Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 19:48:21
25 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Soviet Dissent: Genesis and Heirs

Author: David Edwards

Mar/Apr 2016
Page 46   ( 4 pages)

Summary: Half a century ago, the Soviet dissent movement began when two young writers were put on trial for publishing their works abroad and “slandering the state.” We consider how this relates to modern events.


Fifty years ago, on February 10, 1966, a four-day trial in Moscow brought a decisive end to the Soviet Union’s cultural Thaw. Yet it also initiated a generation of societal upheaval and spawned a dissident movement that would change everything. For a time, at least.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, two authors and friends, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, began separately sending their short stories abroad to be published. Sinyavsky wrote under the pseudonym Abram Tertz, Daniel under the name Nikolai Arzhak. Their stories were satirical, fantastical, and avowedly anti-Stalinist (in Daniel’s “This is Moscow Speaking,” a Public Murder Day is announced over the radio; Sinyavsky’s “The Trial Begins,” dealt with the Doctor’s Plot). While neither publishing abroad nor the use of pseudonyms was illegal, “slandering the Soviet state... with the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime” was. The authorities were serving notice that they no longer recognized the separation between authors and their literary characters, and henceforth the characters’ creators would be held criminally responsible.

“It became a clear watershed between Khrushchev’s Thaw and Brezhnev’s stagnation,” said Nina Khrushcheva, great granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, who had been ousted in 1964. “For the first time, writers were prosecuted for the views of their fictional characters, and that was a great shock to society, which saw it as an end to liberalization and an attempt to return to Stalinism, even though these attempts were not voiced until the late 1960s.”

To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.