In Defense of My Russian Friends

(flyer for vigil at Queen’s Park, Toronto, December 17, 1983)

Three weeks ago I visited the independent Soviet peace committee—the “Group to Establish Trust.” My account of that moving visit was published last Saturday in the Toronto Star. They are wonderful, gentle people who carefully obey all Soviet laws and do not criticize any government. The core members of the Group for Trust in Moscow have lost their professional jobs and are streetcleaners. They have no phones or mail service. They are beaten on the streets, and some have been sent to Siberia or mental hospitals. Yet their message remains steadfastly constructive; they want to overcome the fear and mistrust that gives rise to hostility, and they propose such moderate measures as people-to-people contact, photo-exchanging arrangements, and so on.

About 3 days ago, three of the people I had met were arrested—Olga Medvedkova, Olga Lusnikova, and Valerii Godyak. They had tried to stand outside the courthouse during the trial of another member, Oleg Radzinsky, in October. They had been taken away by the police, then forced into a truck. They refused to get into the truck and sat on the floor instead. For this some (or perhaps all 3) are charged with “resisting a police officer” and will be given between 1 and 6 years of prison. The first trial will occur within 10 days—that of Olga Medvedkova, a splendid 33 year old geographer and the mother of an 8 year old son.

On Saturday, Dec. 17 at 1:00 pm, some of us will demonstrate in front of Queen’s Park on their behalf. We’d like your support there, since it is known that such public manifestations have an impact on the Soviet officials and often result in a shorter prison sentence. The placards should be civil and not hostile, however. We do not want to be categorized as similar to the “Peace Through strength” people, and we do not want them to participate. I suggest such a slogan as, “We support the official and unofficial Soviet peace movement.”

I would also ask you to endorse this letter:

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

As peace activists in Canada, we deeply regret the recent arrest of three members of the Group to Establish Trust, Olga Medvedkova, Olga Lusnikova, and Valerii Godyak. Some of us have met these people, have visited in their homes, and know that they obey soviet laws. They are not dissidents, but support their government’s policies, especially its commitment to the nuclear freeze, to nuclear weapon free zones, and to the comprehensive test ban.

On the basis of our own political tradition of pluralism, the Soviet peace movement is already needlessly discounted in the West.

We wish to counter that mistrust. The existence of an alternative group made of independent citizens is more persuasive than anything else in convincing Canadians of the authenticity of the Soviet peace movement. Nothing could be more detrimental to the progress of trustbuilding than their prosecution.

Just as we offer support to jailed members of our own movement in Canada, so we intend to support equally those in your country. We ask you to consider the negative impression that those arrests convey about the peaceloving intentions of Soviet society.

We hope that you will take note of our concerns and clarify the
position of your government on this matter.

Yours truly,

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