Short story 6-7-00
Short story of Alexander Bolonkin
(extracts from interviw)
I did an experiment. I spent a lot of time in the camp's library. I was supposed to to read books by Lenin, Marx, and other fathers of Communism. So, I started writing down some paragraphs from Lenin's letters to Krupskaya, his wife, and to his friend, Armand... Then I gave those letters to the camp censor as if they were my letters to my friends. I never added a word of my own; I kept them true to the original texts. None of those letters ever got through. They were confiscated as slanderous, anti-Soviet, cynical... Finally, they took me to psychiatrist convinced that only a mentally ill person could come up with letters like that.
I was born in Perm, near the Ural Mountains, in Russia on March 14, 1933. I was always a good student, an A student. After I graduated from high school with honors I went to study in the Professional Technical School of Aviation, This school now bears the name of Shvetsov, a famous designer of airplane engines. While at school I built airplane and helicopter models. I have a few national records in helicopter modeling, and built an airplane that beat a world record in radio controlled airplane models....
Upon graduation, I was sent to Kiev, to the Lab of Airplanes Design led by Antonov [a leading Soviet aircraft designer], I did my Graduate Thesis Project there (a hydro-air-plane with underwater wings). They liked my ideas, and after I completed my degree, they hired me.... I participated in the development of many new airplanes, from the AN-8 to the AN-225. Our lab was also among the first to implement an air-dynamic cylinder, for instance. Two years later I left Antonov's lab and attended the Post Graduate Program at the Moscow Institute of Aviation, Department of Dynam-ics of Flight and Airplane's Managing Systems. My scientific adviser, Ivan Vasilievich Ostoslavftky, was a famous scientist and the author of many published books and text books. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on "The Optimization of Trajectories for Multi-Stagestep Rockets." After I received my Ph.D., I worked with Glushko, a member of the Russian Academy of Science, in his Lab of Aviation Design. It was' the major Soviet Lab designing missiles... Although I liked my job, I wasn't satisfied with the practical nature of it. Soon I left Glyshko's Lab and began teaching, first at the Moscow Institute of Aviation and Technology and later at the Moscow Institute of Technology in 1970.
It was around the same time that I met some dissidents. It, happened accidentally... my wife and I were moving to a now apartment. One of the movers helping us to load and unload the truck, looked somehow different from his pals: he was too intelligent and didn't ask tor a tip. 1 was curious enough to ask who he was, he told me he was a former university student, expelled from the University for Ins interest in dissidents' literature. He gave me some. books to read. Later on, he came to me and asked if I could keep some of his literature, as his apartment was about to be searched by the KGB, He brought a. suitcase filled with all kinds of dissidents' literature and I read all of it in the two months it was stored in my apartment.
Soon after, I formed a group with other dissidents I invented a simple printing device that allowed our new dissidents' group to print and make multiple copies of all kinds of materials. It was a very simple and portable hand made device, easy to hide from KGB in the event of a search. WE made eight such devices... Just one of them allowed us to reproduce about 150,000 pages of printed texts, including texts by Sakharov, Robert Conquest, some underground magazines. Our group published its own underground magazine, called "Free Opinion". I wrote a number of articles for this publication, analyzing and comparing the quality of life in the Soviet Union and the Western Countries. We also printed other Soviet dissident, groups' publications, such as "Democrat", "Light of Freedom", "Veche (Parliament)".
We were printing flyers, too... About 3,500 flyers were printed in the period our group was active. In 1972 we made and distributed flyers on the issue of price increases. Prices were raised back in 1962, and at that time Communists claimed this action to be a temporary measure, saying that it wouldn't last more than two years. They promised that as soon as the situation in agriculture improved, the prices would go down... It didn't happen. The prices continued to rise in the following ten years. So, we printed and distributed thousands of flyers, telling people the truth.
Of course, our action was noticed by the authorities. The KGB grew alarmed: they confiscated hundreds find thousands of printed copies from people, instead of two-four typed pages as in the past. Galich, a political songwriter, wrote in one of his songs" /•" "Erica takes only four copies..." Erica was a type writer. Yakir, one of the dissidents, had shown our flyer to some foreign journalists in Moscow. Soon the mass media and newspapers in the West spread the news that flyers demanding social, political and economic reforms were being distributed in Soviet Union.
The Central Communist Party Committee gave au immediate order to the KGB: find and smash the culprits. Our flyers were distributed in June 1972, and we were arrested in September 1972. I believe Yakir betrayed us. The materials of his case prove it. He was arrested in July 1972, and he was an alcoholic by that time; he couldn't live a day without vodka... Well, of course you're not served vodka in jail. The KGB promised him tons of vodka if he agreed to cooperate. He started talkinand couldn't stop. Thousands of volumes of confessions... We were among the people he turned in to the KGB. So, in September everyone in our group were arrested. I was already under suspicion by then. I had given some literature to a relative in Leningrad, a book called "A Daughter of the Despot", about Stalin's daughter... He showed it to his wife, and she took it to her office.. Not Song after she realized that one of her coworkers had an uncle working in the KGB, Soon, my relative was called to the KGB for interrogation and he gave them my name. He didn't have to - his wife had burned the book by that time, nobody could prove any thing - but people were too scared.
My own transformation from a regular citizen to an active dissident wasn't that sudden. I had heard things before... My mother used to tell me. about the thirties, about the infamous black cars, "ravens", taking people away at. night... But I had no idea of the scope ... of events. We didn't have any information, So when ! started getting some critical information, I began to question things... Let's take a simple fact: I read that, our famous five-year economic plans were never really fulfilled. It was 1971, and the 1-965-1970 five year plan was just completed. Our officials praised its success everywhere, saying we accomplished and over accomplished, etc.
I took the newspapers from 1965, with the economic showings we expected to have by 1970, and compared them to the reports published in 1970 by the Central Bureau of Statistics. I was horrified with what I found: out of sixty-seven economic areas, we succeeded in three, and the least significant ones, like furniture sales, for instance. The plan was to sell furniture in the amount of 50 million rubles, and in fact 60 million rubies worth were sold But the only reason for that " accomplishment" was that furniture prices had risen significantly during those five years.
As for the other industries, the plan was fulfilled at a 10% level in some of them, on 20% in other, the average being 50%. So, half of what was planned was actually achieved. It wasn't just a he, it was a shameless lie, that dared to call a complete failure an "over-accomplishment". When I started to explore the subject, I found exactly the same situation with the previous five-year plans- I was surprised nobody had really noticed that. before - none of those wise old men sitting in academic institutions, making their economic analyses, summarizing and praising our achievements. How could they not see... well, of course they did. After that, I grew more and more interested in the materials of the past. party conferences, meetings, and so on. I looked at what was promised and what was in fact done. The gap between the two was tremendous. It was especially ridiculous, because not only were promises made, but exact deadlines given. All this was a sham. For instance, in 1960 the Communist Party Conference had adopted the program according to which pure communism was supposed to be built in Russia by 1980. According to this program we were supposed to achieve the economic level of the USA by 1970, then exceed that. level, and by 1980, live in a communist paradise. Of course, it was evident by 1971 that the program was a complete failure.
So, in September of 1972 I was arrested. I spent 15 years in concentration camps and in exile. The investigator on my case was Anatoly Trofimov, a simple KGB investigator at that time. He was promoted after our trial. Initially, I was given 4 years in camps plus two years in exile. But after I had served my term in exile, they fabricated another case, just to keep me there. They accused me of receiving excessive wages. I was working in a factory while serving my term in exile. So, they gave me another four years for that "crime". I told them, "If you paid me more, take the difference out of my salary. It's not my fault, it is the fault, of the person who does payroll." They told me, "It's you who we need to keep locked up, not him," It was a hut house. Earlier, during the trial, they used my notes quoting Party Conference's resolutions against me. They used the words like "anti-Soviet rubbish and lies". When I asked my investigator why did he call the Communist Parties' resolutions "anti-Soviet rubbish and lies," he replied: "Bolonkin, you're not stupid. Why did you have to dig into the old promises? We have conferences and new promises".
So, I spent nearly 15 years in camps... I was constantly harassed by the KGB officers on duty. They wanted to see my redemption. For three years I was held in the prison inside the camp. Conditions there were particularly hard... For 400 hundred days more than a year - I lived in a cold cell with frozen walls. I was kept. on water and bread for days. It was hard to survive all that: hunger and cold, constant tenor to be attacked by the inmates-criminals. But the psychological tortures were even harder. I wasn't, allowed any correspondence. They wouldn't send my letters out for six months. They confiscated the letters I wrote to my family, friends, calling them anti-Soviet...
I did an experiment. I spent a lot of times in the camp's library. I was supposed to read books by Lenin, Marx, and other fathers of Communism. So, I started writing down some paragraphs from Lenin's letters to Krupskaya, his wife, and to his friend, Armand... Then I gave those letters to the camp censor as if they were my letters to my friends, I never added a word of my own; I kept them true to the original texts. None of those letters ever got through. They were confiscated as slanderous, anti-Soviet, cynical... Finally, they tool': me to ]>sychiatrisfc convinced that only a mentally ill person could come up with letters like that. (Laughs).
I was released from the camp in 1987. I immediately applied for a visa. They turned me down. I wrote a very harsh letter to authorities saying: "Don't try to keep me here. I hate you, all of you, I'm your enemy forever..." It was a time when "perestroika" had begun.... They let me out.
At that time one could only leave Russia with an Israeli Visa. This was possible for me because my wife is Jewish. The authorities took away my Soviet citizenship, my and my wife's apartments, and we had to leave all our property behind. Not only did they take away our citizens' rights, they made us pay compensation 700 rubles ($1000) for each of us, 1400 rubles for both - a ten month salary for an average Soviet citizen at that time. The tickets to Vienna were also pretty expensive. So, basically they threw us out of the country without a penny...
[Until 1989 Vienna and Roma were the transit pointy for all emigrants. In Rome they had to decide whether to go to Israel or America as their final destination. After that, emigrants had to get visas for their particular destination before leaving the Soviet Union/Russia.]
After I came to the United States, I worked in the Courant Mathematical Institute at New York University for a while. Then, for two year's, I worked in the Central Research Laboratory of the Air Military Forces, the Brothers' Wright laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. I worked as a Senior Researcher in NASA (Dryden Flight Research Center, Edward, California) two years (1998-1999). I published about eight articles in scientific magazines, I participated in three World Congresses on astronautics (1992,1994,1996) and in two World Aviation Conventions (1998,1999), in some (9) national conferences on aviation and space ships. The work 1 did here, as well as in Russia, was important work, related to military secrets... I guess I was trusted... Presently I'm teaching at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Soon after I came here, my friends and I founded the International Associa-tion of Former Soviet Political Prisoners and Victims of Communism. We have about thirty thousand members presently. One of the things we demand from the Russian Government is to compensate former political prisoners. The dissidents who left: Russia up until the late eighties, unlike new refuges, were. giving up all then citizens' rights and property. We demand all this to be returned to them now. I don't see that any real democratic changes have taken place in Russia. The former Communists still have the power, only now they call themselves democrats. But they are the same people... The investigator on my case, for instance, Anatoly Trofimov, was recently granted a rank of General Colonel, which is the highest military rank in Russia followed only by Marshal. He's a Deputy Director of a new Russian KGB, which is called the FSB (the Federal Security Service)...
After "perestroika" came, I was officially rehabilitated by Soviet officials and cleared of all charges. But. when I wrote to Eltsin and asked to return to my family at, least one the apartments confiscated when we left Russia, I didn't receive any response. 1 think they should restore the rights of all dissidents, give us back apartments and pensions. I'm saying it not because 1 want to go back and live in Prussia. I would want to d;o and take. a. look and then decide where to live, I like America. But I want to have a right to return, I'm entitled to it. A new regime in Russia became possible due to the efforts of people like me, it was built on our blood. The least, they can do is to return to us our rights, to apologize for all that was done to us. And to invite us back. That would be fair- That's what I want - justice...
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