“Treason against the homeland/ against the country” in Soviet legislation was the crime formally analogous to “state treason” in the legislation of other countries. It was regarded in Soviet law as the most serious of all crimes, with the punishment imposed being confiscation of property and the death penalty or deprivation of liberty for the maximum period allowed by law (at different times this was 10,, 25 and 15 years).

In legislation under Stalin and early Khrushchev (up to 1958) the charges of “treason against the homeland” were covered by Article 58-1 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR (cf. Article 54-1 of the CC UkrSSR introduced in 1927, with revision on 20.07.1934 and Article 56, introduced in 1960).

Charges of “treason against the homeland” were used extremely widely under Stalin for dealing with political opponents and for the organization of mass state terror. As a rule, the charge was based on absurd scenarios put together by the investigators, and the investigation was accompanied by flagrant falsification of facts, and most often by confessions and testimony beaten out those charged. There were also mass trials for “treason against the homeland” of people from territory occupied by the USSR who had never been citizens of the USSR. From 1956 the percentage of people tried on this charge in relation to the overall number of those arrested for “particularly dangerous state crimes” fell sharply (“first place” was taken inside by charges of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda), and the direct falsification of the factual side of the charge became rare. However from time to time charges of “treason against the homeland” were still used as a weapon of political repression. For example, “treason against the homeland” in the form of “damaging the sovereignty and territorial inviolability of the USSR “ was sometimes used as the charge against activists of the national movements (the Ukrainska Robitnycho-Selyanska Spilka [Ukrainian Workers’ and Peasants’ Union], L. LUKYANENKO in 1961; the Ukrainian National Front and D. KVETSKO in 1967), and  “treason against the homeland” in the form of “conspiracy to seize power” – against leaders of underground groups or cells (for example, the case of the All-Russian Christian Union for the Liberation of the Nation, in Leningrad in 1967).  On occasions dissidents also had such parts of the Article as “spying” applied against them (for example, the case of Anatoly Shcharansky) or “Providing a foreign state with help in carrying out hostile activities against the USSR”. Often charges of “treason against the homeland” were used as blackmail of inexperienced defendants (“Spilka ukrainskoyi molodi Halychyny" [“Union of Ukrainian Youth of Halychyna"], D. HRYNKIV, 1973).

In addition, citizens who had tried to leave the USSR illegally were sometimes charged with  “treason against the homeland” in the form of fleeing abroad or refusing to return from abroad (for example, V. KALYNYCHENKO). Those convicted of this charge were also sent to political labour camps.


Based on material from Moscow “Memorial”

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