School of History, Politics and International Relations

The bed sheets trial

Aida Mikhailovna Skripnikova, or ‘Aida of Leningrad’ was a persecuted Russian Christian, arrested for distributing religious poems. But when her case went to trail, why was it recorded on bed sheets?

Video transcript

Hello, my name is Dr Zoe Knox. I am an Associate Professor of Modern Russian History here in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

I want to talk to you today about a bed sheet.

The bed sheet, which was cut up into eleven different strips, recorded the trial of a young Russian Baptist woman from Leningrad. Her name was Aida Mikhailovna Skripnikova.

And Aida's father had been shot as a pacifist. She wanted to broadcast her Christian faith, and so she stood on a street corner and distributed religious poems on the back of a postcard. And for that, she was arrested.

The case went to trial in 1967. And the bed sheets record word-for-word what happened in the courtroom that day.

Someone has written down in great detail and in beautiful handwriting, the questions that the judge put to Aida, the prosecution's claims against her, and her responses as well.

The reason the trial was recorded on bed sheets, rather than paper, is because they could be torn up and wrapped around somebody's middle and smuggled out of the country.

So the case became very widely known and in fact there was a widespread grassroots campaign for British politicians to raise Aida's trial with their Soviet counterparts and to start to question what the Soviet state was doing when it was persecuting believers behind the Iron Curtain.

Those letters are preserved in the National Archive, and we look at them in one of the subjects I teach, a special subject. We look at the connections between Soviet descent and the human right's movement, and how human rights organisations, particularly in Britain, sought to campaign on behalf of persecuted individuals behind the Iron Curtain.

So, come to the University of Leicester. Come and study History, come and study with me and learn about things like Aida's trial, that you won't have the opportunity to learn about anywhere else.

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