Konstantin Simis; Critic Of Soviet Corruption
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Konstantin Simis, 87, a Moscow lawyer whose manuscript about corruption in the Soviet Union cost him his career, his academic degrees, his apartment and his homeland, died Dec. 14 at his home in Falls Church. He had Parkinson's disease.
As a senior researcher at a prestigious Moscow legal institute, Mr. Simis understood the law of the Soviet Union as did few others, and he put that knowledge to use in the defense of political dissidents during the 1960s and 1970s, along with his wife, defense lawyer Dina Kaminskaya.
Their representation of the dissidents, although not always successful, attracted the disapproval of officials. The couple also entertained foreigners and Western journalists in their large and well-furnished Moscow apartment. In addition, their son, Dimitri Simes, an international relations specialist critical of the Soviets, had emigrated to Washington in 1973.
After years of listening in on their conversations, KGB agents searched the couple's home in 1976, finding Mr. Simis's 400-page manuscript, in which he criticized the corruption in Soviet society.
Mr. Simis and his wife were separately interrogated and released. He had earlier lost his license to practice law; after being questioned, he lost his job. His wife was expelled from the bar. The secret police began to harass them and stripped them of their academic degrees, which rendered them unemployable.
The couple were told that if they sought to leave the country, their papers would be processed quickly. If they stayed, a trial for treason was likely. In 1978, they moved to the United States, settling first in Arlington, then Falls Church, eventually becoming citizens.
"It's not a story of immigration," Mr. Simis told The Washington Post in 1980. "It's a story of exile. We did not want to leave our country."
But signs of trouble were evident from when Mr. Simis was born, Aug. 4, 1919, in Odessa. Mr. Simis's father was one of the few Jewish officers serving in the White Army, which opposed the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Working underground, he was caught by communists and was shot and killed before his son was born.
The young Mr. Simis and his mother moved to Moscow, where they led a middle-class life by the standards of the time. Educated as a lawyer at the Law Institute in Moscow, he served in a militia unit during World War II until he was discharged because of a medical disability. He spent most of the war in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he was a graduate student.
After the war, he became a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. A wave of anti-Semitism cost him that job and a subsequent post at Rostov State University in southern Russia.
"He was very lucky, because while he was gone from Moscow, a lot of people with whom he was affiliated had been shot -- there was a provocateur among them," Simes said.
Mr. Simis returned to Moscow to represent criminal defendants in court, then resumed his academic work at the Institute of Soviet Law in the Ministry of Justice, albeit as a junior researcher in his 40s. He advanced to the position of senior researcher and worked on a number of projects, including a new Soviet constitution.