Obituary: Andrei Sinyavsky

After Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky was the most famous Soviet dissident. His 1966 trial in Moscow for - with Yuli Daniel - publishing abroad "anti-Soviet" satirical stories became sensational. He was sentenced to seven years' hard labour; the occasion marked the beginning of the modern dissident movement in the Soviet Union.

He was born in 1925 in Moscow, son of a party official who was arrested in Stalin's purge in 1951. He served as a soldier in the Second World War, survived, and graduated from Moscow University in 1949, a year marked by a new wave of arrests, and strict censorship in arts and literature. For a while he worked at his own university until he moved to the Gorky Institute of World Literature, an arm of the Soviet literary establishment.

It was from this dark background that he started writing - in tune with the official line - articles and essays on Akhmatova, Babel, Gorky and Pasternak. Three years after Stalin's death in 1953, during Khrushchev's so-called "thaw", when there was a hope for liberalisation, his article "What is the Socialist Realism?" appeared: written in defiance of censorship, it created a sensation in Moscow literary circles and with the reading public. This encouraged Sinyavsky and his friend Yuli Daniel (three weeks his junior) both to write books and short stories which they sent to France through a woman who worked at the French Embassy in Moscow.

From 1959 on, even before Solzhenitsyn appeared in print, for a few years both the Russian and Western literary worlds were mystified by the sharply satirical, anti-Stalinist Fantasticheskii Mir Abrama Tertsa ("The Fantastic World of Abram Tertz"), followed by Sud Idet ("The Trial is On"), where he described Stalinist methods of persecuting people, according to the saying of Lenin that the aim justifies the means; and Liubimov. The books appeared under the pseudonyms Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky) and Nikolai Arzhak (Yuli Daniel). Eventually the KGB in Paris, who dug deep, and everywhere had their own people, discovered who the authors were.

Exposed, they were arrested on 8 September 1965 and soon after put on trial. Officially they were declared "traitors" who had sold themselves for dollars to the West. But Russian literary circles knew exactly what really annoyed the Soviet literary establishment: that, being a Russian, Sinyavsky took a Jewish pseudonym while Daniel, who was Jewish, took a Russian pseudonym, and this pair - "agents of international Zionism", as they were called - challenged the whole Soviet system.

The trial attracted world attention. It recalled the 1930s show trials. The speeches of establishment writers on the prosecution's side were broadcast through loudspeakers on the streets of Moscow, but never those from the defence. The lonely voices of Lydia Chukovskaya, Alexander Ginzburg (who published Belaya Kniga in samizdat), and Konstantin Paustovsky drowned in the choir of attacks in the Soviet press. The weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta, which led those loyal to the Soviet government, printed Mikhail Sholokhov (and the like) who demanded nothing less than execution of the writers. Sinyavsky was sentenced to seven years' hard labour in a camp (and Daniel five) amidst protests from prominent literary figures, left- wing intellectuals and even from fellow Communists in the West. It was all well documented by the world press.

In the camp, in Potma, some 500km from Moscow, Sinyavsky continued to write. His correspondence with his wife was published (in 1973 in London) in a book, Golos iz khora ("A Voice from the Choir"), and later appeared in the main countries of the West. He was released on 8 June 1971. Two years later together with his wife, Maria Rozanova, and his son, he received permission to leave the Soviet Union for France. There he was appointed to a professorship at the Sorbonne.

But in exile his celebrity status quickly lost its lustre. His two major books, Progulki's Pushkinym ("Walking with Pushkin", 1975) and V Teni Gogolya ("In the Shadow of Gogol", 1976), were controversial and even received a hostile reception from Russians living abroad.

Feeling the lack of outlets for his views, in the late 1970s Sinyavsky, with his wife (always the driving force behind him), founded and published, from his own small publishing firm, a literary magazine, Sintaksis, in which he published articles by himself and his fellow writers. He returned to Moscow under Gorbachev's perestroika in 1988, when his friend Yuli Daniel died.

Sinyavsky lived in a suburb of Paris from which he always managed to remain in the centre of Russian dissident literary life.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky, writer: born Moscow 8 October 1925; married Maria Rozanova (one son); died Paris 25 February 1997.

Comments