FIFTH COLUMN: Heading West Without Ever Leaving Home
- By Leonid Bershidsky
- Jul. 06 1999 00:00
The modern internal emigr? is typically a white-collar worker for some large corporation. It is important to remember, however, that in very recent times, our predecessors fell instead under the Soviet definition of white-collar criminals, traitors and, practically, spies for foreign powers. Department 5 of the KGB's Second Chief Directorate dealt with this fifth column.
Russian internal emigration has quite a history. Who were the refuseniks of the 1970s and 1980s if not internal emigr?s? They wanted to leave the country but were forcibly kept here in limbo - between mainstream Soviet society, with its jobs, schools and mind-numbing TV version of Communism, and real emigration, with the West as the promised land. My father, before he left the Soviet Union for Israel in 1975, was that kind of internal emigr? for some time, though he was no refusenik: The authorities let him out quite easily.
These people left Russia before they were allowed to cross the border.
They lived in anticipation of a better, freer world elsewhere.
But perhaps the most poignant example of internal emigration is that of writer and critic Andrei Sinyavsky. Physically, he only left the Soviet Union for France in the 1970s, after serving a prison sentence for anti-Soviet activities. But he actually emigrated long before, in 1959, when his novel "Sud Idyot" ("Rise for the Court") was published in Paris under the nom de plume Abram Terz.
Sinyavsky lived in Moscow and worked at the prestigious Gorky Institute for World Literature. In 1961, he even joined the Soviet Writers' Union. But his work and thoughts lived in the West, where his books were published. This looked a bit like a split personality disorder: Muscovite Sinyavsky and emigr? Terz, with his uncompromising view of Soviet reality and Russian literature.
Sinyavsky's weird form of emigration had a colorful history. While still studying at Moscow State University, he met Helene Peltier, a scholar of Slavic culture and the daughter of a French military attach?. The two appeared to be falling in love when the KGB started putting pressure on Sinyavsky to marry the Frenchwoman and persuade her to adopt Soviet citizenship. That would allow Stalin's counterintelligence to blackmail Peltier's father. The KGB thought he was a spy.
Sinyavsky devised an elaborate strategy to keep both Helene and himself out of jail. He pretended to fall in with the KGB's plan, but explained to Helene what the secret police wanted. He told her to reject his ostensible advances. As he was telling her the story of his supposed recruitment, KGB agents, invariably in government-issue suits and incongruously reading newspapers in the middle of the street, followed their every move.
The KGB took a long time to give up on its scheme. They even took Sinyavsky out to Vienna to meet with Peltier and work on her some more. But he stuck to his guns.
It was Peltier, who in 1956 took Sinyavsky's manuscript out of the Soviet Union and got it published, to rave reviews, in the West. Only in 1965 did the Soviet authorities figure out who Abram Terz really was. Otherwise Sinyavsky might never have been jailed. He almost certainly would never have emigrated. He would have remained an internal emigr? at least until the Soviet Union collapsed - and maybe even longer.