In memory of Larissa Bogoraz who would have been 77 today


Larissa Iosifovna Bogoraz was born on 8 August 1929 in Kharkiv, where she spent her childhood and youth. Her parents were Party workers who had taken part in the Civil War. In 1936 Larissa’s father, Josif Aronovich Bogoraz was arrested for “Trotskyite activity”. In 1947 Larissa went to be with her family in exile, despite her mother’s opposition.

In 1950, after graduating from the Kharkiv University Languages and Literature Faculty and in the same year married Yuli DANIEL and moved to Moscow. 

When Yuli Daniel and Andrei SINYAVSKY were arrested in 1965 and charged with anti-Soviet activity in connection with their writing, Larissa Bogoraz and Sinyavsky’s wife, Maria Rozanova, actively worked to change the public attitude engendered by Soviet propaganda about the two writers.

The trial of Daniel and Sinyavsky prompted many to become engaged in systematic human rights work, one of them being Larissa

In 1966 – 1967 Bogoraz regularly travelled to the Mordovian political labour camps to visit her husband.  During these visits, she met the relatives of other political prisoners, for whom she made her flat in Moscow a kind of “transit point”.  Those political prisoners were themselves to come to Moscow to her home after serving their sentence. Many of the Ukrainian “Shestydesyatnyky” [Sixties activists] and their relatives were to pass through her flat. She was friendly with several Ukrainian prisoners of conscience and wrote to them in the camps (in Ukrainian, of course).  She was particularly close to Ivan Svitlychny and his wife, Leonida.  The two families had become friendly back in the 1950s when Yuli Daniel translated the works of Ukrainian poets into Russian. Bogoraz translated many documents of the Ukrainian Samizdat into Russian before smuggling them abroad. It was she who later was able to pass on information after a visit to Anatoly MARCHENKO in the camps about the secret hiding place holding the issues of “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”], prepared by Stepan KHMARA, Vitaly and Oles Shevchenko.  Bogoraz specially travelled to Lviv in order to pass the information on to Olena Antoniv.

In her appeals and public letters, Bogoraz for the first time confronted people with the issue of contemporary political prisoners. After one such appeal, a KGB officer, “in charge of” the Daniel family, stated: “You and I are on different sides of the barricades. However you were the first to open fire.”

Those years were to be a period of consolidation and coordination of many previously separate opposition groups, circles and simply groups of friends whose activity became to turn into the civic movement, later to be known as the human rights movement. Not to a small degree due to the camp contacts which Larissa made, this process swiftly moved beyond one social group – that of the Moscow liberal intelligentsia.

A turning point for the human rights movement was the appeal from Larissa Bogoraz and Pavel Litvinov «To the world community» (11 January 1968), protesting against flagrant violations of the law during the  trial of Alexander Ginzburg and others (the so-called «trial of four»).  For the first time a human rights document was directly aimed at public opinion; it was not even formally addressed to either Party bodies or the Soviet press.  After repeated broadcasts of this appeal by foreign radio stations, thousands of Soviet citizens learned that there were people in the USSR openly defending human rights. Dozens of people responded to the appeal, many expressing solidarity with its authors. Some of these people became active participants of the human rights movement.

Larissa Bogoraz was to sign many other human rights documents both then and in subsequent years.

In spite of the objections of a number of well-known human rights activists (basically saying that she, as “leader of the movement» should not risk her freedom), on 25 August 1968 Larissa Bogoraz was one of the seven people who came out onto Red Square to protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia (the crushing of the Prague Spring). She was arrested and sentenced under Articles 190-1 and 190-3 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR  to 4 years of exile. She served her sentence in East Siberia (the settlement of Chuna in the Irkutsk region), working in a wood-processing plant.

After returning to Moscow in 1972, Larissa did not take a direct part in the dissident organizations of the time (except for being on a Committee in support of Tatyana VELKANOVA from 1979-1980), however she continued to come out with public initiatives from time to time, either alone, or with others. She signed, for example, the “Moscow Appeal” protesting against the deportation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the USSR and demanding that  the  GULAG Archipelago and other material about the crimes of Stalin’s time be published. In her an open letter to KGB Head Yury Andropov she went even further and, stating that since she did not expect the KGB to open its archives voluntarily, she would be collecting historical data about Stalin’s repressions for herself. This idea was to become one of the impulses for the creation of the independent samizdat historical journal “Pamyat” (“Memory”, 1976-1984), in which Bogoraz was quietly, but very actively involved.

She occasionally published her articles in the foreign press. In 1976, for example, under the pseudonym “M. Tarusevich”, she published (together with her second husband, Anatoly MARCHENKO) an article  “Tretye dano” (“A third [option] is given”) in the journal “Kontinent”, on the issue of international détente. At the beginning of the 1980s a public discussion was evoked by her appeal to the British government to behave more humanely towards convicted Irish Republican Army terrorists.

She repeatedly addressed appeals to the Soviet government to declare a general amnesty for all political prisoners.  The campaign for this amnesty which she launched in October 1986 together with Sofia KALISTRATOVA, Mikhail GEFTER and Aleksandr Podrabinek, was her last and most successful «dissident» action, with the call for an amnesty being endorsed by a number of well-known Soviet cultural figures. In January 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev began releasing  political prisoners. Too late, however, for Anatoly Marchenko who died in December 1986 in the Chistopol prison.

Larissa Bogoraz continued her civic activities during the perestroika years and later. In autumn 1989 she joined the revived Moscow Helsinki Group and for some time was its co-chair. From 1993-1997 she was a member of the board of the Russian-American Project Group on Human Rights. From 1991-1996 she was in charge of an educational seminar on human rights for civic organizations in Russia and the CIS.

Larissa Bogoraz was the author of a number of articles and commentaries on the history and theory of the human rights movement. In later years she also worked on her memoirs and edited many texts for “Memorial”.

Larissa Bogoraz died on 6 April 2004 after a long illness.

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