Soviet Heroes

Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights

by Joshua Rubinstein
Beacon Press, 304 pp., $12.95

A Chronicle of Current Events

No. 54 Journal of the Human Rights Movement in the USSR
Amnesty International, distributed by Routledge and Kegan Paul, 171 pp., $4.50

The continuing interest in the West in the lives and fates of the Soviet dissidents who are engaged in a desperate and lonely struggle for elementary human rights shows that, even if at times precious little is done by the West to help these brave men and women, at least they are not forgotten. The latest account to appear, which in its lucid brevity and readable quality is probably also the best, is by Joshua Rubinstein, who is the New England coordinator of Amnesty International, USA.

The title of his book is, perhaps, misleading, since Mr. Rubinstein does not deal with the numerous and important dissidents within the national minorities, with the religious dissidents (who were the pioneers of the struggle), nor does he deal with the right-wing and nationalist Russian groups (which some Western scholars consider the most likely to have an impact in the future on the transformation of Soviet society). Mr. Rubinstein confines his account to the struggle for civil rights, but includes in his account the Jewish movement for emigration.

His narrative is historical—from the gradual awakening after Stalin’s death to the arrest and exiling of Dr. Sakharov and the pre-Madrid Conference drive against dissidents which is still in full progress at the time of writing (early October 1980). In addition to studying published sources, Mr. Rubinstein has interviewed over forty prominent activists in the democratic dissident movement who are now living outside the Soviet Union. His narrative is sympathetic, scholarly, and comprehensive, and can be recommended to all who want to get a fair picture of the development and tribulations of the movement, and of the experiences of some of its most prominent protagonists. It is, however, a pity that the author, although he provides a good bibliography, gives no indication of the sources of his often quite lengthy quotations.

Actually, like all who write on this subject, Mr. Rubinstein owes much, if not most, of his information to the remarkable Chronicle of Current Events. This triumph of courage and ingenuity which the KGB has not so far succeeded in suppressing except for one period of nearly two years, has appeared as a samizdat compilation since 1968, and since 1973 has been published in Russian by Khronika Press in New York. Since February 1971, from issue sixteen onward, the Chronicle has been produced in English translation by Amnesty International, and is a mine of information on a side of life in the Soviet Union which the authorities would like to pretend does not exist. It gives news of arrests, interrogations, and trials, of psychiatric hospitals where dissidents not put on trial are often detained, of life in the camps and in exile, of samizdat and of the persecution of believers.

The authenticity of the information has been repeatedly confirmed by an ever-increasing number of scholars who find that this material provides an illuminating picture of the behavior of Soviet officials and courts, and an exposure of the insecure and arbitrary basis on which …

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