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Dissident movement in Ukraine

ARTICLE 54-1 – 54-14 OF THE UkrSSR CRIMINAL CODE (1927 & 1934)


Articles 54-1 – 54-14 of the UkrSSR Criminal Code of 1927 & 1934 (analogous to Article 58 of the CC RSFSR) were a complex of definitions of “crimes” setting out liability for “counter-revolutionary activities” and “treason against the homeland”.  They were introduced to the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR in 1927 and in the version from 20.07.1934 soon after the Resolution of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR from 8.06.1934 “On adding a provision about state crimes through articles on treason against the homeland”.  The Resolution added the following articles:

54-1a  Treason against the homeland (acts aimed at harming the military might of the USSR, its national sovereignty, or the inviolability of its territory, such as: espionage, betrayal of military or state secrets, crossing to the side of the enemy, flight or defection abroad);

54-1b  The same acts if committed by military personnel; 

54-1c  liability of members of the families of military personnel who helped, or did not report plans for flight;

54-1d  failure to denounce planned treason;

54-a and 54-b were punishable by the death penalty, with confiscation of property; the sentence could be commuted to 10 years deprivation of liberty only in the case of 54-a, and only “where there are mitigating circumstances”.

54-10  “Propaganda or agitation involving a call for the overthrow, subversion, or weakening of Soviet authority or for the carrying out of other counterrevolutionary crimes (Articles 54-2 – 54-9 of this Code), as well as the dissemination, preparation or keeping of literature of such content, shall be punishable by –

deprivation of liberty for no less than six months.

The same actions during mass disturbances, or with the use of religious or national prejudices of the mass, or in a situation of war, or in areas where martial law has been declared, shall be punishable by –

measures of social defence, as defined in Article 54-2 of this Code, i.e. by execution.

For 19 years, until Stalin’s death, charges of counter-revolutionary activities and treason were used for the physical elimination of real or imagined political opponents of the regime. In the 1930s the victims of Article 54-10 included commanding officers of the Red Army, leaders and members of the political opposition within the Party, and also the remaining few from non-communist parties. Another important function of this charge was to stop any forms of unsanctioned contact between Soviet citizens and foreigners.

From the beginning of World War II and up till 1953, the charge of “treason” was applied on a mass scale against military personnel taken prisoner and members of the civilian population forcibly taken abroad. A special governmental instruction increased the punitive measures against family members of “traitors”. Participation in national resistance to the Soviet regime (in Ukraine and the Baltic Republics) was classified as treason regardless of whether the resistance was of an armed or non-violent nature, and of whether there was any contact with other countries.

The liberalization of punitive policy (following Stalin’s death) led to a fundamental change in the use of this charge. Firstly, the number of those tried under this charge each year fell dramatically, becoming hundreds of times lower. In 1955 a mass amnesty was applied for those convicted of “abetting the occupiers”. In 1956 a joint resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR “On eliminating the results of flagrant violations of legality with regard to prisoners of war and members of their families” was passed, and in the same year Article 54-1, a norm which was unique even for Stalin’s system of justice, was removed. The process of rehabilitation which began did not affect a number of figures of the Party opposition, members of “bourgeois” parties, leaders and activities of the national resistance. Furthermore, contacts with foreigners (to a lesser degree than before), attempts at flight and even the wish to emigrate could still lead to arrest and trial on a charge of “treason”,

In 1957-1958 the process began of reforming the special part of the Criminal Codes of the RSFSR and other republics, and out of the entire complex of “particularly dangerous state crimes”, the charge of “treason” changed the most. The new definition of the offences was formulated in the Law of the USSR “On criminal liability for state crimes” [Article 1]. First and foremost, the text of the new article directly introduced the element of intentionality of the action. Such actions were added as: “Providing a foreign state with help in carrying out hostile activities against the USSR, and also conspiracy to seize power”, which had previous been punished under other points of Article 54-1.  The penalties remains fairly tough (including execution), however the application in practice of this article from now on, even during periods of political crisis in the USSR, remained selective. From 1961 the formulation of Article 54-1 went into the new Criminal Codes of all the Soviet republics (cf. Article 58 of the CC of the UkrSSR).


Based on material from “Memorial”, Moscow


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