The Bell Affair, 1965 to the present

<< Note: all references are in Russian >>

Over half a century ago, on 12 June 1965, the KGB carried out 30 raids in Leningrad, targeting those involved in the  production and circulation of The Bell (Kolokol), an underground magazine.[1]

That day the following members of the group were arrested: Valery Ronkin, Sergei Khakhayev, Veniamin Joffe [Iofe], Sergei Moshkov, Vladimir Smolkin, and Vladimir Gayenko. Later Ludmila Klimanova, Valeria Chikatuyeva and Boris Zelikson were also taken into custody. They were put on trial at the end of the year and received varying sentences.[2] Ten years on, in 1975, they gathered  again in Leningrad for the first time. Ever since, the day of their arrest has become the Day of the Bell, a triumph of freedom, camaraderie, friendship and love.

The photo shows members of the group in 1975, meeting again for the first time, after years in the camps or internal exile

Today, 12 June 2020, we greet all our dear friends — in St Petersburg, Israel and Krasnoyarsk; we remember those no longer with us, but constantly in our thoughts and deeds; and we want to share more items documenting the history of The Bell, some published in the run-up to the present anniversary.

Official and unofficial documents

In the “Library” section of our Islands of Liberty project there is now an article on “The Bell Affair” by Veniamin Joffe. He wrote it for the first issue of the Pamyat (Memory) historical almanac in 1976. The text appeared under the pseudonym “N. Peskov”, but one can easily sense that this was someone involved in the events.

It contains a history of the group from its very beginnings: a summary of “From the dictatorship of bureaucracy to the dictatorship of the proletariat”, the book published in samizdat by the Bell group; two issues of the magazine itself; and an account of the investigation, trial, sentences and time served. Throughout the tale is accompanied by personal reminiscences: the search of Ludmila Klimanova‘s room that left her copies of the magazine safe and sound, in the cake tin; the public disputes during the trial between Sergei Khakhayev and Valery Ronkin over who owned the copyright to particular pieces of evidence.

Items published earlier on the Islands of Liberty website detail the distribution of flyers by the Bell group, among young volunteers leaving by train for the Virgin Lands campaign (9 July 1965), and then at Leningrad State University (5 November 1965).

Available so far

We continue to publish items relating to the Bell affair.  

As of today, you can read the volumes compiled by the investigators about Valery Ronkin (Vol. 1), Sergei Khakhayev (vol. 2), Valery Smolkin, Sergei Moshkov and Veniamin Joffe (vol. 3) and Boris Zelikson (vol. 4).

There’s a great deal of interest in these files. The distribution of the LGU flyers, diligently plotted by KGB agents, is alone worth examination. Then there are the photographic copies confiscated during investigation of the magazine: the original pages of The Bell were reproduced and copied photographically [not typed and retyped like much other samizdat].

Raids and interrogations linked to the case were carried out in a great many towns and cities, in the various Soviet republics; a total of 200 witnesses (!) were questioned. The contents of the 17-volume official investigation still await an attentive researcher.

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NOTES

[1] The magazine took its name from the 19th-century periodical produced abroad, in London, then in Geneva (1857-1867), by Alexander Herzen and Nikolai Ogaryov and smuggled into the Russian Empire.

[2] In November 1965 the Leningrad City Court sentenced nine members of the underground Marxist group to varying sentences: Valery Ronkin and Sergei Khakhayev were given 7 years in the camps and 3 years in exile; Vladimir Gayenko and Sergei Moshkov each received given 4 years in the camps; Valery Smolkin, Valeria Chikatuyeva and Veniamin Joffe were each given 3 years, and Ludmila Klimanova was given 2 years, in the camps.

The Chronicle included items about members of the Bell group in its regular reports from Soviet camps and prisons. See, for example, “An ultimatum by political prisoners”, 28 February 1969 (CCE 6.4).

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In 1989, Veniamin JOFFE (1938-2002) became co-chairman of the Memorial Society in St Petersburg. Together with Irina Flige and Yury Dmitriev, he was one of the three-person expedition that discovered the Stalin-era killing fields at Sandarmokh in early July 1997.