Staunton, October 22 – Four former Soviet political prisoners have resumed the publication of the Chronicle of Current Events, the information bulletin about violations of human rights and official persecutions that circulated in samizdat between 1968 and 1983. The new version is being distributed via the Internet.
The four are Viktor Davydov, Aleksey Manninkov, Kirill Podrabinek and Aleksandr Skobov. Davydov, who was confined to a Soviet psychiatric prison between 1979 and 1984 for his dissident activities, talked about the new undertaking with VOA Russian Service journalist Danila Galperovich.
Davydov said that the new Chronicle was, as it were, the realization of the Soviet-era anecdote in which Andropov tells Brezhnev that Lenin has disappeared from the mausoleum and has left a note saying “I’ve gone to Switzerland; it’s necessary to begin everything over from the beginning.”
Approximately the same logic, he suggested, was behind the decision to begin publishing anew the Chronicle. Indeed, the very same person who began it in 1968, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, suggested during her visit to Moscow two years ago that Russian human rights activists needed to take that step in the face of increasing repression.
Unfortunately, soon after she made this proposal, Gorbanevskaya died; and nothing much happened until this past summer when his group began publishing the new Chronicle on the Internet. Because they had all been involved with such things in the past, they “knew what to do.”
In Russia today, “the law simply does not work, and therefore the only remaining hope, the single algorithm which works just as was the case in the USSR are public campaigns.” And such campaigns are possible only if information is disseminated and if there is attention from the outside world. That is what the original Chronicle did and what the new one is doing.
Like its predecessor, the new Chronicle focuses on two things: violations of human rights inside the country and the resistance of civil society to these violations. Today, Davydov said, the publication understands under the word “country” the Russian Federation and Crimea even though “from the point of view of international law,” the latter isn’t part of Russia.
Also like its predecessor, the new Chronicle maintains a list of political prisoners. The most recent one includes 218 names. Only about a third of these are people who are being persecuted for participation in political activities. Nearly half are those, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, are on it because they are involved in religious life.
Both those categories were part of the lists maintained by the original Chronicle, but there are also new groups including foreigners seized abroad and brought into Russia where they are tried under Russian law, Davydov pointed out. He noted that half of those on the list are in isolation-investigation cells but others are under house arrest.
The activist continued that “a totalitarian system does not have any mechanisms which could change the behavior of the ruling group from the inside. Any attempts to do so are put down by repressive actions. [In Soviet times,] dissidents appealed to international human rights organizations and foreign governments and there was a result.”
“The very same methods need to be used again now,” Davydov said, because the mass media have kept most people from knowing what is really going on. “Those who know and understand can find a common language with people abroad and in this way change the situation.”
Given the globalized nature of the world, there is no possibility of isolating Russia today behind an iron curtain – North Korea is the exception that proves the rule, he suggested – and “therefore in principle we have already seen what was the case in the Soviet Union and we know precisely what will be occur again if the current political course of confrontation with the entire world continues.”
Davydov’s effort is important in and of itself; but it is also a reminder of something else. Many are talking about the ways in which Vladimir Putin is restoring authoritarian or even totalitarian aspects of the past, but few are discussing what that requires from an international community that does not want that trend to continue.
That discussion, which will necessarily focus not only on increased dissemination of information to the peoples of the Russian Federation via various channels but also on recreating institutions to engage in the increasingly difficult task of keeping track and analyzing what is going on in Putin’s empire.
The relaunching of the Chronicle of Current Events is a reminder that what we need to do next is to restore the well-forgotten old.