16 March 2023
By Aleksandr Cherkasov
Sergei Ivanovich Grigoryants, who passed away on the night of Tuesday, 14 March, will be remembered above all as a fighter against Evil – an Evil that was at first all powerful, and then had apparently been defeated. He will be remembered as a wise man who warned of danger, who was not believed, who was even laughed at.
Today’s reader is familiar with the story of a resurgent Sauron – or Voldemort. But Sergei Grigoryants was not at all like a tall wizard with a long beard.
And it all began quite differently. From the beginning, Sergei Ivanovich was more of a man of culture and art, an intelligent of the Soviet era.
For 1975 it was just another ordinary political case – arrest and charges under Article 190 for Samizdat and Tamizdat (as The Current Events Chronicle reported). There was also an additional charge of ‘speculation,’ which in fact merely meant the usual activities of a collector of paintings. Grigoryants was sentenced to five years in a penal colony. Someone from among the ‘law enforcement officers’ who worked on the case got to decorate their home with paintings from Sergei Ivanovih’s collection.
Life in an ordinary-regime penal colony is far from easy, and Sergei Ivanovich was not a ‘man of steel.’ Prison was not easy for him: ‘…in the punishment cell, and now silently lying on the bunk, I felt an almost continuous pain in my heart. For five or six days I endured it, but then it was replaced by a feeling of absolute horror, a sense of dark, impenetrable gloom rising out of you yourself and filling everything around you. This inner unspeakable horror, in which the head seemed to be some absolutely black object, somehow attached to the torso…’
Sergei Grigoryants left prison not as a broken man, but as a real fighter. And once at liberty he did not limit himself to ‘culture and art’ – by, for example, engaging in the fate of Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, who had been left to die in a home for the elderly. His main business now became Bulletin V.
By the end of the seventies, the above-mentioned Chronicle was published ever less frequently and with increasing delays. In order to compensate for this, in 1980 the publication was begun of a more up-to-date newsletter. ‘Publication was begun’ is too impersonal a phrase. The ‘V’ in the title referred not only to ‘Vesti’ [News] but also to ‘Vanya,’ after Vanya [Ivan] Kovalev who had initiated the Bulletin. Kovalev was arrested in 1981. His place was taken by Aleksei Smirnov, who was arrested in 1982. Both Kovalev and Smirnov have recently been remembered in connection with the death of someone the exact opposite of Grigoryants – Gleb Pavlovsky, who testified against both of them. The future prospects for anyone who replaced them were grim.
Sergei Ivanovich took over the fateful role of editor of Bulletin V. He was arrested in 1983. Grigoryants did not cooperate with the investigators. None of those who obtained information, retyped or stored documents for Bulletin V were arrested: they could not find them. One could say Grigoryants set an exemplary, responsible attitude towards his colleagues and the common cause. He was sentenced to the maximum term under Article 70: seven years in a strict regime penal colony.
From the start of this, his second sentence, in the Perm [Skalninskie] camps the authorities immediately showed a ‘special attitude’ towards Sergei Ivanovich. Vyacheslav Dolinin, a comrade of Grigoryants, writes: ‘I remember when he was brought to the Perm-37 camp. He never came to our barracks. During the initial quarantine period he was put in a punishment cell, then he was put in a separate cell, and then he was transferred to Chistopol. There he was imprisoned until the “Gorbachev amnesty“.’ Chistopol was a ‘krytka,’ a prison with the strictest regime where the most disobedient were sent.
In 1987, Grigoryants was released under the ‘Gorbachev amnesty’ and continued the work interrupted by his arrest. He created the Glasnost news agency, one of the first independent media outlets at that time. Many of the journalists who later became well known began their work there, ‘when it was still impossible.’
Some time later such journalism was ‘permitted.’ In August 1991, ‘Iron Felix’ was removed from Lubyanka Square. But for Sergei Grigoryants, this ‘Carthage’ had not yet been destroyed. He was convinced of the need for lustration, and he saw many signs of the Lubyanka in the world around him. In the 1990s, when Sergei Grigoryants held conferences entitled ‘The KGB of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ [КГБ вчера, сегодня, завтра] many people ridiculed him. And they did the same over his attempts to hold an ‘international tribunal on Chechnya.’
But then his prophecies began to come true.
In the Russia of the ‘sordid years’ of the first decade of the 21st century, Grigoryants saw no place for independent civil society activity, and behind the ‘controlled democracy’ he saw one and the same puppeteer. Sergei Ivanovich, like a submarine, went down into the depths and ‘closed up his periscope.’ He wrote three books of memoirs, published in the years 2018-2022. The view of Soviet and Russian history of the last few decades presented there was simple and logical: over half a century, the secret services conceived and executed a ‘transition of power,’ transferring Russia from one of their hands to the other. This logical and simple answer to the ‘accursed questions’ of Russian life will surely find its adherents. After all, thirty years later, Sergei Ivanovich’s fears are prophecies that have come true. An attentive reader, however, will find in this black and white picture of the world substantial simplifications. But that is a discussion for another day.
Sergei Grigoryants is an undoubted hero of the ‘side of light.’ But unlike Frodo or Harry Potter, he did not live to see the fall of the forces of darkness.
Yet Sergei Ivanovich gave an example of steadfastness in dark times. And now that is especially needed. They say the darkest time comes before the dawn.
Funeral of Sergei Grigoryants:
The funeral of Sergei Grigoryants will be held on Saturday, 18 March at 10:30 am in the Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medvedkovo. The burial will take place in the local cemetery at the conclusion of the funeral.
The address of the church and cemetery is 52A Zapovednaya Street, Moscow.
Directions: To Otradnoe metro station, then bus 605 to the stop ‘Proyezd Dezhneva, 32,’ then a five-minute walk or by bus 380 to the stop ‘Zapovednaya Street.’ The church is located near the stop.
Alternatively, to Sviblovo metro station, then take bus 628 or bus 380 to the stop ‘Zapovednaya Street.’
Translated by Simon Cosgrove