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Russia: Chronicling A Samizdat Legend

Natalya Gorbanevskaya (Dmitry Kuzmin) "Because of people like Natalya Gorbanevskaya," Joan Baez once said, "I am convinced that you and I are still alive and walking around on the face of the earth."

Natalya Gorbanevskaya was the dissident behind "The Chronicle Of Current Events," a samizdat publication that first appeared 40 years ago this week in the Soviet Union.

It was Gorbanevskaya who single-handedly produced its first few editions, before she was arrested in 1969 and spent more than two years in a Soviet psychiatric facility.

But her fellow dissidents continued the publication of "Chronicle" after her arrest. Following its 1968 debut, for 15 years and 65 issues the "Chronicle" documented the Soviet regime's persecution of its own people. Its mimeographed issues waged an uneven struggle against the daily million-copy editions of "Pravda," "Izvestia," and other Soviet propaganda organs.

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of Russia's liberal Yabloko party, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the "Chronicle" was a "feat of people who could not be forced to remain silent about injustice and about the crimes that were being committed in the Soviet Union.

"These people knowingly sealed their own fate. They knew that sooner or later they would be cruelly punished for this, whether by imprisonment or by exile. But even knowing this, not doubting it, they held the free movement of information, the reporting to the entire world of what was happening to people in the Soviet Union, more dearly than their own fates."

Gorbanevskaya was motivated by a United Nations declaration proclaiming 1968 the "Year of Human Rights," to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her cause was taken up in the West; Joan Baez wrote a song about her and talked up Gorbanevskaya's cause during concerts.

"The government of the USSR thought she was a very poor idea, and they put her in the old bughouse. She was pregnant at the time, she was very strong. She convinced herself she would be fine, she would have her child, she would go on speaking out. So every time she comes out of the loony bin she writes another poem and they put her back in," Baez once said.

Gorbanevskaya was allowed to emigrate in 1975 and today lives in Paris.

Dissident Magnet

The morally powerful dissident community of the Soviet Union coalesced around "The Chronicle Of Current Events," which continued producing several editions each year until 1983.

Dissidents including Anatoly Yakobson, Yury Shikhanovich, Pyotr Yakir, Viktor Krasin, Sergei Kovalyov, Aleksander Lavut, Tatyana Velikanova, and others worked on the "Chronicle" over the years. Most were persecuted severely for their activities.

The publication was intentionally laconic in style, trying to fill the huge void of essential factual information left by Soviet propaganda.

The first issue of the 'Chronicle'

Memorial activist Aleksandr Cherkasov has worked on the Russian human rights group's project to make the entire 6,000 pages of the "Chronicle" available online.

"There are almost no assessments there, just facts. And this composure, this outwardly serene perception of everything that happens, without hysterics, without emulating those who pressured this independent activity -- this was perhaps one of the most important features of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union," Cherkasov says. "Not to emulate the adversary, because otherwise you start resembling him."

Memorial held an event marking the 40th anniversary of the "Chronicle" at its Moscow office on April 30, attended by Gorbanevskaya and other figures connected to the publication.

Moscow Helsinki Group leader and noted human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told the crowd of some 200 people about the role "The Chronicle Of Current Events" played in her life.

"I have done a lot in the human rights movement," she said. "But I think perhaps the most important thing I did was that I typed out the first issue of the 'Chronicle.' It was an epoch-making thing."

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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