Soviet dissident: Putin’s Russia like cockroaches, most petrified of the light



Article by: Pavel Gintov
In 1968, seven people staged a protest on the Red Square in Moscow, protesting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. 47 years later, one of them, the Soviet dissident Pavel Litvinov who was sentenced to five years exile in Siberia, tells about Soviet Russia, Putin’s Russia, the Crimean anschluss, Sachenko, Gergiev, and Netrebko to Pavel Gintov, activist of the group Russian Americans in Support of Ukraine.

Today, I got a unique opportunity to talk with Pavel Mikhailovich Litvinov, one of the Seven who came out on the Red Square in Moscow in 1968 with the famous motto: “for our freedom and yours.” Earlier, I met Pavel Mikhailovich at a rally outside the Russian consulate in New York, but I did not know who he is at the time. Later he left a comment with words of support under one of the photos from our protests. For me and like-minded people, these Seven have always been a prime example of honor, conscience, and nobleness. I cannot explain what I felt when I realized what a person showed us his support.

"For your freedom and ours," one of the banners of the 1968 demonstration

“For your freedom and ours,” one of the banners of the 1968 demonstration

Q: Pavel Mikhailovich, protests have become a regular occurrence in today’s Russia; however, the numbers of participants are very modest. Many of those who are unsatisfied with the state of affairs in the country and the actions of the governments do not come out to protest, as they believe that it will not change anything. Others are simply scared of repercussions. In 1968 the situation was even more difficult, and I am sure that you understood that it’s unlikely that your protest will affect the events in Czechoslovakia. More importantly, you surely realized what kind of scary repercussions awaited you. But you still came out. What moved you?

A: First of all, I will say that I had the feeling that it is impossible not to come out. It was my duty as a Soviet citizen, and I had the feeling of responsibility for what our government was doing. They occupied a sovereign country, Czechoslovakia, sent their troops there, and said that this is all done in the name of all Soviet people. I wanted to say that maybe all Soviet people, but not me. It was psychologically much easier to come out than not, and when I made the decision, I felt enormously relieved, as if I was flying. Naturally, we knew that we would be incarcerated, and we were expecting much worse than what happened. I was given a maximal exile, yet only an exile; others received labor camps, but Viktor Fainberg and Natalia Gorbanevskaya had it the worst: they were locked up in a psychiatric hospital, after being accused of acting out of madness. The feeling that this will change nothing was there, of course, but on the other hand, the mere fact that we were locked up and beaten indicates that this was very important. They wouldn’t lock us up if they didn’t care. As they say today: “oh it’s a minority, it’s a small number of foreign agents.” But for some reason, these “agents” are locked up. It’s absolutely clear that they are most petrified of light. As I wrote recently, they are like cockroaches, who act in darkness, but as soon as the light is switched on, they immediately freeze. The most important things out there are free discussion, free protest, and independent thinking. This is what worries them the most. This is why Ukraine worries them. Of course, there are economic reasons, they want to control a territory, but most importantly, they understand – and Putin understands – that if Ukraine achieves its free European future, Russia will look very pathetic next to her. This scares them the most. Because they always say: “oh some kind of Ukraine, the little sister, distorting our language,” and suddenly they have become free, while we are still living in shit.

Pavel Litvinov during his exile to Siberia. Photo: wikipedia

Pavel Litvinov during his exile to Siberia. Photo: wikipedia

Q: I saw on your Facebook a photo with Mustafa Dzhemilev (tr: the leader of the Crimean Tatar community). Are you friends with him?

A: “Yes, he and I are close friends since 1967. We met in a Moscow suburb through mutual friends, Crimean Tatars, and have been friends since. We wouldn’t see each other for many years: sometimes he would be serving a sentence, sometimes I would, then I emigrated. But every time there was an opportunity, we would see each other. For almost 20 years I wasn’t allowed back in Moscow, I lived in America, and as soon as they let me go back, Mustafa flew in from Crimea. Crimea was still Soviet, a part of the Ukrainian USSR. Then we saw each other on many occasions in America. For many years, I vocally advocated for Crimean Tatars. It is an amazing nation, I love them very much, – and the fact that they started peaceful resistance on a national level, they wrote polite letters to the Central Committee and to Brezhnev, wrote them stubbornly, – of course we admired that. Indeed, they had become a part of our resistance movement, the one that people later started calling the dissident movement. There were a few people who started to be friends with Crimean Tatars early on, and with Mustafa. Mustafa had a vivid personality, and we loved him and love him very much. An interesting question came up when I first saw him after a long break in Moscow in 1990. It was just my earnest question: would your people prefer to be with Russia or Ukraine? The Soviet Union had not fallen yet at the time, and it was not clear what was going to happen. And he said: “there is no question: with Ukraine.” This doesn’t mean that he was always happy with Ukraine, but there was no question for him from the very start.”

Q: How do you assess the events in Crimea? I mean the so-called ‘referendum’ that happened in March, and its consequences.

A: The ‘referendum’ is fiction, it’s a crime, it’s a violation of international law, it’s an invasion of a sovereign country. It is possible that there could be some discussion about the status of Crimea, and many people who live there would probably vote for joining Russia. Many countries had problems like that, as we saw recently in Scotland, in Spain with other ethnicities. In many places there are problems like this, and they need to be discussed, and Ukraine needs to be more sensitive towards Russians. They made a big mistake, the language law that they wanted to repeal. But what Russia did – secretly introducing troops, essentially occupying Ukrainian territory – that’s lawless. Then they tried to do the same with Donbas, but received resistance, started a war and already killed thousands of people. This is criminal behavior, there can’t even be another opinion about this. Any conscious person would call this aggression, occupation of a foreign territory, annexation, anschluss.

Q: The Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko is currently imprisoned in Russia. She announced a hunger strike that has been going on for 52 days already. What do you think we can do to help her?

A: I personally already signed a few letters in her support. This is an additional crime. There is a war, there are prisoners of war who need to be treated like captives, rather than criminals. The fictitious court case about how she supposedly coordinated the killings of civilians is absurd. It’s absolutely clear that she was captured for intimidation and out of some political motives, but she turned out to be a strong and respectable woman. I’m very scared for her life. The question needs to be raised, because the entire war is terrible, but the life of this woman deserves a special approach.

Q: You know about the cultural figures who signed the letter of approval of Putin’s politics. Right now, people in many cities protest against the so-called ‘signatories’. What do you think, are these protests justified, or should art and politics be separate?


A: “This is a very good question. I believe that in general, politics and art should be separate, and if people just came to perform, it doesn’t matter which country they are from. They have the right to perform, art knows no borders. There were such cases in the Soviet times, when almost nobody was allowed to leave, and to leave for a tour was a miracle. There were outstanding poets, such as Okudzhava, Vysotsky, actor Andrey Mironov, who would be allowed to go perform in America sometimes. And there were Russian emigrants who started a campaign against them. I was very actively against this campaign, because these were oppressed Soviet people who were allowed to leave so they could show the World that there is independent art in Russia (although it was not entirely independent). But these people had never actively expressed their support for the vile politics of the Soviet government.

What disgusts me now is that people like Gergiev, Netrebko, many writers and movie directors signed a letter in support of Putin’s occupation and attack on Ukraine. This is disgusting, and of course it is necessary to publicly denounce them. I am very happy that the group in which you participate has been tactically, politely, but obstinately informing people, Americans and Russian immigrants who go to these concerts, about this issue. This is extremely important! These people have identified themselves with the politics of war crimes. One specific case is the famous movie director Pavel Lungin. I know him very well, he is younger than I, my parents were friends with his parents. They were wonderful people. They passed away, and I am somewhat glad that they don’t know that their son signed this letter. This simply gives me a heartache. While his parents weren’t members of the dissident movement, they were sympathetic, they helped financially, they distributed Samizdat. And Pavlik grew up in this house! This is vile, and I am very repulsed by the fact that major actors, the most famous people endorsed the crimes of a practically fascist level.”

Featured image: Pavel Litvinov, Viktor Fainberg, and Mustafa Dzhemilev, who protested the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, 47 years later

Translated by: Kostya Tchourine

Edited by: Alya Shandra

Source: Russian Americans in Support of Ukraine

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  1. Avatar Jens A says:

    I meet with Pavel Litvinov in Moscow in 2007. He is a very brave man as all 7 were. In 1968 they were ridiculed as they were so few, not least by the Western Communists that enjoyed the freedom here to say whatever they wanted and at the same time wanted to deny that same freedom to the 7 in Moscow. But in the end, the 7 and the people who later followed them, were the ones that got their victory in 1992 … at least until Putin came to power.

  2. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

    Oh, our national credo! And we are again on two different sides of a barricade.

    1. Avatar Melp says:

      dangerous credo

      “During the Polish-Soviet War,
      the motto was stolen by the Soviet government, which considered itself
      to be fighting for the rights of Polish workers and peasants against
      what it saw as the Polish government of landowners and capitalists.”

      1. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

        Quite true:) We used it first to persuade Russian soldiers that they should rebel against tzar:)

          1. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            I do. We used to send our troublemakers everywhere:) Why are you asking?

          2. Avatar Melp says:

            because you used your credo not only against the tzar^^.

          3. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            Well, that’s how it ends when you mess with us:)

          4. Avatar Melp says:

            we have not soo a national identity like other countries, except in soccer. its more based on cities. so it doesnt matter much who is leading us, except he starts to disturb us personally^^

          5. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            Healthy attitude:)

          6. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            We are very good leaders of rebellions. Experienced, idealist, creative. We should send some to Russia.

          7. Avatar Melp says:

            but uneconomic i think. only one sucess until now, when i am not wrong^^

          8. Avatar Melp says:

            uprises with foreign help like napoleon doesnt count^^

          9. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            Why actually? Why can’t I use a Napoleon to achieve what I want? That’s called strategy!
            No, no, no. What counts is:
            a) a victory (the cheaper, the better)
            b) and the ability to interpret a defeat as a victory.

            We are good at both:)

          10. Avatar Melp says:

            this was our first one which i remember.

            this one was also a cheap victory

  3. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

    We are cockroaches? Should I thank you?

    1. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

      No. You should stop the insane resident of Kremlin.

      1. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

        Hmmm….errrrr…… well…….zabawny żart?

        1. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

          Putin? Raczej mało śmieszny żart.

          1. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            Разве не удивительно, что мы можем понимать друг друга?

          2. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            What’s really amazing is that despite that we CAN’T understand each other.
            BTW: A Polish grandmother maybe? I heard that in Russia everybody has a Polish grandmother:)

          3. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            You’ll have to explain this one to me. I have no idea what you are talking about.

          4. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            You understand Polish, I understand Russian and it does not help to establish friendly relations between our nations. How’s that possible?

          5. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            No, explain the joke about the Polish babushka

          6. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            It was not a joke. You seem to speak Polish, so I guess you have some family connections with Poland.

            Well, yeah, I heard a theory that every time Russia wants to be closer to the West, every Russian finds a Polish grandma, and when Russian policy looks at the East, they hide the Polish grandmas deeply in the drawers:)

          7. Avatar Melp says:

            we had it similar with polish immigrants shortly after the fall of the wall. one needed only 1 german in the family to become a german. (was importent for insurances, ie retirement, so the family was handled as if they were lifelong germans.)
            and the saying was in this time “one needs only a german shepherd dog to become a german”

          8. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            In exchange for a German pension in future I’ll start calling my mum Mutter right now 🙂

          9. Avatar Melp says:

            i must google it in the evening, but i think its allready over with this.
            do you remember when Chancellor Kohl said in Poland to the Silesians, “Germany needs you in Poland”? they were not planed as our fifth column, we were simple not able to pay more of these germans

            Mama or Mutti is better, Mutter is to formally.^^

          10. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            Mama then. But it is the same in Polish, so i’m afraid it won’t make my pension any higher 🙂

      2. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

        Honey, I’d like to hear your opinion on Schetyna’s recent statements. Do you think he is sane?

        1. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

          Schetyna, like most of us, enjoys pissing you off from time to time.

          1. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            He is playing with fire. Have you already forgotten how many people gave their lives away to let you live?
            For Russians, the WWII was and remains a holy war, that is why we are very sensitive to any insults concerning the war. I am really amazed how people in Europe easily accept the SS parades in Baltic states. It’s what we will never understand.

          2. Avatar Melp says:

            as long as these guys are below 5% means no influence its better to let them do what they do. so you have them under control. better than if they would went into the underground.
            and here they relation is mostly 1:10. means 1 nazi protester faces 10 counterprotesters.

          3. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            You don’t get it. They have official support there. Officials participate in their events. Can you imagine that in Germany?

          4. Avatar Melp says:

            we had the pediga (proud european again the islamisation of europe) protesters. 2 month they had their joy with about 25k protesters max in dresden. in other cities the relation was arround 1:10 as usually. then leader of pediga was sueed and can now possible become imprissioned for 3-5 years. media campaign against them was also. so now they are srinking now even in dresden. campaign was “which people do you followed again.” at last many artists made free concerts for the counter protesters in dresden.
            we mostly solve such situations by ourself, without gov.
            and of course these pediga idiots were big fans of putin^^.

          5. Avatar sandy miller says:

            PolaRBear… I find your concern over Nazi’s and not Stalin and communists and the horrors they committed in WW2 interesting. Maybe everyone should learn the truth about that war…than forgive each other and go on to living happy, safe, and properous lives instead of this insanity that’s going on. How can anyone justify or go along with what Putin is doing in Ukrain?. It is immoral and criminal and no justification for it except from insane people.

          6. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            Wrong. My family also suffered from Stalin’s deeds. I can’t justify his behavior. But it’s the past.
            And what we have in these countries is the present.
            See the difference?

          7. Avatar Gryzelda Wrr says:

            When somebody uses the adjective “holy” be cautious. He probably does it to avoid uneasy questions. For example:

            1. What did you do on 17th September 1939?

            2. Why were your troops sitting on the right bank of the Vistula when on its left bank Warsaw was dying for two months under carpet bombings? Why did the Red Army soldiers shoot at their Polish brothers in arms who tried to get to the fighting city?

            3. Why did you install a puppet government in 45 in Poland knowing that the legal government was still in London.

            4. Why did you execute almost 22.000 Polish soldiers in Katyń?

            5. Why our war heroes had to die in stalinist prisons?

            I don’t know what SS parades in the Baltic states do you mean. But we here remember very well the parade in Brest-Litovsk. You have not seen this? I posted it a few times:–Soviet_military_parade_in_Brest-Litovsk

            We know that you are sensitive to everything related to the war, but you failed to admit that you had played a very ambiguous role in its course. And we are really fed up with your lies. If you can’t admit to crimes committed 70 years ago, because it does not suit the political goals of your leaders.

            You know PolaR Bear, we are totally aware of what we are playing with. And let me say what i really think of your indirect threats of global or nuclear war. If i am to live under this threat whole my life, i prefer it to blow out right now. Big boom, and all problems solved. Go ahead. At least I will not have to pay my bills next month.

            Regarding your concerns about what Polish people feel and think of those who lost their lives in Polish land fighting against Nazi Germany, I have a picture taken a few days ago at the cementary in the place where I live. Red Army soldiers’ graves.

          8. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            Ok, take it easy. And bye.

          9. Avatar Melp says:

            this seems to be like here. some naziis running around. some arrested because they hurt the tabu to much, police arround them. so not soo a big story. 1500 veterans will sooner or later die away. you shouldnt also not forget that baltics were allready since 39 occupied, and not by adolf. so they are some sort of “freedom fighters” for them.

            “Latvia: SS veterans march in Riga

            With a memorial march Latvian veterans of the Waffen-SS in Riga have remembered to the deaths of their comrades in World War II. The police protected the march with a large contingent – Critics see the action a glorification of Nazism.

            Riga – In Latvia veterans of a unit of the German Waffen SS this Friday held their annual parade. Around 1,500 people marched, police said, at the controversial march by the Latvian capital Riga for the Freedom Monument to lay flowers there. According to police, three participants were arrested for aggressive behavior and wearing banned symbols.

            Several dozen counter-demonstrators accompanied the march – many of them striped in black and white things that were modeled on the clothing of concentration camp prisoners. More than 1,000 police officers were mobilized to prevent possible collisions.

            Since independence in 1991 Latvian veterans commemorate the Latvian Legion every year on March 16, a battle against the Red Army in 1944 at the Legion in vain tried to stop the advance of Soviet troops.

            A court had the event as in previous years allowed only in the eve after the city had the memorial march initially banned because of threats to public safety. Critics of the action a glorification of Nazism. For many Latvians, the SS veterans are freedom fighters.

            The Russian minority and the Jewish community criticize the memorial service, because the Latvian Legion was part of the German Waffen-SS. The veterans, however, emphasize that the military unit founded in 1943, defended their homeland against the re-occupation by the Russians.

            The Soviet Union had occupied Latvia in 1939 in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact, with the Eastern Europe was divided between Berlin and Moscow. About 15,000 Latvians were deported to Siberia. When Nazi Germany 1941, Latvia conquered in the Soviet Union in the course of the invasion, the Wehrmacht parts of the population was hailed as liberators. The German occupiers killed 70,000 of the 85,000 Jews turn the country. In October 1944, the Red Army retook Riga. Until 1991, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union.”


          10. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            You know, Poland is friendly to Germany, just like Russia (well it has been). Wy can’t Poland be friendly to Russia as well?

          11. Avatar Melp says:

            i would say avoid the talks about history until you know the individual pole personally. you can find this in older german traveller books for poland. because nearly every polish family lost members to the nazis.
            and even if you think you freed poland, many poles see it different. ie. grandfather of my gf came after 45 one day not home from his job and the family think he was murdered.
            when you ie have your 9. may parade it’s for some countries not the date when hitler was defeated but the date when they became enslaved by stalin.
            ie in the ukraine you are nauseated by these bandera day, but the 9. may, when some in ukraine lost their freedom is ok for you. so best would be to cancel both days. but somehow you need these unnecessary troubles^^.
            Tusk was a good polish president for the polish german relations. a Kaczyński can change this very fast again.
            and at last, poles have some temper.^^

          12. Avatar PolaR Bear says:

            Yeah, she showed me she has indeed)). You know whom I mean.