"Dissident"; Andri Sinyavsky pronounces the word Russian-style: "deeseedyent," and he pronounces it often.
Seven years out of prison camp (where he was sent for writing fiction, mostly fantasy) and five years out of the Soviet Union, the Russian author who now teaches Slavic studies at the Sorbonne has become a dissident among dissidents.
Saturday, on his first visit to the United States, Sinyavsky stopped at the Smithsonian's Kennan Institute to give a talk on Soviet dissidents to a small group of advanced Russian scholars. In its two-hour course, the talk evolved into an informal conversation in Russian about dissident politics among Russian emigres.
Later, at lunch, he was asked whether he misses his home, and he paused not at all before answering, "not very much; the Russia that I left behind me is the Russia of the prison camps - an interesting place in some ways, but if you stay there for a while you get very tired of it."
Sinyavsky served five years and nine months of his seven-year sentence at hard labor, and he now recalls it as "the hardest time of my life but, in another way, the happiest. Speaking as an artist, I found the camp a fantastic existence - a fairy-tale world terrifying but fascinating. It is a distillation of the whole world outside - the worst and the best kinds of people all together - people who collaborated with the Nazis and killed a lot of Jews; saintly people who were there for their religious beliefs - even members of the underworld, although it was supposed to be a political prison. Knowing I was a writer, they came and told me their stories, some of which were fascinating. "I have since written some of these stories."
Before becoming an underground writer, under the pseudonymn of "Abram Tertz," which puzzled both the KGB and Western observers for years, Sinyavsky was already a successful critic, teacher and a senior research fellow of the Institute of World Literature in Moscow.
The Tertz writings, started in the late 1950s. began to be published in the West in 1959, and their impact grew with each new title: "On Socialist Realism," "The Trial Begins," "Fantastic Stores" and "The Makepeace Experiment." When the announcement came in 1965 that Andrei Sinyavsky had been arrested for writing these books, he was still virtually unknown under his own name, though his pseudonym had become internationally famous.
"If I had used my own name," he said, "I would have been arrested in 1959 instead of 1965. My feeling is that the government began to track me down in the West. I know that the Soviet ambassador asked a publisher in Paris where the manuscripts came from, and he said that they had come 'by mail' - which would have been impossible, of course; that kind of mail doesn't leave the Soviet Union.
"What they found was not me but the conduit through which my manuscripts were sent out - then they worked their way backwards to me. My apartment must have been bugged for at least six months before my arrest; I can tell, because some of the evidence used by my interrogator was things that I had said only to my wife and only in our apartment.
"It would have been silly to deny that I was Tertz - they had all the evidence - so instead, I denied the basic charge, that the Tertz writings constituted anti-Soviet slander. One of the things I had written was that the KGB bugs citizens' apartments."
The important thing about his trial, with another underground writer, Yuli Daniel, was "that we did not give in and recant, and people began to hear about it," Sinyavsky said. "Also, for the first time, people in the West had all the evidence that was used in a Soviet trial - out books were the evidence against us."
Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky, born in 1925, represents a new generation of Russian emigres, the so-called "third emigration," born and educated entirely under the Soviet government and therefore different from a Nabokov, who had memories of a childhood among the nobility of the old regime.
His generation had some restless souls (he was one) in the late years of the Stalin era, but they were galvanized into the beginnings of a movement after Nikito Khrushchev gave his famous speech in 1956 detailing and denouncing the evils of Stalinism.
In the late 1960s and the '70s, their ferment has resulted in a constant irritation to the Soviet government: occasional small public demonstrations, clandestine books and magazines - samizdat - passing from hand to hand, and a steady stream of the country's finest talents - Rostropovich and Ashkenazy, Korchnoi and Spassky, Nureyev and Barishnikov, Solzhenitsyn and Sinyavsky - leaving the U.S.S.R. to live in exile, along with thousands of others who are not famous.
Some members of the third emigration have brought with them "Soviet habits of mind" and some of "the ecclesiastical forms of Soviet society," Sinyavsky told the scholars at the Kennan Institute. They have set up "taboos" in their periodicals, so that it is impossible, for example, to have anything critical of Solzhenitsyn published in any of the emigre magazines.
"Because so many of my articles were being refused by the emigre magazines," said Sinyavsky, "I have started my own quarterly, Syntaxis, named after the first samizdat periodical. At first I thought that it might be a magazine for one person, but when word got around, it turned out we were not alone - other writers wanted to join us. We will try to publish a magazine with no taboos."
Magazine taboos are not the only reminder in the West of the world Sinyavsky left behind. As they were walking across the Smithsonian Mall, his wife, Maria Vassilieva paused on the grass, looked around at the monumental buildings and caught her husband's sleeve. Gesturing at the white marble and massive pillars, she said, "Stalinskaya archiectura," which needed no translation. A smile crept up behind her husband's patriarchal white beard - a smile with no trace of homesickness in it.