Demonstration on Pushkin Square

Address: Pushkin Square, Moscow

Demonstration at the Pushkin monument on December 5, 1976. Photo: Memorial Society Photo Archive

Demonstration at the Pushkin monument on December 5, 1976. Photo: Memorial Society Photo Archive

On September 8 and 12, 1965, writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yulii Daniel were arrested for publishing their works under pseudonyms abroad. Poet Aleksandr Yesenin-Volpin, who had experienced many conflicts with the repressive Soviet system, decided to organize a public meeting.

Throughout the autumn of 1965, Yesenin-Volpin worked with the text “Grazhdanskoe obrashchenie” (“Civil Treatment”), in which he urged people to demonstrate and demand a public trial for Sinyavsky and Daniel. The main goal of the public meeting was to demand justice.

The last major demonstration in the Soviet Union took place in 1927. According to the Constitution of the Soviet Union (Article 125), published in 1936, freedom of demonstration was guaranteed on the condition that such demonstrations supported the “interests of workers."

The demonstration was planned for Constitution Day, December 5. A couple of weeks before the chosen date, Yesenin-Volpin’s texts were distributed in Moscow’s colleges. Even before the event began, eleven activists were detained and sent to a psychiatric hospital.

At 6 o’clock on December 5, 1965, a few dozen people gathered on Pushkin Square. They had written demands for an open trial for Sinyavsky and Daniel on banners, along with requests to respect the Soviet Constitution and slogans in defense of the activists who had already been sent to a psychiatric hospital. Police suppressed attempts to raise the banners and give speeches. The participants were arrested and released after several hours of questioning.

On December 5, 1966, a silent meeting took place on Pushkin Square. It was attended by several dozen people and it was the starting point of the tradition of “silent meetings” that were held nearly every year at the monument to Pushkin. At exactly 6 o'clock on December 5, people would remove their hats and stand quietly for one minute.

The meeting caught the attention of foreign activists associated with the dissident movement. After the new Constitution of the Soviet Union was adopted in 1977, the date of the annual silent demonstration was changed to December 10, International Human Rights Day.

The KGB gradually changed its tactics and started to detain people before they could enter the square.

Since 1986, official meetings have always been held on Pushkin Square on December 10.