Viktor Koval Collection at SIS Archive Moldova
This ad-hoc collection was separated from the fonds of judicial files concerning persons subject to political repression during the communist regime, which is currently stored in the Archive of the Intelligence and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova (formerly the KGB Archive). It focuses on the case of Viktor Koval, an engineer of Russian ethnic background who expressed ”anti-Soviet” political opinions during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was working at an electrical equipment factory in the city of Bălți. In August 1982, Koval was found guilty of “spreading calumnies and lies aimed at discrediting the Soviet state and social order.” However, instead of being sentenced to prison, he was sent to a special psychiatric facility of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), where he spent almost eight years before being released in May 1990. Koval’s case is a revealing example of the use of punitive psychiatry in order to suppress voices critical of the Soviet regime. His file is also significant in the context of the early 1980s, usually viewed as a period featuring few open manifestations of oppositional activity.
Chișinău Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfînt 166, Moldova 2004
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Name of collection
- Viktor Koval Collection at SIS Archive Moldova
Provenance and cultural activities
The criminal case against Viktor Koval was opened on 1 March 1982 and transferred under the jurisdiction of the Moldavian KGB two days later, on 3 March, when the accused was taken into the custody of the central office of the KGB in Chișinău. The file was registered as No. 9924. Koval became a target of KGB surveillance in early 1982, when several leaflets denouncing the Soviet leadership as a “clique of exploiters” were found in various locations throughout the city of Bălți, mostly in the industrial area. Using its web of informers and list of suspicious persons, the KGB quickly identified Koval, an engineer employed at an electrical equipment plant, as the prime suspect. Already in mid-February 1982, KGB operatives conducted a search of Koval’s apartment and found pieces of incriminating evidence, including a notebook with several short articles and notes openly criticising Soviet power and a number of newspaper clippings with critical remarks in Koval’s handwriting. Born in March 1941 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a city in the Russian Far East (Khabarovsk region), Koval moved to Bălți in 1974. He was part of the wave of qualified technical personnel transferred to the MSSR during that era. Starting from 1977, he had been working at the city’s electrical equipment plant, becoming one of the factory’s head engineers responsible for construction works.
According to his KGB file, Koval started exhibiting “anti-Soviet” behaviour around 1977 under the influence of his listening to Western radio stations, including the BBC, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle. This seems to have been the main source of Koval’s “ideological contamination,” given that his social origin and family background were “clean” from the authorities’ point of view. Apparently, the main point of criticism levelled by Koval at the Soviet system concerned the lack of real democracy within the Soviet state. In his opinion, this was obvious, on the one hand, from the absence of any true civil rights and liberties and, on the other, from the hollow and formal character of the Soviet electoral system, which Koval viewed as a sham meant to disguise the “dictatorship” purportedly exercised by the party over the people. These “dangerous” opinions were articulated by the accused on many occasions, mainly at his workplace, and were noticed by his colleagues on two specific occasions. The first incident occurred in 1977, during the discussions of the new Soviet constitution, promulgated on 7 October 1977. Koval openly stated that, in contrast to Western countries, where citizens benefited from extensive civil rights, those inscribed in the Soviet constitution were empty declarations, while “democracy” was an empty word in the Soviet context. The second incident occurred on 4 March 1979, when Koval defied the authorities by refusing to take part in the elections for the Supreme Soviet. He also made the highly unusual gesture of arguing with the members of the district electoral commission sent to summon him to the vote. Koval insisted that the Soviet electoral system was purely formal, since there was no electoral competition, with the candidates being vetted and pre-selected by the party organisations. Following this incident, throughout the next several years he openly praised the Western model of multiparty democracy, comparing it favourably with the Soviet “party dictatorship.” Koval also harshly condemned Soviet foreign policy, and specifically the involvement of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, which he qualified as a “blatant aggression and interference in the affairs of another sovereign state,” in stark contrast to the official rhetoric of the regime. He made a bold parallel between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US war in Vietnam, in fact equating both powers’ actions as similarly imperialist and unjustifiable. In this context, it is not surprising that, during a conversation with a co-worker in 1980, Koval labelled the Soviet leadership as a “clique of military dictators” who trampled upon people’s rights. Even more ominous from the authorities’ point of view were Koval’s pronouncements regarding the Solidarity phenomenon in Poland. Koval’s file discloses one of the rare instances in which a citizen of the MSSR expressed open support for the Solidarity movement during the tumultuous events of 1980–1981. His interest in the Polish developments was probably sparked by his general attitude toward Soviet trade unions, which he (again) contrasted to their Western counterparts. In his view, the essence of the Soviet regime was a brutal “state capitalism,” which deprived workers of any real rights and instead camouflaged party arbitrariness with the assistance of token trade unions, completely subordinated to the party leadership. Polish Solidarity, however, symbolised for Koval the “true power of the people” and “workers’ democracy,” while its repression was just another proof of the dictatorial nature of the Soviet regime, which had imposed its will on Poland. Beyond his pro-Solidarity stance, which was dangerous enough and fed the Soviet authorities’ constant fear of “ideological contamination” from outside, Koval’s criticisms amounted to a radical challenge of the Soviet regime itself. Finally, during 1980–1981 Koval also expressed his discontent about economic inequality and social disparities in the USSR, claiming that the nomenklatura had transformed itself into a “privileged caste,” while Soviet society was in fact composed of two antagonistic classes – “the rich and the poor.” Koval propagated his views among his colleagues with relative ease. Judging by the number of witnesses interrogated during the official investigation (around twenty people, mainly co-workers and occasional acquaintances), the impact of his activities was somewhat alarming, especially given the individual and spontaneous character of his oppositional acts. It is interesting to note that, although the head of the factory party organisations had several “prophylactic conversations” with Koval, he was never officially reprimanded. This led the authorities to issue a warning to the factory party cell for “unsatisfactory work among the collective.” It might also be a revealing sign of the times, reflective of the slackening of vigilance at local level. During the searches of Koval’s apartment, the KGB operatives also found several incriminating documents (including a notebook with Koval’s short texts and notes criticising the Soviet political system, several sheets of paper with scattered notes, as well as newspaper clippings with the defendant’s critical remarks on the margins). The authorities were not able to convincingly prove that Koval had shown or discussed these personal notes among his work colleagues or his wider personal network (aside from one or two minor incidents involving his neighbours). However, the general ideas and views expressed in these papers were totally consistent with the critical opinions about the Soviet regime which Koval openly shared with his acquaintances and co-workers. In fact, the notebook confirmed the worst fears of the authorities regarding Koval’s lack of loyalty and his rejection of the system. It is no wonder, then, that the KGB operatives considered this evidence dangerous and confiscated these materials.
Viktor Koval’s case file, registered as No. 9924 and begun on 1 March 1982, consists of five volumes. The first volume includes various procedural papers related to the initial phase of the investigation, the protocols of the searches conducted in Koval’s apartment, and the initial interrogations of the accused. The second volume focuses on the further interrogations of the defendant, but also features the material evidence uncovered during the searches (including the notebooks and newspaper articles discovered in Koval’s possession, his radio set, and other occasional papers and scattered notes). Volume three is entirely devoted to the detailed interrogations of witnesses. Koval’s case was considered dangerous enough to involve around forty witnesses, including family members, co-workers, acquaintances, and other persons who had known Koval previously during his earlier career (including from other Soviet cities he had lived in or visited, such as Moscow, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Khabarovsk, Novorossiisk etc.). The fourth volume comprises the various specialised experts’ assessments (including examinations of his handwriting and the conclusions of the psychiatric evaluation of Koval’s mental health). The defendant spent a month in Chișinău’s mental hospital (from late May to late June 1982), where he was closely monitored and observed for any signs of a mental disorder. Despite flimsy evidence to that effect, the expert evaluation issued on 28 June stated that Koval was suffering from a “latent” form of schizophrenia and therefore had “a distorted view of Soviet reality,” which purportedly explained his anti-regime attitudes. The final volume contained the materials on the final stage of the investigation, including the official conclusions of the KGB investigators and the materials of the trial, held on 26 and 27 August 1982 at the Supreme Court of the MSSR. Due to his purported mental illness, Koval was “exonerated” from criminal responsibility, despite his conviction according to article 203, part 1, of the Penal Code of the MSSR (“spreading calumnies and lies aimed at discrediting the Soviet state and social order.”) Although his actions were qualified as “socially dangerous,” he was sentenced instead to “forced medical treatment.” Accordingly, he was sent to a special medical facility in Dnepropetrovsk, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and dealt with all cases of politically motivated punitive psychiatry. The “special decision” of the Supreme Court, issued on 27 August 1982 (instead of a formal sentence) did not set any limits to his period of „treatment.” Koval spent almost eight years in the mental hospital, being released only in May 1990, after his repeated appeals succeeded in eliciting the reaction of the authorities. However, this only occurred after the exclusion of Article 203, part 1, from the Penal Code of the MSSR, according to a decision passed in August 1989. Koval was definitively rehabilitated only in November 1991, when the Supreme Court of the Republic of Moldova annulled all the previous judicial decisions concerning Koval’s case, recognised his innocence, and closed the case against him. There is no further information on Koval’s fate in his KGB file.
As stated above, Viktor Koval’s case is significant from several points of view. First, Koval was a member of the “technical intelligentsia,” i.e., he belonged to a group that occupied an intermediary position in terms of the Soviet social structure. Members of this group – mostly engineers and highly qualified technical personnel – turned out to be one of the most dynamic social strata in late Soviet society, displaying rising levels of discontent, on a par with many intellectuals. Second, the sources of Koval’s political protest could be traced to his active interest in foreign radio stations, which served as an increasingly powerful outlet providing alternative channels of information to Soviet citizens, especially in the 1980s. Third, Koval’s file is emblematic for the ways in which punitive psychiatry continued to be applied as a repressive measure even as late as the 1980s. In this sense, Koval’s fate is similar to that of another, more prominent, victim of Soviet forced psychiatric treatment – Gheorghe David. Beyond Koval’s individual act of defiance, this collection reveals the strategies of the regime for suppressing any form of dissent in the relatively “calm” period of the early 1980s.
Description of content
The collection contains archival files from the depository of the former KGB Archive (currently the Archive of the Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service). The file concerning Viktor Koval’s case consists of five volumes. The first volume mostly includes preliminary materials of the official investigation and trial records, as well as official reports, including protocols of searches and other types of judicial files. It also features the initial interrogations of the defendant. The second volume contains some further investigative data concerning the defendant (interrogations, procedural information etc.), as well as detailed inventories of the incriminating material evidence discovered during the searches of Koval’s apartment (notebooks and newspaper articles, separate sheets of paper with Koval’s handwritten notes, the radio he used for tuning in to Western stations, and several letters to Soviet newspapers and various acquaintances). Volume three focuses on witness accounts from various sources (the defendant’s co-workers, family members – notably his wife, as well as occasional acquaintances from the cities Koval had previously resided in or whom he had met during his business trips). The case was deemed dangerous enough from the authorities’ perspective to feature no less than forty major and minor witnesses, with over twenty people providing evidence that was considered relevant during the trial proceedings.
A major emphasis during the investigation was the uncovering of any signs of deviant behaviour in Koval’s case that would point to his potential mental problems. The KGB investigators succeeded in extracting such evidence from Koval’s wife (who claimed that her husband’s behaviour had undergone a radical shift some time during the late 1970s). In the same vein, they also interrogated several of Koval’s co-workers or occasional acquaintances. Most of the witnesses denounced the defendant’s deviant behaviour, emphasising his critical and occasionally “dangerous” remarks concerning the overall legitimacy of the regime and certain of its concrete actions. The authorities also conducted extensive research into Koval’s family background and, despite finding no proof of ideological deviation, uncovered cases of endemic alcoholism, which were later used as indirect indicators of his mental health issues. Volume four mainly includes the various specialised experts’ assessments (including examinations of Koval’s handwriting and the conclusions of the psychiatric evaluation of his mental health). The psychiatric assessment, issued on 28 June 1982, after Koval had been under observation in Chișinău’s mental hospital, concluded that the accused suffered from a “latent” form of schizophrenia with slowly developing symptoms that did not affect his intellectual abilities but conditioned a “distorted” view of reality and a lack of reaction to criticism. This medical diagnosis perfectly suited the aims of the authorities and led to Koval’s later sentencing to forced psychiatric treatment. The final volume comprises the materials relating to the trial of the defendant, held on 26 and 27 August at the Supreme Court of the MSSR. Besides the detailed stenographic record of the trial proceedings, the volume also includes the “special decision” of the court concerning Koval’s case, issued instead of a regular sentence, which exonerated him from criminal responsibility and instead sent him to a specialised psychiatric facility for forced treatment. The volume also features the various decisions of the Moldavian justice system from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which resulted in Koval’s definitive rehabilitation in the autumn of 1991, despite the initial reluctance of the judicial authorities to revise his case. The file reveals the mechanisms used by the regime to stifle dissent through punitive psychiatry, especially when criticism of the system was viewed as particularly dangerous and openly “political.”
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- photos: 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Author(s) of this page
- Cusco, Andrei
Cașu, Igor. 2012. ”Reeducare” prin tratament psihiatric” (Re-education through forced psychiatric treatment). Adevărul.md, 23 February. Accessed March 29, 2018. http://adevarul.ro/moldova/actualitate/reeducare-tratament-psihiatric-1_50ae5dc07c42d5a6639c194e/index.html
Cașu, Igor , interview by Cusco, Andrei, March 22, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection