“We don’t like it when someone from outside teaches us how to live.” Thus spake Soviet spokesman Gennady Gerasimov in reaction to President Reagan’s emphasis on human rights this summer in Moscow. The Soviet leaders were displeased by Reagan’s decision to meet with dissidents during his free time away from the summit meetings with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, and they characterized the dissidents as “not the best representatives of Soviet society.” In this way they betrayed the old pre-glasnost view that human rights in the Soviet Union are entirely an internal affair. To be fully honest, Mr. Gerasimov should have added: “And we also don’t like it when someone from inside teaches us how to live.”
This incident recalled the example of Anatoly Marchenko, who struggled from within the Gulag system to teach the lesson that human rights are every human being’s affair. There was another reminder of Marchenko at the summit. Andrei Sakharov was present in Moscow to lend his support to Gorbachev’s program of glasnost, demokratizatsiya, and perestroika. Gorbachev, said Sakharov, deserved “a measure of trust in advance” for his program. But Sakharov himself was there in large measure because of Marchenko.
The Marchenko story held the headlines for a few days in December 1986 and then was swept away by the onrush of spectacular events. Obituaries and tributes appeared, but a full summary of the case was never made in our media. Yet the example of his lonely struggle endures. The Russians, of course, keep his memory alive. Both Soviet and emigre continue to speak of him, write about him, and argue about him, attesting to the fact that his life and death contain a moral force which cannot be forgotten, denied, or smoothed over.
Marchenko began his sixth term of imprisonment in 1981. The sentence: 10 years strict labor-camp regime and five years internal exile under Article 70 of the USSR Criminal Code (“Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda”). The evidence against him: a book published in the West under the title From Tarusa to Siberia, describing his 1975 arrest, trial, and prolonged hunger strike, and his 1980 letter protesting the exile of Andrei Sakharov to the city of Gorky.
Earlier he had supported the “Prague spring” of 1968 and warned the Czech government of a possible Soviet invasion. He was actually brought to trial on the day of the invasion he predicted. In 1969 he wrote a powerful account of his labor-camp experiences, My Testimony.
Marchenko was sent to a labor camp in Perm (“Perm 35”). In December 1983, he was punished for writing a letter to the USSR Procurator General, Aleksandr Rekunkov, complaining about camp conditions. As other prisoners watched, camp supervisors handcuffed him and beat his head against a concrete floor until he lost consciousness. After this, Marchenko lost for a time the senses of sight, smell, and taste. For the remaining three years of his life, he suffered head pains, dizziness, nausea, and audible hallucinations. He was permitted to see his wife, Larisa Bogoraz, in April 1984, but never again thereafter. There were later reports of beatings. Sometime in early 1986, he was transferred from Perm 35 to Chistopol Prison, 600 miles east of Moscow, which has the strictest regime in the Soviet penal system. Fearing for Marchenko’s life, Sakharov appealed directly to Gorbachev in February. In May, Marchenko again addressed Rekunkov, writing that the punitive use of. hunger, cold, beatings, and drugs had turned him into an “invalid.” All of his protests, he added, had been ignored by the prison administration, which was continuing “to beat me to death.”
Refusing to give in, Marchenko announced a hunger strike on August 4, demanding an end to the constant abuse of prisoners, an official inquiry into his 1983 beating, and permission to see his family. In a letter addressed to the Vienna Conference on the Observance of the Helsinki Accords, he gave examples of arbitrary punishments and criticized the Soviet government for considering the issue of human rights as “entirely an internal affair.” The situation was truly bad: One week later, Mark Morozov, 55, physicist and computer specialist held under Article 70, died in Chistopol Prison of a “heart attack.”
In September thousands of letters, telegrams, and petitions for Marchenko poured in to the Soviet authorities from Amnesty International’s 3,600 groups in 60 countries. On October 5, the newly freed Yury Orlov arrived in New York City from out of his Siberian exile and dedicated his first day of freedom to Marchenko. “This is Anatoly Marchenko day,” he told the cheering crowd.
But in Chistopol, the treatment of Marchenko worsened. On October 8 or 9, he was thrown into the “cooler,” deprived of heat, warm clothing, bed clothes, mattress, reading materials, letters, writing utensils. Such treatment was unspeakably brutal for a man who had endured over two months of fasting.
The world was presented a more generous picture of Soviet treatment at this time. Irina Ratushinskaya, serving a term under Article 70 for her poetry, suffering from high blood pressure, kidney trouble, and malnutrition, was released from the Women’s Political Zone of Mordovian Camp ZhKH-395/3-4 and permitted to fly to London for medical treatment. This happy news and the surge of goodwill that it unleashed were transmitted worldwide on television screens on the eve of the Reykjavik Summit.
At that summit, President Reagan handed General Secretary Gorbachev an appeal for the release of Soviet prisoners of conscience. Marchenko was the most pressing case on the long scroll.
More than a month later, on November 21, Larisa Bogoraz was contacted by the KGB and told to fill out exit visas for herself, Anatoly, and their 13-year-old son Pavel to emigrate to Israel. Receiving the impression that Anatoly had not agreed to this move, she asked for a meeting, but was put off. As to his health, she was told: “Marchenko is feeling wonderful.” Three days later she met again with the KGB and repeated her request to see Anatoly. Again she was promised an answer. But it never came, so she did not fill out the forms.
It is now believed that on November 25-26, officials from Moscow paid a visit to Marchenko in Chistopol prison. There are indications that he broke his fast on the latter day. Only one thing could cause Marchenko, a man of unbending principle, to call off the strike: the promise to meet his demands. It is therefore reasonable to believe that Marchenko was told that the problem of political prisoners in the Soviet Union would be resolved.
Nothing of this event reached the press at that time. Instead, reports of the offer to free Marchenko suggested that his case was settled, if only he would agree to leave. A postcard from him requesting a food package, dated November 28, was sent to Bogoraz, indicating that he was alive and preparing to recover. But on December 9, she received a curt telegram from Chistopol Prison: “Your husband Marchenko Anatoly Tikhonovich expired in the hospital. Promptly inform the possibility of your arrival. Akhmadeyev.” The message, she said later, struck her “straight in the heart.” She made ready at once to travel to Chistopol.
The next day was Human Rights Day. Soviet officials blocked off Pushkin Square and held a news conference in Moscow—a preview of the 1987 fake “peace demonstration.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Pyadyshev gave the cause of Marchenko’s death as “brain hemorrhage after a long illness.” At the same meeting Andrei Sakharov was characterized as a criminal and his exile justified as entirely legal.
In Vienna, at the conference to which Marchenko had appealed, the American delegation proposed a minute of silence to honor Marchenko. This was one minute too long for the Soviet side, which walked out in protest. When it returned, Yury Kashlev, Soviet Chief of Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs, accused American Ambassador Warren Zimmerman of trying to wreck the conference.
In Washington, President Reagan held a ceremony in the White House with Natan Shcharansky and Yury Orlov. Marchenko was recalled as “a martyr who died for the cause of human rights in the Soviet Union.” In Chistopol, Larisa Bogoraz came to the prison gates with her son and seven friends. She was granted but a single meeting with the prison physician, who gave the cause of Marchenko’s death as acute heart and lung failure due to dystrophy of the myocardia. This means, literally, an insufficiently nourished heart. This diagnosis was consistent with death caused by the hunger strike. The neuropathologist from the city hospital, however, made a diagnosis of “cerebral thrombosis,” which is more consistent with death as a result of beatings. Questioned about Marchenko’s condition prior to his death, the prison political director replied laconically: “He sometimes got up.” This remark told the real story about a man said to be “feeling wonderful.”
Bogoraz and the others were not permitted to visit the body. Nor was she permitted to transport it to Moscow for burial. It was held under guard by three agents of the secret police until the next morning, when a church service and funeral were allowed in Chistopol.
A bus was made available to the assembly, closely attended by a car of officials and plainclothes policemen. With difficulty the group of nine managed to wrest the plain pine coffin from the officials and carry it into the bus. At the Russian Orthodox Church, the casket was opened. Marchenko was very thin, with a partial beard and sunken cheeks. One report said purple bruises were visible on his body. For the service small icons were draped across his chest. Afterwards, the coffin was transported to a cemetery in the country. The burial was stark and bleak. Widow, son, and friends bore the plain pine box against a stiff wind to a pit opened in the frozen ground. They lowered it in a sheet and tossed in handfuls of earth as the officials stood by and watched. Flowers were strewn on the mound. Larisa placed a white pine cross at the head. With a ballpoint pen she inscribed the name and dates.
Returning to Moscow from the funeral, she wrote:
Anatoly Marchenko died in battle. . . . This battle began for him a quarter century ago, and never, not once, did he throw out the white flag of surrender. . . . I ask everyone—both near and far—not to forget: The “Marchenko Case” is not closed. A universal political amnesty, freedom for all political prisoners—for this sacred cause Anatoly gave his life. . . .
Outside the USSR, Marchenko’s death provoked a storm of articles, letters, protests. Clearly it was a liability to Soviet public relations. Something had to be done to squelch the story. A remarkably daring, yet effective ruse was found. It was to create a bigger, better story.
That story was the release of Andrei Sakharov from his exile in Gorky. On December 10, he had been officially denounced, but on December 15, a telephone was installed in his apartment. The next day the first caller was Mikhail Gorbachev, enjoining him to return “to patriotic work.” Sakharov responded: “I am feeling very sad due to the murder of my friend Anatoly Marchenko in a prison hospital.” Gorbachev elected not to debate the word “murder,” but replied politely that he had studied Sakharov’s February appeal and had freed some of the prisoners on the list. But others, he said, were “special kinds of people.” By this admission, Gorbachev revealed that thought had indeed been given to Marchenko, and thumbs turned down.
Sakharov’s triumphant return to Moscow gave glasnost a boost at the end of the year and, despite his own reminders, served to eclipse the case of Marchenko. We can now see that all responsible officials, from Gorbachev to the jailer in Chistopol, knew perfectly well about Marchenko and determined to punish him. Without question, he was singled out for “special” treatment.
Why Marchenko? What made him stand out? Isn’t it possible he was simply passed over for more famous dissidents? After all, Shcharansky had the unstinting support of Jewish communities in Israel and the United States, Ratushinskaya captured world attention with her sad beauty and persecuted poetry, and the ailing David Goldfarb was spoken for by Lenin’s old buddy, Armand Hammer. What made Marchenko special?
Marchenko was an iron man. He wouldn’t give an inch. When confronted with the fake legality and brute force of the Gulag system, he took the position of refusal to cooperate. “Why should I make it easy for them?” he wrote. The obvious answer, which all other zeks understood at once—”because they will take it out on your hide”—apparently failed to persuade him. When a guard said, “Get over there!” Marchenko would reply, “I refuse to cooperate.” When a state interrogator asked, “Answer the questions; why do you make things difficult for us?” Marchenko would answer: “You already have all the answers.” When the prison doctor ordered him to open his mouth, “You’ve got to eat sooner or later,” Marchenko clamped his jaw and turned down his head.
And so, since he wouldn’t budge, they pushed him and shoved him, beat him, worked him, starved him, froze him, confined him, isolated him, deprived him of letters and visits from his wife, ignored his protests, denied him proper medical care, force-fed him through the nose, kicked him, controlled his access to the toilet, cursed him, threatened him, tempted him with sweets, sent him into exile, spied on him, harassed him, searched his house, burned it down, beat him on the street, rearrested him, gave him a new term and began all over again, and again, six times. After more than 20 years of this, his iron constitution was broken: concussions, ear infections, deafness, blindness, meningitis, heart trouble, malnutrition, gastric inflammations, rotten teeth, chills, and fevers had taken their toll. All these he regarded as documentary proof, facts to be reported as testimony. This testimony, of course, would be labeled “anti-Soviet propaganda.” Thus Marchenko entered a vicious circle: they beat him, he wrote about it, they beat him for this, he wrote about it . . .
The only escape was a compromise. In 1974 they offered to send him to Israel as part of the Jewish emigration. Others readily accept such an offer, then travel to the country of their choice. Marchenko refused, although his wife is Jewish. First, because he himself was not Jewish, and second, because he regarded Jewish emigration as a means of inspiring envy and anti-Semitic feelings in other Soviet nationalities. Everyone should be free to emigrate, was his nonnegotiable position. For himself, he wanted a passport to the United States. Not granted. When friends tried to persuade him, “Why don’t you leave, Tolya?” his answer was typically childish and pure: “Why don’t they leave?”
Dina Kaminskaya, the lawyer who once defended Marchenko, recalled a meeting with him in 1968, during a brief period of freedom before his arrest in August. She saw a man with a pale face, a very reserved manner of speaking and an ailing body. Fearing for his life, she pleaded with his wife to persuade him to give it up. Bogoraz answered that “Tolya” had made up his mind and could not be turned from his cause. Kaminskaya then addressed Marchenko himself with the same plea. His calm answer, as she related in the New York Russian-language newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo, has stuck in her mind ever since: “It’s worth it. For this it’s not too much to sacrifice your life.”
This inspiring example burns the old-guardists in the Soviet Union. At the end of April last year, the newspaper Trud (“Labor”) published a violent attack on Marchenko’s memory by Yury Vasiliev. With old-style, pie-glasnost invective, Vasiliev villified Marchenko as a liar, falsifier, criminal, corrupter of youth, sluggard, fascist, traitor, and collaborator with foreign anti-Soviet organizations. He even dragged in Marchenko’s mother with a complaint that Tolya should have finished school. Vasiliev brazenly quoted materials not made available to Bogoraz at the same time that he impugned her veracity. This vulgar calumny provoked letters of protest from Soviet human rights activists which found their way into samizdat. One such letter was reproduced in the new magazine glasnost put out by Sergei Grigoryants, a former fellow-prisoner with Marchenko at Chistopol.
Marchenko sacrificed his life to one cause: real pravda. (The word means both “truth” and “justice.”) In today’s current phrases, this translates into real glasnost, real demokratizatsiya, real perestroika. We are grateful for the release of Soviet prisoners: Josif Begun, Mikhail Rivkin, Valery Senderov, Sergei Grigoryants, Yegor Volkov, and many others. Yet others take their place in prison. Natan Shcharansky reminds us that there are five million people in Gulag, plus six million tied to Gulag. The number of prisoners of conscience can only be estimated. Shcharansky estimates five to ten thousand confined on purely political charges. As of this writing, no general amnesty for prisoners sentenced under Article 70 or 190-1 has been effected, nor have these infamous articles been revoked. The individual amnesties come as acts of grace, not as a legal process of correction and recompense for imprisonments that were wrong.
The world looks with hope to the new developments in Soviet Russia. But we should not be satisfied with halfmeasures, half-truths, half-freedoms. Marchenko set the standard. He was a man not for a day and not for a year, but for a whole lifetime. In total physical ruin and total spiritual might he made the complete statement.