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Members of Trust Group visit Ontario

Metta Spencer — June 1984

TORONTO – Exiled members of the Moscow Independent Peace Movement, the “Group to Establish Trust Between the USSR and the USA,” visited peace groups in St. Catharines and Toronto in late May. Sergei Batovrin and his wife Natalia have been living in New York for one year, since they were ousted from their homeland for unauthorized peace work. They were accompanied on their Ontario trip by fellow activist Dr. Valery Godyak, a physicist who was expelled from the Soviet Union only two months ago.

Although Dr. Godyak spoke briefly at the three public lectures, Batovrin was the main spokesperson. An artist in his late twenties, he is an articulate speaker with a ready understanding of western culture and an American accent, acquired in his youth as the son of a Soviet diplomat posted in the United States.

Batovrin and Godyak keep in touch with the Trust Group through frequent phone calls. Despite being systematically intimidated by the KGB, the group continues to thrive: a few members have dropped out but others join, and they estimate the membership as 2000 in the whole country. Nine different branches exist in various cities. In addition, there are two other independent peace organizations in Moscow.

The Trust Group does not criticize its government’s military policy, both because they believe that criticism only produces hatred, and because it is illegal to do so. Instead, they concentrate on offering positive suggestions for ways of “humanizing” relations between people of the two blocs, in the conviction that improved trust -is an essential condition for stopping the arms race. Their proposals include ideas for conversion of the military-industrial complexes on both sides by shifting to joint work on peaceful, humanitarian projects.

The Trust Group’s impact is disproportionate to its relatively small size. Every statement that it issues is immediately read, without comment, by Radio Liberty, which has 20 million Soviet listeners. The Moscow synagogue, where some members of the coordinating committee (including non-Jews) can be reached at every weekly service, is kept as a meeting place for contact with the public, since members of the group have been deprived of phone and mail service.

Hundreds of western peace activists come to meet with the group, especially during the summer, and the New York members strongly support such contacts. They urge Canadians to do everything possible to make human contacts with ordinary Soviet citizens. Batovrin suggests that Westerners send friendly letters to people who are going on visits and ask them to hand them out on the streets to Russian passersby: it’s perfectly safe for them to do so.

Indeed, the presence of Western peace activists is of great support to the Trust Group. For example, last summer some women from Greenham Common went out onto the streets with some Trust Group members, distributed leaflets, gave speeches, and answered questions. Whereas any Soviet citizen who attempted such an action normally would be arrested in a minute or two, this demonstration went on without any interference whatever for two hours, since the KGB didn’t want to clamp down on Western peace activists or even display their repressive tactics to Western witnesses.

Batovrin will gladly put Canadians in touch with members of his group when they plan to visit the USSR. If you are going and want names and addresses, or if you want to forward letters through other visitors, contact Sergei Batovrin, 1793 Riverside Drive, Apt. 5B, New York 10034.