The Soviet dissident who took the KGB to court

Viktor Tomachinsky - a writer, auto mechanic, and dissident whom no one seems to have heard of - strode into Moscow City Court Dec. 8 to press the first known lawsuit against the Soviet KGB (security police).

The court, in the person of a woman judge with reddish hair and spectacles, listened not unkindly to his 15-minute soliloquy, mulled things over for another quarter-hour, and decided not to decide. ''We do not have jurisdiction,'' came the announcement in court house chamber No. 31, which looks like a small classroom and is overseen by a framed portrait of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

''I'm thinking over my next move,'' Tomachinsky then declared. He sounded confident of defeat, but happy to keep trying. ''I'm fascinated by the law,'' he said.

All he wants, he says, is for the KGB and the Soviet Interior Ministry to pay him 13,400 rubles - about $19,000.

He says officials from both organizations told him early this year that he and his family could - indeed, should - leave the country. He filed for exit visas and quit his job fixing cars.

''But the visas still haven't come through. Under Soviet law, the KGB and the ministry are guilty of breaking a verbal contract. . . . They should pay me for what I could have earned abroad if the visas had been granted as agreed.''

The court is probably less surprised by all this than is Tomachinsky's waist-high son. ''Where are we?'' he asked, peeling off his tiny, snow-flecked overcoat as the plaintiff and various relatives arrived at the court. ''We are at Moscow court,'' replied his mother. That seemed to satisfy him.

But Soviet courts have seen Tomachinsky before. At least five times in as many years, he has brought civil suits against the authorities, or started to. It is all part of a guerrilla war of sorts with the powers that be. It all started, he said, about 13 years ago.

He announces with what seems a mix of surprise and pride that he has spent less than three weeks in detention along the way: for briefly mounting a protest banner in the Soviet Supreme Court building during the trial of dissident physicist Yuri Orlov, founder of a group to monitor Moscow's compliance with the Helsinki Accords.

''Others have done far less than I and ended up in jail,'' he says. ''Maybe one reason is that I know the law well. . . . My mother is a lawyer. And my father, who died recently, was a prominent citizen, involved with Lenin and Armand Hammer (head of the Occidental Petroleum Company) in Soviet-US trade relations.''

Back in 1968, Viktor Tomachinsky wrote short stories, distributed in samizdat - the clandestine typsecripts that have become a trademark of Soviet dissidence.

He was close to a group of nonconformist artists. After he helped them organize a show in 1975, he charges, the KGB in effect offered him a job. ''I refused.'' Since then, he alleges, the authorities have been intermittently harassing him and warning him of major problems if he doesn't watch out.

''For instance, I would be repairing a car, . . . and on the day I was supposed to hand it back, a wheel or a window would suddenly be missing. . . . Or once they tried to charge me for repairing the car of one of Sakharov's family, which they said was in an accident. . . .''

At one point, Tomachinsky applied to emigrate. But since he has no relatives abroad, this was a nonstarter. It was the authorities' idea back in January to allow him and his family to leave anyway, he says.

Only two foreign reporters showed up for his legal sortie - listed, on a typewritten sheet of paper outside the courtroom, as case No. 4240, V. Tomachinsky vs. the Interior Ministry. The rest were trying to ascertain the precise whereabouts of the more famous Andrei Sakharov, who declared a hunger strike late last month.

Mr. Tomachinsky says he has had some differences with Dr. Sakharov and has never gotten along with the physicist's strong-willed wife, a partner in the protest fast. ''Of course, I strongly hope they are in good health. . . .''

Meanwhile, he has his own, ''separate,'' battle to fight.

And no, he never really thinks of giving up:

''I don't know,'' he says quietly. ''I guess it is just a matter of temperament.''

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