Bukovsky at Sighet

 

by Ana Blandiana

 

I had read Judgment in Moscow a year or two before I met in person its author and hero, who had impressed me with his extraordinary ability to try to convey his ideas, however inconsistent with those of others, in a reality that opposed him and which he had no way of imagining he would overcome.

So it is that his arrival at the Sighet Summer School in Romania created in me, as his reader, the impression of a detachment from the virtuality of the written page towards the immediate reality, as if Prince Myshkin had appeared, let's say, in the corridors of the Memorial.

For him, of course, the reason that brought him to the small town in the north of a country he probably knew nothing about except that it had been occupied for decades by the Red Army, was the fact that the world's first Memorial to the Victims of Communism had been founded there in a former Stalinist prison. Is there a better argument that the world was beginning to change and that he needed to be present and attentive to how it was changing?

I remember the somewhat hasty way he began to speak when he first arrived in the conference room, as if he wanted to make up for the lost time in prison, as if he were continuing a demonstration he had started years ago in his own adolescence and he didn't quite know if his whole life would be enough to complete it.

I remember how he would spend hours answering the questions that his lectures would spark – a kind of glowing effervescence of the need for knowledge – in the minds and souls of the teenagers who listened to him. He, who was like them a teenager when he went out to Red Square with a plaque saying "Respect the Constitution" and thus began, almost as a child, his destiny as a hero and a victim, managed – with the analytical depth of a scientist and the profound intuition of a writer – to vibrantly transmit and unravel the absurd mechanism of communist hatred and repression for those who did not experience it. The empathy between the speaker and the listeners in the Auditorium of the Sighet Memorial acquired an almost physical consistency, and when the lunch hours interrupted the flow of questions, we all came out of the auditorium feeling disturbed, as if after an experience of existential intensity.

I remember how in the evenings, after dinner, the teenagers – instead of going out for a dance or a walk or engaging in various forms of socializing that were available to them in the free hours before bedtime – would sit turgidly in a circle of dozens on the big carpet in the hotel lobby, in the middle of which Bukovsky would appear, as if he had set up a skit beforehand, and continue the questions and answers of his lectures which hadn’t quenched the curiosity and interestof his listeners. The answers and stories of the teacher, who had become their friend, made them imagine what it would have been like if they had been born a few decades earlier and, in this way, really understood the nature of communism.

A victim of communism, Vladimir Bukovsky felt at home at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and Resistance in Sighet and, surrounded by young people who listened to him with both heart and soul, he experienced there, as a release, the feeling that it was not in vain.

Vladimir Bukovsky came several times to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Sighet and his emblematic presence at the Summer School is one of the crowning achievements of that unusual and magical form of education.

 

June 2022.

 

Translated from Romanian by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea.