Early Soviet dissident Alexander Esenin-Volpin dies at 91

MOSCOW: Alexander Esenin-Volpin, a poet and mathematician who became one of the first Soviet rights activists in the 1960s and spent years incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals and in exile, has died at 91 in Boston, his friends in Moscow said on Wednesday.

On December 5 1965, Esenin-Volpin organised a protest in Moscow with around 200 people taking part calling for an open public trial of two writers arrested a few months earlier.

The rally on Moscow’s central Pushkin Square was unprecedented in the post-war Soviet Union and was one of the catalysts for the dissident movement which saw intellectuals speak out against the regime despite facing prison.

That first protest was organised to show support for writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, accused of publishing their works abroad.

Their notorious trial in 1965-66 saw them sentenced to several years in a prison camp for anti-Soviet propaganda.

“It was Esenin-Volpin who had the idea. A demonstration that was not organised by the authorities — this idea was unbelievable at the time,” veteran activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told.

Esenin-Volpin himself recalled in a 2013 documentary: “I decided that we needed to hold a demonstration — and it was held — calling simply for openness (glasnost) at the trial. Just let them reveal what they are hiding and then everything else will follow through.”

The head of Moscow’s Andrei Sakharov rights centre, Sergei Lukashevsky wrote on Facebook that Esenin-Volpin “formulated a simple but absolutely revolutionary thought for Soviet people: that citizens must demand that the authorities follow the law.”