The Case of the Podrabineks, December 1977 to February 1978 (48.7)

<<No 48 : 14 March 1978>>

On 1 December 1977, the brothers Alexander and Kirill Podrabinek (CCE 47) and their father Pinkhos Abramovich PODRABINEK were summoned for a “chat” by Yu.S. Belov, chief of a department at the Moscow City and Regional KGB. Alexander refused to appear.

“On behalf of the Committee for State Security” Belov told Kirill and P.A. Podrabinek  “I suggest that you and your families leave the Soviet Union and go abroad via Israel within 20 days. There is enough material against you, Kirill Pinkhosovich, to institute criminal proceedings. You, Pinkhos Abramovich, are also known to us for your anti-social activities. An act of humanity is being offered to you both. I advise you to make use of it.”

Alexander and Kirill Podrabinek

The same evening Alexander Podrabinek was arrested on the street and taken to the KGB. Belov presented him, too, with an ultimatum: all three must leave the country, otherwise criminal proceedings would be instituted against both brothers. Belov let it be understood that the absence of an invitation and difficulties with money would not be obstacles. Belov stressed that they could only leave all together.

HOSTAGE-TAKING

Many painful disputes have sprung up around the moral problems arising from KGB’s ultimatums and blackmail. The Chronicle cannot present the arguments but at least it can accurately convey the stance of participants in such events by reproducing all their statements in sufficient detail.

On 6 December, there was a press conference at Andrei Sakharov’s flat. Pinkhos Podrabinek read out a “Statement for the Belgrade Conference and the Press”:

“A distinctive feature of this case is the KGB’s use of the hostage system. Not one of us can determine his own fate independently, and a decision about the fate of three people has been placed by the KGB on Alexander Podrabinek alone, in whose departure the authorities are most of all interested.

“We categorically refuse to accept such conditions and insist on our right to make our choices independently…”

Then Alexander Podrabinek read his “Reply” to the KGB’s proposal:

“I would like to draw the attention of the world public to my brother’s painful position and to the dirty tactics of the KGB — tactics of intimidation and terror. The whole world condemns the hijacking of aeroplanes and the taking of passengers as hostages, yet the KGB is using the very same method with regard to my brother, a method commonly used by terrorists. In the situation that has arisen the most painful thing for me is my brother’s fate.

“At the KGB they insistently advised me to take advantage of this ‘humane act of the Soviet government’, as they expressed it. I regard this proposal as unconcealed blackmail by the KGB.

“They have given me four days to reflect. On 5 December I have to give my reply. A reply that means a great deal to me.

“This is my reply.

“I do not wish to go to prison. I value even the semblance of freedom which I possess now. I know that I would be able to live freely in the West and at last receive a real education. I know that there I would not have four agents at my heels, threatening to beat me up or push me under a train. Over there, I know, they will not put me in a concentration camp or a psychiatric hospital for attempting to defend people who are denied their rights and oppressed. Over there, I know, one breathes easily. While here one does so with difficulty, and they stop your mouth and stifle you if you speak too loudly. I know that our country is unhappy and doomed to suffering.

“And that is why I am staying.

“I do not want to go to prison, but neither do I fear a camp. I value my own freedom as I value my brother’s, but I am not bargaining for it. I will not give in to any blackmail. A clear conscience is dearer to me than material well-being. I was born in Russia. This is my country, and I must remain here, however hard it may be and however easy in the West. As far as I am able, I will go on defending those whose rights are being so brazenly trampled on in our country.

“That is my reply. I am staying.”

After this Alexander Podrabinek added that he would agree to leave only if Kirill were to ask him to do so.

*

On 7 December, Kirill Podrabinek made a statement:

KGB Blackmail

1. The KGB is using the hostage-taking method. They are basically blackmailing my brother Alexander, while I am the hostage.

2. The very formulation of the question: ‘leave or we will put you in prison’, is contrary to the law. If a man has committed a crime he must be prosecuted. However, in this case the KGB does not want to stage a new political trial but prefers to dispatch us abroad. The KGB has employed a well-calculated device — to exploit the insolubility of a situation with a hostage. All this blackmail is patently a consequence of the public stand taken by our family …

“If any one of the three of us is arrested and any charge whatsoever brought against him, it can only be viewed as an act of revenge by the KGB and not as a requirement of justice.”

On 12 December, Kirill Podrabinek informed Belov that he had decided to leave. Belov replied that Kirill could hand in his emigration documents, and on the same day Kirill did so. On 14 December Kirill Podrabinek made an addition to his previous statement:

“On 12 December, I telephoned investigator Belov at the KGB. Permission to go abroad has been granted; there was no mention of my only being able to leave only with my brother. Does this mean that the KGB has given up its hostage-taking and will really allow me to leave? In the very near future this will become clear … In view of all the circumstances, and fearing for my life” (see CCE 47) “I have taken the decision to leave.”

KIRILL PODRABINEK (b. 1952)

On 27 December, the police in Elektrostal (Moscow Region) brought charges against Kirill Podrabinek under Article 215 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (“Illegal possession of arms, ammunition” etc). Kirill refused to sign the record of this charge. Investigator Radygin obtained his written undertaking not to leave town but said he would not need Kirill before the middle of January and, if need be, he could go to Moscow.

When Kirill came out of the Elektrostal police station he was met at the door by Belov, who had arrived from Moscow. The condition of Kirill’s departure remained unchanged, Belov said, and gave him three days in which to persuade his brother to agree to leave.

From that day onwards, KGB employees began trailing Kirill Podrabinek. (His brother Alexander had been under a similar “escort” since 10 October 1977, see below). The same day 22 Muscovites issued a statement:

“Wishing to force Alexander Podrabinek to leave the country, the KGB is openly blackmailing him with his brother’s fate. A method of hostage-taking used thus far only by irresponsible criminal-terrorists is in the present case being adopted as a weapon by the official representatives of a powerful State. This blackmail clearly demonstrates the value of the charges brought against Kirill Podrabinek.

“We call upon our fellow countrymen and world public opinion to protest against the use of hostage-taking, unprecedented in the practice of civilized states. We call upon our fellow countrymen and world public opinion to follow attentively the fate of the Podrabinek family.”

On 28 December Kirill Podrabinek made a statement:

State Terrorism

“… The KGB has resorted to hostage-taking. My brother Alexander has made a statement for the press saying that he does not wish to leave, but he will leave if I so demand. In no circumstances will I make this demand of Alexander. In the first place, that would mean becoming a blind instrument of blackmail in the hands of the KGB, exploiting a situation created by them for my own sake. In the second place, it is impossible for me to even ask, let alone demand such a thing.

“However, I have resolved to pursue my chosen line of action and try to obtain permission to leave.”

On the evening of 29 December Kirill Podrabinek was arrested. On the day of his arrest, he declared a hunger strike. After a few days he was transferred from Elektrostal to Moscow, to the MVD’s detention centre on Matrosskaya Tishina Street.

*

The first response to Kirill’s arrest was a short article by Victor Nekipelov “The Christmas ‘Feat’ of the KGB”:

“… The arrest of Kirill Podrabinek is an act of deliberate, demonstrative revenge. The authorities know full well that they are thereby dealing the severest blow to both Alexander Podrabinek – Take that for not accepting our offer! – and to his father — While you didn’t steer your sons to a compromise!”

On 1 January, Yevgeny Nikolayev (in this issue, see “In the Psychiatric Hospitals”, CCE 48.12) sent a letter to the Procuracy of the RSFSR, protesting against the arrest of Kirill Podrabinek.

On 4 January, Alexander and Pinkhos Podrabinek asked Belov for a meeting with Kirill. Belov refused but promised to pass Kirill a note from them, “if there are no objections on the part of the investigator”. In the note Alexander and his father asked Kirill: “Do you agree to leave if there is no need to ask Alexander to do the same?”

On the same day, at 11.30 pm, Belov came to Elektrostal to see Pinkhos Podrabinek. He informed him that the investigator “had not allowed” the note to be passed to Kirill. If Alexander handed in his application to emigrate within three days, however, all three could leave the USSR. Otherwise, Alexander  would also be arrested. Belov suggested that P.A. Podrabinek go at once to Moscow and persuade Alexander to change his mind: he even gave Pinkhos Abramovich a lift back to Moscow in his car.

On 5 January in an open letter Alexander Podrabinek appealed to Amnesty International to speak out in Kirill’s defence.

On 9 January Alexander Podrabinek telephoned Belov [at the KGB]. When Belov asked if he intended to leave, Alexander replied that he could only decide this matter together with his brother.

On 15 January, the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR called upon “world public opinion” to speak out in defence of Kirill Podrabinek and condemn the policy of hostage-taking.

At the beginning of February, the Podrabineks were summoned to Elektrostal for interrogation in connection with Kirill’s case. Pinkhos Podrabinek replied to questions about Kirill but refused to sign a record of the interrogation. Alexander declined to answer questions, stating that the case was inspired by the KGB and was being conducted with violations of norms laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure.

ALEXANDER PODRABINEK (b. 1953)

From 10 October 1977, Alexander Podrabinek was under constant KGB surveillance. Round the clock he was pursued by two cars carrying seven or eight employees of the security services.

Whenever he was inside a building the cars stood in front of the doorway. Whenever he walked along the street or travelled in public transport there were always several agents at his side. They threatened Alexander’s acquaintances and took photographs of them. Sometimes they interfered more actively with the life of their charge: on Sunday 18 December the escort prohibited Alexander from going skiing with friends in the Orekhovo-Borisovo district [Moscow Region]. Podrabinek wrote about this incident to [KGB chairman] Andropov:

“… Since 10 October of this year I have been under the continuous and unconcealed observation of our glorious Chekists. Defending the State’s security, I understand, it is essential for the KGB to search my home, call me as a witness in the case of Yury Orlov, suggest that I leave the USSR, blackmail me, make an attempt on my brother’s life, and do much else to ensure that I do not, accidentally, undermine the foundations of the Soviet political and social system. All this I understand.

“I am not even particularly annoyed when one of the eight officers who perpetually watch over me swears he will break my legs or push me under a train. I understand the full difficulty of this highly complex, responsible and dangerous work and do not get angry with these heroic young people who, performing their civic duty, freeze on cold December nights outside the entrance to my house or squeeze after me onto a city bus in the rush-hour. I am enraptured by their daring, their persistence and their indifference to the cold …

“Citizen Andropov! On behalf of myself and six of my friends I beg you: Provide your employees with skis and toboggans and, please, teach them how to use them, if they do not know. Then I shall be able to enjoy my on Sundays and the KGB will be able to work normally and not violate the Soviet Constitution. This can only enhance the reputation of our valiant organs and promote their physical development.”

From January 1978, the constant “escort” was replaced from time to time by ‘ordinary’ shadowing.

The security services are trying by any means to prevent Alexander Podrabinek from continuing his activities on the Working Commission [to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes]. In particular, they are hampering him from meeting, in the flats of his Moscow friends, people who have been subjected to “psychiatric persecution” and their relatives. Podrabinek and his friend Dmitry Leontyev, in whose flat he was living, were fined for violating the city residence regulations. Podrabinek was forbidden to continue residing at the flat.

Alexander Podrabinek was warned that he was liable to be charged with “parasitism”. In February 1978, having given his shadow the slip, he managed to get a job as a medical orderly (he is a qualified paramedic).

*

The pre-trial investigation of Kirill Podrabinek’s case was completed in February.