The corridor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building was full of people shouting at each other in Russian, TV crews tortuously interviewing people in Russian, listeners propped against the walls, lost in what their headsets were telling them.
inside the big hearing room, a succession of Russian emigres -- engineers, toolmakers, miners, union officials, chauffeurs and carpenters -- were giving witness to the life of the worker in the Soviet Union.
The four-day International Sakharov Hearings opened yesterday with remarks by Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and a statement by Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who is the symbolic leader of Soviet dissidents.
Two other privately financed hearings have been held, in Copenhagen in 1975 and in Rome in 1977. They are designed to bring before the world the true state of affairs in Russia, in the same spirit in which the AFL-CIO published in 1946 a map showing locations of Siberian gulags long before many people admitted their existence or even possibility.
Yesterday morning, it took time to get the restless audience to order. Everybody else ("the whole Russian community is here," one press observer muttered), and most of them wanted to shake the hand of Simon Wiesenthal, the celebrated hounder of Nazi criminals. And there were the headsets (Russian, English, German) that everybody had to put on and test and exchange.
As the session wore on, people prowled continually around the rear of the big room or whispered urgently.
The Thursday session would bring up the forced labor issue and freedom of movement inside Russia, including testimony by noted dissident Alexander Ginzburg. Friday would see Gen. Petro Grigorenko on the stand to tell of his psychiatric incarceration, and on Saturday, with playwright Tom Stoppard as chairman, case histories of various prisoners of conscience would be attested.
Among the speakers yesterday was heavily bearded, black-suited Mikhail Nikolayev, a former worker from Kaluga, who told of trying to achieve some sort of life after being freed from a labor camp where he had served 10 years. Simply to get from one city to another -- inside Russia -- was hard enough, he testified:
"Transferring my registration from one city to another, a distance of little more than 100 kilometers, dragged on almost two months, and it required that I made a trip to the regional police and then to make an appeal . . . . Four more months passed before an order arrived from Moscow . . . . "
On the working day: "Normally a work day ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, there was hardly a day when the necessary materials were in place on time . . . we did not begin work until 10 a.m. but were not paid for idle time. Therefore the workers tried to make up for lost time, and the quality of work fell . . . They hurried their work, neglected safety procedures and quality, worked almost every day until 8 or 9 in the evening . . . also Saturday, though officially we had a five-day work week . . . Nobody claimed overtime; it just wasn't done.
Dissident editor Valery Chalidze spoke for many when he summed up: "Soviet propaganda maintains that the individual has no need for freedom of speech; it stresses insteaad expression of the collective will. And civil liberties in general are termed a bourgeois fraud and entirely superfluous.
"The idea that economic and social rights take precedence over civil rights is a crucial thesis in the ideological justification of human-rights violations. This thesis has been adopted by the governments of many developing countries and has even begun to influence international law. . ."