Sinyavsky–Daniel trial

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The Sinyavsky–Daniel trial (Russian: Процесс Синявского и Даниэля) was a trial against Russian writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, which took place in Moscow between September 1965 and February 1966. It was the first Soviet show trial during which writers were openly convicted solely for their literary work.[1][2] The trial is widely considered to mark the end of the period of Khruschev's liberalism and was a major starting impulse for the modern Soviet dissident movement.[3][4]

The trial[edit]

In September 1965, well-known literary writer and critic Andrei Sinyavsky and writer and translator Yuli Daniel were arrested and accused of having published anti-Soviet material in foreign editorials under the respective pseudonyms Abram Tertz and Nikolai Arzhak.

Sinyavsky and Daniel in the courtroom

Between 1959 and 1962, Daniel's This is Moscow Speaking and Sinyavsky's The Trial Begins had caught the attention of the KGB. The works were novellas depicting Soviet society as menacing and occasionally surreal. Although the KGB was not familiar with the authors, it was soon discovered that Arzhak, the author of This is Moscow Speaking, was the pen-name of Yuli Daniel, and that Tertz was the pseudonym of his friend Andrei Sinyavsky. Sinyavsky and Daniel were arrested in September 1965.[5]

The hearings began on February 10, 1966 in Moscow City Court under chairman of the court Lev Smirnov. They were not open to the public or foreign observers, and only fragments of the proceedings reached the outside world. The affair was accompanied by a harsh propaganda campaign in the media.[6]

Soviet law prohibited neither publication abroad nor the use of pseudonyms. Instead, Sinyavsky and Daniel were charged, under the recently minted Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, with the offense of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.[7]:654 This was the first time that the article was applied to fiction.[8] Citing their works, the prosecution claimed Sinyaysky and Daniel had purposefully attempted to make the Soviet state look corrupt and immoral on the world stage.[8] Unusual in the USSR, both writers entered a plea of not guilty.

On February 10, 1966, the court sentenced Sinyavsky to seven years in strict-regime labor camp. Yuli Daniel was sentenced on February 12 to five years.[9] They spent their sentence in Mordovia, east of Moscow.

Daniel served his full term. After his release he lived in Kaluga and Moscow until his death in 1988. Sinyavsky served six years. After his release he emigrated to Paris in 1973.

In 1991, the Supreme Court of the RSFSR rescinded the verdict and sentence and ordered the case closed for lack of the elements of a crime.[10]

Significance and legacy[edit]

Reaction abroad[edit]

Articles in the New York Times and Le Monde as early as October 1965 profiled the proceedings. During the hearings in February 1966, foreign correspondents waited outside the courtroom alongside Soviet citizens. Although the trial remained closed to the Western press, the defendants' wives smuggled out their own handwritten transcripts, which became some of the earliest samizdat documents to reach the West. The transcript was delivered to the bureau of Radio Liberty in Paris and passed on to the New York Times, on the theory that the news would have a greater impact if carried first by the Times than the avowedly anti-communist Radio Liberty.[11]:171

The trial was universally condemned in the Western media and drew criticism from public figures from around the world.[12]:15-16 PEN International as well as individual writers such as W. H. Auden, William Styron and Hannah Arendt expressed their indignation.[13] Others who petitioned for the writers' release were Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, Lillian Hellman, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Robert Lowell, Philip Roth, Marguerite Duras and Philip Toynbee.[14] After Sinyavsky and Daniel's conviction, Graham Greene unsuccessfully asked for his royalties in the Soviet Union to be paid over to their wives.[13]

Criticism of the trial and sentences was also shared by socialist and communist publications in Great Britain, the United States, Italy, and France. Lifelong communist Louis Aragon published his concerns in a declaration in L'Humanité, and, together with Jean-Paul Sartre, subsequently refused to participate in the Tenth Congress of Soviet Writers.[13][15] The Scandinavian Communist parties condemned the trial outright.[13]

Internal reaction[edit]

The proceedings were framed by denunciations in the media, headed by the newspapers Pravda, Izvestia and Literaturnaya Gazeta. The papers also published collective condemnation letters by Soviet citizens. Then-recent Nobel laureate Mikhail Sholokhov called two writers "werewolves" and "thugs with a black conscience" who would deserve a significantly more severe punishment "in the memorable twenties".[1][10][16] In response, Lidia Chukovskaya accused Sholokhov of betraying the centuries-long tradition of protecting fellow literators from unfair persecution and asserted that his "shameful speech will not be forgotten by History".[1]

Nonetheless the trial provoked protests. A letter which became known as the "Letter of the 63" (also: 62), signed by members of the USSR Union of Writers, was addressed to the presidium of the Twenty-Third Congress of the Communist Party. It argued that "neither learning nor art can exist if neither paradoxical ideas can be expressed nor hyperbolic images used as an artistic device." The authors called for the release of the writers on bail and argued that the trial itself did more harm than the works of the writers. Among the signatories were Korney Chukovsky, Ilya Ehrenburg, Viktor Shklovsky, Venyamin Kaverin, Bella Akhmadulina, Bulat Okudzhava and Arseny Tarkovsky.[17]

We think that any attempt to whitewash Stalin can cause a serious split in Soviet society. Stalin bears responsibility not only for the numerous deaths of innocent people, for our lack of preparation for the [Second World] war, for the divergences from the Leninist norms of the party and the state life. His crimes and wrongdoing distorted the idea of communism to such a degree that our people would never forgive him. [...]

— Open letter to Brezhnev signed by twenty-five intellectuals[18]

On February 14, 1966, twenty-five prominent Soviet intellectuals wrote an open letter to Leonid Brezhnev, then secretary general, asking not to rehabilitate Stalinism. Among them were the academicians Andrei Sakharov, Vitaly Ginzburg, Yakov Zeldovich, Mikhail Leontovich, Igor Tamm, Lev Artsimovich, Pyotr Kapitsa and Ivan Maysky, writers Konstantin Paustovsky and Viktor Nekrasov, composer Dmitri Shostakovich, actors Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Maya Plisetskaya, Oleg Yefremov and others. The letter was widely circulated in samizdat but was never published by the official press. Some of the signers suffered repercussions such as denial to travel abroad and restrictions to officially publish their work.[18]

Several people, including Daniel's wife Larisa Bogoraz, sent independent letters in support of Sinyavsky and Daniel.[19]

Dissident movement[edit]

While many members of the intelligentsia felt ambivalent towards the publication of works abroad, especially under a pseudonym, they saw the Sinyavsky–Daniel case as a return to the show trials of the 1930s and a sign that the Brezhnev Politburo was preparing to reverse the gains of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization. Critics of the trial protested the harsh sentences meted out to Sinyavsky and Daniel and emphasized issues of creative freedom and the historical role of the writer in Russian society.[7]:658 [20]:122

Others were troubled by the claims of the court that the trial was in full adherence to existing laws and rights guaranteed in the Soviet constitution. These concerns motivated the first unsanctioned public political demonstration in the Soviet Union after the Second World War, when on Soviet Constitution Day, December 5, 1965, supporters of Sinyavsky and Daniel protested on Moscow's Pushkin Square with the call for a fair and open trial. Among the organizers of the demonstration were Alexander Esenin-Volpin, Yuri Galanskov and Vladimir Bukovsky. The demonstration became known as the "glasnost meeting" (митинг гласности).[21] It became an annual event in Moscow, attracting luminaries such as Andrei Sakharov.[7]:660

The demonstration was soon followed by an increase in open protest and samizdat. In 1967, journalist Alexander Ginzburg was arrested for compiling a report on the trial known as The White Book. He was sentenced to five years in a labor camp. His trial in 1968 in itself became a landmark in the Soviet human rights movement.

Underground coverage of these and similar events ultimately led to the appearance of the Chronicle of Current Events in April 1968.

The encounter with foreign journalists during the course of the trial also helped foster a type of dissident-journalist relationship which became increasingly important to the emerging dissident movement. Through such media organs as Radio Liberty, Voice of America, the BBC, and the Deutsche Welle, samizdat materials offered to and published by Western correspondents were rebroadcast into the Soviet Union and became available to segments of the Soviet population who had no other means of learning about the movement.[11]:171 [22]:914

Political and legal consequences[edit]

The trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel brought to the end the period of Khrushchev's liberalism (Khrushchev Thaw), and helped to initiate the retrenchment associated with the Brezhnev's epoch (Brezhnev Stagnation).[20]:121 The further restrictions were achieved by an increase in arrests and persecutions as well as changes in the legal code itself. In September 1966 the Soviet legislature introduced several amendments to the RSFSR Criminal Code. Responding to the trial, in which the prosecution had found it difficult to prove the intent to do harm that was required by article 70, and to the public demonstration in support of Sinyavsky and Daniel, it added two subsections to Article 190:[23][24]

  • Article 190-1 made it a punishable offense to circulate statements defamatory of the Soviet system. In contrast to article 70, this offense did not stipulate any intention of subverting or weakening Soviet authority.[25]:126
  • Article 190-3 prohibited violation of public order by a group, either in coarse manner or in disobedience to legal demands of representatives of authority.[25]:127

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Benedikt Sarnov, Stalin and writers, (Russian: «Сталин и писатели»), four volumes, Eksmo, Moscow, 2008—2011, IBN 978-5-699-36669-9, vol. 3, pp. 261-265
  2. ^ Numerous writers executed during Stalinist repressions were usually falsely accused of terrorism or espionage.
  3. ^ "Historians now have no difficulty pinpointing the birth of the modern Soviet dissident movement. It began in February 1966 with the trial of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, two Russian writers who ridiculed the Communist regime in satires smuggled abroad and published under pen names [...] Little did they realize at the time that they were starting a movement that would help end Communist rule." Coleman, Fred: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Empire: Forty Years That Shook The World, From Stalin to Yeltsin, St. Martin's Griffin, 1997; p. 95. ISBN 978-0-312-16816-2
  4. ^ (Russian) — Речь В.В. Игрунова на Международной научной конференции "Диссидентское Движение в СССР. 1950-е — 1980-е."
  5. ^ Vasili Mitrokhin, The Pathfinders (the Sinyavsky-Daniel show trial. Folder 41. The Chekist Anthology). Mitrokhin Archive from the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP). [1]
  6. ^ Kolonosky, Walter, Literary Insinuations: Sorting out Sinyavsky's Irreverence, Lexington Books, 2003; pp. 19-21. ISBN 978-0-7391-0488-0
  7. ^ a b c Nathans, Benjamin (2007). "The Dictatorship of Reason: Aleksandr Vol’pin and the Idea of Human Rights under Developed Socialism". Slavic Review 66 (4): 630–663. doi:10.2307/20060376. 
  8. ^ a b Green, J., Karolides, N. J. (eds.): Encyclopedia of Censorship, New York: Facts On File, 2005. p. 515
  9. ^ Peter H. Juviler, Freedom's Ordeal: The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Post-Soviet States, University of Pennsylvania Press 1997. p. 38. ISBN 978-0812234183
  10. ^ a b "The Siniavsky–Daniel Trial", in: Donald D. Barry, Yuri Feofanov, Politics and Justice in Russia: Major Trials of the Post-Stalin Era, New York, M. E. Sharpe, 1996; pp. 38-49. ISBN 1-56324-344-X
  11. ^ a b Puddington, Arch. Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2000
  12. ^ Labedz, Leopold; Lasky, Melvin: The Use and Abuse of Sovietology, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989. ISBN 0-88738-252-5
  13. ^ a b c d Caute, David (2010). "The Iron Fist: The Trial of Daniel and Sinyavsky". Politics and the novel during the Cold War. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers. pp. 219–227. ISBN 9781412811613. 
  14. ^ Alexeyeva, Lyudmila (1993). The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0822959113. 
  15. ^ The Cambridge companion to Sartre. Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. 1992. p. xiii. ISBN 0521381142. 
  16. ^ Obituary: Andrei Sinyavsky, The Independent, February 27, 1997
  17. ^ Caute, David: "The Iron Fist: The Trial of Daniel and Sinyavsky", in: Politics and the Novel during the Cold War, New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 2010; pp. 219-227; 226
    • Hayward, Max: On Trial: the Soviet State versus "Abram Tertz" and "Nikolai Arzhak", Harper & Row, 1967; p. 185f. OCLC 358400
    • (Russian) Reprint in: Eremina, L.S. (1989). Tsena metafory, ili Prestuplenie i nakazanie Siniavskogo i Danielia. Moscow: Kniga. pp. 499–500. ISBN 5-212-00310-5. 
  18. ^ a b Oushakine, Serguei Alex (2001). "The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat". Public Culture 13 (2): 191–214. doi:10.1215/08992363-13-2-191. , p. 197
    • (Russian) Original: “Pismo 25-ti deyatelei kulturi Brezhnevu o tendezii reabilitazii Stalina” [About the tendency toward Stalin’s rehabilitation: The letter to Brezhnev signed by twenty-five intellectuals], Sobranie Documentov Samizdata [Collection of Samizdat Documents, SDS], vol. 4, AC no. 273 (1966)
  19. ^ Alexeyeva, Lyudmila: Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1985. pp 277-279. ISBN 978-0819551245
  20. ^ a b Shatz, Marshall S. (1980). Soviet Dissent in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23172-8. 
  21. ^ Zubok, Vladislav: Zhivago's Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009; pp. 263-264. ISBN 978-0-674-03344-3
  22. ^ Walker, Barbara. "Moscow Human Rights Defenders Look West: Attitudes toward U.S. Journalists in the 1960s and 1970s." Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 9, no 4 (2008): 905-927.
  23. ^ Berman, Harold: Soviet Criminal Law and Procedure: The RSFSR Codes, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1972; pp. 81-83. ISBN 978-0-674-82636-6
  24. ^ Elst, Michiel: Copyright, Freedom of Speech, and Cultural Policy in the Russian Federation, Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden/Boston, 2005; pp. 50-51. ISBN 90-04-14087-5
  25. ^ a b Simons, William B. (1980). The Soviet Codes of Law. The Hague: BRILL. ISBN 9028608109.  Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)


  • Hayward, Max: On Trial: the Soviet State versus "Abram Tertz" and "Nikolai Arzhak", Harper & Row, 1967. OCLC 358400
  • Caute, David: "The Iron Fist: The Trial of Daniel and Sinyavsky", in: Politics and the Novel during the Cold War, New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 2010; pp. 219–227. ISBN 9781412811613
  • Kolonosky, Walter: "Satirists on Trial", in: Literary Insinuations: Sorting out Sinyavsky's Irreverence, Lexington Books, 2003; pp. 11–26. ISBN 978-0-7391-0488-0
  • Labedz, Leopold; Lasky, Melvin: "Sinyavsky & Daniel", in: The Use and Abuse of Sovietology, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989; pp. 12–32. ISBN 0-88738-252-5
  • Murav, Harriet: "Siniavskii, Libel, and the Author's Liability", in: Russia's Legal Fictions, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1998; pp. 193–232. ISBN 978-0-472-10879-4
  • Nepomnyashchy, Catharine Theimer: Abram Tertz and the Poetics of Crime. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-300-06210-6
  • Alexeyeva, Lyudmila; Goldberg, Paul: The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8229-5911-3
  • (Russian) Гинзбург, Александр. Белая книга по делу А. Синявского и Даниэля. Посев: Франкфурт на Майне, 1967 [2]
  • (Russian) Великанова Е. М, Еремина Л. С. Цена метафоры, или Преступление и наказание Синявского и Даниэля. М.: Книга, 1989. ISBN 5-212-00310-5

External links[edit]

Trial transcripts and documents

Coverage of the trial