Albany Options School liaison Anna Sokolov talks about her famous dad
It’s possible, Anna Sokolov acknowledged, that she might have come across Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaign on her own anyway.
But you tend to pay more attention to an organization’s efforts when your father, a famous dissident leader in the Soviet Union, was one of the founders of its Moscow branch.
Anna, the business-to-school liaison for the alternative Albany Options School, is the fourth of five children of Victor Sokolov.
(Anna Sokolov is helping AOS students write letters as part of a Amnesty International campaign. For that story, see A2).
Growing up in Moscow, Victor Sokolov was active in the dissident movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He worked in the samizdat movement, the practice of copying and hand-distributing censored material.
Sokolov protested the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, covered the trials of dissident writers, and eventually came to the attention of the Soviet government through his Amnesty International activities.
But by then, as Anna understands it, it was too late for the government to do much about him.
Sokolov had begun dating Barbara Wrahtz, a graduate in Russian history from the University of California. Wrahtz was working as a nanny, first for a correspondent with the New York Times and later for a U.S. ambassador.
The Soviet government had just signed a major diplomatic agreement known as the Helsinki Accords, promising, among other things, to respect human rights. Politically, it couldn’t make an overt move against Sokolov.
As Anna knows the story, her father began flirting with her mother, figuring he’d use her connections to smuggle political material out of Russia. But then the two really fell in love. They were married in Russia in 1975.
Barbara’s visa expired that August, and Sokolov joined her in California in November that same year. Then 28, he began teaching advanced Russian at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
A year later, Sokolov wrote to the Soviet consulate, asking to bring his mother to the United States. The response: Turn over your passport. We’ve stripped you of your citizenship.
The action put Sokolov in the same camp as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Maximov, Valery Chalidze and Zhores Medvedev, activists who’d also lost their citizenship. In a statement to various media at the time, he said he didn’t merit such a high honor — but would strive to.
One of the things Sokolov did to snub the Soviets was to become involved in the Russian Orthodox Church. That, too, developed into a higher calling. He joined the priesthood (which encourages marriage) and eventually was elevated to the rank of archpriest. In San Francisco, he was head of the first Orthodox cathedral in America.
Anna knew little about her father’s work until after his death in 2006, when she was a high school senior. He was a humble man and didn’t talk much about his past, nor did he speak Russian at home, she said. She didn’t learn the whole story until deciding to do a thesis project on her father’s activism as part of her history major at the University of Portland.
Growing up in San Francisco, however, Anna said she did know her father was skeptical of her history teachers’ liberal leanings. He would sometimes come as a classroom speaker and point out that Communism didn’t turn out to be the wonderful system of equality its supporters desired.
It would frustrate her, too. “It just drove me nuts. I was like, you don’t know what Communism is.”