If Valery and Galina Panov arrive in Vienna today as scheduled, it will be the greatest day of their lives for them and for at least six London women.
In early 1972, three avid theatre-goers, Pam Manson, Rosemary Winkeley and Joan Dale met and decided that someone, somewhere must do something for the well-known stars who had just been thrown out of the Leningrad Kirov Ballet company, merely because they wanted to leave the USSR. from this meeting ‘the Committee to Save the Panovs’ was born.
The Panov campaign was never a Jewish campaign in the real sense, although communities certainly lent their support. It was the art world that enthusiastically threw itself into a fight for an oppressed fellow artist.
It was Rosemary Winkeley who spoke to Panov regularly by telephone, who first learnt of the dancer’s preventive arrest during President Nixon’s last visit to Moscow. The official charge was one of petty hooliganism, but the real reason was to keep him inactive.
By the autumn of 1972, many famous names in the theatre and film world had become extremely angry about the treatment of Panov and his wife.
frequent reports that he was not being permitted to practice contributed to the fact that many personalities, some of quite apolitical views, signed a petition to the Kremlin in November 1972. the two thousand signatories included actor, Sir Lawrence Olivier, the film producer, Richard Attenborough and comedian Woody Allen. artists of all political views signed the petition including the leftist actress, Vanessa Redgrave.
in March 1973, the casts of 20 shows in the West End of London, signed an appeal for the Panovs. Later that month, the first demonstration took place outside the Soviet Embassy in London. An actor, dressed as Petroushka, the symbolic figure of international ballet, waved a placard, stating ‘Free the Panovs’.
But Panov’s physical condition was slowly deteriorating . In a press release, the Panov Committee noted ‘A dancer’s life is at best, but a short one. and when he is prevented from practising his art, his body suffers and he is slowly destroyed’.
In April 1973, the proposed visit of the Kirov Ballet to Manchester became the subject of a heated discussion.
Appeals from Members of Parliament, members of the Jewish community and even the cast of the extremely popular british television series ‘Coronation Street’ were not able to persuade the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Edward Grant, that the visit should not take place.
at the same time, the Manchester Corporation was host to the deputy chairman of the Leningrad Soviet, Vladimir Gogolev. Wherever Gogolev went, he was followed by flag-waving demonstrators. A group of housewives waved goodbye to him when he took the train from London, shouting ‘Free the Panovs’. the same cry welcomed him from a group of housewives when he reached Manchester.
The Kirov Ballet’s took place. But every night, there were demonstrations outside the theatre.
People were becoming angrier. Eventually the visit of any Soviet dance group automatically became associated with the Panovs. the demonstrations outside the London Coliseum against the Georgian dancers in the summer of 1973 pushed the point home.
At the same time Panov was told by Leningrad emigration officials that if his friends kept quite abroad , he would receive permission to leave.
This incensed British artists even more deeply than before Actress Janet Suzman then appealed to Equity, the British actors’ union to boycott the Soviet ballet company.
Other personalities appealed to the European Conference on Peace and Security to influence the Soviet authorities. Suddenly the Leningrad emigration officials told Panov that he could leave the USSR, but without his wife. Panov naturally refused and a soviet campaign started to put pressure on Galina to divorce her husband. This was aided and abetted by Galina’s mother who not only refused to sign the necessary documents of consent for her daughter to leave, but also exhibited a deep-rooted anti-Semitism.
By October the Panovs declared a hunger strike as the situation seemed to be worsening.
Galina then wrote to Alexei Kosygin, appealing to him to allow her to go to her husband. There was no reply. from this point, things began to snowball. The Kirov Ballet’s tour of the US was inexplicably cancelled.
Demonstrations became more numerous. By may, it was clear that a climax to the issue was approaching.
Panov was stripped of his title of ‘People’s artist. The impending visit of the Bolshoi Ballet for a season at London’s Coliseum Theatre became more and more a symbol of resentment for British ballet lovers. News of demonstrations from all sorts of groups began to fill the columns of British newspapers.
Finally British Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a personal appeal to Premier Kosygin. this was followed by a high-powered delegation from the British art world, consisting of Lord Goodman, Lord Drogheda and Sir Lawrence Olivier to see the Soviet Ambassador in London, Nikolai Lunkov, on Thursday of last week.
Panov was supported by hunger strikes and demonstrations all over the world. Sir Lawrence Olivier and Paul Schofield led a delegation of artists to the Soviet Embassy. equity sent a telegram of support to Panov from its 20,000 members.
the ballet star terminated his fast after 21 days, but threatened to start a new hunger strike if there was no progress with his visa application.
At the end of the year, Equity issued a statement that it was under great pressure to initiate a boycott of Soviet culture. This brought the response from Leningrad that Panov must leave by January 10 or face imprisonment. Panov again refused to leave without his wife.
Last Friday evening news came through that Panov had been granted permission to leave the USSR.
The ending to the story is, thus, a happy one. However it is clear that the Soviets only gave in because Panov had become a name to be reckoned with. It was certainly this protection which save Panov from imprisonment in a labour camp.
The Panovs are very special people and their emigration is more than welcome. In terms of the Jewish exodus movement, they are but two small drops in an extremely large ocean.
Jerusalem Post 14 June 1974