From a Moscow journalist, an unblinking look at Soviet repression
The repression increases. Headlines this spring and summer in the Western press detailing the struggle of dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, serve to underscore an increasingly widespread crackdown on dissent of all kinds in the Soviet Union.
Marshall Goldman of the Russian Research Center at Harvard tells the Monitor, ''The hardliners in power are using the current non-relations (between the superpowers) as a chance to clean up the stable - they are silencing all dissent.''
Kevin Klose, Washington Post correspondent in Moscow from 1977 to '81 and author of a new book that deals extensively with Russian dissidents and the Sakharovs in particular, agrees. The crackdown is ''severe,'' he told the Monitor in a recent series of telephone interviews, ''really sharp.'' The Soviets ''realize dissent during detente was a mistake.''
His book, Russia and the Russians (W. W. Norton, New York), comes during a time some experts call a period of ''re-Stalinization'' in the USSR. While some dissent was tolerated during East-West detente in the '70s, the crackdown on artists, writers, scientists, Christians, Jews, and ordinary workers whose crime , as one observer puts it, is ''thinking differently,'' is increasing in this decade.
Aspects of the crackdown:
* Laws added to the Soviet criminal code since last January make repression ''legal.'' Article 188-3, for example, allows the Soviets to increase by up to five years the sentences of prisoners who violate camp rules more than once a year.
* A step-up of detentions in rural areas - away from the Western press.
* Anita Deyneka of the Slavic Gospel Association, a Soviet-Christian watch group in Wheaton, Ill., reports 350 to 400 cases of Christians imprisoned in the USSR - the highest number since the Khrushchev era.
* Among human rights watch groups, it has recently become common knowledge that the number of special psychiatric hospitals for dissidents is increasing. So is the number of dissidents imprisoned in them. Estimates of the number hospitalized range from 600 to 2,000 of the some 10,000 dissidents currently detained.
According to Eric Stover of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, persons standing up to the Soviet system are diagnosed as ''schizoid'' under an official version of Pavlovian psychology. Then, says Stover, they are often treated with such tranquilizers as Majeptil, a drug that has driven some to suicide. One injection of Sulfazine can literally immobilize a prisoner for three days. Many are kept on it for months.
Given these circumstances, Klose's book helps show Westerners the dissident and the world in which he or she moves. Klose characterizes dissidents as ''truth-seekers. ... Martyrs for truth are those who define the terms between their faith and official oppression by their lives.'' Most Soviet dissidents, Klose notes, do not start off as anti-Soviet. But in following their consciences , these individuals ''begin to come into direct conflict with the crushing force of a police state.'' What then marks them as dissidents is that they ''still do not back down.''
Klose was not dazzled by his experience behind the Iron Curtain. ''What I found over there was a totalitarian state. This is the first truth, and all truth about the USSR flows from that point.''
Klose's perspective comes at a time when considerable emphasis is being placed by the nuclear freeze movement on countering long-held cultural stereotypes about the Soviets. Yet some observers say that, because of a zeal to balance old prejudices, certain evils are ignored.
When David Satter visited New York (in 1981) after a six-year assignment as Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times of London, he wrote, ''I was startled by the widespread attitude in the US that the Russians are people 'just like us.' '' He went on to say that Russia and the US are ''not only two different countries but two different mentalities. The Soviet regime finds its fundamental support in the ideological mentality of the Soviet people.''
One human rights advocate tells the Monitor that many in the peace movement are ''so desperate about nuclear war that there is an inclination to project an image of the Russians more consistent with one's wishes than with reality.''
Klose suffers no such delusions in his well-written book. For those interested in the latest and most intimate account of the history, trials, and viewpoints of the Sakharov family, this is it. But the book is important for other reasons as well. Because of one of the quirky bureaucratic shifts possible during detente, Klose was able to visit the coal mining town of Donetsk , surreptitiously enter the homes of miners and retired workers, and record vividly why theirs is a workers' paradise lost. Another rare experience was finding a dissident named Alexei Nikitin, a coal miner who actually tried forming a labor union, and who gave Klose specific, detailed accounts of the torturous life inside the special psychiatric hospitals.
The reaction to the book likely to come from some popular quarters may have been summed up in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch review, which calls the book ''one-sided'' and ''dangerously narrow,'' and adds, ''It is difficult to think of an audience'' for it.
Klose comments, ''I tried to tell the truth about Soviet moral and ethical behavior, tell the truth about the abuses....''
If this reader finds anything to criticize of the book, it is that Klose himself occasionally gets in the way of his message by reveling in tales of derring-do with the KGB. The ending, too, as a mere reminiscence, seems abrupt and inconclusive.
In light of the contribution, though, such flaws are forgivable.
Perhaps Yelena Bonner's mother, Ruf Bonner, who survived 17 years in a labor camp, most aptly epitomizes Klose's message, and speaks to dissidents currently incarcerated, when she says that maintaining ''spiritual integrity'' in the face of repression is most important, as well as ''quite a feat under the conditions.''