Nobody likes a troublemaker, but some countries show it more than others
Nobody likes a troublemaker, but some countries show it more than others
Gjoezel Amalrik, the wild girl from Kazan, a dissident Soviet artist married to the equally dissident writer Andrei Amalrik, reacted fast to her first taste of Western civilization. All those prostitutes displaying their wares in Amsterdam’s red light district—“It’s pure degradation for the female sex,” she said, dark eyes flashing, “and I could not believe my eyes when I saw that plane trailing an advertisement for Durex [a European alternative to Ramses] ... such things are private.”
That was in July last year, when the Amalriks emigrated to the Netherlands from Soviet Union after 15 years of terror, intimidation, prison and banishment. Just short of a year later, they have apparently adjusted mighty successfully to the way the West is run. Andrei charges 500 German marks (about $211) for an hour of his time, according to West German reporting colleagues, though he’s a bit less demanding of the impoverished British. Gjoezel has held an exhibition of her paintings which sold more on curiosity than artistic value.
The Amalriks have become, if you like, professional dissidents. Their defection and ordeal has a commercial value and they are selling it. They would argue, with some justification, that it is the only way to keep their heads above water until they have fully settled into a Western niche. But they and others like them are about to become the focal points of sharp controversy between West and East.
On June 15 the Helsinki review conference in Belgrade starts monitoring progress on the road to détente since the 35-nation agreement was signed in the Finnish capital last summer. Part of that agreement was a declaration on human rights, including the right to dissent; and the way dissenters are being treated in the Eastern bloc has been a sore subject with everyone from President Jimmy Carter downward in the West. Hackles rise when people there learn, as they did the other day, of the arrest of a leading Soviet Jewish dissident on espionage charges, which carry the threat of execution. But the Soviet Union argues that such as Anatoly Shcharansky, the man in question, are few in number and that anyway in publicizing “violations of rights” in Russia the West is merely seeking to distract attention from equally serious violations in its own territory involving the right to work, social maintenance and health protection.
The Russians also cite repression in Namibia and South Africa and they have a point. Apart from hundreds held in jail for offenses that have an underlying political grievance, there are, according to the Institute of Race Relations in Pretoria, at least 157 persons who are restricted in movement and activity as a result of political ac-
tions under the sweeping Internal Security Act. South America offers the examples of Chile and Argentina where, last March, writer Rodolfo Walsh was kidnapped by armed civilians after he had protested to the military junta about human rights infringements.
Because there is some justification on both sides, the infighting in Belgrade, which is likely to drag on for weeks (possibly with an artificially created crisis or two, the Yugoslav capital is hot at this time of year and delegates will want a summer break) may very well home in on the dissidents. Such people as the Amalriks—Andrei has been dropped like a hot brick by the European left, and has set some sort of record in getting himself removed from the doorsteps of the Western leaders—may be the objects of a Soviet diplomatic counter.
The biggest difficulty is defining what makes a dissident. Dr. Mikhail Shtern was thrown out of the Soviet Union in March because he refused to try to persuade his sons not to emigrate to Israel. Shtern and his family are Jewish, but he has been a loyal Communist Party member since 1941. Today, under the protection of Holland’s close-knit Jewish community, them-
selves the survivors of appalling wartime persecution, Shtern is recovering slowly from the effects of three years in Russian work camps. He is still a Communist. What he is not, he says, is a dissident. That’s what they all say.
The Czech language has no word for dissident. When a brave group of 300 launched their Charter 77 human rights petition in January this year, they tried to define it. Prague Radio said dissidents were “individuals from Socialist countries, especially from intellectual circles, who despite the fact that they remain in the country have crossed to the other side of the barrier,” and continued to berate them as “helpers of capitalism and imperialism” and “progressive people who are incredibly naïve.”
Those Czechoslovaks who signed Charter 77 have felt the full scourge of official disapproval. When Austria’s Chancellor Kreisky offered them asylum they feared the Czech authorities would seize the chance and throw them out, for that they did not want. Prague Radio had one thing right, the true dissident is the one who fights it out on the home front. Those who leave, or are forced to leave, are the front men in the West. But it is those who stay behind who are doing all the suffering and getting none of the perks. And these can be enormous: Alexander Solzhenitsyn reported an income of $320,000 and savings of $1.8 million to the Swiss tax authorities in 1974, the year he was expelled from the Soviet Union.
The Charter 77 protest cost the group’s spokesman, 69-year-old writer Jan Patocka. his life. After an interview with visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel, a major diplomatic incident which rocked Czechoslovakia, Patocka was picked up by security police and, weakened by lengthy, rigorous interrogation, died in hospital. Official cause of death, a heart attack. In May, Polish student Stanislaw Pyjas, 23, was found dead, badly beaten. Pyjas was a leading member of the Workers’ Defense Committee, formed by a group of intellectuals to aid people jailed in connection with last summer’s food price protests. The official cause of death was a fall downstairs while drunk. But Jan Ripski, a committee spokesman, said it was murder. So did Pyjas’ fellow students in Cracow, who silently marched to his grave with burning torches. Thousands of people came out to mourn on the streets, dancing a death ritual in masks and costumes. It was one of the few chances there have been since the food riots to gauge Polish rebelliousness.
There are dissidents, too, in Romania and Yugoslavia—and in East Germany which has arguably the toughest Communist regime in Europe. But locating them is like finding your way through a rabbit-run in the dark. Writers like Jureck Becker, Gerhard Wolf, Sarah Kirsch, Stephen Hermlin, Reiner Kunze and Volker Braun have been put through the mill. The one man who became really dangerous, singer and poet Wolf Biermann, was thrown out and denationalized last November, because his brand of purist Communism was a little too pure. Ironically, Biermann left West Germany 10 years ago bursting with ideals to help build what he saw as his Communist fatherland. It was a fatal mistake. Biermann got popular as a protest singer and a song he was not allowed to sing in the East was recorded in West Germany and trumpeted across the border by West German Radio and TV. So the East Germans threw him out and, hot on his heels, pop singer Nina Hagen, 23, who was bold enough to protest against his expulsion. Nina’s mother was Biermann’s exmistress. The next to go was writer Thomas Braasch, 31, son of former vice-minister of culture. He had blotted his copybook back in 1968 with a complaint against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact countries enjoy dumping their political problems on the other side of the political fence. Many, like Vladimir Bukovsky who suffered 11 horrific years in jails and psychiatric clinics in Russia and escaped death by a hairsbreadth, still want to go back. No one will ever know how many have died. Andris Andreiko, 33-year-old former checkers world champion, was murdered last year. He, his fellow Russian players have said in interviews, had reached the point where he refused to play the political combine game that ensured a particular Russian player the championship at the price of lesser stars fixing their games against him. Then there was Kirov Ballet star Yuri Soloviev who died in January, aged 36. Suicide, the authorities said. Murder, say his friends. He also had too many Western links.
But what to think of happy-go-lucky chess champion Viktor Korchnoi, second on the world list, who defected to the West last summer. He left his wife and son behind, saying he was sick of the sport and Soviet bureaucracy, and afraid that his journeys to the West would come to an abrupt end. Today he is completely Westernized, coach of the Dutch national chess team, and not in the least concerned with politics.
Can Korchnoi be called a dissident? So many have been lumped together under that one definition. The only real link between them is the desire to change something in the system under which they live, a system that has no room for those who diverge from the narrow road of orthodoxy as interpreted from state to state. But above all a dissident is an individual, not a
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