Obituary: Ivan Svetlichny
Monday 21 December 1992
IVAN SVETLICHNY was a thorn in the side of Leonid Brezhnev and, with Viacheslav Chornovil, Ivan Drach and Vasil Stusa, the best-known of the Ukrainian dissidents and campaigners for human rights.
He was born, the son of a farmer, in 1929 in the village of Polovinkino, Lugansk Oblast, in Ukraine. The time was the beginning of the ruthless collectivisation campaign ordered by Stalin when independent peasant holdings were amalgamated by force into collective state farms - kolkhozes.
Ukraine, the richest country in the Soviet Union, lost some 20 million people who met these measures with fierce resistance: many were murdered, others died of hunger, thousands were deported into the Gulags of Siberia: very few returned.
Svetlichny left his local school with a gold medal, and in 1952 graduated from the philological faculty at Kharkov University. In 1954 he gained his PhD at Shevchenko Institute of Literature in Kiev. From 1954 to 1965 he was an editer at Dnepr, a literary magazine. He became one of the organisers at the Club of Creative Youth in Kiev, a club dominated by Ukrainian left-wing intellectuals and closely watched by the Ukrainian KGB. Khrushchev's liberalisation period was now over.
After Khrushchev was ousted in October 1964, a wave of repressions enveloped the country. In August 1965 Svetlichny was arrested for the club's anti-government activity and received one year's imprisonment in a labour camp. When he was set free the KGB continued watching him - his telephone was tapped and letters were opened.
In July 1968 General Poluden of the KGB appeared at a conference of Ukrainian intellectuals in Lvov, the capital of Western Ukraine and the centre of Ukrainian dissident activity, and, when asked why Svetlichny had been harassed by his office, answered: 'Because he was in constant touch with this dirty Jew Daniel' - the Moscow writer Yuli Daniel.
The Siniavsky-Daniel affair of 1965 received international publicity: the two writers were put on trial for having published their work in the West under pseudonyms. After August 1968, the Ukrainian KGB came to Svetlichny to 'arrest' a book, Tekhnologia Vlasti ('Technology of Power') by A. Avtorkhanov, a political historian living in Munich. The book was an important study of the Brezhnev regime, and banned in the Soviet Union. Ivan's sister, Nadezhda, a librarian at a public library in Kiev, distributed it in photocopy form.
In January 1971 the 'group of 19' was arrested by the KGB - 11 in Kiev and eight in Lvov - in connection with Yaroslav Dobosh affair. Dobosh was a 24-year-old Belgian of Ukrainian parentage who had been recruited by a Ukrainian nationalist organisation to distribute anti-Communist literature in Ukraine. The organisation was penetrated by the KGB and Dobosh was arrested when he arrived in Kiev as a tourist. His main contacts were Svetlichny, his sister and others. The political trial in Kiev attracted wide attention in the West because Ukrainian nationalists protested to the Western media. The Ukrainian KGB reported the case to Leonid Brezhnev, who was born and made his career in Ukraine. Brezhnev was in close contact with his former fellas. When asked what to do with Svetlichny and others because the case had already received a bad publicity in the West, Brezhnev advised: 'Rot them behind bars.' Svetlichny received seven years in labour camp which he served in the notorious Perm-35 labour camp (filmed in July 1989 by French television) and five years of exile.
He was still in exile when in November 1982 Brezhnev died and Yuri Andropov took over. He was released under another Ukrainian - Konstantin Chernenko. Svetlichny's health was seriously damaged by these years in prisons and camps. He never recovered, although he became a celebrity politician during glasnost and perestroika and often appeared on Ukrainian television.
When Svetlichny on Brezhnev's advice was 'rotting' in Perm-35 in 1977 his collection of poems Sonety Za Beshetkoi ('Sonnets Behind Bars') was published in New York. Last year in Kiev another collection of his poems, Serdtze Dlya Pul i Dlya Rifm ('Heart for Bullets and Rhymes') appeared.
His memorial service at Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev was attended by prominent Ukrainian, Moscow and St Petersburg intellectuals. The President of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, who is also a son of a farmer, was quoted as saying, 'It was a big political mistake to harass Svetlichny and others.'
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