Letters and Statements, 1977-1978 (48.23)

<<No 48 : 14 March 1978>>

Mart Niklus, b. 1934

Mart Niklus — “To Professor Juri Saarma” (1 November 1977)

Professor Saarma is a psychiatrist and attended the International Congress of Psychiatrists in Honolulu as a member of the Soviet delegation. With his article in the newspaper Kodurnaa and his talks on Estonian radio, writes Mart Niklus, Professor Saarma is misinforming the public when he asserts that dissenters are not incarcerated in Soviet psychiatric hospitals. Niklus refers in particular to his own experience in the psychiatric block of Mordovian Camp 3, and asks

“… Must there really be only one position? Are people whose words, actions and thoughts do not correspond to this position mentally sick — while people who think one way and act in another for the sake of their careers are healthy? …”


Boris Altshuler — “On the International Defence of Human Rights” (11 November 1977)

“… The events of the past months demonstrate a simple truth: the free exchange of information cannot for long be based on the personal initiative of a few enthusiasts who in doing so risk their life and freedom; what is needed are universal and automatically effective mechanisms for publicity, and, more broadly, there is a need for machinery for the international defence of human rights…

“I call for the drafting of a definite Moral Code for international professional activity: each international agreement should be accompanied by previously announced measures to ensure respect for humanitarian values and to provide an inspection mechanism.”


Gleb Yakunin, [Hierodeacon] Varsonofy Khaibulin and Victor Kapitanchuk — “Statement of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR” (29 December 1977)

“On 16 December 1977, founder-members of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR, Father Gleb Yakunin and Victor Kapitanchuk, were summoned officially to the KGB. There they were formally told that their activities were ‘harmful to the interests of State security’ while the Committee’s documents were damaging the Soviet social and political system. If the members of the Christian Committee continued their activities, it was added, criminal proceedings would be instituted against them…

“We strongly protest against the classification of the activities of members of the Christian Committee as slanderous and harmful to the State security of the USSR …

“We are aware that the threat of forcibly putting an end to the activities of the Christian Committee may be carried out.

“For this reason, and in connection with the expressed desire of many believers to join the Christian Committee, the members of the Committee have made the following decision:

1. To accept member of the Russian Orthodox Church Vadim Shcheglov as a member of the Christian Committee.

2. To commission member of the Christian Committee V. Shcheglov, in the event of the arrest of the founder-members of the Committee, to announce the acceptance onto the Committee of those Christians who have been provisionally (in the event of the founder-members’ arrest) accepted by decision of the Committee.

3. The arrest of any member of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights will not signify that he has left the Committee.

“30 December is the anniversary of the formation of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR. The numerous appeals to the Christian Committee by believers, and the experience accumulated by the Committee in doing its work confirm the need to act in defence of believers’ rights in the USSR.”

The authors call for the formation of an International Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights. They appeal in particular to Cardinal Josif Slipyi, Anatoly Levitin-Krasnov, Tatyana Khodorovich, E. Vagin, E. Bresenden and Arkady Polishchuk to participate in the formation of such a committee.


statements by Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov — “To the Organizing Committee of the Symposium on the Problem of the Death Penalty” (19 September 1977)

“… I fully support the basic arguments put forward by opponents of the death penalty.

“I consider the death penalty to be a cruel and senseless institution that undermines the moral and legal foundations of society … I deny any effective deterrent effect of the death penalty on potential criminals. I am convinced of the opposite: cruelty breeds only cruelty.

“I deny the practical necessity and effectiveness of the death penalty as a means for defending society … I am convinced that the death penalty has no moral and practical justification and represents a survival from barbarous customs of revenge … The abolition of the death penalty is particularly important in such a country as ours, where there is the unlimited rule of state power and an uncontrolled bureaucracy, and a widespread disregard for the law and for moral values …

“There are other peculiar features of our contemporary reality … They are the depressingly low cultural and moral level of our present criminal justice; it is dependent on the State and, often, displays corruption, bribe-taking and dependence on local ‘bosses’.

Sakharov goes on to describe the case of worker Rafkat Shaimukhamedov, who was executed on a charge of murder.


Andrei Sakharov — “The Kontinent magazine is three years old” (1 November 1977)

“The main conclusion after three years is that Kontinent has shown itself to be the most interesting and widely read in the USSR of all the Russian journals published abroad…”


Andrei Sakharov — “To the President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito”

“We welcome the amnesty for political prisoners in Yugoslavia, which, as far as we know, is the first in the history of a country in the socialist camp. We hope that this humane and wise step of the Yugoslav government will serve as an example to the governments of other countries.

“A worldwide political amnesty for prisoners of conscience would be healthy for the political climate of the whole world and would promote the preservation of peace on our planet.

With respect,

Elena Bonner-Sakharova-Alikhanova
Andrei Sakharov

Moscow, 25 November 1977

(Ye.G. Bonner’s father Georgy Alikhanov, who was shot at the end of the 1930s, was well acquainted with Josip Tito [Chronicle note].)


Andrei Sakharov — “Speech for a meeting of the AFL-CIO” (28 November 1977)

A.D. Sakharov, who was invited to a congress of the AFL-CIO (CCE 47), sent the text of his proposed speech. Having noted that the AFL-CIO influences domestic and international affairs to a high degree, he writes:

“They say that the character of the American people, their active and practical goodwill and sense of their own worth are embodied in the question which has become a national tradition, ‘How can I  help you?’ It seems to me that by inviting me to this meeting, you are also putting this question to me.”

Sakharov distinguishes, first and foremost, the question of communication, which is “of decisive importance for the whole struggle for human rights in the USSR”. “The authorities in the USSR”, says Sakharov, “take the most brazen measures to cut off channels of communication with the West.” He tells of the seizing of correspondence, the disconnection of telephones, and wiretapping and gives an up-to-the-moment example:

“… I received an envelope with an offensive sketch inside it” (instead of the invitation to the AFL-CIO Congress, Chronicle). “This morning, after we had discussed this letter aloud in our flat, which is bugged through and through by the KGB, I finally received your invitation.”

Further he says:

“What actions do we expect from you? To promote a wide-ranging campaign in the press and at your congress against violations of the exchange of information, to promote the resolution of this question at the level of international negotiations …

“I am counting on the AFL-CIO to continue actively supporting the struggle for free choice of one’s country of residence. I consider this problem to be important and crucial in the struggle for freedom of the individual from the tyranny of the state…

“At present prominent participants in the movement for human rights in the USSR (Sergei Kovalyov, Semyon Gluzman, Anatoly Marchenko, Andrei Tverdokhlebov, Malva Landa, Mykola Rudenko, Oleksa Tikhy and many others) are in prison or exile. Gamsakhurdia, Gajauskas, Ginzburg, Kostava, Marinovich, Matusevich, Orlov, Pailodze, Petkus and Shcharansky are awaiting trial. The clergymen Vins and Romanyuk and many dozens of believers and the leader of the All-Russian Social-Christian Union for the Liberation of the People, Igor Ogurtsov, are in prison. Many who have tried to leave this country — the participants in the so-called Leningrad aeroplane case [CCE 20.1], Zosimov, Fedorenko and dozens of others — are in prison and psychiatric prisons, unjustly accused of betrayal of the motherland [Article 64].

“It is a matter of American honour to bring about the release of the Ukrainian artist Pyotr Ruban, condemned for preparing a commemorative gift (a wooden book with a portrayal of the Statue of Liberty) to be given to the American people in honour of the 200th Anniversary of Independence.”

Speaking of the decision by the Association of American Scholars and Engineers Working in the Field of Computer Technology to break off contacts with their colleagues in the USSR if Shcharansky is condemned, Sakharov states:

“I await similar steps regarding the unjustified refusals to permit Slepak, Meiman, Golfand and many others to emigrate. I consider steps such as the withdrawal of contacts to be justified in the struggle for each individual life and fate…”


Andrei Sakharov — “A Look at the Past Year” (14 December 1977)

“In 1977 one of the main trends of modern times continued: the antagonism between totalitarianism and the ideology of human rights.”

Sakharov enumerates the most important events of this process in 1977: the statement by  US President [Carter] proclaiming the defence of human rights throughout the world to be the moral basis of American policy; “Charter-77” [in Czechoslovakia]; open unofficial activities in Poland, East Germany and Rumania; the formation of Helsinki groups in the USSR; the change in the position of a number of the most important European Communist Parties on the issue of defending human rights; the stepping-up of repressive measures in the USSR and the countries of Eastern Europe; the Belgrade Conference; the political amnesty in Yugoslavia.


Andrei Sakharov — Interview with the magazine Grazia (31 January 1978)

Q. 3 — In the West many people, especially communists, ask what freedoms the Russian dissidents want: after all, they have no unemployment, there is free medical care, etc. What then is it they want? How can one explain what lack of freedom means in the USSR?

You have to live in our country, with a Soviet passport, on a Soviet wage, in Soviet flats, with the beggarly Soviet level of health care, education and pensions, with the extremely harsh ideological Party dictates from kindergarten to the end of one’s life, with the monolithic press, with censorship, without the right to strike, with the law on parasitism, in conditions of KGB shadowing, the lack of rights of the ordinary citizen before the bosses, and so on and so forth — then everything becomes clear. […]

Q. 5 — Under the USSR Constitution Soviet citizens enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of convictions, and so on. In what way are such freedoms actually annulled?

All economic, political and ideological power is concentrated in the hands of the Party, or, more precisely, of its leaders. The life of each person and his well-being — totally, in all its details and in what is most important — depends on his loyalty, even if only expressed in words. Instructions, orders, many laws, and traditions, formed over decades, of submission by ordinary citizens and of official power having no checks on it — all this constitutes the lack of freedom. […]

Q. 10 — Do you believe in socialism as a politico-economic teaching? Is socialism with a human face possible?

I am not a theoretician in the field of politics and economics, and it is not this that is the main, most clearly defined aspect of my books and pronouncements. I am against totalitarianism, against violation of human rights, against lack of freedom.

I see — and indeed everyone who cares to look with open eyes sees — that socialism of the Soviet type, the socialism that actually exists has everywhere where it has been able to develop its potential led inevitably to a party-state monopoly, and, equally inevitably, to crimes and lack of freedom. I am for pluralism of authority, for convergence, for a mixed economy, for ‘the human face of society’, and for me it is not all that important what it is called.

[Grazia, est. 1938, is an Italian woman’s weekly magazine owned by Mondadori]


Andrei Sakharov — “About the Belgrade Conference” (9 March 1978)

“Like many others I am concerned by the non-fulfilment of the Helsinki agreement by the USSR and other Eastern European countries in the part that deals with human rights. I was disillusioned by the lack of concrete analysis and even of a clear mention of these problems in the final document of the Belgrade Conference. It is precisely this part of the Helsinki agreement which is non-trivial in character and therefore especially important.

“Nonetheless I do not consider the Belgrade Conference a failure. For one thing, in the course of preparations for the conference a large quantity of reliable materials on violations of human rights in the USSR and countries of Eastern Europe was collected and systematized. Discussion of these materials in Belgrade and in the world press furthered an understanding of the situation with regard to human rights in the USSR and countries of Eastern Europe, despite the negative, obstructionist position taken by the delegates of these countries (and in part precisely thanks to this). It is very important that a further conference to monitor the Helsinki agreement [Madrid 1980] has been arranged …”


I.P. Sidorov — “To the Secretary-General of the CPSU Central Committee, Comrade L.I. Brezhnev”

In 1942 a group of workers and employees of several Moscow factories were allotted plots of land near Moscow for collective horticulture. … under unbelievably difficult conditions … people turned worthless bits of land into blossoming gardens which were repeatedly awarded diplomas.

The gardeners successfully planted more than 100,000 fruit trees and currant bushes.

Three years ago, the gardens and garden huts were flattened by the Balashikhin forestry commission. The administration of the gardening cooperative was not warned; the demolition of the gardens began at 3 am. At present tall weeds are growing on the site of the former gardens.

The gardeners, the majority of whom are invalids and veterans of the Fatherland War or members of the families of the fallen, have repeatedly appealed to various official bodies for the preservation of the garden plots, however:

  • All solutions to this question end with the letters being sent to the Moscow regional soviet and there finding their BURIAL.
  • Or a mass of bureaucratic formalized replies and improbable answers result, which have no relation to the truth…

Thus, in the Moscow Region Party committee a document was read to the gardeners. It had been  compiled by the heads of various organizations and indicated that there had never, supposedly,  been any gardens at all on our plots of land …

One representative of the commission — Semyonova — expressed herself thus: “How could there be any question of a warning? THE FLATTENING OF THE GARDENS WAS IN ITSELF THE SIGNAL FOR THEIR LIQUIDATION…”


It is IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND: where is there any respect, sensitivity or attentiveness to people who were born of the revolution and tempered in the dugouts of war and by the explosions of shells? WHERE IS THE STRICT OBSERVANCE OF THEIR LEGAL RIGHTS?…

Why have fair courts lost their function of defending the working class? Why do they do the bidding of the executive committees of town and regional soviets, defending their barbarous actions in destroying our native countryside and totally destroying property and buildings belonging to the working class by force of machinery and burning? WHO WILL REPLY?