Russia: A Bit of Fear

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A police wagon and a small truck drove up to the back door of a Moscow courthouse last week, avoiding the knot of students, the Western newsmen, and the two tearful wives who were waiting at the front. Into the vehicles were bundled Authors Daniel Sinyavsky, 40, and Yuli Daniel, 40, who were then whisked off to start serving terms of seven and five years, respectively, in forced-labor colonies. As expected, Sinyavsky and Daniel had been found guilty in a stacked trial of "maliciously slandering" Russia in their stories—some of which, oddly enough, concern writers serving terms in forced-labor camps.

The authors were sentenced to serve their term in a "rigorous-regime collective-labor colony." That probably meant one of the two Mordvinian camps in the upper Volga Basin, where they may see relatives three times a year, receive letters once a month, and be "paroled" only to a less severe camp. Since neither man is especially robust, long hours spent chopping trees and doing other heavy outdoor labor under sub-zero winter conditions could prove fatal. As far as Pravda, Tass and Izvestia were concerned, that would hardly be too harsh for what Tass described as "dirty foam brought up by the turbulent stream of life."

Trial and sentence together marked a victory for Kremlin advocates of a harder line toward the intelligentsia. Friends of Sinyavsky and Daniel were being grilled by the police for their part in circulating forbidden manuscripts, and Moscow danced with rumors that several other poets and critics had been arrested, including Essayist Aleksandr Yesenin-Volpin. Obviously, the KGB had successfully blocked the route through which "Abram Tertz" and "Nikolai Arzhak" smuggled their works to the West. But, while it may stay the outflow of underground literature, the latest Kremlin crackdown cannot permanently stop it.

In fact, whether it was in Moscow's best interests even to try was seriously debated throughout the Communist camp. The Communist newspapers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Britain, France, Austria and Italy all vigorously condemned the trial. Argued one of France's best-known poets, Central Committee Member Louis Aragon, 68: "To make opinion a crime is something more harmful to the future of socialism than the works of these two writers could ever have been. It leaves a bit of fear in our hearts that one may think this type of trial is inherent in the nature of Communism."