Sex, Scandal, Dètente, and the Politics of Emigration: The Trial of Dr. Mikhail Shtern

Hewer, Joel
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
On May 29, 1974, Dr. Mikhail Shtern, an endocrinologist in the city of Vinnitsa in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, was arrested on charges of bribery and swindling based on alleged demands for money and other forms of remuneration in return for medical treatment. His trial and subsequent conviction resulted in a sentence of eight years at an enforced regime labor camp, and it was only after two years of incarceration that he was released based on considerations of "socialist humanitarianism." Shtern's arrest, trial and conviction are unique in that partial documentation of the events has been provided by his two sons and four other Jewish activists who witnessed the proceedings. Through the combined efforts of this small group a transcript of the proceedings of the trial itself was smuggled to the West, affording Western analysts with an almost complete record of a Soviet trial. This rare glimpse into the workings of the Soviet legal system was first published in France in 1976 under the title Un procès <<ordinaire>> en U.R.S.S.: Le Dr. Stern devant ses juges and later that same year in the United States under the title The USSR vs. Dr. Mikhail Shtern. As a student of Soviet history with a special interest in law and its applications in different nations, I was attracted to this unusual documentation and felt that, using it as my main source, I could explore the intricacies of the Soviet legal system in action. With this idea in mind I first picked up the record of Shtern's "ordinary" trial, intending to use it as the basis for a case study of Soviet justice. I was quick to learn, however, that Dr. Shtern's trial was anything but ordinary.
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