Commentary No 2 (June 1968)

<<No 2, 30 June 1968>>


[1] In addition to the other repressive measures taken in Novosibirsk, the central press weighed in, and Akademgorodok’s famous art gallery was closed down. The permanent pictures were taken to Moscow and buried in the basement of the Tretyakov Museum. Novosibirsk’s scholars were thus saved from contamination by the gallery’s imminent Chagall exhibition. Two years later its outstanding director, Mikhail Makarenko, stood trial (CCE 16.7) and was given an eight-year sentence.


[1] “His book … aroused such hatred for him in the KGB that they began to bait him like a hare: KGB agents followed on his heels for months on end — I’ve spotted them so often that I know many of them by sight,” wrote Larissa Bogoraz in 1969.

“And not only in Moscow, where he worked, and Aleksandrov where he lived: he went to visit relatives in Ryazan but he wasn’t allowed to leave the train and had to return to Moscow. He was seized on the street almost as soon as he had been discharged from hospital; and they smashed his face in and shoved him inside a car when he came to Moscow for a literary evening.”

(Bogoraz’ text was included in the 1971 Penguin edition of My Testimony, pp. 398-401.)

[2] Five roubles a month – slightly over £2 at the official exchange rate.

[3] A ‘severe’ food ration — 1,300 calories.

In reply to a remark about prisoners being kept “at public expense”, in a letter by A. Chakovsky, chief editor of Literaturnaya gazeta, Marchenko breaks down the normal ration: six cupfuls of thin gruel, two cupfuls of soup made with rotten cabbage, and a piece of boiled cod the size of a matchbox — all this containing only 20 gms of fat, plus 700 gms of black bread and 15 gms of sugar. The ‘severe’ ration contains 400 gms of cabbage soup, two cupfuls of thin gruel, the same size piece of cod and 450 gms of black bread.

We may note here that in 1942-3 the Japanese concentration camp at Tha Makham on the River Kwai in Thailand had the following daily ration norm (in grams): rice (700), vegetables (600), meat (100, sugar (20), salt (20) and oil (15), with similarly few chances of buying extra food. This amounts to about 3,400 calories. Even here, though, vitamin deficiency diseases were very common. (See article by Ian Watt in The Observer, 1 September 1968).

[4] “Marchenko probably confined himself to a typewritten signature and forgot to sign by hand,” suggests a note by the Chronicle‘s editors.