Soviet general-turned-dissident keeps up fight for human rights

Maj. Gen. Pyotr Grigorenko, the only dissident to have emerged from the ranks of Soviet general officers, continues to fight abroad for the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union.

His latest effort, in concert with Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Ginzburg, and other exiles from the Soviet Union, is to set up an international association of all national committees monitoring the 35-nation Helsinki accord of 1975. The group is to launch the new association with a press conference in Madrid Nov. 23 or 24.

In an interview here jsut prior to the Nov. 11 opening of the second Helsinki review conference, General Grigorenko issued an eloquent plea for world support for Soviet prisoners of conscience and answered questions about his own development as a dissident. He urged the West to challenge the Soviet Union at the Madrid conference on all violations of human rights and to press for a resolution calling for the freeing of all imprisoned members of Helsinki watchdog committee as well as a general amnesty for all prisoners of conscience.

If the Soviet Union rejects such a resolution, Grigorenko says the West should declare the Helsinki act null and void and seek a new conference to write a treaty ending World War II and defining the postwar East-West boundary. The 1975 Helsinki accord, besides seeking to promote East-West cooperation, was largely a trade-off between the Soviet desire for Western recognition of the Soviet bloc's postwar borders and the West's desire to liberalize human contact and the flow of information across those borders.

At present some 28 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki monitoring committee are in prison or labor camps in the Soviet Union, Grigorenko says; some seven others have been exiled abroad. Figures of the Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, West Germany, show that 40 members of various Soviet Helsinki committees have been imprisoned, with 32 of them sentenced to a total of 153 years in labor camp and 75 years of internal exile.

Despite the crackdown on Soviet dissidents that began in the run up to last summer's Moscow Olympics and continues unabated, Grigorenko thinks the dissenters still inside the Soviet Union will keep up the struggle. "All of them have the feeling of living on borrowed time, under the constant threat of arrest," he noted.

But they are as "used to it as a fish is to water." He, too, lived this way before he left the Soviet Union for medical treatment in 1977; while abroad, he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship.

In describing his own evolution of thought, Grigorenko goes back to the shock of Germany's World War II attack on the Soviet Union.

Grigorenko publicly criticized the previous Soviet policy of the pact with Hitler. This challenge to the infallibility of Stalin's leadership, Grigorenko says, blocked him from the same rapid promotion to general as some of his fellow officers. At war's end he was only a colonel, though he had been awarded the Orders of Lenin, Red Star, Great Patriotic War First Degree, and Red Banner (twice) for his heroism in battle. Grigorenko finally became a general officer in 1959.

He moved toward dissidence, as he reconstructs it, in 1961, when he made a speech criticizing the "cult of personality" growing around the post-Stalin leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Subsequently, he organized a discussion group of 13 young officers and students aimed at recreating a more democratic "Leninist style" within the Communist Party.

For this breach he was sent to a Far East command in 1963, then expelled from the Communist Party, and incarcerated in a psychiatric clinic. In the psychiatric prison he abandoned any hope of a Leninist renaissance within the party and turned against the party and the communist system altogether.

After extensive protest about his case in the West, Grigorenko was released from the insane asylum and took an active role in supporting human-rights movements in the Soviet Union.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.