Sinyavsky–Daniel trial

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Sinyavsky–Daniel trial
Native name Процесс Синявского и Даниэля
Date February 10–13, 1966 (1966-02-10 – 1966-02-13)
Location Moscow
Cause satires smuggled abroad and published under pen names
Participants Andrei Sinyavsky, Yuli Daniel
Charges anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda (Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code)
Verdict Sinyavsky was sentenced to seven years in strict-regime labor camp, Yuli Daniel was sentenced to five years

The Sinyavsky–Daniel trial (Russian: Проце́сс Синя́вского и Даниэ́ля) was a trial against Russian writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel which took place in Moscow in February 1966. Sinyavsky and Daniel were convicted under the offense of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda for publishing their satirical writings abroad. They were sentenced to seven and five years in strict regime labor camps, respectively.

The trial was the first Soviet show trial during which writers were openly convicted solely for their literary work. Uncommonly for a political charge in the Soviet Union, the defendants plead not guilty. While the trial was accompanied by harsh denunciations of the writers in Soviet media, it also provoked appeals by many Soviet intellectuals in defense of the writers, and lead to a widespread critical response from public figures outside the Soviet Union.

The Sinyavsky-Daniel case is widely considered to mark the end of the period of Khruschev's liberalism and was a major starting impulse for the Soviet dissident movement.[1][2]

The trial

In September 1965, well-known literary writer and critic Andrei Sinyavsky and writer and translator Yuli Daniel were arrested for having published in foreign editorials under the respective pseudonyms Abram Tertz and Nikolai Arzhak. The prosecution argued that their literary work was consciously intended to subvert and weaken the Soviet system and amounted to the criminal offense of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.


Andrei Sinyavsky, using the pseudonym Abram Tertz, had begun sending his work to be published in the West, initially in Paris, in 1959. His friend Yuli Daniel, employing the alias "Nikolai Arzhak", began publishing in 1961.

The publication of Daniel's This is Moscow Speaking and Sinyavsky's The Trial Begins in the West between 1959 and 1962 caught the attention of the KGB. Although 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. Both were placed under round-the-clock surveillance and their apartments were secretly searched. Information was also gathered from Sinyavsky and Daniel's colleagues acting as informants as well as KGB officials posing as neighbors' relatives.[3]:307–311 [4]

Andrei Sinyavsky was arrested on September 13, 1965. Yuli Daniel's arrest followed five days later. Initially, the party leaders were hesitant about pressing ahead in the case. Leonid Brezhnev personally consulted with head of the Union of Soviet Writers Konstantin Fedin. Fedin, who had been criticized in an essay by Andrei Sinyavsky, urged him to make an example of the writers. On January 13, 1966, Brezhnev made the final decision to go ahead with the trial.[5]:222–223

Their detention became publicly known at the beginning of October 1965, when the Secretary General of the European Community of Writers Giancarlo Vigorelli raised the question a meeting or the organization in Rome. In November of that year, General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers Alexey Surkov admitted that the writers were in custody and gave an assurance that "legality" of the trial would be observed.[6]:20 The Soviet public learned of the arrest of the writers in January, 1966, when Izvestia published an article about the case. The article, entitled "The Turncoats", described Sinyavsky and Daniel as "were-wolves" and "renegades" guilty of "high treason". Referencing foreign criticism, it warned that no leniency would be shown.[5]:223 [7]:19–21


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.[8]:654 The article punished

Agitation or propaganda carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening of the Soviet regime ['vlast'] or of committing particular, especially dangerous crimes against the state, or the circulation, for the same purpose of slanderous fabrications which defame the Soviet state and social system, or the circulation or preparation or keeping, for the same purposes, of literature with such content.[9]:153–154

This was the first time that the article was applied to fiction.[10]


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.[3]:309

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.[11] Sinyavsky's and Daniel's literary works were themselves presented as evidence.[7]

The defendants in turn claimed to be loyal citizens who wanted to strengthen the Soviet Union by eliminating remnants of Stalinist abuses. Both writers argued that accusations of "slander" can not be applied to literary works. Sinyavsky repeatedly stated that the prosecution's line of argument eliminated the difference between an author and his characters.[7] Unusual in the USSR, both writers entered a plea of not guilty.[5]:224


On February 12, 1966, the court sentenced Yuli Daniel to five years in strict-regime labor camp. Andrei Sinyavsky was sentenced on February 13 to seven years.[12] 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.[13]

Significance and legacy

Reaction abroad

Articles in the New York Times and Le Monde as early as October 1965 profiled the case. 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.[14]:171

The trial was universally condemned in the Western media and drew criticism from public figures from around the world.[15]:15–16 PEN International as well as individual writers such as W. H. Auden, William Styron and Hannah Arendt expressed their indignation.[5] 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.[16] After Sinyavsky and Daniel's conviction, Graham Greene unsuccessfully asked for his royalties in the Soviet Union to be paid over to their wives.[5]

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.[5][17] The Scandinavian Communist parties condemned the trial outright.[5]

In the spring of 1968, the US ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg attempted to draw the attention of the UN Human Rights Commission to the plight of the imprisoned writers, describing the trial as "an outrageous attempt to give the form of legality to the suppression of a basic human right."[18] The Soviet delegation, Iran and countries of communist and the Afro-Asian bloc secured the deletion of this speech from the records of the Commission.[19][20]:160

Internal reaction

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".[21][13][22] 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".[21]

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.[23]

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[24]

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.[24]

Several people, including Daniel's wife Larisa Bogoraz, sent independent letters in support of Sinyavsky and Daniel.[25]

Dissident movement

Many members of the intelligentsia felt ambivalent towards the publication of works abroad, especially under a pseudonym. Nevertheless, many 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.[8]:658 [26]: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. 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 mathematician Alexander Esenin-Volpin, historian and poet Yuri Galanskov and student Vladimir Bukovsky. The demonstration became known as the "glasnost meeting" (митинг гласности).[27] It became an annual event in Moscow, attracting luminaries such as Andrei Sakharov.[8]:660

The demonstration was 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 (Galanskov-Ginzburg trial) 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 samizdat civil rights periodical 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.[14]:171 [28]:914

Political and legal consequences

The trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel was the first Soviet show trial during which writers were openly convicted solely for their literary work.[21][29][6]:24

The trial 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).[26]: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:[9][30]

  • 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.[31]: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.[31]:127

See also


  1. "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 (1997). The Decline and Fall of Soviet Empire: Forty Years That Shook The World, From Stalin to Yeltsin. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-16816-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. (Russian) — Речь В.В. Игрунова на Международной научной конференции "Диссидентское Движение в СССР. 1950-е — 1980-е."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Andrew, Christopher; Mitrochin, Vasili (2001). The sword and the shield: the Mitrokhin Archive and the secret history of the KGB (Paperback ed.). New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465003125.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 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]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Hayward, Max (1967). On Trial: the Soviet State versus "Abram Tertz" and "Nikolai Arzhak". Harper & Row. OCLC 358400.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kolonosky, Walter (2003). "Satirists on Trial". Literary Insinuations: Sorting out Sinyavsky's Irreverence. Lexington Books. pp. 11–26. ISBN 978-0-7391-0488-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Berman, Harold: Soviet Criminal Law and Procedure: The RSFSR Codes, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1972; pp. 81-83. ISBN 978-0-674-82636-6
  10. Green, Jonathon; Karolides, Nicholas J (2005). Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York: Facts On File. p. 515. ISBN 978-1-4381-1001-1. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. The works cited at the trial were Sinyavski's On Socialist Realism (1959), The Trial Begins (1960), Lyubimov (The Makepeace Experiment) (1964), as well as Daniel's This Is Moscow Speaking (1963), The Man from MINAP (1963), Hands (1966), and Atonement (1964). Green, J., Karolides, N. J. (eds.): Encyclopedia of Censorship, New York: Facts On File, 2005. p. 515
  12. Juviler, Peter H. (1998). Freedom's Ordeal: The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Post-Soviet States. Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8122-3418-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Feofanov, Yuri; Barry, Donald D. (1996). "The Siniavsky–Daniel Trial". Politics and Justice in Russia: Major Trials of the Post-Stalin Era. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe. pp. 38–49. ISBN 978-1-56324-344-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Puddington, Arch (2000). Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-7124-1. Retrieved 2016-05-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Labedz, Leopold; Lasky, Melvin J. (1989). The Use and Abuse of Sovietology. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-88738-252-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. The Cambridge Companion to Sartre. Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. 1992. p. xiii. ISBN 0521381142.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Drew Middleton, U.S. Scores Trials of Soviet Writers, N.Y. Times, 7 Mar. 1968, at 1.
  19. Drew Middleton, Soviet Wins Deletion of Most of US Charge From UN Report, N.Y. Times, 15 Mar. 1968, at 6.
  20. Horvath, Robert (2014). "Breaking the Totalitarian Ice: The Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR". Human Rights Quarterly. 36 (1): 147–175. doi:10.1353/hrq.2014.0013. ISSN 1085-794X. Retrieved 2015-08-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 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
  22. Obituary: Andrei Sinyavsky, The Independent, February 27, 1997
  23. 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. p. 226. ISBN 978-1-4128-1161-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • (English) Online: "Soviet Writers' Appeal for the Release of Sinyavsky and Daniel". Retrieved 2015-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • (English) 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. 24.0 24.1 Oushakine, Serguei Alex (2001). "The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat". Public Culture. 13 (2): 191–214. doi:10.1215/08992363-13-2-191.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, p. 197
  25. Alexeyeva, Ludmilla (1987). Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights. Carol Pearce, John Glad (trans.). Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. pp. 277–279. ISBN 0-8195-6176-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. 26.0 26.1 Shatz, Marshall S. (1980). Soviet Dissent in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23172-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Zubok, Vladislav (2009). Zhivago's Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 263–264. ISBN 978-0-674-03344-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Barbara Walker (2008). "Moscow Human Rights Defenders Look West: Attitudes toward U.S. Journalists in the 1960s and 1970s". Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 9 (4): 905–927. doi:10.1353/kri.0.0041. ISSN 1538-5000. Retrieved 2016-05-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Numerous writers executed during Stalinist repressions were usually falsely accused of terrorism or espionage.
  30. Elst, Michiel (2005). Copyright, Freedom of Speech, and Cultural Policy in the Russian Federation. Law in eastern Europe. Leiden: Nijhoff. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-90-04-14087-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. 31.0 31.1 Simons, William B. (1984). The Soviet Codes of Law. The Hague: BRILL. ISBN 9028608109.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

Other languages

External links

Trial transcripts and documents

Coverage of the trial