Moscow’s Unofficial Scientific Seminar, July 1974 (32.12)

«No 32 : 17 July 1974»

A group of Jewish scientists who wish to emigrate to Israel and have for long been deprived of work and scholarly contacts with their colleagues in the USSR, have invited the international scientific community to attend an international seminar in Moscow devoted to the application of physics and mathematics to other branches of knowledge.

The originality of this seminar lay not only in its theme, which aroused the interest of wide scientific circles in the West, but also in the fact that the seminar was not supported in the USSR by any scientific institutions and was thus completely unofficial. The following were members of the seminar’s Moscow Programme Committee: M. Azbel, V[ictor] and I[zolda] Brailovsky, A. Voronel. A. Lunts, V. Levich, A. Lerner, V. Rubin, D. Ram, G. Rosenstein, V. Fain, E. Finkelstein and B. Gurfel.

More than thirty papers were sent to the Programme Committee from scientists living in the USSR, including A.D. Sakharov, Yu.I. Orlov and others. And more than one hundred and twenty papers were sent from scientists abroad: in the USA (including G. Wald, Saint-Dierdi, M. Katz, T. Kuhn, and others), in England (J. Ziman, N. Chigier, and others), in France (L. Schwartz, S. Mandelbrojt, and others), in Israel and in several other countries. Meetings of the seminar were scheduled for 1-5 July 1974 at A. Voronel’s flat (Moscow, Narodnoe Opolchenie Street, block 45, apartment 103, near the Oktyabrskoye Pole metro station [in north Moscow].


From the beginning of May 1974, the authorities took a number of repressive measures against the participants and organizers of the seminar.

Many members of the Programme Committee were summoned under various pretexts to police stations and the Procurator’s office, where KGB officials chatted with them (see “An Unpublished Decree”, this issue, 32.11). Participants in the seminar had their telephones cut off and their postal communication with foreign countries suddenly stopped. International phone conversations during which matters connected with the seminar were being discussed were immediately cut off. Mail addressed to the Programme Committee did not reach it.

From the middle of May arrests of members of the Programme Committee and participants in the seminar got under way.[1] It is known that A Lunts, D. Ram, V. Brailovsky, M. Azbel, A. Voronel, V. Rubin, as well as many others, were arrested. Two days before the arrest of Voronel, a KGB official suggested that he make a statement refusing to participate in the anti-Soviet seminar. The nature of the arrests was preventive: although such arrests are excluded by Soviet legislation and have been frequently denounced in the Soviet press when it has been a question of preventive arrests in South Africa and other states. Those arrested were dispersed throughout prisons in Moscow and its environs without any legal basis to what was happening, and kept there, to use the expression of an official of the prison in Serpukhov, “like birds in a cage”.

The wives of the arrested scientists were kept under house arrest: policemen were posted at the entrances to their houses, and subsequently at the doors of their flats as well, and women were not allowed out of the house. Voronel’s wife was arrested on the street when she was on her way home, driven to a friend’s flat, and told to live there until the date when the seminar was due to end, and not to try to go to her own flat. During all this they tried to intimidate her by talking of “the wrath of Soviet citizens” who might, it was alleged, assault her in her home, and also warned that her flat might be burgled, as A. Voronel had given away several keys to his friends. A few days later N. Voronel learnt that a policeman had been posted by her flat on the pretext that a burglary had taken place and the lock had been broken; but she could not verify whether this was so, as she was under house arrest at her friend’s flat.

F. Yasinovskaya, who came to visit her friends the Rubins, was stopped at their door and taken off to a police station, where she was ordered to show her documents. B. Samov and his wife came to visit their friends the Voronels without knowing anything about either the seminar or the arrests. They were detained at the entrance and taken off to a police station, where they were advised to forget the Voronels for the next few days.

After a visit to N. Voronel a tail was put on Larisa Bogoraz. The foreign scientists who wished to participate in the seminar were refused entry visas.

On 1 July, the day when the seminar was due to start work, several people who had set off for A. Voronel’s flat were detained. In this way, the international scientific seminar was brought to nought by the authorities.

From 4 July onwards, they started to release the arrested members of the Programme Committee from captivity.


  1. See A. Voronel’s open letter of 22 June 1974 in “Chronicle of Human Rights in the USSR” (New York), 1974, No. 10.