Alexeyeva’s book is essentially divided into three equal parts, which deal with the Soviet national movements, the religious movements and the human rights movement, with the addition of chapters on the socialists, the social-economic protest and the Russian national movement. Of the three main parts, it is the section on the human rights movement which most closely corresponds to a history of what in the West has come to be known as the “Soviet dissident movement”.
It’s significant that the word диссидентство (dissidence) doesn’t figure in the book’s title, which opts for the more general term инакомыслие (literally “heterodoxy”), rendered by the English translators as “dissent” (несогласие). This leaves the way open for discussion of movements which less related to human rights and more to freedom of thought and belief, such as the religious ones.
The methods of chronicling and historical analysis adopted in the book are for the most part strictly factual and statistical. The author’s personal view of the events and crises that are described and listed, though present, is not prominent, and the principal focus is on accuracy and detail, with the inclusion of as many movements, groups, societies and individuals as possible, giving rise to an extensive work that runs to nearly 400 pages in the Russian edition, and more than 500 in the English one.
The first third of the book is devoted to a history of the ethnic-national protest movements in the republics of the USSR, including Ukraine, the Baltics, Armenia, Georgia and Crimea, the Jewish refuseniks, the ethnic Meskhetians, and the Soviet Germans. The section that follows deals with religious movements – Baptists, Pentecostalists, Seventh Day Adventists and Russian Orthodox – and it is not until page 205 that we arrive at a historical account of the dissidents most familiar to Western readers: figures such as Brodsky, Sinyavsky, Daniel, Gorbanevskaya, Amalrik, Bukovsky and so on.