The Seven in Red Square

Actually, they were more than seven. Ten or twelve or twenty…

Four days after the Soviet-led ìnvasion of Czechoslovakia, on August 25, at noon, a small group of people (three women and five men, one of the women with a pram) in Red Square, in Moscow, unfolded their hand-made slogans, “Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia!”, “For your freedom and our freedom,” “Hands off CSSR!” (CSSR = Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.), “Freedom to Dubcek!” (the CSSR leader). It was a warm and sunny Sunday; the square was full of people; there was a long line to the Mausoleum. In a few minutes, those whose task was to do away with the demonstration, were running from the far corners of the square to the dissidents, to beat them, tear apart their slogans, drag the protesters to their black cars and take them to a police station.

They were detained for “violation of public order and obstructing traffic,” although, as any Russian child knows, there is no traffic in Red Square, and has never been since ages ago. Later, five were tried for “spreading information smearing the Soviet social order”.

Vadim Delone (or Delaunay), a student, a poet and essayist, the son of a famous mathematician (“Delaunay triangulation”) and (as a legend goes) a descendant of the last governor of the Bastille (whom the victorious crowd tore apart), was sentenced to three years. He died in France at 36.

Vladimir Dremlyuga, an electrician earlier kicked out of college, got three years but served six: three more were added after he managed to make a phone call from his Murmansk prison. Eventually, when threatened with another term, he “repudiated” his views, and was allowed to leave the country. When asked what anti-Soviet literature he had read, he replied, “The Three Musketeers by Dumas.” Indeed, he explained, D’Artagnan had no problem mounting his horse and riding to the Channel to board a ferry to England. He, Dremlyuga, would like to mount a bike and ride, say, to Poland. But he had been refused permission to travel to Czechoslovakia, a communist country, — refused five times. As far as I know, he became a successful real estate dealer in New Jersey. I read an interview with him about 15 years ago where he said something like, “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a millionaire, and I’ve managed it.”

Nataliya Gorbanevskaya, a poet, translator and journalist, was that woman with the pram (a two-month baby inside). A mother of two, she was released the same day but was later sent to a prison-type psychiatric institution. Those places were really hellish. She wrote a book about her experiences (see the FrontPage link). She lives in Paris and writes for Russian journals.

Victor Faynberg was employed as a metal worker but had graduated from a college. The KGB men knocked out his teeth that noon, and so authorities decided a man with knocked-out teeth would not look good in a court room. Instead, he was sent down to a psychiatric prison. Six years later, he left for the West and lives in France now. He is a human rights activist and has recently visited Chechnya.

Larisa Bogoraz, among the oldest in the group, was sentenced to four years of exile to a remote Siberian settlement (in the Irkutsk region). Since the 1960s, she has been a leading figure in the dissident and human rights movement; he husband, Anatoly Marchenko, died in prison in 1986. She lives in Moscow.

Konstantin Babitsky with his two college degrees (a technical one and one in linguistics), was a talented linguist but was not allowed to take professional employment after completing a 3-year exile for his part in the demonstration. When his fellow dissidents called him and voiced their doubts about the wisdom of the act, he told them, “You do as you want. I’m going alone.” His “last words” (according to Soviet/Russian criminal procedure, a defendant has the right for a “last word”, that is, to be the last one to address the court) were brief: “One’s home land is [like] one’s mother. One doesn’t get to choose it. But today, I am ashamed to be a citizen of the Soviet Union.” He died in Moscow in 1993. His son Andrei, a Radio Liberty correspondent, got in trouble with the FSB during the second Chechen war.

Pavel Litvinov, professor of physics, was a grandson of the Soviet foreign affairs commissar, Max Litvinov. He was sentenced to five years of exile, and left the country soon thereafter. He lives in the US.

Tatyana Bayeva, a student and a daughter of a prominent biologist, took part in the demonstration along with others but her older comrades insisted that she deny her involvement and claim she got there by accident. They let her go.

There were other dissidents in the square that day whose part was to be witnesses.

There were other protests against the invasion. The authorities wanted every citizen to voice their approval; at every factory, plant, reserch institute and college, people were forced to vote for resolutions endorsing the intervention. Not everybody did. Most people didn’t care anyway, but for those who cared, abstaining for the vote was the minimum for decency.

Days before the attack, when the better informed knew it was ineluctable, retired general Grigorenko, a war hero, sent Dubcek a letter suggesting a plan of defense against Soviet troops. He recommended that the Czechoslovaks take under control the main roads to the USSR, Poland, East Germany, and arrange for defense of their air bases.

Links. Archives of a mailing list maintained by a Russian scientist working in the USA. The text is in a mix of English and Russian, but if you have some knowledge of Russian, it should be quite illuminating.

What I remember of the demonstration” by Natalia Gorbanevskaya.

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