Document Friday: Oswald’s Letter to the “Suprem” Soviet
“I want citizenship [in the Soviet Union] because, I am a communist and a worker, I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves,” wrote Lee Harvey Oswald from his Moscow hotel to the “Suprem” Soviet on October 16, 1959. After this citizenship request was rejected, Oswald sat in his bathtub and slit a vein in his left arm. He was then granted temporary residence and assigned to work at a radio factory in Minsk. In April 1961, he married the nineteen-year-old student Marina Prusakova. Fourteen months later, Oswald, Marina, and their newborn son left the Soviet Union for Dallas.
Oswald’s spooky letter was not included in the Warren Commission report; it was not made public until Russian President Boris Yeltsin handed it to President Clinton in 1999. As historians well know, US FOIA laws do not reach beyond its borders—and many countries lack the relatively effective Freedom of Information mechanisms of the United States. This document was released solely at the discretion of the Russian president. Yeltsin also gave Clinton an additional 39 documents relating to the JFK assassination, including other documents from the Kremlin’s Lee Harvey Oswald file. But these documents are only a fraction of those still held in the former Soviet Union; according to the Russian newspaper Isvestia, Oswald’s much larger KGB file (no. 31451—consisting of five thick volumes, plus a folder tied with shoelaces) now resides not in the Russian archives, but in those of the Belarusian KGB.
Yeltsin’s “gift” to his counterpart Clinton was representative of the “document diplomacy” he effected throughout his presidency. He presented documents highlighting past Soviet transgressions to the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and South Korea. Despite the headlines which Yeltsin’s “greeting cards” generated, the Russian archives remained (and still remain) largely closed to historians. After the chaotic and unprecedented access enterprising investigators had to documents in 1991 and 1992, the archives were re-closed as Russia retrenched. Still, the highly-selective (and often fascinating) nuggets Yeltsin doled out often remain the only hard evidence which historians have seen from the Soviet files. Boris Nikolayevich—connoisseur of fine food, drink, dance… and documents.