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The Moscow Helsinki Group
30th Anniversary:
From the Secret Files
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 191
For more information contact:
Svetlana Savranskaya or Thomas Blanton
202/994-7000
Posted - May 12, 2006

Link

The Moscow Helsinki Watch Group

 

May 12, 2006 - Thirty years ago today, the physicist Yuri Orlov gathered a small group of human rights activists in the apartment of prominent Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in Moscow to establish what today is the oldest functioning human rights organization in Russia - the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group (MHG) - thus serving as an inspiration for a new wave of human rights activism in the Soviet Union and around the world.

In honor of that anniversary, the National Security Archive at George Washington University today posted on the Web a series of documents from the former Soviet Union related to the Moscow Helsinki Group, including the KGB's reports to the Central Committee of the Communist Party about the "anti-social elements" who started the group 30 years ago, and the various repressive measures the KGB took "to put an end to their hostile activities."

After its establishment in May 1976, the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group instantly became the focus of a KGB monitoring and harassment effort, as indicated in this memorandum from KGB chief Yuri Andropov. (English translation)

 

Among the founding members of the group were the first chair, Yuri Orlov, Elena Bonner (who became acting chair on Orlov's arrest), Pyotr Grigorenko, Alexandr Ginzburg, Anatoly Shcharansky, Anatoly Marchenko, and Lyudmila Alexeeva (Document 8). The group instantly became the focus of a KGB monitoring and harassment effort (Document 10). All the founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group were either arrested or sent into exile over the next several years.

But in the mid-1970s, during a low point of stagnation and political apathy in the Soviet Union, the Moscow Helsinki Group seized the inspiration of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act - which the Soviet government of Leonid Brezhnev saw as one of its major achievements - to highlight human rights violations in the Soviet Union and bring them to world attention by reporting on Soviet performance to the nations whose leaders signed the Final Act. The group appealed to other nations to start similar monitoring groups and thus gave impetus to the emergence of the international Helsinki movement. In June 1976, the group's appeal to Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-New Jersey) persuaded her to lead the creation of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which included six senators, six congressmembers, and representatives from the State, Defense, and Commerce Departments. Gradually, an international network of Helsinki monitoring groups emerged throughout Europe.

In the Soviet bloc, the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group was followed by the formation of Helsinki Groups in Lithuania (November 1976), Ukraine (November 1976), Georgia (January 1977), and the establishment of the Committee for Social Defense in Poland (summer 1977), and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia (January 1977). In the Soviet Union, other protest groups announced their formation at press conferences held by the MHG, such as the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, the Christian Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Religious Believers, and other associations. The MHG became the center of the new network of humanitarian protest in the USSR.

The Soviet Committee on State Security - the KGB - dealt harshly with the first wave of dissidents, which emerged in the Soviet Union around 1965 and reached its peak in 1968 with the emergence of the "Chronicle of Current Events," and protests against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. In 1967, the new head of the KGB (and later General Secretary of the Party) Yuri Andropov created a new division within the organization - the V or Fifth Directorate - charged specifically with monitoring the political opposition. The first two cases undertaken by the V Directorate were the cases of Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In turn, the directorate opened case files on virtually all Soviet dissidents.

The KGB used various methods to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the population, ranging from prison sentences, to psychiatric hospitals, to the "prophylactics," where a person could be called in for any questionable activity, and his file would remain "dormant" until the next slightest expression of dissent (Document 2). The regime kept careful count of anti-Soviet activities, and the KGB reported frequently to the Central Committee.

Most of the documents relating to the monitoring and persecution of dissidents during the Soviet era remain classified in the KGB archives in Russia. However, some of the reports sent to the Central Committee became available as part of extensive declassifications under President Yeltsin in the early 1990s. Most of the reports posted today by the National Security Archive come from the Volkogonov Collection, which the late General Volkogonov donated to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. These reports, documenting the regime's efforts to suppress dissent, are published here for the first time in Russian and in English translation.

The historical record shows that Brezhnev himself was deeply committed to the Helsinki process (known as the CSCE), but did not fully appreciate the possible consequences of the humanitarian provisions, or the Third Basket of the Final Act, for the development of protest movements in the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc (Document 1). The Soviet leader believed he had an understanding with the U.S. administration that the Final Act meant inviolability of the post-war borders in Europe and non-interference in internal affairs.

Early Soviet attempts to claim that the Soviet Union needed no further implementation of the human rights provisions of the Final Act and counterattacks directed at the West for their human rights practices did not bear fruit (Document 3). Beginning in 1977, the Carter administration made the issue of human rights a primary focus of its relations with the USSR, thus creating a constant source of concern for the Politburo (Document 12).

In 1975, the regime felt that the dissident problem was under control, and the KGB reported that the number of protests had decreased, mostly due to the success of the prophylactic work (Document 2). However, by the end of the year protests had picked up again, and the dissidents were using the Final Act as their main instrument to invite international pressure on the Soviet government. Politburo discussions of individual cases and the "anti-Soviet activities" in general illuminate the centrality of the issue to the security of the Soviet state itself, as pointed out by Andropov in his 1975 report to the Central Committee (Document 4).

Documents show that initially the KGB was cautious about suppressing the growing human rights movement out of concern for détente and the position of the Eurocommunist parties. The years 1975-1976 show unusually low figures of arrests and harassment of human rights activists. By 1977, however, as the regime started perceiving real danger from the human rights movement and diminishing payoffs from the disintegrating détente, the decision was made to crack down on the Helsinki groups and across the spectrum of dissent (Document 11). The number of arrests and the harshness of sentences increased significantly in 1979 and grew steadily to reach their peak in 1983.

Although the early 1980s became the worst years for the Soviet human rights movement, the ground prepared by the Helsinki groups became the fertile soil for Gorbachev's perestroika after 1985. Thus the story of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act and the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group becomes a story of unintended consequences for the Soviet regime, which links the events of the mid-1970s with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Today, the Moscow Helsinki Group continues its work in defense of human rights and basic freedoms and remains a focal point of humanitarian non-governmental organizations in Russia.


Documents
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Selection of Translated Documents (in English)
The complete list of Russian language documents is available below.

1. March 18, 1975. Leonid Brezhnev Speech to Leaders of Socialist Countries Regarding Economic Cooperation and Preparations for the European Conference

2. October 31, 1975. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU, "About Some Results of the Preventive-Prophylactic Work of the State Security Organs."

3. November 11, 1975. Memorandum of Georgy Kornienko Conversation with U.S. Attaché Jack Matlock.

4. December 29, 1975. Yuri Andropov Report to the CC CPSU.

5. January 3, 1976. Excerpt from Anatoly S. Chernayev's Diary.

6. March 13, 1976. Memo from Andropov to CC of CPSU, "On the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1975."

7. March 30, 1976. Excerpt from KGB annual report for 1975.

8. November 15, 1976. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU, "About the Hostile Actions of the So-called Group for Assistance of Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR."

9. December 6, 1976. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU, "About the Subversive Gathering of Anti-Social Elements in the Pushkin Square in Moscow and Near the Pushkin Monument in Leningrad."

10. January 5, 1977. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU, "On Measures for Stopping Hostile Activities of the So-called Group for Assistance of Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR."

11. January 20, 1977. Resolution of secretariat of CC of CPSU, "On Measures for Stopping Criminal Activities of Orlov, Ginsburg, Rudenko, and Ventslova"

12. February 18, 1977. Extract from CC CPSU Politburo Meeting ,"On Instructions to Soviet Ambassador in Washington, DC for Conversation with Vance on 'Human Rights' Issue."

13. March 1, 1977. Resolution of the CC CPSU on Draft Press Release in Connection with Reception of Bukovski by Jimmy Carter.

14. June 8, 1978. Extract from Minutes of CC CPSU Politburo Session on Sakharov

15. June 22, 1978. Extract from Minutes of CC CPSU Politburo Session on Scharansky.

16. June 25, 1980. Extract from Protocol 206 of the CC CPSU Politburo on Amnesty International

Complete List of Documents (in Russian)

1. October 23, 1970. CC CPSU Propaganda Department Report on Measures in Connection with Awarding Alexander Solzhenytsin the Nobel Prize.

2. May 6, 1971. Letter from Zamiatin to Brezhnev.

3. June 18, 1971. Memo from Yuri Andropov to CC CPSU on Bukovsky.

4. January 7, 1972. KGB Report to CC CPSU on Bukovsky Trial.

5. April 3, 1973. Extract from CC CPSU Secretariat Session on Publication of the Second Volume of History of the CPSU.

6. January 7, 1974. Extract from CC CPSU Politburo Meeting on Alexander Solzhenytsin.

7. March 18, 1975. Leonid Brezhnev Speech to Leaders of Socialist Countries Regarding Economic Cooperation and Preparations for the European Conference.

8. October 31, 1975. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU about Some Results of the Preventive-Prophylactic Work of the State Security Organs.

9. November 12, 1975. Memorandum of Georgy Kornienko Conversation with U.S. Attaché Jack Matlock.

10. December 18, 1975. Extract from Protocol 198 of CC CPSU Politburo Session about the Appeal to the FCP Leadership.

11. December 29, 1975.Yuri Andropov Report to the CC CPSU.

12. January 3, 1976. Excerpt from Anatoly S. Chernayev's Diary.

13. March 13, 1976. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1975.

14. March 30, 1976. KGB annual report for 1975.

15. September 13, 1976. KGB Memorandum to CC CPSU about the Subversive Idea of the West to Award the Nobel Prize to Ginzburg and Others.

16. October 25, 1976. Extract from CC CPSU Resolution about Instructions for Soviet Ambassadors in Some Countries in Connection with the Anti-Soviet Campaign in the West.

17. November 15, 1976. KGB Memorandum to CC CPSU about the Hostile Actions of the So-Called Group for Assistance of Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR.

18. December 6, 1976. KGB Memorandum to CC CPSU about the Subversive Gathering of Anti-Social Elements in the Pushkin Square in Moscow and Near the Pushkin Monument in Leningrad.

19. January 5, 1977. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on Measures for Stopping Hostile Activities of the So-Called Group for Assistance of Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR.

20. January 20, 1977. Resolution of secretariat of CC CPSU on Measures for Stopping Criminal Activities of Orlov, Ginsburg, Rudenko, and…

21. February 18, 1977. Extract from CC CPSU Politburo Meeting on instructions to Soviet Ambassador in Washington, DC for Conversation with Vance on "Human Rights" Issue.

22. February 18, 1977. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on Measures for Cutting Off Intelligence and Subversive Activities of the Special Services of the US among "Dissidents" and Nationalists.

23. February 28, 1977. KGB Annual Report for 1976.

24. March 1, 1977. Draft Press Release in Connection with Reception of Bukovski by Jimmy Carter.

25. March 2, 1977. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1976.

26. March 24, 1977. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on Further Measures to Discredit US Special Services Role in Anti-Soviet "Human Rights" Campaign.

27. March 29, 1977. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Reaction of the US Embassy in Moscow and Foreign Journalists to Soviet Measures toward "Dissidents."

28. May 19, 1977. Extract from Protocol 56 of CC CPSU Politburo Session about Instructions to Soviet Ambassadors in Connection with the Noise in the West on the Issue of Human Rights.

29. June 10, 1977. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on the Measures Against Anti-Soviet Activities of "Amnesty International."

30. February 9, 1978. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on Deprivation of Citizenship of P. G. Grigorenko.

31. February 27, 1978. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1977.

32. March 27, 1978. KGB annual report for 1977.

33. March 27, 1978. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of KGB Work against Terrorist Activities.

34. April 1978. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU about the Forthcoming Trials of Anti-Social Elements.

35. April 5, 1978. KGB Report to CC CPSU to the Question of the So-Called Independent Trade Union.

36. May 30, 1978. Resolution of Secretariat of CC CPSU on the Letter to CC of the Belgian Communist Party.

37. July 3, 1978. Resolution of the Secretariat of CC CPSU on Telegram to Soviet Ambassador in Norway.

38. March 6, 1979. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1978.

39. April 2, 1979. KGB annual report for 1978.

40. April 24, 1979. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on the Deprivation of Citizenship and the Eviction from the USSR of G. P. Vins, E. S. Kuznetsov, M. U. Dimschitsa, V. I. Moroza, and A. I. Ginsburg.

41. May 31, 1979. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on the Departure from the USSR of the Family Members of A. Ginsburg, and G. Vins.

42. July 30, 1979. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU about Hostile Activities of the Enemy in Connection with Olympics-1980.

43. January 3, 1980. Extract from Politburo Meeting of CC CPSU on Measures for Stopping the Hostile Activities of A. D. Sakharov.

44. January 31, 1980. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1979.

45. July 25, 1980. Extract from Protocol 206 of CC CPSU Politburo Session about Measures Regarding Organization Amnesty International.

46. March 31, 1981. Report on Work of the USSR Committee for State Security in 1980.

47. March 7, 1982. Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU on the Results of Search for Authors of Anti-Soviet Anonymous Documents in 1981.

48. April 10, 1982. Report on Work of the USSR Committee for State Security in 1981.

49. August 31, 1982. KGB Report to CC CPSU about Production by Sakharov of a New Anti-Soviet "Address" to the West and its Use by Americans for Purposes Hostile to the Soviet Union.

50. October 3, 1983. KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU about Measures for Perfecting the Prophylactic Work Conducted by the State Security Organs.

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