Asya Lashiver (dissident), 1992

Asya Lashiver interview
Interviewer — Metta Spencer


Asya began working in the human rights movement in 1978 with some other friends, including Sergei Grigoriants, who used to have a publication that was published outside the country and smuggled back in. Asya got started being hassled by the KGB. They told her to stop and she said, “This is my own life. I want to do it.” So she thought they were so incompetent that she wrote to the procurator complaining of them, whereupon her apartment was searched. She got involved with the Solzhenitsyn Foundation, which still exists. It provides for the political prisoners. She says there are still more than 100 persons who are in mental hospitals or labor camps for actions that supposedly violated articles that have been repealed. Sergei Grigoriants says that fewer people are being imprisoned, but more of them are being killed than before. Mrs. Solzhenitsyn and other people send packages to the political prisoners.

Asya’s daughter is married to a former prisoner. The situation was described at length about the village he lived in. They are going to emigrate to Israel. Asya’s husband is 55 and isn’t ready to leave. After he retires they will probably go to Israel but she is staying here because you will not necessarily get results and that is not the important thing. The important thing is to do your job and do your best. She says it’s not courage, it’s interest. She recalls that the first time she was interrogated, the policeman pushed the code buttons to unlock the door and she tried it too. He was amazed that she figured it out, but mostly she did it because she found it very interesting — “the man, the room, the interrogation, the lock. Very interesting. “

Asya was a member of the group for Trust. This is not what I was told by Olga. She must have come into it after Olga left. Her husband was originally very hostile to her participation. He never has even yet felt proud of her for it. He felt that her main responsibility was to her children and her husband and not to get arrested and things of this sort. She was never imprisoned or (so far as I know) even arrested, although she has been interrogated and her house has been searched. Her husband’s laboratory was shut down as punishment against her, although when the KGB came to see him he said, “Well, you see if you can talk her out of her behavior but I have not been successful in talking her out of anything.” Their marriage came to a crisis and he said, “you can get a divorce if you want to, but I am not giving this up.” He finally came to terms with it, and even for a while participated slightly but he couldn’t stand the quality of the speeches and he hasn’t participated since but he doesn’t object to her participation. Of course, now it is not a dangerous thing or even a controversial thing for her to be doing. She says she was never afraid. One time when her daughter was 13 she said to her mother, “Would you please pack your stuff so that when you get arrested I will know what to bring to you?” She said this in a normal voice, indicating no fear.

Asya is a small woman who looks to be about fifty. When asked whether she thought she had had any success, she said said, “No, not much. Very small ones.” Like her telephone was turned off for six months and she actually got it back three days before she was supposed to. “Is that a victory?”

She explicitly said she isn’t counting whether she is successful or not. She does things for moral reasons and isn’t trying to convince anybody or change anybody. She is just going to do what she wants to do and believes in. She is fatalistic. She walks around in the middle of the night by herself, for example, because she thinks that if she’s going to get it, she’s doing to get it. And twice she has been attacked by gangs of men but in one case she shouted and the police came. Another time, she shouted at the guys so loud that they backed off and left her alone. But she is also pessimistic. She says nothing has really changed here; it’s only superficial changes, but it will take generations to change the mentality in this country. She is not at all optimistic. It is strange that she has the courage to keep going when she evidently has little hope.


Asya Lashiver — 2nd interview

Middle of a discussion of someone else; Sasha is translating for Asya and Rudolph Lashiver. It is about a woman who was charged when the KGB found some old shotgun cartridges in her apartment during a search. Someone had left them there years before.

“… illegal possession of a munition — article ___. But this woman had never touched a gun. She couldn’t know how to use it and she asked her old friend to be a witness in court and to tell that she had not been used to the weapons. She asked Rudolph to convince her old friend to be a witness. But this old friend told Rudolph, “I shall not do it because I’ll be sacked.” She said that she hated this regime, probably more than all her friends taken together, but nevertheless she was fearful.

MS: What happened to the woman who was on trial?

Asya: She was sentenced, not at that time but at the next time. The first time the sentence was suspended for reason of amnesty that refers to that article of the code. But next time she was sentenced. At that time, the woman lived with her daughter, who had a baby 3 or 4 months old. Daughter had to work, and the mother worked too, but not in some state enterprise or institution, but she just did private lessons. She had worked for 23.5 years in school or institutes, but she was accused of an idle way of life, was put on trial and was sentenced. Private teaching is a form of avoidance of socially useful work. She was sentenced to a year of hard labor in prison, though she appealed and the original sentence was changed to 3 years of exile in Eastern Siberia — about 24 hours by train to the East of Baikal. There was a shortage of teachers in that place but she was not allowed to teach. She just washed floors.

MS: Do you have any connection to IPPNW?

Asya: I can remember only members of the Trust Group, such as Vladimir Brodsky, who couldn’t be a member of IPPNW. I do not have high opinion of Chazov.


Sasha reports on a discussion that happens here about Amnesty International. The woman who was here for about a year quarreled with Amnesty because Amnesty simply didn’t provide her with adequate resources. And now Amnesty sent her a rather irresponsible person, and Amnesty didn’t talk to the Russian members of Amnesty International. I told her that this woman visited Georgia and totally denied the facts of political repression and told Georgians to rally around Shevardnade’s state.


Sasha is summarizing papers in the file on Group for Trust. … And at this time the Trust Group tried to protect witnesses from Kazakhstan of German origin. [And the first one was two Lithuanian guys refusing induction.] … They protested against the electoral law and the political domination of the communist party. (Article 6). The pacifist movement opened a gateway; they emphasized the interrelationship between countries and peoples. This was 25 November, 1988. And they demand acceleration of the disarmament process. They draw on the Soviet forces from Europe and from the Baltic states. They wanted to achieve nuclear free zones, status quo for Baltic states, and they promised to struggle against any demonstrations of militarism and attempts to instigate national animosity.

“Perestroika in the Soviet Peace Committee” Krivovs were the leader of the task group after the Medvedkovs’ departure. And then they left the country. To create preliminary results of peresroika.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books