Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Issue 8. April 1976]
The Right to be
The Right to be
Peter Reddaway is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the London School of Economics.
He is an acknowledged authority on the Soviet Union with a special int?rest in dissenting groups and has edited at least five books on aspects of Russia, including a book on the unofficial human rights Moscow journal. The Cronicle
Whilst on a rather brief hectic lecture tour of New Zealand, he was interviewed for Salient by Leigh Thomson.
How did a organised human rights movement develop in the Soviet Union?
The real turning point was the decision by the Soviet leaders who replaced Mr Krushchev in 1964, to initiate a series of trials of dissenters in 1965-6.
That decision went against the general lines of Krushchev policy and led to a response from what became the human rights movement - dissenters, who felt they must stand up and resist this new repressive tendency by protesting publicly in a semi-organised way through the medium of Samizdat, which means self-published documents.
The dissenters asked for the right to freedoms of expression; to form free associations and freedom of religious conscience etc.
Why have the authorities allowed the continued publication of the "Chronicle" (the unofficial Moscow journal of the mainstream human rights movement)?
They have tried hard since it was founded eight years ago to suppress it by trying to track down its editors and network of correspondents in various cities, and its methods of smuggling documents out of forced labour camps and prison psychiatric hospitals. But it is very difficult for the Soviet Police to find out exactly who is editing it because the editors keep on changing.
If they were to effectively suppress it they would be in a dilemma because of the bad publicity a large number of arrests gives the Soviet regime in the outside world.
Is it true that the authorities fear a link-up between the "intelligentsia" and the working class?
I'm sure its true. Though at present the only dissenting groups that have broad working class support are national and religious groups. Of course, it is still a small minority of the whole Soviet population that is involved in the humanitarian movement. The working class at present is not organised.
What are the reasons for the working classes lack of organisation?
The methods of control of Soviet workers are extremely authoritarian. The official trade unions are used to control workers. Those who have tried to organise free trade union activity have been quickly arrested and sentenced.
The working class in Russia is a demoralised class because they have no rights effectively.
One of the big questions about the future of Soviet society is to what extent and when the working class will begin to imitate the tactics and methods of the many dissenting groups already in existence.
Then the lack of organisation the working class is a major obstacle to the chances of progress by the existing dissenting groups?
Yes, Virtually all other groups would have their positions greatly strengthened, even if the working class were only concerned with their own economic affairs.
You have talked about the clash of values between the authorities and the dissendents. Will the dissendents be allowed to express their values in a "freer manner" in the future?
I'm not optimistic about the present regime relaxing censorship laws, as they are basically on the defensive.
Development of Samizdat on a colossal scale could force the authorities to relax censorship laws, because from a police point of view is more dangerous to have proliferation of Samizdat on a huge scale where it all operates entirely outside the control of the secret police.
What do you think would be the consequences of political activism by groups?
The regime deals with them drastically. There was one group in Leningrad in the mid-1960's - the "All Russian Social Christian Union for the Liberation of People" - an underground group.
The regime discovered them after 3 years and gave the leaders 13 to 15 years of forced labour each. Such groups do not have a chance.
The tactics of more political dissenters are to try to spread general political ideas through the medium of Samizdat without forming a group. If a group is formed, it is more vulnerable to arrest.
There have been political statements from individuals such as the dissenting Marxist Roy Medvedev who has written a book.
These political activists then can play into the hands of the authorities who can accuse them of being disloyal to the state....
Could you outline the form persecution and discrimination of dissenting groups takes in the Soviet Union?
Firstly I will take the religious groups: some are outlawed, like the Catholie Church in the western Ukraine, others are able to worship in churches but are not allowed to publish material; no freedom to import religious literature from abroad, not even Bibles; you cannot be a person of any standing if you are a practising believer; a student with religious convictions will be expelled from his place of study.
If dissenters resist they are likely to be imprisoned - most get from 3-5 years in forced labour camps.
For national minorities the form is similar but sometimes is more severe. They are denied their right as is guaranteed by the Constitution to be a sovereign republic (e.g. Lithusania). Also suppression of their native language (e.g. Ukrainian).
Could you outline how psychiatric internship works?
Basically, if the authorities are faced with a political dissenter who is extremely vocal in his dissent they will bring him before a court and have him certified as being mentally ill and have him taken to a psychiatric hospital
A public trial would involve a vigorous defence by the particular dissenter and his friends present at the trial would create a political demonstration out of the trial which means bad publicity/or the regime
The authorities wish to avoid this happening.
So if a dissenter is ruled insane there is no trial. Just a brief formal court hearing at which the defendent is not allowed to be present - a simplified process.
The authorities try to get him to recant and state his dissent was a result of his mental illness.
It is made clear to him that if he does so he will be let out immediately.
It is a blatant abuse of psychriatry as a means of intimidation because there is no sentence given.
In the past a dissenter could be kept in a psychiatric hospital for up to 25 years but recently the periods have been reduced and now such a dissenter could be released after 12-15 years.
You have said that the response of the Western World to appeals by dissenting group is "pathetic", Why?
Fundamentally, the lack of information available concerning appeals and the lack of publicising them.
Such appeals as are sent to the United Nations are pidgon-hold because the UN has never criticised the Soviet Union's persecution
The UN Commission on Human Rights has been appealed to and did in fact investigate human rights in Chile; though the Soviet delegate vigorously opposed the decision to do so despite the fact that the Soviet government is strongly against the Chilean government, simply because the Soviets were frightened of their being created a precedent that the Commission might do something about humar rights, and that one day might turn their attention to the Soviet Union.
What can the West do to help the causes of dissenting groups within Soviet Russia, and elsewhere for that matter?
Publicise the position of individuals and groups to leaders in the West who are in a position to do something.
The West must also ensure the Soviet authorities are severely criticised for violation of constitutional rights.
It is important to support genuine organisations which try systematically to help minorities such as Amnesty International and writers and Scholars International.
Could I stress that I am also deeply concerned with discrimination and persecution in other parts of the world, especially the increased use of torture in some Latin American countries.
Why are some religious groups closely allied with national minority groups?
Mainly historical reasons. The churches are national churches, closely bound up with national traditions.
For example, in the western Ukraine, the Catholic Church (though outlawed) are identified with the national aims.
In your opinion why are the authorities frightened of the religious and other dissenting groups?
I believe it is the regime's feeling that the official ideology that permeates the Soviet system, is dead, though they still espouse it since they have to do so to maintain any kind of [unclear: regitmacy]. Therefore a vacuum exists - an ideological, moral and spiritual one. Thus, the dissenting groups may step into this vacuum and attract an increasing number of supporter?:.