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Obituaries

A. Ginzburg, 65; Poet, Soviet Self-Publisher Rallied Dissidents

July 20, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Alexander Ginzburg--persecu- ted and jailed by Soviet authorities for helping to start the self-publishing movement that inspired dissidents for decades--died Friday in Paris, according to Russian news reports. He was 65.

A cause of death was not given, but Ginzburg had recently suffered a bout with lung cancer.

He will be buried Monday in the Russian Memorial Cemetery south of Paris, where many prominent Russians who fled the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution are interred, Russian media reported.

Ginzburg, a poet, launched the literary journal Syntaxis in 1959, one of the first samizdat, or self-published, journals. The samizdat papers flourished and moved from hand to hand among members of the dissident movement as they sought to spread opposition to the repressive Communist regime.

Only three issues of Syntaxis were released, however. In 1960, while the 24-year-old Ginzburg was preparing the fourth, the KGB arrested him and sent him to an Arctic labor camp.

After being released in 1962, he started compiling documents related to the arrest of prominent dissident Yuli Daniel and fellow writer Andrei Sinyavsky and published the work underground and abroad as "The White Book" in 1966.

He was re-arrested a year later and spent five years in prison.

In 1972, he helped author Alexander Solzhenitsyn distribute royalties from Solzhenitsyn's massive novel about his years in the Soviet labor camps, "The Gulag Archipelago," to the families of more than 700 jailed dissidents.

In 1976, Ginzburg was a founding member of the so-called Helsinki Group, which monitored Soviet compliance with the human-rights provisions of the Helsinki agreement of 1975.

He was arrested again in 1977 and subsequently sentenced to eight years in a "special regimen" labor camp. But he won his freedom in 1979 in a deal with the U.S. that also freed three other dissidents in exchange for two convicted Soviet spies.

Although released from prison, Ginzburg was not happy.

"I do not consider myself a liberated man," he told an interviewer less than a week after leaving his country. "I have not been freed. I have been banished from my homeland. This is considered punishment in my country, and it is very painful for me--worse, perhaps, than prison."

When he testified before a commission of House and Senate members in Washington a few weeks later, he described the poor conditions that prisoners endured within the Soviet gulag.

Stomach ulcers, hypertension, and kidney and liver disease were widespread. Ginzburg himself suffered from ulcers and high blood pressure, and his tuberculosis was aggravated by his prison work as a glass polisher forced to breathe air filled with glass powder.

He ultimately chose France as his home in exile. In Paris, he worked on the emigre newspaper Russian Thought.

In 1995, Ginzburg, who had appealed repeatedly to the KGB for the return of the materials that had prompted his first incarceration, was allowed to view papers related to his 1960 arrest and was given selected documents from his KGB files by the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB.

The papers included manuscripts and copies of Syntaxis.

"It was, for me, a shocking moment," he said. "They had saved almost everything."

Alexander Daniel, a historian and son of Yuli Daniel, called Ginzburg "the first real independent publisher and free journalist in Russia."

Natalya Solzhenitsyn, wife of the renowned writer, said Ginzburg "returned to people the understanding that they could be merciful, even though all around was this evil and horrible pressure."

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