January 25, 2022

Prisoners of conscience

Myroslav Marynovych, author of Deep Space Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Soviet UkrainianDissident, talks to the Institute for Human Sciences Timothy Snyder.

Timothy Snyder: When was the first time you got in trouble with the law? What was your first encounter with the police?

Together with Mykola Matusevich, my friend at that time, and Natalya Yakovenko, now a really famous historian in Ukraine, I laid flowers by the monolith in the morning. When we dispersed, I headed for Zhuliany airport for my flight back to Ivano-Frankivsk, where I lived at that time.

In the early 1970s you were a boy from Galicia spending quality time in Kyiv. What did you believe about the Soviet Union? Did you see a future for Ukraine?

Out of safety measure, we decided to take our passports with us in case we were brought in; and under no scenarios would we accept any invites for a drink. Policemen would approach us to say, Stop it, go home. Ordinary individuals welcomed us very cordially.

Timothy Snyder: This minute assists us comprehend how Soviet Ukraine operated. You are apprehended for laying flowers at the monument of the great Ukrainian poet, but at the same time there is a monolith of the excellent Ukrainian poet standing there. There is a degree of tension and fluidity in the type of Ukrainianness that is considered acceptable, and it is not made explicit– as you state, its more like a taboo.

Timothy Snyder: From your perspective, you were opposing something by singing or by looking carefully in someone elses face. In regards to political history, it was the start of the Brezhnev age, the intrusion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 being one of its signature moments, together with the concept of normalization– that we ought to accept the world as it is, without questioning it. The things that you were doing, though, were unpredictable, joyful and somehow outside of the realm of politics, or in and out of politics at the same time.

Myroslav Marynovych: My parents lived in Poland before the war, and for them Kyiv was a doomed golden dreamland beyond the Zbruch river, the border line to the Soviet Union. It had three significant aspects: attempting to keep up the spirit of persecuted patriots and their households; getting involved in Ukrainian cultural life and organizing our own occasions; and living a life of vibrant enjoyable.

All these memories show our spiritual and ideological opposition to Soviet reality.

In 1972, as you moved to Kyiv as a young male, the management of the Communist Party of Soviet Ukraine changed, setting off a period of Russification. Anybody who checked out Kyiv in the late Soviet duration idea of it as a provincial Russian speaking city. And yet your Kyiv was cheerful, colourful, and loaded with pals. Why was the city so essential to who you ended up being?

Myroslav Marynovych: The very first picture that pertains to my mind is of me having my ear glued to the enemy voices of Radio Liberty, Voice of America, the BBC and Deutsche Welle. It was rather effort to differentiate the voice of the announcer beyond the Soviet signal jamming. These programmes were forbidden in the Soviet Union; listening to them formed my important mindset from early on..

I went there to celebrate the date when the poet was reburied on Ukrainian soil. The government expected its loyal people to voluntarily and enthusiastically desert any rudimentary vestiges of nationalism– to utilize a parody of the Soviet vocabulary.

In the next image that comes to mind I am a young male in Lviv in September 1968, seeing Soviet tank departments as they returned from Czechoslovakia after squashing Pragues defiant love of freedom. In August, when 5 Soviet bloc armies inhabited Czechoslovakia, I had followed events as they unfolded, never taking my ear away from the radio receiver. My heart was on the side of the vanquished, and in my soul I calmly grieved Jan Palach, who had openly immolated himself in demonstration against the Soviet occupation.

2 young guys– let alone a bigger group of individuals– honestly speaking Ukrainian without any inhibitions was viewed as rebellion in itself. They tried to distance themselves from us because they were scared.

We partnered with Russian dissidents, but there was a clear difference in between the Moscow Helsinki Group and the different other national groups: Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Georgian, and Armenian. We were considered by our Russian counterparts as a bit contaminated by nationalistic needs, due to the fact that we combined our fight for human rights with pursuing sovereignity. Russian dissidents stood all exclusively for human rights in the sense of civic rights.

A motion for Ukrainian liberation had actually existed prior to us, revealing huge courage. For the average Soviet person, underground companies were not convincing. The unconcealed public presence and activities of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group were extremely substantial in this regard.

I didnt have anything to be afraid of. I understood really clearly that, by refusing to repent, I would have gotten the optimum term. I wound up being jailed in Perm-36, in a center out in the countryside, and remained in this concentration camp for 6 years.

Deep Space Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Soviet Ukrainian Dissident. Credit: Myroslav Marynovych by means of Rakuten Kobo.

Myroslav Marynovych: In contrast with all other members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, Mykola and I looked politically rather unsophisticated. I was focused more on political disobedience than on any deep engagement with the core issue of human rights.

I often pointed out specific unreasonable elements of the examination. For instance, my interrogator would constantly duplicate that they were putting me on trial not because of my beliefs however for what I was saying– that is, for my concrete actions. Obviously, the Soviet Union had actually plainly made a scientific discovery, managing to carry out a distinct lobotomy between idea and speech.

My important attitude to Kyivans later on altered following the 2004 Orange Revolution, and particularly since the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14, when they warmly supported protesters. It was very crucial for all of us who took part in the Maidan..

On 1 August 1975, at the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, Brezhnev signed the Final Act on behalf of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Helsinki Group took this task on and ended up being a litmus paper that exposed to the world that the Soviet Union continued to blatantly breach human rights. By disclosing to the western world many infractions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Accord, we could hold up the proof to show that the Soviet system was anti-democratic and that Brezhnevs signature on any such file was worthless.

When it comes to the human rights movement in the 70s and 80s, it was quite worried about realities: who suffered, what their name was, what they were sentenced for, what they actually did. These are the fundamental truths that constitute genuine history. In your memoirs, you often attempt to make certain that we remember everybodys name– somebody from the Caucasus, somebody from Estonia, someone who otherwise might be forgotten..

Timothy Snyder: The public character of what you and other Ukrainian Helsinki Group members did was about setting an example of public disobedience. It came at a rate: in signing up with the group, you understood that you would be arrested. What did you find out about yourself and about the Soviet system during interrogation?

Myroslav Marynovych: We were very disciplined in gathering information. This info later on formed the Chronicle of Current Events, the well-known publication on civil rights offenses.

The third force, a Ukrainian one, was the voice of Oksana Meshko. One night, Mykola Matusevich and I faced her in Kyiv. Oksana told us that the eminent dissident Mykola Rudenko was organizing a group that would defend human rights, and suggested that young individuals like us were required. She welcomed us to take part. As we parted methods with her, we both felt the very first murmurs of a new fate. I bear in mind that minute extremely plainly. On the one hand, we had no illusions. We both understood that we would undoubtedly wind up getting detained. On the other hand, we also understood that if we declined to join the group, we would never ever have the ability to forgive ourselves. I was 27 at that time; pride at that age is main. So I joined the human rights movement, and it was probably the most crucial day in my life.

Timothy Snyder: What you state tells us something very important about the political philosophy of the Brezhnev age. The Soviet system did not need followers at that point. It required people who were different from politics, from values; who wanted to keep peaceful, to conform.

Myroslav Marynovych: First of all, I gained from the interrogator that I had actually been provided the status of an exceptionally hazardous state criminal, which I discovered extremely funny and extremely paradoxical. Once I even commented on it, It seems that killers are ruled out as hazardous by the Soviet authorities as we dissidents are. My interrogator shook his head and replied, in all seriousness, Yes, murderers are not as hazardous as you because they dont contaminate others.

Image by Kharkivian (Сергій Петров), CC BY-SA 3.0, by means of Wikimedia Commons.

US President Jimmy Carter was the 2nd force that motivated me to use up the cause of human rights. He became an impressive spokesman at that time, the first statesman who brought the civil society battle into the world of worldwide relations. Certainly, he didnt handle to accomplish all his goals. However Carter can undeniably be credited with developing a culture of human rights. He became my hero, and his goal to secure human rights resonated with me. Several years later, in 1997, I had the opportunity to thank him personally throughout a short conference in the workplace of the Carter Center in Atlanta.

Timothy Snyder: When you joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, everybody else was older and more experienced than you. What did the group mean to you at the time? And how do you think of it now?.

The deceitfulness of the Soviet system throughout my years as a dissident had actually reached such monstrous percentages that it was no longer possible to tolerate it and maintain self-esteem. Therefore, at the start I saw our work not even a struggle for political ideals, but primarily as an effort to restore and keep our self-respect as humans. In my mind, the pain of Ukrainian nationwide humiliation and the suffering of totalitarian oppression were inseparable from the idea of human rights.

Timothy Snyder: Many think of human rights as abstract, cold and remote. Your experience of human rights is extremely concrete.

Timothy Snyder: For somebody who has no idea about what life in Perm-36 resembled, what facts would you begin with?

In your memoirs, for instance, it becomes clear after a while that you spent much of your term in a seclusion cell, although you never ever really state so. You insist that you and the individuals with whom you determined in the camp were free. What do you suggest by that?

Let me provide you a couple of examples. Yosef Mendelevich, a Jewish prisoner, estimated camp doctor Dr. Petrov in his memoirs: Im a member of the KGB, firstly, and just then a physician. Dr. Petrov was a short guy with a distinct sense of humour. When I developed gum disease after an appetite strike, he told me during an assessment with a laugh: All you need is some vitamins. Strawberries!. A clearly ironical proposition for a labour camps diet.

Timothy Snyder: This moment assists us comprehend how Soviet Ukraine operated. Myroslav Marynovych: My parents lived in Poland before the war, and for them Kyiv was a doomed golden dreamland beyond the Zbruch river, the border line to the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Helsinki Group took this task on and became a litmus paper that revealed to the world that the Soviet Union continued to blatantly breach human rights. By divulging to the western world many offenses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Accord, we could hold up the proof to show that the Soviet system was anti-democratic and that Brezhnevs signature on any such file was useless.

This is liberty for me, to follow my conscience.

Myroslav Marynovych: Struggle and punishment were inseparable components that permeated all aspects of camp life for each detainee. The administration was encouraged that our ideological argument with the Soviet status quo provided a sensible, feasible legal basis for constantly discovering new methods of penalizing us. We wanted to combat for our rights and the camp administration desired to maltreat us.

Timothy Snyder: You tell of your experience in the camp as a story of humbleness, however not a boring, over the top one. Its amusing, almost self-aware humility, comparable to that in the letters you wrote to your mom and your sis from the camp, where you had to discover indirect methods to speak about what was happening, often employing jokes.

Myroslav Marynovych: All human rights defenders who wound up as political detainees were classified by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience, which is the keyword to describe my mindset towards freedom. For me, liberty meant– and still implies– to follow the advice of my conscience. Freedom is not all-permissiveness, but the capability to adhere to my worths and not change my principles in the face of pressure. When I mention worths, I indicate the fundamental worths that remain in the DNA of human civilization: human self-respect, goodness, uniformity.

The administration was encouraged that our ideological difference with the Soviet status quo offered them a reasonable, viable legal basis for continuously discovering brand-new methods of penalizing us.