Commentary No 5 (December 1968)

No 5 : 31 December 1969


[1] Notable prose works appearing in samizdat during previous years.

  • Ginzburg, Krutoi marshrut (1967 (in Grani 64-8, Frankfurt);
    Into the Whirlwind (London 1967)
  • Shalamov stories published 1966-1970 in Novy zhurnal (New York);
    two included in Michael Scammell (ed), Russia’s Other Writers (1970).
  • Lidiya Chukovskaya, Opustely dom (Paris 1964);
    The Deserted House (London 1967);
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn, V kruge pervom (1967);
    The First Circle (London, 1968)
  • Vladimir Maximov, Dvornik Lashkov (Grani 64, 1967).
    House in the Clouds, in Scammell collection (1970).

The books’ tamizdat (published “over there”) dates are given, as a rough indication as to when the work was circulating in the USSR. Evgenia Ginzburg and Varlam Shalamov wrote classic accounts of Stalin’s camps; Chukovskaya’s work is set during the mass arrests of the 1930s; and Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle is a semi-autobiographical account of his time in a sharashka, a secret research establishment where the staff are prisoners.

Item 6 – Response to Sakharov from Estonia

[2] Two documents reached the West at the end of 1968. The first, “To Hope or to Act?”, concerned Sakharov’s well-known Reflections on Progress. The document from Estonia put forward ideas somewhat more radical than the Chronicle’s summary would suggest. Written soon after the Czechoslovak occupation, it warned:

“For twelve years already, since the 20th Party congress, we have waited and asked our leaders for liberating reforms. We are prepared to ask and wait for a certain time longer. But eventually we will demand and act! [see 10.5] And then tank divisions will have to be sent not into Prague and Bratislava but rather into Moscow and Leningrad!”

The second document, an “Open Letter to the Citizens of the Soviet Union” dated September 1968 and signed “Gennady Alexeyev, communist”, made various similar points from a more Marxist position.

The Russian text of “To Hope or to Act?” was published abroad in Possev No. 1, Munich, 1969 and in an English translation in Frontier, London. Vol. 12, No. 2, May 1969.

Item 11 – Grigorenko speech at Kostyorin’s 72nd birthday

[3] In 1968 the Crimean Tatars in Moscow held a birthday party on 17 March for Alexei Kostyorin (1896-1968). Outraged by the invasion of Czechoslovakia on 21 August, Kostyorin had just resigned from the Soviet Communist Party: he did not want, he said, to belong to “the gendarme of Europe”. Seriously ill, he asked ex-Major General Petro Grigorenko (1907-1987) to attend the party and speak instead.

Item 12 – In Memory of Alexei Kostyorin

[4] “I have known Alexei Kostyorin for a very short time. Less than three years. Yet we have lived a whole life together. While Kosterin was still alive, a person extremely close to me said, ‘You were made by Kostyorin’. And I did not object. Yes, he made me: he turned a rebel into a fighter. I will be grateful to him for this to the end of my days.”

Thus spake Grigorenko at Kostyorin’s funeral in November 1968. This was a remarkable occasion for which Crimean Tatars, Chechens, and even Volga Germans had journeyed thousands of miles, and, prolonging an old tradition, it also became a political demonstration.

Kostyorin spent three years in tsarist jails, then a further seventeen years (1938-55) in Soviet prisons, camps and internal exile. After his release a few of his stories and essays appeared (often severely censored) in Novy Mir and elsewhere.

He was the father of Nina Kostyorina [Kosterina], killed in the war, whose Diary [Novy mir excerpts, December 1962; English translation,The Diary of Nina Kosterina, Crown publishers, 1968] is a Soviet equivalent of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Just before his death Alexei Kostyorin resigned from the Party and was also surreptitiously expelled from the Writers’ Union.