On December 23, 2016, the third court session of the case against the Russian historian Boris Sokolov and Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy took place in Krasnopresnensky Regional Court in Moscow. The lawsuit was filed by Vera Serova, the granddaughter of the first KGB Chairman Ivan Serov, and Aleksandr Khinstein, the editor of Ivan Serov’s Russian memoir Notes from the Suitcase. The claim is based on a Russian libel law protecting the “honor and dignity” of individuals and his case seeks to protect the late General.
As I have mentioned in previous articles and posts, the lawsuit claims that Sokolov “categorically states that the published memoir and diaries of Serov are fake, fabricated by their editor Aleksandr Khinshtein to rehabilitate ‘the executioner’ Serov.” Probably, the most interesting detail of the last hearings was that Vera Serova presented a document to the court that stated that “in April 2013, Vera V. Serova found in [her grandfather’s] apartment previously unpublished literary works (diaries, notes) of Serov Ivan Aleksandrovich” (see a photo of the first page of this document). In other words, there was no sensational discovery of “the notes in the wall” that was reported in the Russian and international press.
After the end of the session on December 23, Dr. Sokolov stated:
At the previous session, held on December 7, Khinstein and Vera Serova brought in a big suitcase that included two small suitcases with Serov’s manuscripts. We were able to study them for about an hour and a half. These were handwritten notebooks, separate handwritten and typewritten pages, without and with editorial changes. It was unclear whether these were all the manuscripts [in their posession], or they had more. At first the plaintiffs said that these were all that they had, but then they hinted that they still have more.
While we were inspecting the manuscripts, Khinstein made it clear that I, and not Ekho Moskvy, was the main target of the claim because of my ideological position [as a historian]. He promised to increase the amount of money compensation in the claim against me. He kept his promise, and at today’s session the compensation claim was increase by 500 thousand rubles.
The representative of the plaintiffs asked to increase the compensation claim against Dr. Sokolov from 1,0 rubles to 1,5 million rubles, while the claim to Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy remained the same, 2,0 million rubles. Additionally, the request to remove the transcript of the interview from the Ekho Moskvy website remained.
My lawyers from “Team 29” (today there were not only Daria Sukhikh, who represented me previously, but also the head of the team, Ivan Pavlov), and lawyers of Ekho Moskvy presented two linguistic evaluations, the authors of which stated that during the radio interview I expressed my own opinion that could not offend the plaintiffs.
My lawyers also showed the inconsistency of the arguments of the plaintiffs. In particular, Vera Serova presented in the court a decision of Zamoskvoretsky Regional Court in Moscow, dated November 1, 2013, that established Vera Serova’s inheritance rights. The document said: “In April 2013, Vera V. Serova found in [her grandfather’s] apartment previously unpublished literary works (diaries, notes) of Serov Ivan Aleksandrovich.” As my defense stated, this document refutes Khinstein and Vera’s version that Serov’s diaries were found by migrant workers in suitcases hidden in the garage wall at Serov’s dacha.
Sokolov’s lawyers asked for a denial of plantiffs’ claims.
Deputy chief editor of the radio station Ekho Moskvy Sergei Butman said he had previously invited Khinstein for an interview on the same program, Diletants, as Sokolov appeared on [in order to rebut Sokolov’s claims]. Khinstein agreed, but added that this would be, probably, after a court trial. “So, there was no necessity for trial, but here it is,” Butman stated. According to Sokolov, Butman also stressed that, although historical debates must not be conducted in a court room, the hearings of the lawsuit by Vera Serova and Khinstein contributed to the introduction of Serov’s memoir into a scientific orbit and to clarification of a number of historical circumstances connected with it.
In his own speech, Sokolov stated that the subject of the claim Notes from a Suitcase is not a diary, but a memoir. He concluded: “In a memoir, memory errors can take place, as well as anachronisms. The presentation of the material [as diaries] is not correct” (I’ll post a translation of Sokolov’s full speech later).
In conclusion, the judge of Krasnopresnensky Regional Court Anna Karpova declined the plaintiffs’ claim. A detailed text of the denial will be available later.
Postscript. The fact that the Moscow court judge ruled a denial of the claim regarding Ivan Serov’s book Notes from a Suitcase is unusual if one takes into consideration that Aleksandr Khinstein, who was an editor of the book, is currently an ideologue of the newly created Rosguard Troops, a Russian state security army that is directly under President Vladimir Putin’s control. The publication of the book was also supported by the Military-Historical Society, chaired by another Putin’s favorite, Minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky. The publication definitely intended to whitewash Serov, one of the most notorious NKVD men, who left a bloody trail not only in Russia, but also in Poland, Germany, and Hungary.
Interestingly, the document and Serov’s materials presented in the court room by Vera Serova and Aleksandr Khinstein confirmed the description of Serov’s archive that Nigel Bance saw in Moscow in Svetlana Serova’s (Vera Serova’s aunt) apartment in 2002: “Svetlana left the living room and returned from a bedroom with three bulging hold-alls on wheels. Even Anatoli [Sudoplatov, son of the notorious Pavel Sudoplatov] was astonished as we delved into the mass of folders and sheets of typed and handwritten papers” [Nigel Bance. The Liquidation of Raoul Wallenberg. Essex (Englnd): Asta Print, 2006. P. 31].
It is unclear if the plaintiffs will continue their fight. If not, Khinstein needs to accept Dr. Sokolov’s opinion that the published notes in Serov’s handwriting cannot be considered a diary, but they are a memoir with many historical mistakes due to Serov’s vague memory. As for the chapter concerning Raoul Wallenberg in the book, it cannot be determined whether it was written by Serov because the text came from typewritten pages of uncertain provenance and it contains serious mistakes that a person who participated in the events described in the chapter would be unlikely to make. — V. B.