L'AFFAIRE FRAVCHENKO

THEIR FATHER DEFECTED IN 1944. BROTHERS ANDREW AND VALENTIN WERE BROUGHT TOGETHER THIS YEAR TRYING TO FIND OUT WHY.

And, of course, Victor was aware of the ice-pick assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940-lending grim veracity to Trotsky's warning that "Stalin seeks to strike, not at the ideas of his opponent, but at his skull."

Even so, Victor Kravchenko appeared before the committee, speaking in rapid-fire Russian and occasionally switching to heavily accented, balky English. He told the committee that "every responsible representative of the Soviet government in the United States may be regarded as an economic or political spy," and that no Soviet citizen arrived in the U.S. without a "specific assignment" to collect secret documents. He also declared it "foolish and dangerous" to underrate the ability of the Russians to produce nuclear weapons, and said that Soviet disarmament plans were a sham, designed to "play for time."

Andrei Gromyko, then the Soviet delegate to the United Nations, reacted in characteristic Russian fashion-he penciled out a terse statement and handed it to reporters: "When a dog has nothing to do, it licks its underbelly. Sometimes this attracts spectators." The Russian embassy reiterated its view of Kravchenko as a common deserter and a traitor.

The next day, a visibly shaken Victor Kravchenko appeared before a House judiciary subcommittee. "I cannot sleep nights because of my worries," he said. 'I lose my wife. I lose my father. I lose my brother. I lose my country. I am sick and asking you to please understand my situation and help me."

On September 6, 1947, Andrew's brother Anthony-who died in 1969-was born. Cynthia Kuser, who never married Victor, had the baby in secret and made Byzantine arrangements to eventually adopt the child, bringing him home to her family estate in New Jersey.

Then, on November 13, 1947, an article headlined "How Kravchenko Was Manufactured" appeared in Les Lettres francaises, a literary journal published in Paris. The article, published under the byline "Sim Thomas," alleged that I Chose Freedom was a fake produced by the American Secret Service as propaganda. It characterized Victor as a drunken incompetent who was on the verge of being returned to Moscow to answer for his bad behavior when the Americans intervened and converted him to their own purposes. Two subsequent articles, one authored by critic Andre Wurmser and the other by Claude Morgan, the journal's editor, repeated the charges.

Kravchenko sued Les Lettres francaises for libel. Cynthia, who spoke French fluently and had contacts in Paris, helped to make arrangements for the trial. Strategy sessions were held both in Victor's Manhattan apartment and at Cynthia's family estate in New Jersey. Andrew says his mother attended the trial incognito, wearing a dark wig. The case went to trial in Paris on January 24, 1949.

Though nominally a simple libel action, the suit was sensational, brash and about much more than whether the magazine had defamed the defector. One book about the trial-really no more than an annotated transcript of the proceedings-was entitled Kravchenko Versus Moscow, and, as British legal scholar Sir Travers Humphreys wrote in the introduction to the English edition:

"Nobody troubled much about the defendant Morgan, or his paper. Kravchenko, on the other hand, was a person of somewhat unsavory reputation whose conduct, as expressed in the judgment of the court, was `reprehensible' and `rightly criticized with severity.' From the point of view of most of the spectators, the real defendant in the case was the government of the Soviet Republic."
Americans, used to the dull and rather businesslike progress of our court system, might have difficulty imagining the circus atmosphere that attended the Kravchenko trial. The French civil code makes no allowance for the common legal concept of Ôrelevance," and the parties are basically free to provide the court with whatever testimony they wish. Similarly, all parties to the suit are allowed to interject at any time; defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses, as well as their respective lawyers, could interrupt to dispute a point of fact. Victor Kravchenko was particularly disposed to challenging the defense's witnesses, mainly Soviet citizens flown to Paris for the express purpose of making Kravchenko out to be a coward, a liar, a drunk and generally a person of low morals.

Victor Kravchenko was about to go one-on-one with the Kremlin. And Valentin Bodrov was about to find out about his father.

DESPITE THE VALIANT efforts of Chris Beattie, an employee of the Russian airline Aeroflot who was flown from San Francisco to Phoenix to serve as Valentin's interpreter, there are problems with communication. Valentin is sulky and overblown, annoyed by the constriction of translation. It is hard for him to restrain himself to short, direct answers, and he longs to uncork the valve and let his story flow out. With silky strains of Dexter Gordon in the background, and the fireplace burnishing his face, Valentin sits encircled by American interrogators, three pale men who babble at him.

Andrew gets stern when Valentin seems to contradict himself-he makes his "time-out" sign and tells Beattie to tell his brother that he can't tell different people different stories. It must be the same story-it must be the truth-every time, Andrew says.

Valentin responds that he has already written his story in his book, Noah's Ark, a kind of nonfiction novel he wrote in prison. Though the book has been published in Scandinavia, it has not yet been translated into English.

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