“Law & Order”

“The CHRONICLE is in no sense an illegal publication, and the difficult conditions in which it is produced are created by the peculiar notions about law and freedom of information which, in the course of long years, have become established in certain Soviet organizations.”

As the samizdat periodical ended its first year of publication its editors noted the distorted attitudes to the law and human rights that determined how it was forced to operate (CCE 5.6).

Following the death of Stalin in 1953 the Soviet regime became less bloodthirsty towards it real (and imagined) opponents. It had entered a more “vegetarian” era as internal observers ironically noted. The authorities did not cease to be repressive and, as the CHRONICLE reported periodically, official attitudes to Stalin remained ambiguous (CCE 14.6).

To the last the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party retained an uncompromising and vindictive attitude to those who dared challenge its monopoly on power.

One line of confrontation was drawn up around the rights  enshrined in the ostensibly “liberal”  Stalin-era 1936 Constitution (in force until 1977). Dissidents demanded that the authorities “respect” their own Constitution. This challenge exposed the bad faith of those in power, for popular access to these basic legal texts was obstructed where possible. During a search in Gorky, for instance, not only an old address book, but also a copy of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure [1958] were confiscated (CCE 16.10, item 10).

The Soviet authorities continued to elaborate their arsenal of repressive measures. The law, the courts and the penitentiary system were only one part of the weapons at their disposal. Other forms of pressure and deterrence ranged from public harassment and persecution (see discussion in CCE 8.12), including “prophylactic chats” with the KGB and other law-enforcement agencies, to the notorious “Special Psychiatric Hospitals” (CCE 11.2).

Two laws, in particular, were constantly invoked to obstruct and punish those who attempted to exercise their right under Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a text reproduced on each and every cover of the CHRONICLE). In its appeal to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1969 (CCE 8.10) the Action Group for Human Rights in the USSR wrote:

“In our country people are tried in political trials on the charge of slandering the Soviet state and social system, either with intent (Article 70 of Russian Criminal Code) or without intent (Article 190 Russian Criminal Code) to undermine the Soviet system.”

And the Action Group’s appeal referred to an ominous new trend: “a particularly inhuman form of persecution; the placing of normal people in psychiatric hospitals for their political convictions.”

Soviet Laws …