“Shot for rumors of a German attack”
Law enforcement agencies are inundated with complaints from ordinary Russians about fakes. Hyperactive citizens in the current difficult conditions scribble complaints about neighbors and colleagues. Even security officials are sometimes put into a stupor by these letters: their authors see sedition where there is definitely none.
Photo: Mikhail Kovalev
This whole campaign began after the law on criminal liability for fakes came into force in Russia. A year ago, no one imagined that there could be such fakes for which they would be punished with a real term (up to 15 years in prison).
In a world where information has become a weapon, it seems perfectly logical to fight falsification and fiction. But the main thing in this struggle is not to overdo it.
My material is a warning. It is about fakes of the forties of the last century, which differed in one feature: they massively punished those who were slandered. Only many years later, the court recognized that the cases themselves were fake, and rehabilitated all the accused. Alas, many – posthumously.
Fake, as the dictionaries say, is something “false, inaccurate, falsified, presented as valid, real, reliable in order to mislead”. Most cases of fakes were in the 40s. At that time they were punished under Article 58-10 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR “Propaganda or agitation containing a call to overthrow, undermine or weaken Soviet power or to commit certain counter-revolutionary crimes.”
Before me are volumes on the rehabilitation of those who received sentences for such crimes, which turned out to be fictitious. We deliberately did not study stories in which famous names would appear. All these cases are about ordinary Soviet citizens who had no idea that they could fall under the article. We divided their criminal cases into types of “fakes”.
The first story: a peasant-“propagandist”
Investigation file No. 50 of the NKVD of the USSR. A gray-haired, gray-bearded man in a peasant jacket is looking at me from a card. He was arrested in the spring of 1937 – he was 63 years old. Nikolai Kuzmich was charged with spreading false information about the military-political situation.
There is a quote in the materials that allegedly belonged to him: “Japan goes to Mongolia, and then to the USSR. Japan must defeat the Soviet Union from the East, and Germany and other countries from the West. This fake was spread by an illiterate individual peasant in the village of Ust-Turga. As stated in the decision of the “troika”, by doing so he “carried out a defeatist position to the peasants in favor of Japan.” Shot.
Story two: the groom is a “spy”
Extract from their protocol No. 6 of the meeting of the Troika of the UNKVD of the East Siberian Region of September 17, 1937. In the dock is a 37-year-old groom who knows the Tibetan language. Actually, this knowledge, apparently, became the main evidence of his guilt. The Troika considered that he was spreading false information about the Red Army in Tibetan among the clergy, telling them that they needed to flee. The judges also raised the question of his possible espionage activities, but did not bother to collect evidence. Shot.
Story 3: Media workers are “saboteurs”
The next two cases are very similar, their heroes even received the same terms – 10 years in labor camps. In 1937, radio engineer Pyotr Ostanin was accused of using foul language against the Komsomol organization and allegedly jamming radio transmissions during the reports of the leaders of the party and the Soviet government. He was acquitted already in 1955 at the protest of the Prosecutor General of the USSR. It is interesting how they substantiated: “the accusation is based on unclear contradictory testimonies of witnesses (surnames are listed). With regard to Ostanin's main and only statement about one of the enemies of the people, it is impossible to establish in what vein this statement was made by him. From the testimony of Ostanino himself, it is clear that the statement “did not contain anti-Soviet intent.”
It turns out that only after almost twenty years they were able to figure out the meaning of the phrase that the radio operator said, and did not see anything seditious in it.
Printing worker Viktor Kazantsev was accused in 1938 of disseminating oral information that undermines the authority of the Soviet government, as well as disrupting the publication of newspapers and thereby creating “discontent among the population.” And again the protest of the Prosecutor General of the USSR. “Kazantsev's accusation is based on the testimony of witnesses, whose interviews are superficial and compiled with gross violations.” Court verdict: dismiss the criminal case for lack of evidence (“for lack of evidence” written with a ballpoint pen).
Fourth story: “defeatist” fakes
There are three characters in this story at once, and a decision on their guilt was made by special coverage under the NKVD of the USSR on December 16, 1942. So, the spouses Chikina (husband Viktor is Russian, wife Maria is Ukrainian) and the Hungarian Bela Frizl lived in Chita. Chikin and Frizzle worked in one of the statistical offices of the city. However, Frizzle, for example, in this department held the positions of a groom and a blacksmith, so he hardly knew much about numbers.
Chikin did not have a higher education, and his wife was a housewife at all at the time of her arrest. Be that as it may, all three were charged with having been conducting anti-Soviet agitation in their entourage for several years, “discredited the activities of the party and government, expressed defeatist sentiments.” Probably, it was the “proximity” to the statistical office that gave rise to imputing such a serious article to these unfortunate people (58-10 part 1 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR).
Sentence: the men were sentenced to 10 years, Mary – 8. They themselves did not plead guilty (the whole charge was based on the testimony of witnesses) Twenty years later, the Prosecutor General's Office will come to the conclusion that all the testimony is unconvincing and contradictory, read – false. The court fully rehabilitated all three.
Story Five: Drunk Fakes
Just imagine the usual picture for today. Men sit and drink, talk about different things, including politics, the situation in the country. Something like this happened in a small village, where almost all the inhabitants were employees of the Darasunzoloto plant (back in 1861, a vein of gold was found in this place, since then it has been mined there on an industrial scale). And so they sat down on the table, on which there was moonshine and a snack, Leonid Troitsky, Alexander Krymko, Ilya Belomestny. Troitsky proposed a toast to the health of Trotsky and Zinoviev, who at that time were recognized as enemies of the people. They were reported by the spouses who lived in the neighborhood.
And here is the consequence. All three did not deny it – there was a case, they drank, they said a toast. But even then, these actions did not contain elements of a counter-revolutionary crime (the court came to this conclusion 30 years later).
The investigation considered that the three allegedly spread false information about the innocence of Trotsky and Zinoviev while drinking drinks. And there was no direct evidence for this.
The logic of the investigation: since they drank to their health, it means that they did not believe in their terrorist activities and did not consider their punishment fair. Fake in general. On December 9, 1937, the NKVD troika sentenced Troitsky (he was then 26 years old) to death, two others were given 10 years each.
And here is the decision of the Presidium of the Chita Regional Court of 1965: “The materials of the case do not contain facts of a revolutionary crime. The case on the charges of Troitsky, Krymko and Belomestny should be closed for lack of corpus delicti with the return of the confiscated property.
30-year-old Evdokia Sevostyanova, according to investigators, spread fakes while working as a saleswoman at the Tsentrspirt stall. The woman sold alcohol, vodka and beer from morning to evening. As it happens – buyers often asked something, she answered. And then one of them reported: Evdokia tells clients that “everything is bad, people are starving.” And they allegedly then spread this false information further over a glass of vodka. It turned out that the influence of the saleswoman of the stall expanded to entire families and teams of plants and factories. Troika appointed her 10 years…
Story Six: Elections
A native of the Omsk region, Pyotr Kireev worked as a driver on the Baleyzoloto meringue. The surviving documents say that he spread slander against the nominated candidates to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, urged not to vote for them. Taking into account the fact that Peter's social circle was small, and he himself was only 23 years old at that moment, it is difficult to imagine how many people he allegedly could influence. But the special trio of the NKVD decided that he could. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Twenty years later, it turns out that the entire accusation was based on the testimony of a single witness. Moreover, he himself later refused them, but this did not help Kireev. “Condemned wrong. Guilt has not been proven,” wrote a representative of the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office.
Another Soviet citizen, Nikita Pluzhnikov, received 10 years in prison in 1937 “for elections.”
Here is how it was. Drunk, 31-year-old Nikita came to a club in Khapcherang, where a commission was working to check the voter lists. He went to the table, grabbed the voters' statements, crushed and tore them, using foul language. In all this, the “troika” saw a clear anti-Soviet overtones.
The seventh story: “sowers of panic”
The 1940s were probably the most jailed for talking about a possible attack on the USSR by foreign powers and about the fact that there was little food. Here are just a few of those stories.
Prokopy Optov received 8 years in 1940 for spreading rumors about the defeat of the USSR in the war with Germany and Japan. Villager Vasily Zherebtsov was executed for allegedly spreading rumors about the imminent death of Soviet power. Ivan Vyrubaev was shot for predicting that the USSR would soon be attacked, so you need to prepare and arm yourself. Evdokia Khutornaya received 10 years in 1937 for saying that there was no bread on the collective farm. The most terrible thing in all these four stories is that in 1955 the witnesses in their case were re-examined. And they couldn't remember anything. So there was no actual proof. All four cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Does this mean that all the accused did not spread “fakes”? Don't know. But this definitely means that the investigation did not bother to investigate, and also that absolutely everything that did not correspond to the accepted policy of the party was considered slander.
Debriefing as a stability factor
Even according to rough estimates, it turns out that there were at least a million cases for the spread of “fake” in the 40s. In the rarest cases, they ended in nothing. Basically, people received from 8 years to execution. Not one of the cases that we studied was without evidence, or, to call a spade a spade, without denunciations.
Let's imagine a situation: a person is afraid for his fate, he wants to believe (and firmly believes) in what the party tells him. Perhaps this is precisely his life support. Knock it down – and that's it, panic, horror, death. So maybe that's why they denounced everyone who expressed the slightest doubts about the political and social situation?
– You noticed everything correctly, – says academician, doctor of psychological sciences Alexander Asmolov. – The basis of this phenomenon is the desire to destroy any diversity of opinions and judgments that threatens the security of a particular individual or society.
For many decades, a unique culture was created in the Soviet Union – the culture of denunciation. She assumed the vigilant observation of each for each. The denunciation was encouraged, because it was a kind of sign of trustworthiness: if you denounce, then you are the bearer of the dominant ideological setting. The denunciation was, if you like, one of the unique passes in a professional, social and personal career.
The old Odessa fairy tale film describes this perfectly. There is a song with these words: “And our king believes in one thing – In denunciation, in denunciation, in denunciation.”
– It is interesting that the culture of denunciation as a tool of social advancement, often coinciding with the mechanism of envy of another, is well described in psychoanalysis, continues Asmolov. – Thanks to denunciation, a person has a chance to overcome his own inferiority, insignificance or even insignificance.
The consequences of this in those years were sad: dominated (occupied key posts and positions) by those who did not have their own gift and talent, but rose only to compensate for their complexes.
These people were prominent representatives of social conformism, living according to the U2 formula: guess and please. In general, denunciation is sanctioned by any totalitarian system that aims to destroy someone else's opinion.
In the 1940s there was a criminal liability for non-information. My relative was sentenced to 9 years in camps in Siberia for not denouncing two girls from Lithuania. They tried to flee abroad, but she did not stop them.