Remembering a Dissident
My father, Yuri Glazov, risked his life standing up against the Soviet regime. Was his battle in vain?
One day, when I was nine years old, my father and I were on our way to Church. As we neared the entrance, I spat on the ground. Reflexively, my dad’s arm shot out across my chest like a railway barrier, blocking my motion forward. We stood there, frozen in time, for some three seconds until my father uttered, in a very serious but patient way: “It is ok to spit outside of KGB headquarters, but never in front of a place such as this.” I registered the message and indicated my understanding – and we proceeded on our way.
That was my dad’s moral clarity and sharp, quick-witted way with words; and the sacred values that spawned those words made a profound impression on me from the moment of my birth. I was born into a family of Russian dissidents – a father and a mother, Yuri and Marina Glazov, who put their clenched fists up and went toe-to-toe with the Evil Empire.
Throughout my youth, my dad shared many stories with me, which included how he had always been aware, even in his youth, that he existed in a slave camp masquerading as a country and that he perpetually dreamed of escaping it. He spent his young years studying maps, trying to decipher which body of water he could swim across to escape the communist paradise he languished in. But his life ended up going a different way: he confronted the slave masters, rather than escaping the prison they had built.
My father was a scholar at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and a professor at Moscow State University. His main field of study concerned Oriental languages and cultures, with a specialty in the Chinese, Sanskrit and Tamil areas. Despite his rewarding career, my dad put everything on the line and began to attend human rights demonstrations in Moscow on behalf of political prisoners. He also started to sign letters of protest against the political repressions that were heightening in the country in the 1960s, connected as they were to the re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union after the Khrushchev thaw. The activities my dad engaged in could land a Soviet citizen in the gulag or a psychiatric hospital for decades.
On February 24, 1968, my father signed the Letter of Twelve, a letter written and signed by twelve Soviet dissidents to the Supreme Congress of Communist Parties in Budapest denouncing Soviet human rights abuses. He was immediately fired from his work for being “unprofessional” in his scholarly studies (even though he previously had received high praise for his academic studies).
The picture of my dad, shown above, was taken by a friend who had come to visit him the evening of the day he was expelled from the Academy. My father had been at a meeting at the closed section of the Supreme Soviet of Scholars. Before the committee announced his expulsion, he had delivered a strong speech about political repressions in the country and finished by talking about his hope that the days of freedom would one day come to his beloved Russia.
After his expulsion, my father received a labor card with a special secret code that meant that he was blacklisted and could not receive employment anywhere in the country. He even tried to get a job cleaning streets, but was refused once an employer saw the poisoned markings. In a Soviet Catch-22, because of his “unemployment,” the KGB began to persecute my father for “parasitism” – a law in the Soviet Union that criminalized unemployed people and subsequently shipped them off to labor camps in Siberia.
Under these circumstances, my dad’s health broke down. He became very sick and was hospitalized. The Communist Party was as cold and unforgiving as the Siberian winter, and the KGB sharks waited for him to arrive home from his sickbed. But my dad’s sickness and several other developments threw the unfolding narrative down a different path:
During this time, a friend of our family’s told my dad that, under vicious harassment by the KGB (they had discovered an affair she was having and threatened to tell her husband), she had agreed to be a witness for them in a trial against my father that would charge (and convict) him of selling foreign currency and drugs on the black market (which she would place in our apartment). Upon hearing this, my dad knew the KGB was going for the jugular and that he only had one hand left to play. He immediately sent a letter to the Department for Exit Visas in which he said: give me a job or let me out of the country. Shortly afterwards, in April 1972, before Nixon’s visit to Moscow — and perhaps because of that visit — my father received the Exit Visa to emigrate from the Soviet Union. In escaping the Soviet hell, he was able to bring his family (my mom, my sister Elena, my brother Grisha and me) to the West.
[My family, after my father was expelled from the Academy. My mom is on the left and my older sister, Elena, is on the right. I”m the youngest, with my older brother Grisha behind me.]
My father never stopped fighting the Soviet system and the murderous, anti-human ideology that spawned it. He never fell into silence about the genocide and monstrous oppression communism engendered everywhere it set foot. He was always outspoken on behalf of political prisoners that languished in communist gulags around the world. I grew up in this spirit that my dad (and mom) nurtured in our family, and my heart and mind, from a young age, were preoccupied with the fate and sufferings of heroes like Russia’s Vladimir Bukovsky and Cuba’s Armando Valladares.
I am eternally grateful to my father, and to my mother, for having instilled in me one of the highest values in life, which we find in Hebrews 13:3: Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. And that is precisely that value that explains why I am at Frontpage Magazine today, fighting on the front lines alongside a noble warrior like David Horowitz on behalf of freedom fighters everywhere, and in particular the brave Muslim dissidents, Christians, Jews, Muslim women, and all other minorities and peoples, who are being viciously persecuted under Islamist tyranny.
When my dad arrived in the U.S. via Italy, he first taught at Boston College as Professor of Russian Studies. He then moved to Canada in 1975 to teach at the Department of Russian Studies at Dalhousie University. He loved to teach Fyodor Dostoevsky and the history of Russian ideas.
In 1992, the Soviet Academy of Sciences apologized to my father for persecuting him earlier, and now invited him to re-establish scholarly contacts. In the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, my father received a document from the Sakharov Archives located in Boston. Dated February 19, 1971, it was a top secret letter written by Yuri Andropov, leader of the KGB at the time, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Filled with obscene lies and clear self-induced lies, it accused my dad of terrorism and espionage, indicating the kind of trial the KGB was preparing for my dad in those horrifying years. This document proves how much the KGB hated dissidents and spread the most vicious lies about them (being CIA agents etc.).
Bugging the regular conversations of my father with Sakharov, mostly in Sakharov’s apartment, the KGB deliberately distorted the discussions, parts of which dealt with the history of terrorism in Russia. The so-called “espionage” of my father was based on his correspondence with international scholars in his field, which my father dared to conduct in those dangerous years. Naturally, his letters were perlustrated and listed in the KGB files.
My father published numerous books and articles in both Russian and English. The two books that became best known were, The Russian Mind Since Stalin’s Death and To Be or Not to Be in the Party: Communist Party Membership in the USSR.
My dad died of cancer on March 15, 1998. It was before the Vladimir Putin period, but my father already gauged, with great disappointment, what was happening in his beloved homeland. He understood the disaster and tragedy concerning the future moral health of his country when Nuremberg-style trials did not follow the collapse of the Soviet Union. The crimes and atrocities of Soviet communism – and the ideology that engendered the mass murder of 60 million people – were all supposed to be revealed and condemned. The secret KGB archives were supposed to be opened. The exposure and punishment of high ranking KGB officers and communist officials were supposed to take place in front of the whole world. Instead, these criminals and mafia figures remained in power – just in new clothing and using new language.
New school textbooks were supposed to be introduced – like those in post-war Germany that dealt honestly with the crimes of the Nazi era. It is impossible to imagine Hitler being praised in today’s German school texts or his glorified portrait being hung high in the streets of Germany. But in Russia, the mirror image of that horror happened and still continues today.
So, today, with Putin and his KGB thugs and murderers in power, we are now witnessing the preparation for the 65th anniversary celebration of the Soviet victory in WWII; it will be marked with portraits of Joseph Stalin as the country’s victorious war-time leader. This is no surprise, of course, since Putin has overseen a strong pining for Stalin in Russia, which now manifests itself in a beverage plant in Volgograd releasing a series of soft drinks picturing the dictator on its labels and a new textbook in schools speaking of the mass murderer as, among other things, an “effective manager.”
What would my father have thought of all of these developments if he were alive today? So many dissidents sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom in the Soviet Union. For what? Russia was given the window of opportunity to choose freedom in the early 1990s, but it chose to turn its back on this historic opportunity. My father shared the same fate as many of his friends and other dissidents: if you avoided being murdered, you passed away early from cancer or other illnesses. One can only imagine what terrible stress these freedom fighters endured for the sake of bringing liberty to their nation. Was it all in vain?
I don’t think it was. What my father and the other courageous warriors did was meaningful in its own right. Moreover, the struggle my father’s life valiantly represented lives on. And today, each of us can help keep the flame alive.
My father’s career at Dalhousie lasted twenty years – until his retirement in 1995. To honor his memory, a memorial award was established in his name. But funding for this award has been scarce and now the possibility has emerged that it will be shut down. This memorial fund is really the only marker in existence that publicly keeps alive who my dad was, what he did, and what he represented. It symbolizes the struggle of all dissidents for truth and for freedom. If some funds begin to materialize, the memorial award for my father can remain in existence. I would like to put a request to all of you who care and who can help, to kindly click on this site at Dalhousie to read about the Yuri Glazov Memorial Award and to contribute in any way you can – and even the smallest contribution will count a lot.
Thank you, I am most grateful to all of you who will help to make sure that my dad’s battle – and the battle of so many freedom fighters and martyrs who rose and fell fighting Soviet communism – will not be forgotten.
To read about the Yuri Glazov Memorial Award, click here.