RED SQUARE AT NOON by Natalia Gorbanevskaya


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Students of the liberalization movement in the U.S.S.R. will be familiar with the case of the eight young intellectuals who sat down in Red Square to protest the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Gorbanevskaya, one of the eight, is a poet who was released owing to her small children. She has collected various eyewitness accounts of the demonstration, the interrogations and searches which followed, and the transcript of the trial which resulted in harsh sentences and, for Viktor Feinberg, incarceration in a prison mental hospital. The descriptions of the sit-down stress the role of the plainclothes secret police, who beat up the demonstrators, shouting anti-Semitic slogans. The crowd was unfriendly -- ""You've eaten our bread!"" ""My father died liberating the Czechs!"" -- but passive. Relatives and friends were kept out of the trial; the contrast between the elaborate formal guarantees of fair procedure and the foregone conclusion (reminiscent of some American political trials) is a telling one. Gorbanevskaya herself, shortly after she compiled this book in 1970, was sent to a prison mental hospital. She observes that at the time many sympathetic friends thought the eight were foolish to make such a futile gesture, but later changed their minds. The gesture was indeed futile; the participants knew it was futile -- and knew what would happen to them. Still, given the lack of alternative channels, it is hard to indict their conscientious objection no matter how impotently ""symbolic."" Among the other demonstrators were the wife of the persecuted writer Daniel, and Pavel Litvinov, grandson of Maxim. In a rather highflown introduction, Harrison Salisbury underlines the anti-intellectualism, anti-Semitism, and conformism of the Russian citizenry, used effectively against dissenters by the regime, as when the lumpen outside the court were bribed with drink to harass those sympathizing with the defendants. A significant addition to the growing literature on Russia's ""human rights"" insurgents and their suppression.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1972
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston