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In November 1983, several Canadian delegates to the Vienna Dialogues (see December TPC report) were the guests of the Soviet Peace Committee in Moscow for a few days before and after the sessions in Vienna. During our stay, we learned about many of the constructive peace efforts of .the Committee. They sponsor immense demonstrations across the country, as well as organising such innovations as East-West exchanges of children’s art.
Some of us also paid two visits to the organisers of the grassroots independent peace movement, the Group to Establish Trust Between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. During the eight hours of our visit, we were pleased by the Group’s positive outlook. They were very concerned, for example, that western journalists so often treat their situation within the Cold War framework as a basis for mistrusting the Soviet government, while their whole program is instead intended to generate trust.
Their insistence on remaining independent of the official Soviet Peace Committee. was apparently based less on a difference between their objectives than on their belief that the Soviet peace movement will never be considered as authentic in the West unless it allows for diversity and grass roots autonomy. As Yuri Medvedkov said, “Our aim is not to criticise the government, but to help it.”
The group also claimed that the repressive tactics that had been directed against its members were not the doing of the government’s top officials, but of lowerranking careerists who unrealistically felt th.reatened by the Group’s actions.
We were told about the hardships the Group’s members had undergone, including jailings and the loss of their academic jobs. One of several events they mentioned had taken place during the trial of Oleg Radzinsky, a member who had been sentenced to a year of jail and a long period of exile in Siberia.
According to Yuri Medvedkov, “several members of the Group had gone to stand outside the courthouse (including his wife, Olga Medvedkova). The entire group was arrested and detained to check their documents for three hours, then kidnapped by plainclothesmen and manhandled roughly, and placed into an unknown structure.”
In light of subsequent events, it is hard to accept the theory that treatment of the Group is not government policy. Olga was arrested two weeks after our interview, and charged with having assaulted two police officers on the occasion described above’. Through Helsinki Watch and the Group for Trust’s founding member, Sergei Batovrin, now exiled’ in New York City, I have learned more details about that event and its sequels.
In particular, it seems highly likely that Olga may be sent to a concentration camp for a long period, possibly up to 6 years, and other Group members who support her version of the events leading to her arrest can expect to be jailed for 6 months for “perjury. “
Olga Medvedkova’s trial date was originally set for December but has been postponed until mid-February. Naturally, it is impossible to know all the facts about this matter at such a great distance, but peace activists who have visited the Group for Trust are united in their admiration for their dedication. Everything that Olga Medvedkova stands for is consistent with the highest ideals of her society; nothing that she or other members of her group have said or done constitutes a threat to the Soviet regime.
However, during times of detente, life becomes markedly freer in the Soviet Union, and more diversity of. opinions can be expressed. Consequently, some observers were not surprised when the failure of the arms control talks brought about increased internal repression. Still, this outcome worries even those peace activists who most cordially desire friendly relations with the Soviet Union.
Prime Minister Trudeau has been briefed on the situation of the Group to Establish Trust, and may be prepared to inquire about their situation during his forthcoming trip to the Soviet Union. Readers may wish to encourage this by contacting his office. The Soviet Embassy in Ottawa will also receive messages of concern.