The Trial of Buzinnikov, 28 July to 1 August 1978 (51.3)

<<No 51 : 1 December 1978>>

On 1 August the Gomel Regional Court, presided over by P. P. Tsirkunov, sentenced Ye. Buzinnikov under Article 186-1 of the Belorussian Criminal Code (= Article 190-1 of the Russian Code) to 3 years in strict-regime camps. The prosecutor at the trial was Procurator E.G. Maslakova; there was no defence counsel.


Yevgeny Ivanovich BUZINNIKOV (b. 1938) had received three prior sentences: in 1955 he received 1 year for “attempts to speculate in bay leaves”; in 1956, 3 years for attempting to cross the border; and in 1966, 12 years for “the stealing of State …property, effected through theft” and for an “attempt to murder police-officers” (police-officers without any search warrants called at his flat to “search for stolen goods” – when Buzinnikov began to protest the police-officers attacked him. In an attempt to defend himself Buzinnikov seized a hunter’s hatchet and drove them from the flat, wounding three of them in the process).

Buzinnikov was released from his most recent term of imprisonment in February 1975, as his sentence had been reduced to 9 years. After his release he lived in Svetlogorsk (Gomel Region), where he worked as a metalworker and fitter in a district construction organization and lived in a hostel. On 5 May 1978 Buzinnikov handed in his resignation, but it was suggested he should continue working for a further two weeks. On 18 May he was arrested.


Alter his arrest Buzinnikov was held in Gomel Investigation Prison ([penal] institution UZh-15/IS-3). The investigation of his case was conducted by A.N. Makarenko, a senior investigator of the Gomel Regional Procuracy. Buzinnikov refused to take part in the investigation. He did not sign the records of interrogations, and also refused to sign the record stating he had studied the case (although he had in fact looked through it).

Investigator Makarenko stated in his conversations with Buzinnikov that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Act were “not documents” for them, threatened him “You’ll be in prison for the rest of your life!” and called Sakharov a traitor.

Buzinnikov’s ‘case’ is made up of six volumes. The main materials in it are the following:

  • Economic Monologues by M. Rudenko, with a foreword by P. Grigorenko;
  • a letter to Sakharov (it did not reach the addressee – Department 1 of the Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences, to which the letter had been sent, handed it over to the KGB);
  • five letters to Nekipelov (they had not reached the addressee);
  • and sheets of paper which the investigators called “rough copies of letters” (in the indictment it was stated that these ‘rough copies’ were found by an unidentified person at the town rubbish dump and sent to the police).

The ‘case’ also contained replies by the Mogilev and Vladimir Regional Procuracies to requests of the Gomel Procuracy to question M. Kukobaka (essentially, this reply stated that Kukobaka was mentally ill and that questioning him was therefore pointless) and V. Nekipelov (Nekipelov is awaiting permission to leave the USSR; questioning him is therefore not advisable). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, confiscated from Buzinnikov, was attached to his case file.

In July Mikhail Kukobaka (CCE 47) appealed to the Gomel Regional Procuracy, requesting Buzinnikov’s release: “Otherwise it will be necessary to draw the attention of society at large to this case”.

The trial

The trial was held in Gomel. On 28 July Buzinnikov was taken from prison to the court. The head of the convoy warned him not to take it into his head to pass the indictment to anyone.

The courtroom was empty save for three unidentified people in plain clothes. Before the trial began a barrister came in together with several police-officers and asked Buzinnikov whether he wanted a defence lawyer. Buzinnikov replied that he did not. “A wise decision,” said the barrister. Buzinnikov then wrote a statement to the effect that he was dispensing with a defence lawyer and would conduct his own defence. The barrister submitted this statement to the court and the judge asked him to leave.

The substance of the charges is clear from the verdict:

The accused E.I. Buzinnikov, resident in Svetlogorsk, from March 1975 to May 1978 listened continually to the broadcasts of the foreign anti-Soviet radio-stations ‘Radio Liberty’, Voice of America’, the BBC and others, and then systematically disseminated orally among acquaintances at work and in his neighbourhood deliberate fabrications slandering the Soviet political and social system; he slandered Soviet reality and socialist democracy, praised the capitalist way of life, claimed that human rights were suppressed in the USSR and that there was no freedom for the individual, and he uttered insulting remarks about the Belorussian people.

He disseminated deliberate falsehoods slandering the Soviet social and political system in written and printed forms.

Thus, in December 1976, Buzinnikov wrote and sent a letter to A.D. Sakharov at his address at the branch of the Lebedev Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences; in this letter he slandered Soviet reality, alleging that arbitrary repression was practised in the USSR.

He wrote similar slanderous fabrications in an ‘Open Letter’, in letters addressed to ‘Sergei Mikhailovich’, ‘Volodya’ and ‘Pyotr Grigorevich’ [Grigorenko], the rough copies of which were discovered in December 1977 and anonymously sent to Svetlogorsk district OVD. In May 1978 he wrote a letter addressed to V.A. Nekipelov (sentenced under Article 190-1 of the Russian Criminal Code) which he gave to M.I. Kukobaka in Bobruisk, and in which he defamed Soviet reality.

In spring 1978 Buzinnikov disseminated the anti-Soviet document Economic Monologues by Rudenko and the foreword to it by P. Grigorenko, both of which contain malicious, slanderous fabrications about Soviet reality, the Soviet people and the activities of the CPSU and the Soviet government, and attempts to criticize Marxist-Leninist doctrine and the practical activities of the CPSU and the Soviet government, and to discredit the historical experience of the Soviet people in building communism. He took measures to duplicate the above-mentioned hostile documents by typing, photographing and copying them by hand, in order subsequently to disseminate them.

Thus, he personally copied out the text of the ‘Foreword’ by P. Grigorenko, and part of the text of Economic Monologues by M. Rudenko, into two notebooks. Buzinnikov gave a typed copy of these hostile documents to Yu.A. Chernoshei to type out in 11 copies; he gave N.A. Chernyaev P. Grigorenko’s ‘Foreword’ and part of the text of M. Rudenko’s Economic Monologues, copied into a notebook, for him to read, and also gave these anti-Soviet documents to V.N. Domoratsky for the same purpose. He tried to have Domoratsky duplicate them by re-typing and photographing them.

Testimony by Buzinnikov and witnesses

In his court evidence Buzinnikov explained that he had loved books ever since he was a child and that he had spent a lot of money on them. When one day he came on M. Rudenko’s Economic Monologues he naturally wanted to have his own personal copy. By doing so he did not and does not intend to criticize or repudiate Marxism; his sole aim was to understand the theory as deeply as possible, and this entailed making a comprehensive study of it, including, that is, from a critical angle. He was, therefore, interested in M. Rudenko’s book, and all the subsequent actions of which he now stood accused, and which he did not deny, boiled down to the obtaining of this personal copy.

With regard to the letters incriminating him, they contained no slander, and the investigation had produced no proof to the contrary. The testimonies of witnesses Z.S. Mankevich and G.S. Gumenchuk (aunts of the accused), saying that at the time of the [1962] events in Novocherkassk [note 1] described in these letters Buzinnikov was not in Novocherkassk, were not true; evidently, they were given because they were afraid that Buzinnikov would be brought to trial for taking part in those events. His letter about the Novocherkassk events was therefore an eye-witness account and not a second-hand one.

After this the questioning of witnesses began. There were 20 altogether, including Buzinnikov’s relatives, acquaintances and colleagues. In general, the witnesses began their testimony by saying that they knew nothing bad about Buzinnikov. At this point Procurator Maslakova would interrupt, and, referring to the records of the pre-trial investigation, would ask leading questions, as with the female witness N. M. Mironovich:

Procurator – How can you say that you know nothing bad about him? Did you not say during the investigation that he listened to foreign radio?

Mironovich – Yes, he did listen.

Procurator – And did he not tell you that there was going to be a revolution in our country?

Mironovich – Yes, Buzinnikov did say something to the effect that there would be some changes.

Procurator – There you are, he prophesied a revolution!

Witnesses Z.S. Mankevich, N.F. Anokhin (her husband), Buzinnikov’s colleagues V.P. Pukhalsky, A.V. Moiseyenko, V.E. Drinovsky, P.E. Kileyev, S.N. Kisel and M.Ya. Kazhdan testified that Buzinnikov listened to foreign-radio broadcasts, although they did not know exactly what he listened to (“something about human rights”). Not one of them indicated exactly what slander Buzinnikov orally disseminated.

Witness Z.S. Mankevich testified that Yevgeny Buzinnikov had visited Sakharov and written him letters.

Witness A.S. Mankevich (the accused’s uncle) testified that when he was a boy living in Novocherkassk with him, E. Buzinnikov used to collect cartridges in the forest and write slogans; true, exactly what sort of slogans, he did not know …

Witness G.V. Bratchenya, a colleague of Buzinnikov, spoke of his habit of listening to foreign radio and recalled that he told him about the pilot Belenko’s flight to Japan before it was published in the Soviet press. Bratchenya remarked that once when an argument arose in the workshop about the events on Damansky Island in 1969 [clashes with Chinese troops], in order to demonstrate how well acquainted he was with these events, Buzinnikov brought an old copy of Pravda containing a description of the armed actions on Damansky. “He gloated over it,” Procurator Maslakova interjected.

Bratchenya also related that one day Buzinnikov read out a line from a foreign newspaper and then translated it to show he could read English. The witness admitted that he could not remember what the article was about.

“He read out slander,” the Procurator concluded, although there was no basis for this remark.

Ten witnesses were questioned on the first day of the trial. Judge Tsirkunov also asked them leading questions. He also insistently interrogated Buzinnikov about the circumstances under which he became acquainted with Sakharov, what he wrote to him and what Sakharov replied. Buzinnikov refused to answer these questions and stated that this was not because his friendship with Sakharov was a matter of secrecy, but because it was his personal business and had no bearing on the case.

The trial recommenced on 31 July, when the remaining witnesses were questioned.

Witness M.P. Sidorenko testified that Buzinnikov asked him to gather information on violations of human rights.

Witness Yu.A. Chernoshei, a typist at the Svetlogorsk hospital, testified that Buzinnikov had asked her to type out M. Rudenko’s book Economic Monologues. After typing several pages, however, she showed her work to the chief doctor at the hospital and on his advice handed the typed pages over to the KGB (Buzinnikov had earlier taken the manuscript back from her).

Buzinnikov’s intention of having M. Rudenko’s book typed out was confirmed by witnesses V.I. Kozlov, N.L. Domoratskaya and S.G. Koval.

Witness V.N. Domoratsky testified that following Buzinnikov’s request he had intended to take photographs of M. Rudenko’s book Economic Monologues, but nothing had resulted. He also remarked that Buzinnikov had once shown him the text of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

“He advised studying gibberish,” Procurator Maslakova declared from her place.

Witness N.A. Chernyaev did not appear in court, apparently because he was serving in the army: the testimony he gave at the pre-trial investigation, probably the longest in the case materials, was read out in court. In it he related that Buzinnikov, with whom he shared a room, praised life abroad and asserted that human rights were being violated in the USSR. He also testified that Buzinnikov gave him a notebook to read in which part of M, Rudenko’s book Economic Monologues, and also P. Grigorenko’s foreword, had been copied out. On the same day, 7 April, after realizing the “politically dangerous character” of the foreword, he had made an oral statement to the KGB. According to Buzinnikov, Chernyaev stole the notebook from him. Buzinnikov supposes that Chernyaev was sent to live with him specially on a KGB assignment.

.After the questioning of witnesses Procurator Maslakova spoke. The essence of her prosecution speech was that the Soviet Union was the most democratic state in the world, yet here some people had been found who claimed that human rights were being violated, who collected slander and attempted to supply it to people who would use it to damage our state. The Procurator asserted that the foreign press printed nothing but slander about the USSR.

Neither during the court investigation nor the Procurator’s speech was proof given of one single example of ‘slander’ in Buzinnikov’s letters or spoken remarks. The main charge was the allegation that Buzinnikov had said and written that in the USSR human rights were violated. This was declared to be “a slander on Soviet reality”.

The Procurator requested that the accused be sentenced to 3 years of strict-regime camps.

Speech for the defence

In his defence speech Buzinnikov said he could fully understand the situation of those who were sentenced in 1937, as he was experiencing it himself today. To sentence a person purely because he had written or read a book or thought differently from the way someone would have him think, was akin to medieval barbarism. Buzinnikov said that it was senseless to sentence him for the desire to own M. Rudenko’s book, even if the book took a critical stance and the Procurator did not like it.

Every book consisted, first and foremost, of someone’s thoughts, and it was these thoughts which made up human reasoning. If someone’s thoughts or books were false, then life itself would throw them out, and they would not find ground where they could develop. One could not force people to think at someone else’s bidding, for these people would then live not by their own thoughts, but by repeating those of other people. Social development would then come to a halt.

“In my opinion,” said Buzinnikov, “the most terrible thing is when people stop thinking. Here, for in-stance, we have heard the witnesses — none of them bad sorts — give evidence and yet at the same time for many of them life’s basic meaning consists in pooling money together for a bottle of vodka after work.” “I was at witness Bratchenya’s flat once,” said Buzinnikov. “He has a bookcase, but no books. When I asked why this was, since he had children at school and would surely need books for them at least, he replied that for them their textbooks were enough. Docs the strength of society reside in people like this?”

In conclusion Buzinnikov said that there was and could be no corpus delicti in his actions, and that he should, therefore, be acquitted.

On 1 August, the third day of the trial, Buzinnikov was granted a final word. He took the latest issue of Izvestiya from his pocket and read out an announcement of the anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Agreement. Buzinnikov said that it was an ironic twist of fate that this was the very day a trial was being held which ran counter to the Helsinki Agreement, and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on which it was founded. He affirmed that he did not consider himself guilty and regarded the trial of his case as a gross violation of the Helsinki Agreement.

Sentence and Appeal

After a short break, the verdict was read out: 3 years in strict-regime camps.

On 25 August, after reviewing Buzinnikov’s appeal, the Supreme Court of the Belorussian SSR left the sentence unchanged.

In October Buzinnikov arrived at a camp with this address: 623960, Sverdlovsk Region, Tavdinsky district, Azanka village, [penal] institution 299/2-1-4. He was assigned to a section sawing boards for packing-cases.


On 6 October Viktor Nekipelov, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, wrote an appeal to the employees of the West German chemical concern Farben Industrie IG and to Amnesty International, urging them to take up Buzinnikov’s defence. In particular, he writes:

“… I made the acquaintance of Yevgeny Buzinnikov in January 1978, although I have never actually met him. Somehow or other he obtained my address and wrote me a number of letters. He told me about his unusual and grim fate, about his childhood as an orphan during the war… and his expulsion from school at the age of 16 — for his ‘harmful ideology’…

“Five of his letters to me — never arrived …

“Yevgeny Buzinnikov lived in Novocherkassk at the time of the famous events of 1962, the shooting down of a people’s demonstration. His life’s desire became to relate this bloody tragedy and add some sort of personal account to the already well-known facts.

“One or two of the letters which disappeared on their way to me contained such an account…”



[1] The 1962 Novocherkassk events are described in a footnote to the 1979 English edition as “Anti-regime riots of 1962, suppressed by troops. Several hundred people were reportedly killed.”

A more recent assessment (2016) of this Khrushchev-era event refers to a “protest by hundreds of workers over price rises and food shortages in Novocherkassk in early June 1962” which was dispersed by soldiers firing into the crowd, “wounding dozens and killing 24 (the official death toll)”.