Jil Silberstein's introduction
to the French edition of
Yuri Galanskov's The Human Manifesto.
I do not lie.
I am tied to my conscience.
- Yuri Galanskov.
When speaking of the Soviet Union, will it ever be possible to write the story of the struggles that, in this second half of the twentieth century, brought a handful of individuals, armed only with their tenacity and courage, into confrontation with a machine of terrifying power that so many of us refuse to look at? Will it ever really be possible to do this? Nothing is less certain, given the weakness and abdication of the West. But if it nevertheless does become possible, we will — no doubt — remember the names of the most illustrious of those who had the time to strike back, valiantly, sometimes a hundred times over, the blows that they received in their own country for having denounced the crimes, the famine, the total censorship, the merciless persecution and perversion of consciences. We will, of course, speak of the giants that were Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. We will speak of Aleksandr Zinoviev, that other giant, who tirelessly revealed to us the permutations performed, almost before our eyes, on millions of men and women in order to give rise to a miserable new race: homo sovieticus, cousin of the rat and the pig. But there will also be those others who we will need to talk about, whose struggle and whose testimony will perhaps have allowed us to look more lucidly at a doctrine that was once conceived to liberate man, but which became the maker of his total alienation. And not just to look at that communist ideal, but also at the terrifying deviation of mentalities that led a population to actively participate in its own debasement, either out of fear or, according to some theories, because of more insidious motives. I am thinking of Vladimir Bukovsky, Aleksandr Ginzburg, Vladimir Maksimov, Andrei Amalrik, Edward Kuznetsov, Leonid Plyushch, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Lydia Chukovskaya, Pavel Litvinov, Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin; of the admirable Varlam Shalamov, recently deceased, and of the impetuous Piotr Grigorenko.
And then, next to these few who, through endurance or circumstance, became standard bearers, we will have to consider the uncountable others who fell in the same battle, who suffered in one camp or another, and for whom the words of those just named testified passionately. We will have to consider — when time has finished erasing every trace of their passage — what their ordeals and torments were like, if doing so is at all conceivable.
Among all those in the Soviet Union who were denounced, arrested, publicly slandered, deported, and finally assassinated (if indeed they were not liquidated there and then without trial); among all those whose hopes ended up rotting underfoot, there is one being whose name, in the memory of men, will nevertheless have to join the most significant figures of the dissident movement. Practically unknown in the West, Yuri Galanskov is nonetheless — for the young Soviets attempting to escape the law of high numbers — the very symbol of almost supernatural bravery and public struggle. A radiant example, he, with his strength, inspired many to keep their sight fixed on a perspective that was almost inconceivable, so great was the danger it entailed amid hostility from the vast majority. We will not forget that the heart-breaking and sometimes masterful verses of this poet, who was once received by a stunned audience on the Mayakovski Square, were ardently recited long after his death in small communities. We will not forget the role this fierce witness and poet played as editor of the clandestine press; as a theorist; as a precursor to the human rights movement in the USSR. Finally, we will remember the attitude that this responsible citizen, so open to sharing, displayed in the labor camps – an attitude that was unwaveringly marked by a fraternal and efficient devotion, and to which all those who knew him have testified.
Yuri Galanskov died on the 4th of November 1972, at the age of thirty-three, in the hospital of Camp 17A (Mordovia), and represented everything in this world that is whole, most lucid, most courageous and most generous. Therefore, come what may, we are certain that it is an act of justice to publish this book in his memory.
The emergence of Galanskov, the particular type of actions he undertook both alone and within the collectives, the way that he made himself heard, publicly calling out the authorities or, with scathing energy, going after Sholokhov, the 1965 Nobel prize for literature winner… all this cannot be understood outside a very specific context. We must, therefore, first return to this context, albeit briefly.
And first of all, to the 5th of March 1953, a date when the inconceivable took place. On Radio Moscow, Yuri Levitan announced the death of Joseph Stalin, the “Kremlin mountaineer”, with “fat fingers like live-baits” (to quote Osip Mandelshtam), more feared than Yahweh himself, the grand orchestrator of unprecedented purges, whose name alone strikes terror. During the following period, once the national state of shock passed, once the torrents of sincere or feigned tears dried up, denoting that life nonetheless goes on, the population was about to experience a period of real hope, encouraged by the promises of Nikita Khrushchev. Hope for a slight improvement in the material conditions for the overwhelming majority of people, in a country whose economy had been in total freefall and where it had been impossible to obtain even the bare necessities without thousand s of incentivised ruses. Hope for a tangible loosening of censorship, for a small minority that persists in holding on to ideas and convictions that they or their loved ones have already paid a very high price for. The gigantic statues collapsed, a few poets summoned the courage to recite a few verses critical of the deceased master. As people were to write: “Stalin was just a madman who thought he was Stalin”. But what actually happened to the expected “thaw”?
Khrushchev quite rightly felt that the moment had come to give the West – that excellent cash cow – a more favourable impression. Perhaps he was even sincerely convinced that certain reforms made good sense? His dismissal in 1964 seems to support this idea. Whatever the case may be, in all the confusion, it was easy for him to use literature as a weapon – sensing quite rightly that the political philosophy of a State is measured first of all by the freedom of expression prevailing within it. A few audacious voices were then able to make themselves heard, including, firstly, Vladimir Pomerantsev, and then, Viktor Nekrasov, Ilya Ehrenburg and Boris Slutski, in an attempt to substitute the notoriety of “Socialist Realism” with a quality of sincerity that had been firmly prohibited up until then, and the emergence of which, sure enough, led to outrage among literary officials.
While many fell for this, and despite the fact that at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 the new master of the Kremlin publicly admitted the “grave errors” committed by his predecessor, the change was purely superficial. How indeed could the Soviet Union have tolerated the existence of truly independent literature, which would have meant an undesirable voice with which to contend sooner or later? In fact, the first big scandal did not take long to erupt, with the utterly unexpected publication, by Feltrinelli (Italy) of Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece Doctor Zhivago – a scandal followed the next year by a second one: the 1958 Nobel prize that this admirable novel earned the author. In these circumstances, it is all the more surprising that, pushed by Aleksandr Tvardovski, editor-in-chief at the time of Novy Mir, the USSR’s most liberal and progressive literary review, Khrushchev could give the green light to the publication of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a story which, lest we forget, described twenty-four hours of a prisoner’s life in a Soviet concentration camp. Nonetheless, with the intelligentsia growing ever more agitated, when the news came out that two writers, under the pseudonyms of Abram Tertz and Nikolai Arzhak and unbeknownst to the authorities, had been published in France (Fantastic Stories and The Makepeace Experiment for Andrei Sinyavsky, and This is Moscow Speaking for Juli Daniel respectively), the camel’s back was broken. The era of “sincerity”, impossible to contain within fixed limits any longer, had to come to a swift end. Thus the great trials of the Sixties came to pass, that is the Daniel-Sinyavsky trial (the two “heirs of Smerdyakov” according to the very official Literaturnaya Gazeta), in February 1966; the trial of Bukovsky, Delaunay and Kushev, in September 1967; that of Ginzburg, Galanskov, Dobrovolsky and Lashkova, in January 1968; and that of Litvinov, Larissa Daniel, Babitsky, Delaunay and Dremliuga, in October 1968.
In order to substantially fill in the picture of these years and therefore understand this series of arrests among young intellectuals, one must also clarify in what way the slight liberalisation did not stop at a few official publications. At this time, encouraged by less morose perspectives, a whole series of small collectives came into being, where one’s own poems were recited, of course, but also those of the great elders: Osip Mandelstam, Mariva Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilev and Boris Pasternak, to be precise. And not just that! As well as home-made recordings of the songs of Bulat Okudzhava and Aleksander Galich, various typewritten reviews began to circulate under the counter, going by the name of Samizdat. These reviews, initially inoffensive, gradually revealed content that the authorities judged problematic, particularly after the Hungarian affair that allowed many young people to clarify their own personal objectives. And although these reviews were initially exclusively composed of poems, as was the case for Syntaxis, for which Aleksander Ginzburg received two years of camp in 1960, or Aleksander Osipov’s Boomerang, they soon began to mix prose, verse and manifestoes, as in Galanksov’s Phoenix or The Chronicle of Current Events animated by Natalia Gorbanevskaya. To this was added one more thing which decisively sealed the various confidential groups into a whole which came to be known as the “generation of 56”: the inauguration, during the summer of 1958, of the Vladimir Mayakovski statue in Moscow.
Here, Vladimir Bukovsky, in his wonderful and striking To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter, writes: “At the official ceremony, the Soviet poets, who were no less official, recited their poems and when they were done, those of their assistants who so wished began, in turn, to recite verses. Everyone was happy that the event had taken such an unexpected, unpredictable turn, and it was agreed to meet here regularly. At the beginning, the authorities saw no danger in this. A Moscow newspaper even wrote an article about these gatherings, specifying the time and the place and inviting all poetry lovers to participate. People, especially students, gathered almost every evening. They recited the works of forgotten and persecuted poets, they read their own poems too. Sometimes, art and literature were discussed. A kind of open-air club was thus formed, similar to Hyde Park. The authorities could not tolerate such a dangerous initiative for long and banned these gatherings quite quickly.”
But it was too late. In very little time, these young people, liberated from the grip of the Komsomol (the communist youth organisation), had understood that the only way to struggle effectively against oppression was not secrecy but public action; and that, in this struggle, the best of allies was none other than the law, written in the Soviet Constitution. Something new had arisen, and it would not be easy to silence it. Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin, the son of the deeply moving poet Sergey Esenin, played a fundamental role at this stage: armed only with the law, this fierce legalist showed by example how to demand what an individual is entitled to by legal right. It must be said that his interventions often worked wonders. Despite the restrictions, people gathered – first in each other’s homes, then under the now famous statue. Very soon, an ethic was forged, a moral resistance that broke down the barriers of small literary circles. Thanks to this, authors and audiences, instead of existing as small isolated beings who could easily be sentenced for underground operations, were able to become citizens fighting for their civil rights. The champions of this movement were Yuri Galanskov and Vladimir Bukovsky, three years his junior, and who I will cite once more, such is the extent to which his words seem to reflect the ideal of the time:
“ ‘But why me?’, wonders every person in a crowd.
‘All alone, I am powerless’
And thus, all of them are lost.
‘If it won’t be me, who will it be?’ wonders the cornered man.
And he saves them all.”
Two years after the first wave, therefore, inspired by Bukovsky and two of his student friends, the poetry evenings restarted at the “Lighthouse”, as the Mayakovski Square was called, mixing newcomers with the old regulars of 1958. Among the organisers and reciting poets were, among others, Galanskov, Khaustov, Osipov, Eduard Kuznetsov, Anatoly Shchukin, Kovshin, Michel Kaplan, Viktor Kalugin, Nosov, Vadim Delaunay… The situation was becoming untenable for the authorities, especially as the activity of the S.M.O.G. ("The Young Association of Geniuses", quite an ironic name), to which a number of these young intellectuals belonged, was growing in popularity in Leningrad, Kiev, Odessa and the Ural region. It was therefore decided, with the help of provocateurs from the Komsomol and the KGB, to disturb these gatherings, to turn them into fights. And the first arrests came quickly, soon followed by the aforementioned trials.
Yuri Galanskov, spokesman and leader, in a way, of this advocacy group that based its actions on the principle of legality, was arrested on the 19th of January 1967. He was taken to court, along with his friend Aleksandr Ginzburg, Alex Dobrovolsky, and Vera Lashkova, on the 8th of January 1968. Four months, that is, after the trial of Bukovsky, Delaunay and Kuchev, who were all three sentenced for having protested the arrests of their comrades. (“Even if I had to go there alone, I would do so,” Bukovsky told his friends before that protest. “Galanskov would have done the same in my position”. These words were reported by Mark Kravets in his large dossier "USSR: The Writers of the Dissidence," Literary Magazine 125, June 1977).
Here it is not my place to give the details of this resounding and scandalous affair, which, completely illegally, took place behind closed doors and saw, a few months before the sinister Prague Spring, enormous sentences handed down – a sure sign of a general clampdown under the oversight of Misters Kosygin, Brezhnev and Podgorny, the new leaders since 1964. Jean-Jacques Marie and Carol Head undertook that task and I can refer you to their excellent dossier. Let us just say that for his famous White Book, which gathered all the evidence relating to the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial, Ginzburg was sentenced to five more years of camp, having ended his final words with the following: “I ask only one thing of the court, that they shall not inflict upon me a lighter sentence than that which Galanskov had received”. Dobrovolsky, on the other hand, also a repeat offender as he had earlier been sentenced to six years of corrective labour, was not sent to a camp because, having been declared insane by a board of experts, he was transferred to the prison of Leningrad’s “special” psychiatric hospital. Charged for his article “Interferences of science and of faith,” he was to fall apart, sadly, during the interrogation and accuse, quite wretchedly, his comrades Ginzburg and Galanskov of involvement with the N.T.S., the only political organisation struggling, from abroad, against the Soviet regime. As for Vera Lashkova, a typist for clandestine publications, she was made to pay for her activities with one year of hard labour camp.
And while, quite incredibly, a crowd of protesters which had gathered around the court building, demanded a public hearing (as per the Soviet Constitution), Galanskov received the heaviest sentence – seven years of hard labour camp – in spite of the duodenal ulcer from which he suffered very badly, and which needed medical attention. And yet, although he was the subject of many grievances, what could one reproach him for from the point of view of the law in order to justify such a sentence? Expelled from Moscow University for opinions and activities that were not, strictly speaking, political, could he be sentenced for having organised gatherings, such as the protest of the 4th of March 1966, intended to derail those who wanted to rehabilitate Stalin? Could he be sentenced for having been present during the evening gatherings on the Mayakovski Square? But the right of assembly was guaranteed on paper and these actions were in no way anti-Soviet! Could he therefore be tried for the two issues of his magazine, Phoenix 61 and Phoenix 66? Granted, there were some stinging articles in there, including his devastating letter to the vile Sholokhov in response to his speech during the XXIII Congress, where, slandering Daniel and Sinyavsky, Sholokhov lamented the lightness of the sentence handed to these “werewolves”: “The price we have paid for what we have achieved is too high, Soviet power is too important for us to let slander go unpunished.” But other than the fact that Galanskov and his friends always signed their texts and could therefore not be considered “hooligans” working in the shadows, Yura always had the legal code at hand and readily cited the articles establishing the legality of his actions. Where others would have presented themselves as thieves begging for forgiveness, Galanskov, much like Vladimir Bukovsky, was famous for having the nerve to flip the charges and accuse the tribunal in the name of the Constitution.
It was therefore necessary to come up with other kind of allegations, sufficiently shady charges that would discredit him as an individual. An absurd currency exchange affair was brought up: accused of having exchanged dollars on the black market, Galanskov was declared guilty under article 88 (!). It was obviously just an opening manoeuvre, aimed at painting the defendant as suspicious and shifty, counter to his own declarations. This incursion turned out to be far more treacherous. No doubt manipulated during the inquiry, convinced that if he confessed his connection to the NTS and accused his friends of the same “crime”, he would see his sentence considerably reduced, the vulnerable Dobrovolsky, a conflicted young man, chose to implicate his companions with the crimes we are familiar with.
And to further corroborate the story, a mysterious individual was cited during the trial, a member of the NTS, allegedly, who had been miraculously arrested in order to confound the defendants! On the topic of this masquerade — which would be quite comical if it did not involve the lives of such admirable individuals — entirely fabricated by the KGB, I hand the floor to general Piotr Grigorenko, whose Memoirs, extremely instructive on the history of the Soviet Union, give, among other things, a good portrait of Dobrovolsky, who had been his cellmate.
“At the same time, in the courtroom, the defendants and their lawyers were destroying the prosecutor’s case. The court was forced to obfuscate and lie. Incapable of proving a single point of the prosecution, the court resorted to a manoeuvre intended to influence public opinion by something that had no relation to the matter at hand. Into the room was brought a Soviet tourist who had recently returned from Europe and been arrested by the KGB, and who went by the name of Brox-Sokolov. The prosecution, with obvious delight, showed the court a “spy’s belt,” allegedly found on this man at the moment of his arrest, and in which he had hidden books and money. Unfortunately, this “breastplate” had a very slight flaw, which the defence promptly drew everyone’s attention to. Zolotushkin, Ginzburg’s lawyer, asked a very simple question: “What connection could this belt have to my client’s affair?”. The question seemed logical and was not shocking in any way, but this did not stop the judge answering with such hatred and rudeness that any future questions of this type seemed permanently dismissed.” (P.Grigorenko, Memoirs).
During any normal trial (if such a farce would have been possible in the first place), people would have burst out laughing. And the prosecution could only have abandoned this point, dragging its tail between its legs. But this was the Soviet Union and in a courtroom that was three quarters empty (there were over 170 available seats). The only “audience” that had been admitted — other than the KGB employees, druzhinniki (police volunteers in plain clothes), Komsomol members and some officials from the judicial system — were a few people carrying passes received from their local Communist Party branches. In such circumstances, the affair was a foregone conclusion – soon reported by the likes of Izvestya and Komsomolskaya Pravda with such a degree of sensationalism, such a deluge of fabrication and slander, such thickly-spread hatred, that the public opinion easily drowned out the voice of protestors demanding “the public condemnation of this shameful trial and the punishment of the culprits”. Despite very numerous and courageous interventions, including those of Sakharov, Larissa Daniel, Pavel Litvinov, Boris and Yuri Vakhtin, A. Jakobson, Evgenii Kushev, Grigorenko and Anatoly Levitin-Krasnov (in a poignant letter), the convicted went off to serve their sentences.
There is not much left to say – but what little is left should also be known. In the company of his friend Alik (Ginzburg), Yuri Galanskov was transferred to Camp 17A, Mordovia. Despite what some nostalgic figures from the Forties might say about the camps of Kolyma, Vorkuta, or Taishet, where political convicts were exterminated mercilessly, conditions continued to be extremely rough. Firstly because of food restrictions: set at 2,413 calories, this ration – which constitutes the minimum for a healthy, sedentary, man, living in normal conditions – was respected only rarely and could at any moment be reduced as a form of punishment (particularly in punishment cells, where the ration went down to 1,300 calories). Given that the three permitted parcels per year (these parcels were usually confiscated) were not to contain any food products, it is not in the least surprising that the majority of prisoners suffered from stomach issues. In barracks where, once summer was gone, the temperature oscillated between 10 and 12 degrees, the cold also exhausted the men – all the more so when, as a form of bullying, their warm clothes were confiscated. Alongside this, prisoners were allowed one “personal” visit per year, three joint visits under surveillance, and two letters a month, confiscated at will. (The entire operation was left to the prison guards who were often surly and violent, and to mostly illiterate officers who were charged with giving prisoners lessons on political information). This is, inter alia, what life was like in this camp.
Despite these conditions that could only gravely worsen his already weak health, Galanskov organised, with stunning efficiency, all sorts of actions intended either to protest, or to bring help to a certain prisoner. Hunger strikes, calls, fund-raisers for the ill… he spared no effort. Not content with this, not content with consoling, helping, demanding, he was the first to set up a network able to regularly send very compromising information to the outside world. Faced with such determination, his friends were powerless to convince him to put a break on his activities; he therefore felt his physical resilience decline gradually and, after years of this regime, he was forced to consent to a visit to the camp hospital, which he was so suspicious of. Meanwhile, deeply shaken by the misery of the world, crushed, exhausted, at the end of so much abnegation and sacrifice, he came to faith. It is impossible here not to think of Simone Weil, her spiritual path, the incredible flame she radiated and which led her, once very close to death, into the knowledge of God. And when, having been operated on by a military doctor whose surgical competences were limited to amputation techniques, he died in terrible pain, he was most likely assisted by thoughts of Christ.
“May earth be light to you, martyr and hero of the struggle for human rights.” (Piotr Grigorenko).
Ten years after the death of Yuri Galanskov, here is a selection of his poetry, his manifestoes and his letters. May this book give a just idea of the man he was: with his vehemence, his courage, but also his kindness and the way he cared for all living things. Ultimately, Yura appears a guide: a sometimes fragile and uncertain guide in his everyday life, but the one whose moral authority is only more moving and communicative as a result. Far from having wanted to dominate his peers, Galanskov elevated himself to the role of a lighthouse in the name of a voice that lived inside him in order to bring joy and comfort to his loved ones in their struggle. And all this he accomplished with humility, clairvoyance and love – and at the price of his own life.
And indeed, to make this homage more complete, to make sure this book is also one of testimony and loyalty, we asked four people who knew Yura and now live in exile to speak about him. The words of these four people are of considerable significance: we know full well the price that Vladimir Bukovsky, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Aleksandr Ginzburg and Eduard Kuznetsov paid to have them heard.
Finally, one more thing: we would like for this work to refer, through Galanskov, to all those people who, right now, are suffering in various camps and, because of the West’s apathy, are at a serious risk of joining Yura in his grave. It is to them that we dedicate our endeavour. To Yuri Fiodorov, to Aleksei Murzhenko, to Anatoly Marchenko and to all those whose names we do not even know and whose fate is being decided day by day.
People have wanted to blame fallible or corrupt men for the failure of communism, founded in theory on assurances of a radiant future. Now it is high time to realise that there is only one communism: that of Leonid Brezhnev, which is that of Karl Marx, which is that of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and any old Ivanov trapped in the machine. The conditions of communism can effectively be realised only through the decay of millions of individuals who are the raw material necessary to this monstruous alchemy: if one wants, as Karl Marx wanted, to abolish the State, family, property and religion — phenomena inscribed in the very essence of man — then one must legitimise massacres. Every massacre organised in order to reach these ends. But suddenly behind these massacres there is, taking shape, not the new man that one wanted to see at all costs and in the expectance of which all means were acceptable, but a cattle-like, treacherous, spineless and greedy people, acclimatising themselves to a degrading muck while a minority of thinking, responsible individuals is mercilessly tracked down. Before this leprosy decimates all our brothers in the East, before it begins to attack us in too definitive a manner, it is our duty to speak the truth in order to root it out everywhere. In all circumstances. But will the weary West rise to the challenge in time?
“I know only one thing: the foundation of genuine human existence is truth. Truth about oneself. Truth about others. The harsh truth. The struggle for or against truth is the deepest and most relentless of all struggles. And, from this moment on, the degree of development of a society, from the point of view of its humanity, will be defined by the degree of truth tolerated in this society. It is the first, the most primitive of evaluations. When people will have reached a minimal degree of truth, then they will be able to put forward other criteria. But everything starts there.” (Aleksandr Zinoviev.)
Translated from French by Arthur Beard.