10 June 1965
Bukovsky produced an impression of someone very serious and very strong — which made him different from everyone else I knew at the time. He wasn’t just a man who took full responsibility for his words and his actions. There was poetry about him and pure elemental energy, energy of pure feeling.
I once spent a weekend at a friend’s summer house and Bukovsky was there too. To get to the actual house we had to take a barge to cross a canal. Bukovsky refused to take the barge, took his clothes off and swam across the canal. Once he was on the other side, he looked upon the setting sun, crossed himself and began to joyfully sing.
Once we got to the house, he began to ask me about the underground literary magazine I was editing at the time. For some reason I told him everything I was keeping secret from everyone else. I told him how many supporters we had and in which cities, and how may typewriters our organization had, and what our future plans were, and that some of our contributing writers were living in fear of an army draft. Such was his knack for posing smart questions.
Then I began asking him how a man should live his life, and whose fault it was that our country was so unfree. He gave me answers to all of my questions. We talked for several hours, and when I would start to nod off, he would push me, make me sit up and listen, make me fetch wood for the fireplace, and boil water for the tea. This is how my first awareness was gained of our political realities.
Bukovsky was a natural-born leader. In simple words and with simple logic he proved to me the rotten and corrupt nature of the Soviet system, by giving examples from his own life. He told me about psychiatric jails, about the all-powerful KGB, about the Novocherkassk uprising of 1962, about tsarist generals and general Grigorenko who he had met in a psychiatric jail and who was there for speaking up against the Soviet authorities. And he told me how one should live and what one should be doing.
He liked the idea of our underground literary magazine and advised me to expand it into other regions of Russia by supplying copies to university students who went home to their provincial towns on summer holidays. He approved the creation of the Leningrad chapter of the magazine and recommended we got rid of “accidental” people within our organization which could compromise the magazine or who could instigate something silly which authorities would use as an excuse to crack down on our literary society.
When I told him about Mr. Tarsis — an anti-Soviet agitator who gave lectures to the public in his apartment in Moscow — he did not show disbelief, but perhaps thought that I was simply fantasizing. But he asked me to introduce him to Tarsis. This is how I became friends with Bukovsky.
An abridged translation from Russian of Vladimir Batshev's memoirs published in Mosty magazine by Alissa Ordabai-Hatton