SOVIET DISSENT: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights by Ludmilla Alexeyeva

SOVIET DISSENT: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights

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As a samizdat typist and organizer and founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, Alexeyeva has much first-hand experience of Soviet dissent. (She's now living in the US.) It's partly as a testimonial that she has pored through Western archives and samizdat collections, which are more complete than any in the USSR, to compile this guide to Soviet dissidence. Though a human-rights activist herself, Alexeyeva provides detail (names, events) on an astonishing number of other movements, from the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Georgian, and other national movements to the movements of such deported peoples as the Crimean Tartars and the Meshki (removed from an area near Turkey to the east in 1944, the same time as the Tartars). Other organized groups include those seeking emigration (the Jews and Volga Germans) and religious freedom (Pentecostalists, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists). Each chapter is a litany of protest and repression--mostly in the form of prison terms, though in some cases worse (e.g., the mysterious murders of Catholic activist priests in Lithuania). It sometimes seems as if the whole nation is in agitation, though Alexeyeva estimates the total number of people who have demonstrated their dissent to be only 500,000. (She also estimates, from unreliable surveys, that around 20 percent of Soviet citizens sympathize with the dissidents, about 20 percent are ""antidemocratic,"" and the rest are indifferent: the West, she thinks, should help convert the majority.) In her view, the national movements are doomed to failure except where they have linked up to the human-rights movement (which essentially agitates for adherence to the Soviet constitution), enabling them to broaden their support. The main problem is that the rights groups have been effectively destroyed within the last five years by the regime. Sakharov's harsh treatment is symbolic here of the broader repression--and contrasted with the fate of Solzhenitsyn, who represents for Alexeyeva the Russian nationalists she regards as no less authoritarian than the Soviets. The Kremlin, she says, can tolerate Solzhenitsyn's ilk, or social democrats like the Medvedevs, but the movement for human rights is a real threat. Alexeyeva's accounts are thorough enough to serve as a reference source, though the writing and translation are artless (the tsarist slogan ""Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality,"" is rendered here as ""orthodoxy, self-determination, and nationhood"") and some of the claims are questionable (such as the assertion that the Ukrainians are a ""national ethnic group,"" whatever that means: see Daniels, below). This will be useful, nonetheless, to students and scholars.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press--dist. by Harper & Row