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(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)

  On May 30, three days after Sakharov gave up his hunger strike, TASS put out a statement which read in part: "What about the 'hunger strike'? Let us cite exact medical facts: Sakharov feels well, takes regular meals and lives an active way of life." It seems that at one point the KGB were worried that Sakharov might die as a result of the forced feeding, and they used his children by his first marriage to bring additional pressure on Bonner. In their press releases, TASS always cast Bonner in the light of a CIA-inspired provocateur, portraying her as the real trouble-maker in the Sakharov household, the one who had incited him to undertake hunger strikes. Some American scientists who were anxious to preserve cordial relations with their Soviet counterparts allowed themselves to be taken in by this disinformation tactic, causing further distress to Bonner in her isolation in Gorky when the KGB used these American statements in their interrogation of her. But these measures and official statements that Sakharov was in good health did not satisfy western media. What western audiences required was visible proof that he was alive and well.  

 On August, 1984 the popular West German weekly Bild-Zeitung announced that it was in possession of a twenty-minute videotape which showed Sakharov and Bonner "in their Gorky exile." "Most sequences were evidently taken in early and mid-June," said Bild. "A secret videocamera films everything in black and white - indisputable proof that the Russian civil rights crusader Sakharov is still alive." Simultaneously, the ABC television network in America, having purchased the tape from Bild-Zeitung, broadcast still photographs from it in its evening network news and screened major portions of the tape in its "Nightline" program the following evening.  

 The KGB's answer to the silence from Gorky was now evident. The Appearance of this videotape was a clear sign that a new disinformation tactic was being attempted. Though Bild did not specify how it came by the videotape, no one doubted that the source was ultimately the KGB.  

 At the time of the videotape's appearance, Sakharov and Bonner were not yet reunited, nor had Bonner's sentence been confirmed by the special appeals court meeting in Gorky. Had the couple known of the tape, and the secret filming that went into the making of it, no doubt their discouragement would have been even greater. As Bonner was to point out later, for all the outside world could know, she and Sakharov might have been dead at the time the videotape was being shown in the West.  

 Sakharov and Bonner spent the reminder of 1984 under close KGB surveillance. They were obliged to return to the hospital for Sakharov to have a check-up in September 1984, soon after his release. In November 1984, scientific colleagues were allowed to visit him in Gorky as was Bonner's lawyer, Reznikova, to discuss what they should do next. But colleagues and lawyer alike were indifferent to his account of his hospital experiences, an attitude which, while deeply depressing, steeled his determination to renew his hunger strike. Sakharov filed an official complaint at the conduct of Bonner's trial and sent a detailed description of everything that had happened to him in hospital to the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Anatoly Alexandrov. A copy of the latter document eventually reached the West and was published there early in 1986.  

 Bonner's heart condition was deteriorating. Treatment was more urgent than ever and she and Sakharov were as certain as ever that she had to receive this treatment outside the Soviet Union. Sakharov agreed to delay his next hunger strike until after Easter 1985. he began it on April 16, 1985, hoping as before that news of his action would reach the West, prompting concerted, international support fir his appeal. Five days later, on April 21, six men in white coats appeared at the door of the apartment, together with two women and Obukhov, the chief doctor of the hospital where Sakharov had been held in 1984. While the women held Bonner in a separate room, the men surrounded Sakharov, gave him an injection, and carried him out on a stretcher. The door slammed, and Bonner was left alone again. Back at the hospital, Sakharov was subjected again to force-feeding, to KGB men watching him day and night, some masquerading as patients in the same room, others as orderlies. Again he was given drugs, most likely of a kind to affect his judgment, again he was deprived of privacy and the right to communicate with his wife.  

 On July 11, Bonner was told that her husband would be returning shortly and that she should be on hand to meet him. It was unusual for her to be forewarned in this manner; fearing something untoward, she waited for him in the street outside the apartment, and sure enough, within an hour a hospital vehicle drove up and Sakharov got out. The couple embraced and entered the building. Sakharov explained to his wife that he had stopped his hunger strike that morning in order to allow an appeal he had made to Gorbachev to be received as favorably as possible. But he would renew the hunger strike in two weeks time, he had told Gorbachev, if nothing came of his hospital.   

Sakharov and bonner spent the two weeks as a kind of holiday, revelling in each other's company. They went to the movies, enjoyed a picnic by the Volga, spent as much time as they could in the open air, walking in the woods, picking mushroom, and listening to western broadcasts on the radio, reception being better out of doors.  

 But there was still no official response to Sakharov's appeal on behalf of his wife. On July 25, he began his hunger strike again, sending a telegram to Gorbachev to this effect. Two days later, Obukhov and his white-coated men and women appeared at the door, and once more Bonner was left alone while Sakharov returned to the hospital.  

 Meanwhile, three further videotapes had appeared in the West, all form the same source. In them, viewers saw Sakharov apparently eating well while in the hospital, ostensibly for a check-up, exercising, and receiving expert medical care. The most recent tape, released on July 29, when Sakharov was already back in hospital, and well into his third hunger strike, showed the couple during their recent two weeks together. Bonner could be seen greeting her husband warmly as he returned from the hospital; the couple was pictured enjoying life in Gorky; they seemed happy and healthy. Bonner heard of the tape through an unjammed radio broadcast the day it appeared in the West, adding a horrifying dimension to her situation. It was the first she knew of this form of lying.  

 People in the Soviet Union take it for granted that they are being spied on all the time. A video camera was present throughout Bonner's trail in August 1984, but the only other occasion she had seen, or thought she had seen, cameras being trained on her was on one of her trips to the market in Gorky in the summer of 1984. It never occurred to Bonner that the tape would be used for showing in the West.  

 Bonner quickly realized, however, the KGB was routinely tampering with every attempt she made to communicate with friends or her family. The KGB scrutinized her letters, postcards, and cables for hidden messages, changing words and dates, falsifying some meanings and forging others. Many were suppressed altogether. On one occasion, she sent a cable to a friend citing a line of poetry: "I have friends, thank God." In the poem which she hoped her friend would recognize, the preceding line would run: "The solitude is driving me from door to door." But the cable arrived with the line she had quoted altered. It now read: "Everything is all right, thank God."[5]   

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 
11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  References 


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