It was possible, wrote editor Alexander Ginzburg in his introduction to the so-called White Book, that the materials he had compiled were incomplete, and he expressed the hope that further items would be added to the collection. Recently a letter has come to light, written by Vitaly Potapenko of Riga in January 1966 (i.e. before the trial), and addressed to the editors of Izvestiya:
I am not in the habit of writing to newspapers. It is true that I write about once a year to some paper or another on a subject that interests me, but only once a year and sometimes even less frequently.
I always read your paper with pleasure, but not long ago I was deeply disturbed by an article by D. Yeryomin, entitled “The Turncoat” and published on 13 January 1966 (No. 10/15098).
The tone of the article and the author’s intentions reminded me of the articles that used to appear in Pravda and Izvestiya between the years 1935 and 1939. It differed from them only in detail and in that it did not begin and end with the words ‘for the dogs – a dog’s death’, ‘crush the skunks’, ‘death to the traitors’, and so on.
Many of you witnessed those times, and you well know and remember what they resulted in for us. I really cannot believe that you wish to resurrect those dark years of our history, when hundreds of thousands of innocent people were arrested. You must also remember the comments in the press which those articles evoked. Shivers would run up and down my spine and my hair stood on end as I read those comments. You probably did not experience such feelings at that time. That was another age. And I am very glad that this time five days passed before you were able to publish no more than three comments. This shows that many people, the majority, have not forgotten those terrible years.
But this is why I am writing to you: in his article D. Yeryomin categorically states that the works of A. Sinyavsky and Yu. Daniel are ‘anti-Soviet lampoons’ and that the authors ‘have sunk to crimes against the Soviet system’. Who gave him the right to decide and state this? At the moment A. Sinyavsky and Yu. Daniel have been accused of this, but the trial has still not taken place and the court has not reached its verdict. And yet the comrades from Voronezh [authors of one of the comments, ed.] echo him like parrots. Such statements are called ‘contempt of court’ and are an attempt to influence public opinion and the decision of the court.
D. Yeryomin used further libellous expressions like ‘anti-Soviet fanatic’ and so on, and these are repeated by the comrades from Baku, Voronezh and Latvia.
Who gave them the right to refer to people in such libellous terms? They should be held responsible for their criminal actions under Article 130, pt. 2, and Article 131, pt. 2, of the Criminal Code.
Any objections by you in this particular case are futile because, according to the special section of Soviet Criminal Law: “whether or not there was an element of truth in the offending phrase is irrelevant to the determination of libel … Whether or not the victim took offence or knew of the libel is likewise irrelevant … ” (Soviet Criminal Law, Special Section, p. 175).
And since the law applies to everyone, I request you to take appropriate measures to see that D. Yeryomin is brought to justice, together with the authors of the comments and the editor responsible for the 18 January 1966 (No. 14/15102) edition of your paper, who allowed the slanderous and libellous remarks to appear in the editorial introduction.
I hope that the editorial committee has sufficient courage to admit its blunder in passing an article with such contents, filled with the spirit of years gone by.
It was just this lack of responsibility for such slanderous and libellous expressions that led to the mass mistrust, slander and persecution of the years 1935-1939.
And I don’t want it all to start again: to stop this happening it is necessary to enforce the law and punish those who have broken it, so as to discourage others from doing the same.
I express no opinion on the works of A. Sinyavsky and Yu. Daniel because I myself have not read them and I cannot judge them from the words, the biased words, of D. Yeryomin. In order to express one’s opinion, even if unfavourable, on a literary work, one must read the work: one should not judge from quoted extracts, because one does not know their original context. In our works of literary criticism people often say and write that one should not produce a critical article in the way that D. Yeryomin has done.
My opinion is shared by many of my comrades. They do not wish to become involved in this “shady and risky” affair, but someone must try to see that the law is properly observed and thereby prevent a repetition of the lawlessness of past years.
And EVERYONE must REMEMBER that until the court has pronounced its verdict NO ONE has the right to call anybody a criminal, an enemy, and so on. NO ONE!
I hope to receive an answer from you and I hope that justice will triumph.
All the best,
I’m glad I was born in 1937, otherwise …