The Relief Fund for Political Prisoners (46.16)

<<No 46 : 15 August 1977>>

This fund was established by A.I. Solzhenitsyn in April 1974 out of the royalties from the Gulag Archipelago. At a press-conference on 2 February 1977, the day before his arrest, Alexander Ginzburg first gave details of his work as the fund’s representative in the USSR (see CCE 44.3).

After Ginzburg’s arrest, his successors as representatives of the fund were Tatyana Khodorovich, Malva Landa and Kronid Lyubarsky (CCE 44).

*

On 5 April T. Khodorovich and M. Landa sent a letter to A.I. Solzhenitsyn (CCE 45). On 25 May Solzhenitsyn replied:

“Thank you, my friends, for not leaving the Russian Social Fund an orphan for a single day, and for immediately taking charge of it after the arrest of Alexander Ginzburg!

“What you write is remarkably true — we have been so crushed, so humiliated, that even an act of charity seems like a brave step to a Soviet man, a step into the terrible unknown. However, it makes me all the more proud and joyful that more people are constantly emerging who have stepped over that borderline of fear. We have suffered mutilation, sores and wounds much deeper than merely political ones, and the healing of them does not lie along the paths of politics.

“May God protect you and all those who help and support you. May the memories of good be unable to close all roads to you.

“I am with you in spirit, and with all who arc oppressed, hunted or behind barbed wire in our country.”

On 15 June Khodorovich, Landa and Lyubarsky published the document “Aid to Political Prisoners in the USSR” (30 typewritten pages):

“The Fund helps people of any nationality who are oppressed for political reasons, whatever the formal charges:

—           those sentenced to terms in prisons and camps;

—           those sentenced to terms of exile;

—           those sent for compulsory ‘treatment’: the prisoners in ‘medical’ punitive institutions;

—           those arrested and under investigation;

—           those political prisoners who have just been released;

—           prisoners’ relatives travelling to visit them;

—           prisoners’ families with children, or in dire need.

“Not all prisoners are able to receive even the small amount of aid to which they are ‘entitled’. Many have lost all those dear to them during long years of isolation . . . Some have been renounced by their relatives after their arrest . . . Political prisoners whose relatives and friends live abroad may fail to receive parcels sent from there . . . Sometimes relatives are unable to send even the small amount of aid which prisoners are allowed to have — they don’t have enough money.

“Anyone — not only relatives — has the right to send money, parcels or packages to a prisoner.

“From the moment of his arrest, anyone under investigation and his family are in a very difficult situation … It is at this hard time that help from friends is really important — help rendered by the Fund.

“Many future political prisoners are already subjected to persecution before their arrest, by being dismissed from their jobs or being given only temporary, low-paid work. So the family lives in need for a long time and has no savings.

“Then, after the arrest of a family member, money is needed in addition to everything else in order to send parcels and to buy clothing (woollen underclothes, socks and so on) which they may be able to hand in for him . . . Money is needed to travel to the town where the person under investigation is imprisoned . . , Money is needed to pay for a lawyer, to travel round finding a lawyer.

“The arrested man needs money to use in ‘the prison shop’ (10 roubles a month). Anyone may send money to a special investigation prison.

“A man who has been imprisoned for years … is released, almost without money, almost without clothes or in prison overalls . . . Assistance in these first days and weeks after release, in the form of clothes, shoes, money, helps a man to begin a free life . . .

“Money sent to a camp or prison from outside is paid into the prisoner’s personal account. On his release this money is at his disposal.

“Travelling to visit a prisoner often involves very great expense . . . The fare for the journey often far exceeds the monthly income of the prisoner’s family. So such a journey, even for one visit a year, is extremely difficult, sometimes impossible without outside help.

“Often a journey for such a visit has to be made by taking time off from work ‘at one’s own expense’.

“The families of many political prisoners are in dire need of help, especially where there are small children. They don’t have enough to eat, enough money for clothes. The situation becomes catastrophic when — because one member of the family has been arrested — the other loses his job … The elderly parents of some political prisoners are badly provided for, especially pensioners on collective farms, who receive a very small pension.”

The document outlines the ‘specific obstacles’ to the Fund’s work — the persecution of persons who give and receive help, the difficulty of receiving information on those oppressed for political reasons, and the difficulties of keeping the Fund’s resources safe.

“Information collected bit by bit and with such difficulty is confiscated by the security forces and the procurator’s office. During searches, card indexes and lists of political prisoners, the addresses of their families, are confiscated. The addresses of released political prisoners, information on the health of those imprisoned and exiled are also confiscated . . .

“The Relief Fund is constantly under threat of being robbed by the KGB and the Procurator’s Office … . The Fund is subjected to a very close watch and pursuit …

“We have neither the ability nor the moral right to give a full account of how the Fund works, of incoming and outgoing sums of money, of the ways and means of passing on these resources to those they are meant for.

“At the present moment, the Fund knows of the following;

—           about 20 people now under investigation on political charges.

—           about 200 people in prisons and camps . …

—           about 60 people undergoing compulsory treatment in psychiatric hospitals of both ordinary and special type.

—           about 20 people in exile ,. .

—           about 20-30 political prisoners who have been released from imprisonment or exile in 1977,

—           over 50 families, with children, of people arrested for political reasons.

“All these figures must be made more accurate and must be supplemented. They have been reproduced literally from memory, as card indexes, lists and other materials have been confiscated in the searches carried out in recent months.

“Recently the Fund has been supplied only with money collected within the country. The document ends with the words:

“Over the last year and a half, since new laws were passed forbidding the transfer of money gifts through the Parcel Export Organization [Vneshposyltorg], financial support from abroad has essentially ceased.

“The Fund’s distributor, Alexander Ginzburg is in prison. Those who inherited the Fund: Malva Landa has been sentenced to exile; Kronid Lyubarsky is under surveillance, under threat of arrest (allegedly for breaking the surveillance regulations); Tatyana Khodorovich is threatened with arrest if she does not leave the USSR.

“However, we hope that the Founders of the Fund, with the help of Western public opinion, will find a way out of this desperate situation.”

*

On 22 June, the above document was handed over to foreign journalists at a press-conference.

On 23 June, the Fund’s representatives appealed to US President Carter, in an open letter, calling on him — and through him, on world public opinion — to obtain legal status for the Fund, according to the norms of international law.

“The Fund cannot survive underground . . . You must demand that an act of mercy shall not be made equal to criminally punishable plots,

“. . . Mr President! Never before have we appealed for help to the leader of another country, but we are forced to take this step, against the prompting of our own ethics. We appeal to you, because we consider it will after alt be easier to defend the Fund now than to re-create it later, and because we cannot defend it by our own strength alone. We need your support, for without it the iron curtain will descend again — and closed societies have already more than once brought immeasurable suffering both on their own peoples and on the whole world.”

On 7 June Tatyana Khodorovich issued a statement to the press:

“Yesterday, on 6 June, Malva Landa was sent into exile, almost to the very border of China . . , Yesterday, too, Kronid Lyubarsky was tried in Tarusa for alleged disobedience to the police. As a protest against this unjust charge, Lyubarsky went on hunger strike. He was sentenced to three days in the cooler. That is just the first step.

“Lyubarsky has been warned that if he does not obtain work, he will be tried again in two weeks, this time for ‘parasitism’. Lyubarsky cannot find work in Tarusa. He is forbidden to leave Tarusa. This means that a second representative of the Fund must face a camp (again!) or distant exile.

“I am left alone. Will it be for long? However, those who ‘decide’ our fates have no hope of destroying this work of mercy.

“There is a Higher Justice in this world!”

*

On 15 August K. Lyubarsky and T. Khodorovich published a list of political prisoners and exiles known to the Fund. The list and the accompanying appeal are published as an appendix to this issue (CCE 46.23).