Persecution of Participants in a Religious Seminar, December 1976 (43.11)

<<No 43 : 31 December 1976>>

Chronicle 41.2 (“Religion in the USSR”) reported on the persecution of Alexander Ogorodnikov and his friends. Ogorodnikov organized a seminar on religion and philosophy for Orthodox young people. He is 26 years old; a few years ago he was expelled from his third year at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography [in Moscow].

One of the reasons for his expulsion, it seems, was the attempt by Ogorodnikov and other students to make a film about the unofficial spiritual life of modern Soviet youth. Besides sequences devoted to amateur musical groups, for example, the film-makers intended to show student meetings at the grave of Romas Kalanta in Kaunas, groups of young people at church festivals, and so on.

A group of young people who had been attracted to Orthodoxy and wished to study religious problems seriously, formed around Ogorodnikov. A religious-philosophical seminar began to take place regularly, and it declared itself a successor to the Religious-Philosophical Societies of Moscow and Leningrad [1] which were shut down in the 1920s. The subjects of the lectures and discussions at the seminar were similar to the subject-matter of the Messenger of the Russian Christian Movement periodical [2] — theology, theosophy, philosophy and the history of religion, religious consciousness and sociology, Orthodoxy and the legal consciousness of the nation, religion and art, and so on.

The 37 themes discussed or announced at the seminar included, for example:

  • “The individual and the sense of community” (Khomyakov, Vladimir Solovyov, the Princes Trubetskoi, Semyon Frank);
  • “The Russian idea” (Khomyakov, Dostoyevsky, Solovyov, Berdyaev);
  • “’The Russian type of holiness: saints and the State” (Saint Sergy of Radonezh, the saintly Prince Alexander Nevsky, Saint Philip of Moscow, Father John of Kronstadt);
  • “The talks of Father Dmitry Dudko” (the model for a pastor in the modern secular world);
  • “Freedom and Necessity” (from Kant to Berdyaev; the mystery of personality);
  • “Modern left-wing consciousness”;
  • “State atheism”;
  • “Socialist realism and the fate of Christian art”.

The seminar immediately attracted the hostile attention of the authorities.

KGB officials and certain specialists on religion had “chats” with those who took part. Since the summer of 1976 many of them have been openly followed and harassed by unknown persons on the street. The following incidents are known to have taken place, in addition to those described in CCE 41.2.

On 14 July two men began to harass Marina Timonina on the street, pushing her about on the Moscow Metro and on trolley-buses, stepping on her feet and shouting “Why don’t you look where you’re putting your feet?” When she came out of the Metro they hit her twice and then tried to break into her flat. On the same day, she (and later her mother) were interrogated at the Lubyanka by Lieutenant-Colonel Andrei Dmitryevich Shilkin, one of the leading KGB specialists on Orthodoxy.

The day before, on the evening of 13 July, Valentin Serov, who had taken part in the seminar and was just returning from the funeral of the Leningrad painter Rukhin, who had died in a fire, came out of his friend’s flat in Chertanovo [Moscow]: he was attacked in the dark, his arm was broken and he was cruelly beaten on the legs.

On 14 July Alexander Argentov, a participant in the seminar (CCE 41.2, 42), was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Eduard Fedotov was held in a psychiatric hospital from 27 September to 17 November. The strong religious beliefs of Argentov and Fedotov were regarded as symptoms of mental illness by the doctors.

After Ogorodnikov was dismissed from his job, the police seemingly lost sight of him. Some of his friends were interrogated as to where he was “hiding” and were told he had “embarked on an illegal existence”, and so on. It seems that a search was being conducted for Ogorodnikov. On 10 August he was detained on the street in Moscow, searched and taken to the Lubyanka, where Shilkin “had a chat” with him. Two other persons also took part in the “talk”. One of them concentrated on theoretical argument “You’re a nihilist. You slander the Orthodox faith and the Church”. The other (“Stanislav Petrovich”) talked about his acquaintances: “T[atyana] S. Khodorovich is an enemy of the people. Father Dmitry Dudko collaborated with a Fascist newspaper”.

Shilkin himself assumed a practical role during the chat. He showed Ogorodnikov evidence given by his acquaintances — one of the participants in the seminar, Yevgeny Nesterov, had given the KGB papers belonging to Ogorodnikov, which he was keeping for him. Shilkin threatened Ogorodnikov with arrest and asked him who was doing the typing for him. Then Ogorodnikov was released.

Ogorodnikov has been deprived of his residence permit in Vladimir Region, where he was living; at present he is not registered for residence anywhere.

Not only Muscovites participate in the seminar.

Boris Razveyev, a student at the Medical Institute in Bashkiriya (earlier he had been refused permission to study at the Theological Academy), was summoned by the KGB more than once; he was threatened and “warned” about his “anti-social activities”. Sergei Shuvalov, a student at the Bashkir University, was made to abandon his studies after a series of interrogations, and also “warned”. There were attempts to force both of them to give compromising evidence against Ogorodnikov and to write protests against Ogorodnikov’s appeal to Dr. Potter, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. On 27 October Yu. Obukhov, a fourth year student at the Bashkir Medical Institute, was expelled from the Komsomol for “having a religious, hippy-like mode of thought”; on 5 November he was expelled from the institute and on 1 December called up into the army. Altogether eight people were interrogated in Ufa in connection with the seminar.

On 5 December Ogorodnikov was detained at the airport in Ufa [Bashkiriya] while his baggage was being examined. He was interrogated at the police station by Senior Lieutenant Dubrovsky of the KGB, who searched him and took away two books by S. Frank and notes of the interrogations of Razveyev and Shuvalov. Ogorodnikov was threatened with detention in a special dispersal prison [spetspriyomnik] but was later released.

About thirty participants of the seminar and their parents have been subjected to summonses and criticism by the KGB. This happened not only in Moscow and Ufa, but also in Leningrad, Lvov, Minsk and Grodno.

The seminar is continuing its work. This autumn it has met three times.