spoken about by those
whose lives he had saved.
"Thanks to him, we have managed to escape the psychiatric torture chambers."
Natalia Gorbanevskaya and Viktor Fainberg — participants of the August 25, 1968 Red Square demonstration against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia — write about Vladimir Bukovsky in the 9th issue of Continent magazine, 1976.
We are hearing news — again — that Vladimir Bukovsky is on the verge of death. Again, his mother, in despair, writes to the West addressing his friends. Reports that the authorities of the Vladimir Prison have transferred Volodya to general regime have not been confirmed; information that he is NOT in solitary confinement has not been confirmed; information that he has ended the hunger strike has not been confirmed. For eight months not a single letter has been received from him, and Nina Ivanovna does not know whether all the letters have been confiscated, or whether he is already on such a deadly edge of exhaustion that his hand is unable to hold a pen. And she is being denied visits to see her son.
The fate of Vladimir Bukovsky, even among many other tragic destinies, even among the destinies of our close friends, pains us in a particularly agonizing way. We both have not had a chance to get to know Bukovsky: the short time that he has been a free man between having been discharged from labor camp in 1970 and his new arrest in 1971 coincided with our confinement. And yet, he is a friend to us, and more than a friend. He saved us from psychiatric torture of infinite duration.
During this short time he wrote his book titled "The Opposition — A New Mental Illness in the USSR." For this, he received his twelve years. But it was after this book that people in the West — who until then have only heard about rare cases of psychiatric persecution in the USSR — realized that this was a system in itself. It was after this book that Soviet psychiatrists had to withstand the attacks of their Western colleagues and — willy-nilly — soften the scope of political repressions though use of psychiatry.
The publication of Bukovsky's book served as a catalyst for an active campaign by the Western public, the press, the radio, and, finally — the psychiatrists. And the authorities have become much less likely to recognize as insane at least those political prisoners, whose cases could potentially gain wider publicity. At the same time, in the first years after the publication of Bukovsky's book, many more political prisoners have been released from psychiatric prisons than usual.
At that time we were also released: Natalya Gorbanevskaya — in February 1972, Viktor Fainberg — in November 1973. We are not just the two people of many in this wave of releases, where each person had been known in the West and where each such release was supposed to symbolize the humanity of the KGB psychiatry. Both of our cases were among those six whose case documents Bukovsky collected in his book.
By drawing public attention to the system of psychiatric persecution in the Soviet Union, Bukovsky drew attention directly to our personal fate. Thanks to him, we got out of the psychiatric torture chambers. Thanks to him, we are here, in the West, free and safe. Thanks to him — who is now dying, perhaps at the very moment when these words are being written.
Our duty to Vladimir Bukovsky, our love for him makes us, already in almost complete despair, to turn to all — well-known and ordinary — people of the free world. If Bukovsky is still alive, you can help save him. The voice of each of you can be heard by the authorities of the Soviet Union. After all, the voice of Bukovsky himself was heard, who did not think, "I am small, am I weak, what can I do on my own?". Instead he rushed to help and gave up his own freedom to secure someone else's, gave up his health and — one can only hope — not his life.
Natalia Gorbanevskaya and Victor Fainberg — participants of the Red August 25, 1968 Red Square demonstration against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1976.
Source: Continent magazine, issue no. 9, 1976.
Translated from Russian by Alissa Ordabai.
Grigory Svirsky remembers
Vladimir Bukovsky in his book
"Heroes of the Firing Squad Years".
Several years ago in Moscow I was asked to hire a young writer whom the authorities wanted to expel as a "social parasitе." "Vladimir Bukovsky," I wrote down a name unknown to me in my calendar. However, the Secretary of the Writers' Union, General V. Ilyin — turning in his hands the paper I have submitted to him for signature — threw a quick glance at me. "A writer is only permitted to employ a secretary if he earns over three hundred rubles a month," he said quickly and stood up. "Can you provide your income statement?".
I fell out of grace with the authorities many years ago and could not provide such a statement. This General of State Security knew this... At home I jotted down the names of writers who were both "wealthy" and prepared to take risks. Alas, such writers could be counted on one hand. Finally, by joint efforts, we managed to find Vladimir Bukovsky a place. We have managed to find him a place, but could not protect Volodya Bukovsky...
Now Vladimir Bukovsky, to everyone's joy, is free, and he himself, in his new book, tells how he managed to thwart the diabolical plan of all those Snezhnevskiys, Morozovs, and Luntses, the founders of psychiatric prisons for dissidents. Thanks to Volodya, both Plyushch and Gorbanevskaya survived, and how many others managed to escape drinking of this terrible cup?
A. Krasnov-Levitin, three times imprisoned for his religious convictions in the camps, wrote that Volodya Bukovsky "devotes his entire life to fighting for the truth, helping those who suffer, and in this sense, he, an unbeliever, is a thousand times closer to Christ than hundreds of so-called 'Christians' whose Christianity consists only in the fact that they go to church. And I, a Christian, openly declare that I bow before the unbeliever Bukovsky, before the heroic deed that is his life."
Bukovsky's brochure I Have Managed to Accomplish So Little, which also contains his speech at his trial, is the most daring opinion piece of the resistance movement. Although the prosecutor demanded the maximum sentence which could have ended in death for Bukovsky (who fell ill while in the camps) he did not hesitate to throw in the face of his executioners: "... No matter for how long I will have to stay in prison, I will never denounce my beliefs. ... I will fight for legality and justice. And I only regret that in this short period — one year, two months, and three days that I was a free man — I have managed to accomplish so little to achieve this."
Several people helped Volodya Bukovsky to draw the world's attention to Soviet psychiatric prisons. Among them is Viktor Fainberg, who passed to him copies of medical documents from his prison psychiatric hospital. Viktor Fainberg was the only participant of the Red Square demonstration who was not tried in court. During his arrest he was beaten so brutally that he could not be shown to the judges. His nose was flattened by a kick of a shod army boot, and his eyebrows turned into bloody wounds... And if a man can not be tried, there is another easy option: the mad house.
In a psychiatric prison, Viktor Fainberg protested by going on a hunger strike for one hundred and twelve days. He was being wrapped in a wet sheet and force-fed, with a rubber hose being inserted not into his mouth, but into his nostril to make the process more painful. The battle for his release went on for three years. Three years later, when Academician Sakharov and consequently the entire world joined the campaign for the release of Viktor Feinberg, the KGB decided to release him. But only if he keeps quiet, of course...
Viktor was taken under guard to the Serbsky Institute. Doctors, under whose white coats one could guess the epaulettes, while leafing through the papers of the "healed man," asked him with an affirmative intonation — so that he would understand what answer was expected of him — whether he stopped entertaining his previous delusions. After all, three years have passed since the events in Czechoslovakia? Thin, short, more dead than alive, Victor Fainberg realized that this was the end. He could not lie. Absolutely could not. So he replied, sighing deeply, inwardly saying goodbye to his freedom: “Only three years have passed since the Czech events. And twelve years have passed since the suppression of the Hungarian uprising. And since the invasion of Nicholas I into Moldova and Wallachia, one hundred and twelve years have passed. Regardless, all these invasions have not ceased to be robbery and occupation...".
It was decided to shut Victor away in the most remote psychiatric hospital and "to extinguish his personality." This medical term is widely known in Russia. It was the vital concern of the socialist state — to extinguish the personality. Shigalev from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Demons has now ceased to be a fictional character. Now he is Russian reality. Nine-tenths of the people, according to Shigalev, "must lose their personality and turn into a herd. ... We will extinguish all geniuses in their infancy. Everything will be brought to the same denominator, complete equality."
Victor survived only because a woman psychiatrist fell in love with him, to whom he was delivered as a dangerous and incurable patient. She later became Victor's wife. Victor set up an additional "transport route" for examination documents, which shocked the entire world. Except perhaps the World Congress of Psychiatrists, which decided "not to get involved in politics." I say this without fear for the fate of the newlyweds: both Viktor and his wife are now outside the Soviet Union, and I was happy to welcome Viktor as a guest in my emigre apartment."
Vladimir Bukovsky and Viktor Fainberg, with their heroism, cordiality, and charisma, charmed even the convoy soldiers who passed their packages with medical "examination papers" to the outside world, which opened up a outpour of documentary literature, which during those years altogether replaced the faded prose of professional writers.
Translated from Russian by Alissa Ordabai.
Victor Fainberg on how
Vladimir Bukovsky saved his life,
the life of Pyotr Grigorenko,
and other inmates of
Soviet psychiatric prisons.
Victor Fainberg writing in the Guardian, January 5, 1975.
My first savior was undoubtedly Vladimir Bukovsky. He also saved General Pyotr Grigorenko, the mathematician Yuri Shikhanovich, and others who would never have left their psychiatric prisons alive had Bukovsky not, at fatal cost to himself, told the world what was being done to them. It was he who helped to spirit our appeals out of these stone vaults and get them published abroad. The most secret of KGB secrets, the so-called "case histories" of political prisoners who had been thrown into Bedlam for infinite terms, were now made known to the world.
Bukovsky sat in his Moscow flat, like the Foreign Minister of our embryonic human rights movement, while his personal guard -- members of the ordinary police and KGB agents -- formed a human chain around the entrance, checking the papers of Western journalists and of our new courageous Samizdat "correspondents".
His unprecedented audacity in the face of Soviet authority shook the KGB, evoking a kind of superstitious fear of him. This was his only defense against the government machine, programmed to function like a horde of African ants that destroys every living thing in its path.
In the weeks before the international congress of the World Psychiatric Association in Mexico City in the autumn of 1971, the psychiatrists who were to represent the Soviet Union must have felt like people summoned to appear in court accused of being torturers and killers without having the slightest juridical or moral plea in mitigation. The leader of the Russian delegation, Academician Andrei Snezhnevsky, perhaps disliked the situation; at any rate, he first announced that he was indisposed. However, in the end he went to Mexico.
While this was going on, something incredible was happening in the psychiatric prison on Arsenal'naya Street in Leningrad, where I ws interned: more than half the inmates were being prepared for release. My friend Vladimir Borisov and I had been placed in the same cell after having staged our first hunger strike. Suddenly, all our demands for better conditions for the prisoners were agreed to. The painful medial "treatment" for political prisoners was stopped. The doctors' behaviour reflected a certain nervousness.
When the Mexico congress opened, the psychiatrists of the world were presented with a full documentation of the misuse of Soviet psychiatry for political punishment. These included long statements by Academician Andrei Sakharov and his colleagues Alexander Esenin-Volpin and Valery Chalidze. It also included written appeals to the outside world form the inmate of several psychiatric prisons.
Snezhnevsky, as head of the Soviet delegation at this supposedly scientific conference, did not offer the slightest rebuttal. He simply presented an ultimatum: using the language of orthodox Soviet diplomacy, he said that if the "internal affairs" of Soviet psychiatry were discussed, the Russian delegation would not only walk out of the congress: it would also give up membership of the association. This was enough for the assembled psychiatrists. It may be a charitable view; but they seem to have deluded themselves into thinking that they could best help the inmates of the psychiatric prisons by remaining on speaking terms with their Russian colleagues. The general secretary of the World Psychiatric Association, Dr. Denis Leigh, of the Maudsley Hospital, London, supported by other leaders of the association, caved in.
The miracle of Mexico City is that it was a battle won before in had even begun. Snezhnevsky, who had been afraid to go to Mexico, returned to Russia as a hero and with an unblemished membership card as a psychiatrist of international standing. The efforts of some of the bravest men and women in Russia over many years had been sacrificed to achieve this — a happy relationship between Academician Snezhnevsky and Dr. Denis Leigh.
It is impossible to imagine what this outcome to all his struggles must have meant to Vladimir Bukovsky himself. A month later the authorities felt safe enough, after the silence at Mexico, to give him 12 years to think it over in prison, labour camp and internal exile. And many of those inmates whom I know were abut to be realized are still inside today, over from Leningrad to the psychiatric prisons of Dnepropetrovsk, Oryol and Sychevka.
Russian poet Vadim Delaunay on how Bukovsky saved him from a psychiatric prison
in an interview to Italian magazine Gente, November 22, 1976.
In the summer of 1966, at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute, where I studied, we were arranging readings of our poems and staging performances together. In the same year, I was expelled from the Institute because the administration took a dislike both to Bukovsky's poems and mine, and I was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where I spent three weeks. It was then that I realized the degree Volodya's nobility and generosity. Despite the fact that he himself was being pursued by the secret police, Bukovsky, ignoring the possible consequences, printed thousands of leaflets calling for my release, which he personally distributed at institutes and universities. This made it possible to publicize my case and to form student groups who would come to visit me asking for and achieving my release. ...
He is the only one who is able to achieve something effective that would initiate a change in the USSR. He is the only person the West is really capable of understanding, because he himself understands the West and the free world. I am sure — and even the Soviet government knows it — that if he ends up in the West, non-communist countries would learn from him the terrible truth which they to this day do not know about the police system in our exhausted country. Volodya is my friend, my brother and the only Russian capable of giving the free world and the Soviet world what no other person who had been expelled from Russia can.