the Magyar inhabitants of Trans-Carpathia been able to send their children to Magyar schools (there are now eighteen Magyar secondary schools in Trans-Carpathia); a Hungarian-language newspaper began to appear (differing in content from Trans-Carpathian Pravda, the Regional newspaper which appears in Russian and Ukrainian), and a Magyar department was established at Uzhgorod University, preparing teachers of Hungarian language and literature (up to ten persons are accepted annually).

[2]

Vladimir Aks of Sverdlovsk [Urals District] has been dismissed from his job under Article 47-e of the Code of Labour Legislation (absenteeism) after submitting documents for emigration to Israel.

[3]

Igor Alexeyevich Adamatsky, an employee of the Leningrad section of the “Knowledge” [Znanie] society, was dismissed on 27 April 1971 “at his own request”. I. Adamatsky was a witness at the trial of Pimenov, Vail and Zinovieva (in October 1970, CCE 16.2). After the trial a case was instituted against him “for giving false testimony”, but the proceedings were terminated before a charge had been brought.

In April 1971 Adamatsky was expelled from the Party, after which the trade-union committee considered the management’s petition to dismiss him (under Article 106, paragraph 4 of The Bases of Labour Legislation) and agreed to his dismissal.

The article in question provides that “employees performing educative functions” may be dismissed “should they commit an immoral act incompatible with their retention of the post”.

[4]

Professor Victor Davydovich Levin, Doctor of philological sciences, has been illegally removed, with effect from 1 April 1971, from the competitive post of head of the Department of Stylistics and Literary Language at the Russian Language Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The basis for his removal was a decision of the administration. A few days previously he was dismissed from the Philology Faculty of Moscow University, where he was employed simultaneously to give a course of lectures.

The immediate pretext for V. D. Levin’s dismissal from Moscow University and his removal from the post of Head of Department was a speech he had made, at a trade-union meeting held at the Russian Language Institute to hear reports and elect new officers.

At a Party meeting at the Institute V. D. Levin was told that his speech “had objectively helped to justify persons who had signed letters which had been exploited abroad for anti-Soviet purposes”.

By decision of the Lenin district Party committee V. D. Levin was expelled from the Party. The district committee had already recommended the director of the Russian Language Institute to remove V. D. Levin from the post of Head of Department.

*

On 29 April 1971 Tatyana Sergeyevna Khodorovich, junior research officer at the Russian Language Institute, was not re-elected for a further term by the Academic Council. Under the system of the Academy of Sciences this is a form of dismissal. T. S. Khodorovich, who is a member of the Action Group, signed the [1969] Appeal to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations (CCE 8.10).

Prof. R. I. Avanesov, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences and head of the department in which T. S. Khodorovich worked, and Prof. F. P. Filin, also a corresponding member of the Academy and director of the Russian Language Institute, stated plainly in their addresses to the Academic Council that they had no fault to find with the actual research work done by T. S. Khodorovich, who had worked at the Institute for eighteen years.

“By writing a letter to the UN, to the Commission for the Defence of Human Rights, which does not include the Soviet Union but which does include our enemies, by writing to a hostile organisation, Khodorovich has committed an anti-Soviet act incompatible with the title of scholar”, said Prof. Avanesov.

F. P. Filin, director of the Institute, stated that the appeal to the UN, which contained complaints about violations of legality and infringements of human rights in the USSR, was a “grave anti-Soviet crime”.

T. S. Khodorovich’s report on her research work was heard by the Academic Council without arousing any opposition on the part of the members. In a secret ballot four members voted for T. S. Khodorovich’s re-election and twenty against. On 27 April, two days before the Academic Council met, a meeting of the department where T. S. Khodorovich worked had taken place. I. F. Protchenko, Master of philological sciences, who a few years ago came from the Scientific Department of the Central Committee of the Party to take up the post of deputy director of the Institute, was present at the meeting in addition to the staff of the department.

At this meeting R. I. Avanesov had noted that all were unanimous in their positive evaluation of the research work conducted by T. S. Khodorovich, but that “serious accusations of a political nature’’ were being made against her. When a woman staff-member asked why in that case Khodorovich’s report on her work was being heard, a great linguistic scholar replied: “Because we have a truly democratic system. That’s how we’re supposed to do it.”

T. S. Khodorovich said that the question of her political opinions and beliefs could have nothing to do with any appraisal of her as a scholar. She also stated that an appeal to an international organisation whose authority was recognised by the government of our country could not be regarded as an appeal to the enemies of the Soviet Union. “As I have already said at the open Party meeting, the appeal which I signed contains nothing libellous. It discusses cases of violation of legality and of infringement of human rights. I insist, as I always have done, on my right to struggle for freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the USSR in the interests of the people. It can be in nobody’s interests for the agencies of investigation and justice to exploit our laws, by means of an arbitrary interpretation of them, as a weapon in the struggle against dissent.” T. S. Khodorovich had repeatedly expressed this point of view when subjected to all sorts of “workings-over” during the last two years at the Russian Language Institute.

In the course of the discussion of Khodorovich’s “anti-Soviet act” at the departmental meeting, I. F. Protchenko expressed surprise at the lack of unanimity on the question of whether or not to recommend the Academic Council to re-elect Khodorovich for a further term. “There cannot be two opinions on this question,” he said. At an open ballot on 27 April twelve members of the department voted to recommend the Academic Council of the Institute to re-elect T. S. Khodorovich to the post of junior research officer. Twenty members voted against.

*

There are in all seventeen people at the Russian Language Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences who have signed various letters on cases of violation of legality. Of these only Khodorovich signed the appeal to the UN, the remainder addressing themselves to internal Soviet bodies. Beginning in early 1971 a series of meetings were held at the Institute at which persons who had signed the collective letters of 1966-1968 were condemned. On 28 January 1971 the Academic Council of the Institute passed a resolution categorically condemning the “negative” (politically harmful, in F. P. Filin’s definition) attitudes of certain of the Institute’s employees, and also collective appeals, since these letters “are exploited abroad for anti-Soviet purposes”. The resolution also spoke of the need to “intensify work on the preparation and publication of researches in the field of the critique of bourgeois ideology in linguistics”.

At departmental discussions of this question the director of the Institute, Filin, said frankly that persons who failed to change their point of view and withdraw their signatures from the letters would not be allowed to defend their dissertations, nor promoted to higher research posts, nor sent abroad, irrespective of their academic achievements. T. S. Khodorovich is the first to have been dismissed from the Institute in the course of this campaign. Her high-principled position—she was the only person to vote against the resolution of the Academic Council mentioned above—and her appeal to the UN provoked the particular annoyance of the Institute’s administration and Party organisation.

Tatyana Sergeyevna Khodorovich, who is the mother of four children, had worked at the Institute for eighteen years. Her profession is that of linguist and dialectologist, and her work on the compilation of specialist maps for an atlas of Russian dialects, as well as her participation in the drawing up of a projected new programme for a Russian language course for schools, have earned the high praise of many of her colleagues, not least during the discussion of her last report on her work.

Besides the appeal to the UN, which Khodorovich signed as a member of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights, she has also signed a number of letters in defence of persons suffering for their beliefs. These letters were sent to Soviet public and governmental organisations.

The dismissal of Khodorovich is a case in which the dismissal of a scholar for her beliefs has been carried out in a completely undisguised manner, without the substitution of spurious grounds.