Saturday, November 06, 2004

I'm reading Vasyl Stus book again - skipping the poetry, skimming through his letters and other documents. What they did to him and others like him is beyond words. Those who can forgive and vote for Communists and Socialists and thugs like Yanukovych have the right to do so - but I'm not one of them. Actually, to consider forgiveness, one first has to condemn - and I doubt many of these people have ever bothered to.

I wanted to write about Stus and others like him last month, but kept getting interrupted. Also, I couldn't find it in me to focus on so much pain for too long.

I decided to write about Brezhnev's atrocities after reading about Yuri Galanskov in that first Pushcart Prize volume (1976) that I ran into back in August. Yury Galanskov was a dissident poet who died in a Mordovian labor camp in 1972, at the age of 33 - I've never heard of him before, nor has anyone I know.

The Pushcart Prize book has the Amnesty International translation of the samizdat materials on Galanskov (pp. 22-29): a timeline, an obituary by "political prisoners of the Ural and Mordovian camps," a letter of condolence to Galanskov's family signed by two dozen people, and a statement by two political prisoners addressed to "USSR Prosecutor-General." Not much. But no matter how little these seven pages reveal about Galanskov, it hurts to think about him - because to think about him is to think about the rest of them, collectively and one by one.

Yuri Galanskov, Vasyl Stus, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Sergei Parajanov, Mustafa Jemilev, Pyotr Grigorenko, Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Vysotsky - there were thousands other innocent people who, thirty years after Stalin's death, lost their lives/health/freedom/dignity. And before them - there were millions. It doesn't just hurt to think about them. It fills me with hatred. I hate collectively and sometimes one by one, although the latter is harder to accomplish: obscurity is the perpetrators' blessing. (For the victims, obscurity is nothing but obscurity.) Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, Lidiya Chukovskaya, Yuri Dombrovsky. They are all my personal reason for never losing this hatred, never forgiving.

I wanted to start that entry with a quote from a middle-aged cab driver I met in Moscow, in Sept. 2001, a pathetic quote: "Life was so much simpler in the times of Brezhnev." I also wanted to mention that the glue holding the Pushcart Prize book together was 28 years old and, as I was typing my entry, several pages began to detach: either I was the first reader of the paperback, or the previous owner was a very neat person. I wanted to supply links for each name I mentioned - but that proved to be too much work. I wanted to translate some of the samizdat writings - but there's just too much of it, all quoteworthy, and I don't like translating, and I know that it's all been translated a long time ago and any decent university library in the States has much of it on its shelves.

Right now, I wanted to pick and translate something from Vasyl Stus - but there's too much of it, too... Here's one quote, from his first trial in 1972:

"I'm asking to provide a scientific definition of the term 'anti-Soviet,'" I demanded in court. But the judge just smiled and didn't say a word. What could he say?

And here's another one, from a prison notebook Stus kept while serving his second sentence, from 1980 to his death in 1985:

I've been following the events in Poland since I was still in Kyiv. Long live the freedom volunteers! Their, the Poles', refusal to submit to the Soviet despotism is comforting, and their public protests are impressive: workers, intelligentsia, students - everyone but the military and the police. If it continues like this, soon the flames would jump onto the military as well. What are the Brezhnev-Jaruzelski types gonna do then? In the totalitarian world, there is no other nation that is defending its human and national rights so faithfully. Poland is giving Ukraine an example (psychologically, we, Ukrainians, are close, and maybe even the closest, to the Polish character, though we lack what's most important - a sacred patriotism, which consolidates the Polish people). What a pity that Ukraine is not ready yet to learn from the Polish teacher.

Finally, here's an excerpt from the Pushcart Prize book, on Galanskov's life and death:

Beginning in 1959 he took part in readings by young poets in Mayakovsky Square. His poems were published in the typescript anthology Sintaksis, edited by A. Ginzburg. He was very active in writing on public affairs (expressing a humanistic, social-legal, and pacifist trend) and in 1966 published the anthology Phoenix-66.

On 19 January 1967 Yury Galanskov was arrested. At the trial which ensued, in January 1968, he was sentenced to 7 years in strict regime camps (A. Ginzburg, A. Dobrovolsky, and V. Lashkova were convicted at the same trial [...]).

Since the summer of 1968 Galanskov had been serving his sentence in camp 17a of the Mordovian complex. He actively participated in actions of political prisoners for their rights, and took part in hunger strikes.

The serious case of ulcers which had troubled Galanskov even before his arrest made his life in camp enormously more difficult. Medical care was given him only irregularly and was ineffective.

Galanskov's relatives and friends and also his camp-mates appealed repeatedly to the authorities, asking that he be given adequate medical care. In particular, they asked that he be put on a special diet and be given a complete examination at the central hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Leningrad. These requests were not granted.

In the autumn of 1972, because of his worsening health, Galanskov was sent as a matter of routine to Dubrovlag hospital compound in the settlement of Barashevo. After an operation he developed peritonitis. As his condition became increasingly critical, the camp administration began to call in physicians, first from the district hospital, then from Saransk, and finally, apparently from Moscow. But it was too late.

And a fragment of the statement of political prisoners V. K. Pavlenkov and G.V. Gavrilov to Prosecutor-General R. A. Rudenko, from the same Pushcart Prize selection:

In March of this year a statement was sent to you, signed by seven political prisoners of corrective labour colony 385/17. We, now located in colony 389/35, were among the signatories. The statement protested against the anti-humanitarian conditions established in corrective-labour establishments of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, which transform healthy people into sick ones and can bring the sick to premature death. We protested against the poor and low-grade food, against the lack of special diets for sick prisoners to meet their nutritional requirements, against the prohibition on receiving the needed quantity of food and medicines from home (especially in the case of the sick). We protested against the fact that, for all practical purposes, the legal provision for the early release of seriously-ill prisoners is not applied. We wrote that as a result of this, and in the absense of appropriate medical care, several people who had been sentenced only to a specific term of imprisonment were in fact condemned to gradual death. In the first place we related all the above to our fellow prisoner, Yu. T. Galanskov, who was seriously ill and who was slowly expiring before our eyes. Despite his illness he was receiving neither the necessary diet, nor qualified medical care, nor was he excused from work. He frequently did not sleep for several nights in a row because of his terrible pain [...]. The colony's administration deprived him of the chance to buy food products in the canteen with his pittance of five rubles per month, and also to receive the single food parcel allowed him each year by law; and by its humiliating and provocative actions it forced him into hunger strikes. [...]

We do not think that you personally, or any of the individuals invested with full power and responsibility for the maintenance of prisoners in the USSR, deliberately wished the death of Yu. T. Galanskov or of any other prisoner. But the conditions of prisoners' confinement in our country today are such that they produce physical suffering and premature deaths.

For the fact that conditions of precisely this sort have become established, you are personally responsible. [...]

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