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30 October 2007 – remembering Soviet and todays political prisoners
On 30 October 2007 – the Day of Soviet Political Prisoners – please stop for a moment or two.
There are many reasons. One is that in this seventieth anniversary of the Terror of 1937, we surely need a moments silent remembrance.
Anna Akhmatovas words “I would like to name them all …” have haunted more than one generation. We name our own relatives, the famous, the notorious … And yet there were millions, and here and now it would be unseemly to name just one or two.
Spare a moment then in memory of all the victims.
The Day of Soviet Political Prisoners was more however. It was first commemorated on 30 October 1974 by prisoners in the Soviet political labour camps. Hunger strikes were held in the Mordovan and Perm political labour camps, as well as in the Vladimir Prison. On the same day, a press conference was given in Andrei Sakharovs flat by the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR. News had been smuggled out of the camps about the planned actions to affirm the honour, dignity and rights of all political prisoners. From then on this day was marked by protest actions until the last Soviet political prisoners were released, not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A letter which Yevhen Sverstyuk, himself a former political prisoner, quotes, says it much better than we can:
“You deserve to be honoured for you stood up for our dignity, and in that you were successful.”
There were very many people, many unfortunately no longer with us, who sacrificed a great deal. As human beings they gained immeasurably and they gave us an example we are all too often cravenly loath to appreciate, let alone follow.
Once again it would be inappropriate to name some and not others. For all those then, our deepest respect.
There is one last reason. Here and now in 2007, the situation in Ukraine has thankfully improved, however in many of the former Soviet republics there are a number of political prisoners.
The pretexts and cosmetic appearances in some countries have changed, the bitter reality, however, has not. Mikhail Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov are just three of a greater number of political prisoners in Russia. In Belarus there are many more, some of whom like the opposition politician Alexander Kozulin are serving long sentences for their opposition to Lukashenkos dictatorship.
Here we are not reeling off a whole list because the number can seem overwhelming, whereas each individual needs our support, our clear and unrelenting protest.
In the 1970s and 1980s during the Days of Soviet Political Prisoners there were protest actions in many countries aimed at pushing the Soviet authorities to release both specific prisoners and all imprisoned for their convictions.
While any person remains imprisoned in the countries of the former Soviet Union, this day should be not merely a day of remembrance, but one of active protest.