“Dissidents” by Gleb Morev

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♦  “Something worth devoting your life to” ♦

Dissidents (AST publishers), a book by Gleb Morev,  brings together his conversations and interviews with participants of the Soviet-era dissident movement. Vera Vasilieva attended the launch on 26 January at Memorial and recorded the contributions of those present.

journalist and author of Dissidents
“Dissident practices of nonviolent protest against the tyranny of the State are becoming increasingly relevant, and have been described in detail in classic memoirs by prominent participants in the human rights struggle in the Soviet Union: My Testimony, by Anatoly Marchenko; Notes of a Dissident, by Andrei Amalrik; You Only Come Across Rats in the Underground, by Pyotr Grigorenko; And the Wind Returns, by Vladimir Bukovsky; Dangerous Thoughts, by Yury Orlov; I’m Not Afraid of Evil, by Natan Sharansky; and Reminiscences, by Andrei Sakharov.
“Nonetheless, we think it is important to record as oral history the reminiscences of other active participants in the Soviet dissident movement.”

The book is the result of a two-year project by the website Colta.ru and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. […]

director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Russia, 1999-2015,  author of the foreword to Dissidents

“Memorial is a very important partner for us specifically when it comes to historical memory. For us, including people of my generation, ‘dissidence,’ on the one hand, is a very vivid word. On the other hand, it seems like a historical term. You know certain dry facts about the era. But what strikes me very strongly is that in this book the period becomes vivid once again. In this book, you come to understand something very powerful: dissidents have individual fates. These are people, very different people. They have very different motivations for fighting this criminal State.

One of the very strong aspects of this book is that the historical term [‘dissidence‘] becomes so vivid again. You really have to read this in order to know about these people’s lives. […] Irina Shcherbakova said that people come to the Memorial archive primarily for [materials about] the 1930s. I don’t find this surprising because the dissidents are about the 1930s, too. Without the 1930s there would be no dissidents. They are the next logical step. After a brief pause, after Stalin’s death, a small cell of the country woke up. They showed up on the trauma of the terror. Without that trauma, there wouldn’t have been this discussion, there wouldn’t have been these debates, and those debates wouldn’t have been as pointed, as personal, or as far-reaching as they were.

“The word ‘unprocessed’ has been used. I don’t like that word because it gives the impression that work of this kind can have some kind of end. That’s not true. Today again is not a very easy time, and it’s no accident that we are looking back at these times once again. In the 1990s and early 2000s, this kind of book would never have occurred to anyone.

“I think that something remains from that era even today. Something we can be guided by today, something that can help us even now in these far from easy times. The result of these debates was that these very different people were united, this is the language of law. At first, maybe more as tactics than strategy. But later it got deeper. This is the legacy that is now very often used in that mythic West without them even knowing where it comes from.”

historian and board member of international Memorial

Alexander Yulievich Daniel is a mathematician and historian and the son of Yuli Daniel and Larisa Bogoraz. In the 1970s and first half of the 1980s, he worked unofficially in the human rights movement as well as on problems of Soviet history: from 1973 to 1980, he worked for the Chronicle of Current Events; and from 1976 to 1981, he was on the editorial board of the uncensored historical anthology Memory, devoted to issues in Soviet history.

That is the description of Alexander Daniel in Gleb Morev’s Dissidents. Since 1989, he has been a member of the board of the Memorial society. Since 1990, an associate of the Memorial Research, Information and Education Centre (Moscow) and a member of its research council. From 1990 to 2009, he was the director of the Memorial research program on “The History of Dissent in the USSR from 1950 to the 1980s.” Since 2009, he has been an associate of the Memorial Research and Information Centre in St. Petersburg and has worked on “The GULAG Virtual Museum”.


“As to what Ira Shcherbakova said, I have literally two comments. With regard to the fact that we are the only place where an archive has been collected, that is not quite true. Yes, we have done a lot, but we aren’t the only ones. Of course, in the post-Soviet dimension our archive is the largest, that’s true.

“Here in the hall we’ve heard the comment: ‘Maybe the KGB archive is bigger?’ Yes, of course, lots of materials piled up in the KGB archive. Unfortunately, though, very few records and files were kept; they were destroyed in the late 1980s. Even if they weren’t destroyed, I’m not so sure it’s such valuable material. This is a view of the dissident movement that is totally specific, the police view. A view through a keyhole. I want to say that this is not a completely worthless source, but in my opinion it’s not the most important. Much more important are the texts to which the dissidents gave birth themselves. Those are what need to be collected above all, and, of course, as Ira said, ‘oral history’ is very important. Especially since in this instance, unlike earlier periods, all has not yet been lost. And what Gleb has done in this respect is simply marvelous. […]

“If we’re talking about the dissidents’ unclaimed experience in the political spectrum, then yes, I’m prepared to agree with this thesis, although Vyacheslav Igrunov is sitting right here. But dissident practices were digested, assimilated, and developed in the culture. We have Lev Rubinshtein right beside us. Who is he if not a dissident? The most natural dissident. Besides politics there are all kinds of other things where the dissident (yes, it’s incorrect to say ‘movement’) community left a definite and intelligible trace that is important for the present day as well.”

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Radio Svoboda 30 January 2017