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Excerpts from articles 1976 - 2007.

Vladimir Bukovsky on Vladimir Putin in the National Post (Canada), January 28, 2000

Vladimir Bukovsky

Financial Times Interview

The dissident who reckons there's nothing to be done:

John Lloyd is confronted with a bleak view of Russia's future when he meets intellectual Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet exile.


Publication date: September 4, 1993



by John Lloyd


If Vladimir Bukovsky cannot be president of Russia, he will have no more to do with it. It is the last straw. 'After all', he says, 'even in the country which I have made my home and which owes me nothing (Britain) I can be anything I want except the king of it.'


Bukovsky is one of the handful of dissidents, expelled from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, whose prominence grew in exile (in Cambridge, as a don) and who have returned when the power which threw him out collapsed. He has tried to take an active part in the new politics but, in Moscow recently, he told a round table of intellectuals and politicians that 'the more I return here, the less hope I have of its reform.'


Bukovsky earned the right to speak the hard way: arrested and given a 12-year sentence in prisons, camps and mental hospitals in 1961 for attending the reading of a poem on Mayakovsky's suicide 30 years earlier. The poet, among the greatest of the literary enthusiasts for Soviet power, committed suicide when he could no longer fit his Bolshevik idealism to the tortuous path being taken by Stalin towards complete power.


In his memoirs, published in English as "To Build a Castle", Bukovsky speaks of his generation (or that tiny idealist part of it) reacting to the invasion of Hungary in 1956 with a feeling of betrayal: 'We no longer believed anyone. Our parents turned out to have been agents and informers, our military leaders were butchers.'


He still believes in no-one in the former Soviet Union. Professing a complete lack of illusion in the reform process, he sketches out an impoverishing, disintegrating and dangerous future for the country of his birth. The objection that he cannot be president — because of a clause in the draft constitution (78) which denies that right to anyone who has not resided in Russia for the past 10 years — is less an indication of presidential ambition than a view that the current authorities are almost as scared of those with a moral position as the old ones.


'They are the old apparatchiks in new clothes, after all. They cannot really change. I have said many times here — to undo the effects of the revolution you need a revolution, and there has not been one.'


Another sign of the times: 'Oleg Kalugin (a former KGB general turned publicist) wrote in the Mail on Sunday that he had been instrumental in developing the poison and the method of killing (Georgy) Markov (the Bulgarian dissident in exile in London). It was tested on a horse and the horse died. It was tested on a prisoner and the prisoner did not die. (Apparently Soviet prisoners are stronger than horses, which did not surprise me). Now - not a word of regret.'


'We are seeing a reaction already, a sluggish reaction at every level of power as the bureaucrats extend their authority. And the people round Yeltsin are usually not competent, and terribly provincial. They know nothing outside of their specialism or their district, nothing.'


He sees salvation nowhere. Yegor Gaidar, the former prime minister and now one of the leaders of the liberal-conservative wing of Russian politics, achieved little in the way of economic reform because 'he followed shock therapy, the Polish model of liberating prices, which was all right for Poland where there was already a large private sector. But (in Russia) it meant the enterprises simply put up their prices and cut production and no-one could stop them. They should have been privatised first — so obvious.'


Yet for the economist and politician (and self-announced contender for the presidency) whose strategy this is — Grigory Yavlinsky — Bukovsky expresses more contempt than for 'clever but too bookish' Gaidar. 'Yavlinsky is nothing but a self-publicist who uses his talent for getting known.' And for Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the main foreign influence on economic reform, the same strictures.


'All these people were brought up in the old system. They may have read good things but it would be better had they simply lived in England and had to pay taxes and buy food and pay the rent. Then they would have felt what a free market was like.' Bukovsky thinks Boris Fyodorov, the new finance minister, who spent almost two years in London at the European Bank, may, for that reason, have a little better grasp, if not much better chance.


Bukovsky, a neurophysicist by training, now makes his money by advising governments and companies in the former Soviet Union. His advice grows darker and darker, though he retains energy and wit and has acquired English self-irony ('the more gloomy the report you write for them the more they pay you'). His view, stripped down, is that the same fate will befall Russia as befell the USSR: it will disintegrate, messily, perhaps bloodily, perilously for the world.'


'Look, you must understand that what is happening here is not democracy. It is the coming to power of the bureaucrat. The dream of the bureaucrat in the Soviet system was to tell his boss to go to hell. Now he can. Now it is happening at every level.'


'If Moscow cannot control and pay, then the regions and the republics will break away. Imagine the leaders of the Far Eastern Military District sitting around one day. One says: 'Are they paying you anything?' The other says: 'No, nothing.' So they say: 'OK, who needs them (in Moscow)?' And so, with the political leaders, they make a republic. For the people in the far east it would be very attractive: they could give the Japanese back these four stupid islands they want (the Kuriles) and get a lot of Japanese help.'


'The fact that they are all Russians won't be enough in the face of economic necessity. This inflation makes it more the case. So you will get them printing their own money to try to stop the inflation. And if you print your own money it is only a step to having your own central bank, your own government, your own country. And if you had a country which bordered on Yakutia (now called the Republic of Sakwa), which is fabulously wealthy in diamonds, it would be too much temptation not to send some soldiers in there and get some of the diamonds for yourself.


'Soon there will be no national services or culture: they will not pay for them. Even now they cannot pay for communications, railways, roads, and do you think the rest of the country will continue to support the Bolshoi (Theatre)?'


'Yeltsin cannot keep it together. People think he is strong and decisive because he acts well in a crisis and he looks tough: actually he cannot take decisions and compromises all the time. When people were burning their party cards in the streets it took him months to decide to leave the party.'


'Look how he hesitates to take the initiative against the parliament] He has a fear of being blamed for acting in an authoritarian manner — because of his past, when he was part of such a system. But no leader from outside that system would have paused for a moment to do what has to be done.'


He repeats himself. 'This is not a democracy. Norris McWhirter (publisher of The Guinness Book of Records) once told me what it was. He said there is a word for Russia. It is a kleptocracy. Everyone steals everything. In a paper I did for a company, I was hunting for a parallel state to Russia and I found it: it is Nigeria. All the business is concentrated in the capital, and it is fantastically corrupt. Yet you cannot say it is not a democracy sometimes: you cannot say it is not a market economy.'


Bukovsky worked for some part of last year in the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party — opened then to scholars and the curious, now closed once more. There he found sustenance for his long-held belief that the CP and the KGB had, especially in the era of detente, gone a long way to suborning the liberal and left parties of the west.


'It was the old story: the Menshiviks and the Bolsheviks. The Menshiviks always believed that you could bring them back into the fold, convince them you don't have to use these terrible methods. These illusions persist.'


The contemporary illusion against which Bukovsky still attempts to tilt is the western belief that its fear of an imploding Russia can be exorcised by throwing money at it. 'If there is one thing you should say, it is: don't give them the money! Don't do it! The West gave billions to Gorbachev and it is impossible to find a single dollar of it. Where did it go? And this will go the same way. It will just disappear.'


What is to be done? 'Nothing. Nothing to be done. Maybe in some years the country will come together again, the various parts will federate. Maybe. But to stop what is now happening — nothing to be done.

Vladimir Bukovsky Financial Times Interview, September 4, 1993
Vladimir Bukovsky Right Now magazine interview, January - March 2001

Opting Out Of All Utopias


Derek Turner meets Russian dissident and

arch-individualist, Vladimir Bukovsky.


Right Now magazine, January - March 2001. 




What experiences turned you into a dissenter?


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, I was living in a crowded and criminal Moscow. My parents — who were both journalists — were often busy, so my friends and I spent a lot of time out on the streets. In 1953, when Stalin died, being smart kids we clambered onto the roof of the National Hotel to see the crowds who had turned out to pay homage to the dead leader. I remember a surging sea of human heads, and seeing a bus turned over by the pressure of bodies. 5,000 people were crushed to death.


At the age of 11, you are not really conscious of yourself, but I knew that this amazing sight was something I needed to remember. Somehow, this was a turning point. I couldn’t formulate what I felt, but I knew there was some deception. We had always been told that Stalin was a god. So his death was a contradiction in terms; either Stalin was not a god or a god had just died. In other words, there was no ultimate authority and there probably never would be — at least for me. Starting then, and increasingly since, this has given me a feeling of freedom. If there is no god, then I alone am responsible for my actions.


The second thing I realized is that majorities can be wrong. The people below were killing themselves to see a dead god. I began to develop a sort of contempt towards the crowd, with its herd behaviour. From that moment, I have always felt that majorities must be wrong.


Only a few years after Stalin died, he was castigated by his successors, which process only increased my disillusionment.


How does your experience of repression differ from the experiences of Solzhenitsyn and Sharansky?


We represent three different generations. Solzhenhitsyn is old enough to be my father, and his experiences were completely different. As a young man, he actually believed in socialism. He became disillusioned slowly, mostly during the war, as did a lot of people who then found out what life was really like in capitalist countries. My generation, on the other hand, was almost born with disbelief and rebellion in its bones. Solzhenhitsyn’s early belief probably explains his deep religious feelings. In my experience of the camps, those who came as communists left as religious people. They seemed to have a predisposition, a need, to believe in something. As for me, I have never believed either in communism or in God. Solzhenhitsyn’s reactions, attitudes and way of thinking all belong to his generation. His ethico-philosiphical outlook comes partly from Russian culture and literature and partly from having been indoctrinated into an all-embracing philosophy. Natan Sharansky, on the other hand, is a total pragmatist — and that’s being kind.


What sustained you during your incarceration — "Pushkin and poetry"?


This is difficult to answer. What is important to me is to be sure that I am right. And if I am right I don’t care. If I am not sure I cannot be strong, but if I am convinced that I am right and they are wrong, that’s all there is to it.


By the age of 16, all of my childhood influences had come to fruition and I had suddenly realized "I cannot live in this state. We are incompatible." Therefore it didn’t matter; I knew that I would not be able to live there anyway. You could say that I was allergic to the system; it was almost biological. I wasn’t really given the choice. There was simply nothing to be gained by following the rules. They kept trying to offer me deals, but a deal can only be accepted if there is something in it for you.


In 1976 you were released to the West, exchanged for the Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan. Subsequently, your researches have proven that the Soviets were funding the Left in Chile. In the light of this, what are your reflections on the Pinochet affair?


The whole case is a good example of the moral duality or schizophrenia that afflicts our world today. We are told constantly that crimes against humanity have only even been committed by the Right and that the Left was just misjudged or confused. We are all supposed to be understanding towards one side and totally unforgiving towards the other. You can trace this indoctrination throughout every sphere of life. Look at Germany where they’re about to ban a political party. I don’t know much about this party, but no-one seems to have mentioned that, according to the German constitution, if you ban this party you have to ban the communists too. The German constitution allows the banning of "extreme" parties. Communists and fascists were treated equally under Adenauer. Then the prohibition was lifted, but intolerance against the Right remained much stronger than intolerance against the Left. Now the German government is trying to use the mob to justify its own prejudices. They get 200,000 idiots jumping up and down to techno music and it is democracy in action. They are too stupid to realize that they are being manipulated.


You have spent you life documenting Soviet atrocities and campaigning for a Nuremberg-style trail of Soviet crimes. But, as Gribanov noted of Moskovsky Protsess, "one watches in that book a man who has collected an enormous amount of experience, an incredibly bitter experience and how he realizes that no-one needs it, no-one even wants to read it, that’s utterly useless." Why don’t Western politicians care about Soviet crimes?


They want to cover up their own past activities. Only 15 years ago, there were millions in this country who wanted the West to disarm unilaterally. These people are still around; one is our Prime-Minister, another is Foreign Secretary. These people simply don’t want to talk about the USSR because — at best — they will be exposed as fools. On the biggest question of the 20th century, they were utterly wrong — and on the wrong side! The new establishment does not want to have its legitimacy called into question. Today’s elite was formed under the distorted conditions of the 60s, and through using moral blackmail on society. Even those members of our establishment who were not directly involved with Moscow and the KGB will act to defend their own privileges, whereas there are still many people in senior positions who were directly involved with the KGB. We should deny these people the right to be our elite. They were wrong; they betrayed us; they should go.


What are the differences and similarities between Soviet repression and Western-style political correctness?


They are becoming more and more alike.  Both started offs seemingly spontaneous, popular movements, as if they were the result of public demand. Then they became institutionalized, and enshrined in law and habit.


Most of this crap originated on US campuses. I was at Stanford in the mid-1980s and watched with amazement how political correctness erupted. I had always blamed people like Stalin or Beria for censorship, but now I realized that many intellectuals want it too! Such people will always want censorship; they will always want to be oppressors because they always pretend to be oppressed. As with most things in America, political correctness largely passed over in a few years, but things stick in Europe, sometimes for centuries.


It amazes me how easily people accept it. People sometimes say that Russians are natural slaves and that we embraced communism, but in fact we lost 60 million lives fighting it!


But what should people do?


Disobey. One of the best things that happened recently was the fuel tax protest. One thing we shall have to do one day is to refuse to pay taxes. That is the only way that we will be able to remove that rotten elite. Changing a government is easy — you vote. But how to do you change the establishment? Trying to change them from within might take centuries. People need to say to our elites: "We don’t trust you. You abuse your power. We won’t pay any taxes." It doesn’t even need to be all that many people. When 3,000 or 4,000 people refused to pay the poll tax, it was dropped. The legal system got clogged and the machine couldn’t cope. They tried to make an example of a few, but the vast majority of protestors got off scot-free. If a similar number of people refused to pay income tax, the elite would be toppled.


The Right doesn’t protest anywhere. They’re not activists and that’s a real problem. All they are good at doing is sitting around and grumbling. I am so fed up with them that I have practically stopped talking to them. They are always parochial, whereas the Left is always international, always networking, always co-operating. People on the Right never help each other and always campaign on local issues. They are certain to lose if they continue to operate in this way.


What has caused our present malaise?


There are several reasons for our present spiritual devastation — apart from a conspiracy on the Left. That alone would not have worked, but it fell on fertile soil. The change came with a new generation, which was the first one brought up on television. Then mass culture separated the generations. Previously, there had been a continuum — now there was "youth culture." I have a friend who is in his eighties — yet his childhood songs and jokes were more or less the same as mine. The experiences of your generation are completely different.


Your generation has its own peculiar way of revolting. They seem to want simply to get out of it all, make their first million by the age of 27 and go to the Bahamas. But by rebelling in this way they are effectively accepting whatever rules of the game are imposed to them. They end up selling themselves to any bidder. Theirs is an American mentality which has been grafted here. They understand the hypocrisy of it all — but they just don’t care. The next generation — those who are now about 16 — will be much better. In the meantime, very few people of your generation will succeed in making millions, and even if they do, they will just end up drinking themselves to death in the Bahamas out of sheer boredom. The reminder of your generation will end up as provincial accountants in third-rate companies and will hate every minute of their lives.


How does the New Left differ from the Old?


Recently, I watched Tony Blair answering questions on a television show. A man in the audience asked a very good question: "Don’t you think that New Labour is just like the Millennium Dome — shiny outside, empty inside?"


The essence of socialism is the belief that private property should be abolished. Even "moderate" socialists like George Bernard Shaw believed in this. Now, Tony Blair, Schroder and other "Third Way" politicians have castrated their own concept. The last 70 years have shown that that you can’t fight against private property; it is one of the manifestations of the human spirit, a form of self-realization for many people. If you deny them this, nothing will work. Today’s "pragmatic" politicians thought that they could do away with this essential plank of their ideas without compromising the rest, but if you remove a cornerstone from a building the whole edifice will come crumbling downl The development of old-style socialism from that initial concept of abolishing private property was logical, but remove the central idea and you are left with a glamorous nothing. The people now in government are in principle against principle.


But can these people still be called socialists?


I would prefer still to call them socialists because they are still trying to promote the same ideas. They are still trying to destroy the family. They are still trying to destroy the nation-state. They are destroying the Church of England. They confuse people by introducing new terminology.


In a funny way I prefer the Old Left to the New. They at least are honest and consistent, whereas New Left "thinking" is messy and opportunistic. I don’t think the New Left can last very long. Once out of power they will evaporate completely. That is one of the reasons they are so keen on the European Union — they hope to prop up each other.


You have criticized the plans — common to several European countries — to relax border controls in order to admit "technical experts" to fill putative IT vacancies and cheap labor from the Third World to bolster the welfare state. Why?


I see at least three obvious blunders in the argument that there is, or will be, a shortage of labour. First, we have a lot of unemployed people here. Secondly, even if there is a labor shortage, businesses can always export themselves if they want to find cheap labor. Thirdly, why seek Third World labour, when all of the young people of Eastern Europe are available? This is a political statement in the guise of an economic theory. Some politicians and bureaucrats want to swamp Europe with Third World migrants. The state and the Left always want more "clients," and Third World migrants always rely heavily on state intervention. These migrants will be political hostages, who will be obliged to vote for the parties that brought them here. The Left will always seek both to blur and extend boundaries. In order to raise our "awareness" of the plight of the Third World, they want to bring it here.


Unless you have poverty, you cannot pontificate about social issues. Unless you have a large constituency asking for state money, it is impossible to maintain high levels of taxation, pursue grand socialist schemes or justify a bloated bureaucracy. Leftists who don’t do these things are calling their own power into question.


But surely people on the Left act only partly for practical reasons. Like all human beings, Leftists are bundles of often conflicting emotions, not all of them ignoble.


It’s all calculated. Don’t ever believe that the Left acts spontaneously. Even when it is intuitive, it is an intuitive drive for power. These people want to be in control, and the only way they can do it is by exerting moral blackmail on everybody else.


But don’t most human beings seek to project themselves and their ideas on the world to some extent?


I don’t. All I want is for the world not to intrude upon my small, private patch. As I used to ask of my history teacher, "You be a communist if you want to be. But can you leave me out of it?" I don’t want to change the world — I didn’t create it and it’s not up to me to change it. I don’t even really care about the world — if only it would leave me alone. But it never does. Today’s coercive utopians want to save me from myself — they even try to tell me not to smoke and what I should eat and drink. They want you to be part of their utopia.

To Build A Castle Review by Edward Crankshaw, the Observer, October 29, 1978
Vladimir Bukovsky / Jimmy Boyle feature, the Observer, March 11, 1979

To Build A Castle Review

The Observer (London, United Kingdom)

29 October 1978


by Edward Crankshaw


The castle was dreamed up, built, furnished in detail, peopled, its magnificent grounds laid out, all in the author’s young imagination as a sort of therapy to keep himself alive, interested, alert and fighting in his cell between KGB interrogations and in solitary confinement in the punishment “box”. It kept him sane. What, he asks, did the idiotic questions of his tormentors mean when he could turn his back on them to light the candles in his own great hall in the company of his friends.


But castle-building was confined to those periods of Bukovsky’s recurring imprisonments when he was without books, without writing materials, without anything but his thoughts. Given half a chance, he was teaching himself English and reading, reading, reading, reading to make up for his broken education. 


He was first arrested as a student, and by the time he was 35 he had spent just over a third of his life in prisons and labour camps and lunatic asylums. Then, because of the Western reaction to his smuggled revelations, because the KGB saw no way of suppressing him without killing him (no longer comme il faut as a matter of course), he was ejected from the Soviet Union like a foreign body in exchange for a Chilean communist who was more to Brezhnev’s taste. And now he is at King’s College, Cambridge, getting on with his interrupted studies in biology. 


His castle was more than a dream: it was a real fortress of the spirit. There have been, and are, many extremely brave freedom-fighters (more than we know) in the Soviet Union, but it sonly Bukovsky, I think, who has regarded imprisonment and police persecution not as an oppression to be avoided if decently possible (and if not, endured) but as a mark of victory, of positive achievement. 


And yet there is not the least flavour of the death-wish or willed martyrdom about him. He went to prison because he insisted on behaving in a certain way, and the very fact of arrest and re-arrest was proof of success. He is the only prisoner I have ever heard of who arranged his life on short release with only one thought in mind: to get so much done, so fast, that he would not have to reproach himself with idleness and wasted opportunities once he was back inside. 


This book is a panorama of Soviet life in and out of prison, seen from below; it is an enthralling, if allusive, account of the now famous protest movement; it is the record of a personal odyssey of remarkable quality. But some of the most moving and illuminating passages have to be quarried. Bukovsky’s masterpiece is his life, and I think his story of what life would have made a sharper and more immediate impact on more readers if he could have satisfied himself with setting down quite matter-of-factly what he did and what others did to him in chronological order. 


Do not, however, be put off by the somewhat baroque attack: read on and you will be gripped. Perhaps it is only through this sort of free fantasia that the author could bear to tackle his own past and at the same time develop the impetus in which savage irony, almost inexpressible scorn for the present rulers, and the untamable sense of humor can inform and bring alive a picture of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, seen from the inside and out of prisons and camps, dominated always by the fathomless corruption and stupidity of the party bureaucracy and the better-known brutality and stupidity of the KGB.


Against this squalor flickers the bright flame of heroic few, known as dissidents — an inadequate and misleading word. For the dissidents of the Soviet Union may be numbered in tens of millions but they keep their heads down. The ones we hear about are the few who speak out in active protest. And Bukovsky has a good deal to say about their lives. They are human beings, with human weaknesses, not saints, but brave. Bukovsky’s categorical and utterly simple statement of faith, his and their faith in individual action, is one of the most moving passages in the book:


In fighting to preserve his own integrity he is simultaneously fighting for his people, his class, or his party. It is such individuals who win the right for their communities to live — even, perhaps, if they are not thinking of it at the time. 


“Why should I do it?” asks each man in the crowd. “I can do nothing alone.”

And they are all lost.

“If I don’t do it, who will?” asks the man with his back to the wall.

And everyone is saved.

That is how a man begins building his castle. 


I should add that, as one would expect, there are some revealing and shattering glimpses of Mr. Brezhnev’s treatment of those of his fellow-countrymen he decides to call insane. We see the notorious psychiatric trio, Lunts, Morozov and Snezhnevsky, off-parade and en pantoufles. It was Snezhnevsky who invented that marvelous mental disease, "sluggish schizophrenia." According to Bukovsky this was not devised for the benefit of the KGB, but only exploited by them. Somehow this makes Snezhnevsky more sinister and dangerous than the out-and-out rogue I had imaged him to be. ​​​​

Fight for "Freedom" Jail


The Observer, March 11, 1979.

by Jack Crossley

Exiled Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has joined in a fierce controversy surrounding the future of Britain's most advanced prison experiment. 


The Special Unit at Barlinnie, Glasgow — where five murderers enjoy more privileges than any other prisoners in the UK — has been hailed as a giant step forward in prison reform.


But there is growing concern that these privileges may soon be curbed and that the unit will eventually be forced to confirm more closely to "the prison norm."


Bukovsky, who spent 13 years in Soviet prisons, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals, has made a remarkable visit to see the unit's most controversial inmate: Jimmy Boyle, a killer with a horrendous history of violence.


Boyle was a razor-slashing gangster from Glasgow's Gorbals who is serving a life sentence for murder and for attempted murder of a prison officer. 


In 1973 Scotland created the Special Unit as an experiment in the treatment of long-term and potentially violent prisoners. 


At that time Boyle had spent seven years inside some of Scotland's grimmest prisons.


Six years in the unit have transformed him from an inarticulate animal into an author and gifted sculptor. 


He is studying for a degree in psychology and in 1977 published a book on his life "A Sense of Freedom." The book which he wrote himself, was turned into a successful play, "The Hard Man" and there are plans to make it into a film. Boyle has created a trust which gives two-thirds of his profits to deprived Glasgow children. 


Boyle's transformation was made possible by the relaxed regime at the unit, which is run as a comment with responsibility shared between staff and inmates. They cook their own food and each man decides his own work and recreation patterns. 


To the dismay of many penal reform workers the Scottish Prison Service shun publicity for the unit and are accused of being embarrassed by its success.


The unit has cared for 13 violent men and has released three murderers who are now leading useful lives. Its biggest disappointment was Larry Winters, doing life for murder, who died after an overdose of drugs. 


Parole has been refused for Boyle, though his application is backed by unit staff. He has been in prison for 12 years — since he was 21.


At a recent training course, senior officers are reported to have been told that Boyle would not be released for five to 10 years. The Prison Service denies this, but the grapevine got the story into the unit and visitors say that Boyle is now depressed and frustrated. 


Bukovsky now lives in Cambridge where he is studying biology. His visit was arranged through the prison authorities after the two men had expressed interest in meeting. 


Bukovsky was 20 and a trainee physicist when he was arrested for possessing a book, by Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas. 


He said, "I am a foreigner in your country and there is no reason why your prison authorities should listen to me. But I have extensive experience and knowledge of criminal psychology.


"Jimmy Boyle showed me around the unit in November and explained how the community works. He has a great enthusiasm for it and after speaking with him for about four hours I realised two things. 


"First — he had been a violent man and harsh prison conditions had had a negative effect, as they always will. He went through a long process before understanding and appreciating the sympathetic approach of the unit. 


"Second — he is now a completely new man. He is more than harmless — he is useful now.


"He has a strong character and wouldn't ever be changed by cruel or strong methods. They would produce in him new strengths of resistance. You never help anybody by severity of punishment. It would be a tragedy if the regime at Barlinnie were hardened. This experiment should be embraced by prison authorities everywhere — it shows that a more psychological, a more tolerant approach can be made to work.


"It has worked for Jimmie Boyle. He would never become a criminal again. There is no question about it."


Yesterday a Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: "More applications for prisoners' exhibitions have been allowed than disallowed. There is no firm line against any individual and there is no question of the department showing hostility towards the unit."

Penny Valentine on Vladimir Bukovsky in Street Life magazine, March 20 - April 2, 1976

Some Days In The Life Of

Vladimir Bukovsky


Street Life magazine, March 20 - April 2, 1976.


by Penny Valentine


On a freezing Moscow day in January 1972 Vladimir Bukovsky was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." 


There was nothing, on the surface, so unusual about Bukovsky’s sentence. In any country Vladimir Bukovsky would have been considered, at the least, a political "nuisance". The 1972 sentence was his fourth in less than ten years. It seemed that Vladimir Bukovsky was no sooner released from one sentence than he was busy getting himself re-arrested. A defiant political activist since his youth, Bukovsky seemed to be undeterred by constant harassment and imprisonment. The 1972 sentence - twelve years in some of the worst conditions in the USSR - was clearly designed to give him "pause of thought". But… his case is more important and unique than the daily court rulings might lead anyone to believe.


For Bukovsky is the key figure in a growing international uproar against the use of psychiatric "torture" against political prisoners in the USSR. It was Bukovsky who first supplied invaluable documentation to Amnesty International and world-wide committees that many major political figures -- medically sane people -- were being committed to Russian mental hospitals and drug treatment. Here their views ‘changed’ or they were reduced to vegetables, their brains scrambled by the combination of drugs, disorientation and life amongst the insane.


The initial charge brought against Bukovsky when he was arrested a year before his trail took place was for "slanderous allegations against Russian psychiatry".


A few weeks ago, in London, a charity concert was held with actor Paul Scofield, singer Shusha and various other young musicians -- their aim was to raise money and interest for the Committee To Free Vladimir Bukovsky. Leading members of the Bukovsky committee in Britain are actor David Markham, who met Bukovsky in Moscow in the early 70’s, and former Russian "dissident" Viktor Fainberg who - like many of Russian’s ex-political prisoners - have found their lives inexorably linked with Bukovsky and are concerned about Amnesty’s latest report on the state of his health:


"He has stomach ulcers and a heart condition… In August 1975 it was reported that Bukovsky was losing his eyesight."


Vladimir Bukovsky is 33 years old.


To trace how Bukovsky became the key figure in the fight against psychiatric abuse in Russia means going back to the time of his first arrest in 1963.


Bukovsky was 21 years old and had spend the previous two years studying biophysics and cybernetics at Moscow University. In the summer of ’63 he was found "in possession" of some copies of Milovan Djilas’ The New Class’. He was not given a trail. Instead, he was kept in various mental hospitals for the next twenty months.


He was released in February 1965. A few days before his birthday that December he took part in a demonstration in Moscow against the arrest of writers Sinyavsky and Daniel. He was again put into a mental hospital without trail. This time sympathizers the West fought for, and obtained, his release a year later.


A month after his 24th birthday Bukovsky was rearrested, he had organized a demonstration against the arrests of  four ‘dissidents’ - Alexander Ginzburg, Yury Galanskov, Alexei Dobrovolsky and Vera Lashkova. That summer he was trailed and convicted of taking part in an illegal demonstration. This time he was sent to a labor camp for three years.


But it was his earlier sentences in mental hospitals that had given Bukovsky an insight into a subtly horrifying side of Russian political life. There he had talked to "dissidents", discovered most of them were told they were schizophrenic, and that many were being given huge doses of drugs like triftazin, halpherdal and insulin. He had managed to obtain medical records containing evidence of their sanity.


When he was finally released from labor camp in 1970 Bukovsky spent a year collating his information, collecting more evidence… In 1971 he decided to release the information and material to journalists from the West -- "making a decisive contribution to human knowledge about the phenomenon".


To organizations outside the USSR - who for years had no concrete proof of the stories  they heard emanating from political prisoners - Bukovsky’s work was vital. As a direct result of his information six major Russians ‘dissidents’ were released by Russia under pressure from the West - among them Victor Fainberg who was originally arrested in Red Square in 1968 during a demonstration agains the invasion of Czechoslovakia and who had spend five years in mental hospitals.


By January 1964 Bukovsky had completed the first part of his sentence at the notorious Vladimir prison. He was then transferred to Colony VS 389/35 in Perm. There he met Dr. Semyon Gluzman and they worked together on a manual - advice to "dissidents" who found themselves in mental hospitals. This document advised prisoners to convince their psychiatrists that they had been ignorant of the consequences their political action  would bring; that they had acted in a desire for fame and notoriety. They were, said the manual, to use "every possible tactical trick" to convince the psychiatrists that they had changed their political views. Anything… to get their release.


That summer Bukovsky was involved in a month-long hunger strike at the camp over conditions. He was immediately transferred back to Vladimir prison where he continued to harass the system by refusing to work because of bad health. Since then his food rations have been cut and he is allowed even fewer letters than before. For all this his mother, an old age Pensioner, has to pay the authorities 12 rubles a month.


The main aim of the British campaign generally is to get more involvement from psychiatrists as a body, and from the communist organizations outside the USSR (British campaigners are convinced Leonid Pliusch’s release was only finally achieved because of direct intervention by the French CP).


Ros Kane, involved in the Bukovsky case here, told Street Life that representatives had originally approached the World Psychiatric Organization to bring pressure to beacon on their Russian colleagues, but that they "just swept the Bukovsky case under the carpet".


"Of course psychiatry is being abused all over the world" she agreed. "But the abuse of its uses are more extreme in Russia than anywhere else. The trouble with  psychiatrists is that they will not get involved as a body. We have individual psychiatrists involved in our work but they are the rare concerned individuals. Psychiatrists as a whole don’t see what they’re doing as political". 

Bukovsky Says Callaghan Claim Embarrassing, Birmingham Daily Post, January 14, 1977

Bukovsky Says Callaghan Claim Embarrassing

Birmingham Daily Post, January 14, 1977




by Birmingham Post Political Staff


An outright rejection of the Prime Minister’s claim to be helping Russian dissidents by secret diplomacy came from Mr. Vladimir Bukovsky last night. 

The campaigner for human rights said he had been embarrassed to hear Mr. Callaghan boast that private deals could achieve more than public protest.

His rebuke came only hours after the Prime Minister clashed with Opposition MPs in the Commons over his refusal to meet Mr. Bukovsky.

At a Conservative Reform Group meeting in Westminster, Mr. Bukovsky said: “It is difficult to imagine a real British gentleman trying to make deals in secrecy and private with murderers. You can’t create freedom behind closed doors, behind the backs of the people. Only open and honest opposition from people who respected human dignity could influence the situation in Russia. I hope that none of you would agree to meet Soviet criminals in secrecy and in a private way to try to persuade them to stop being what they are.”

At any time, the prisoners in the camps could tell how firmly the West was dealing with Russian leaders by the behaviour of the prison administration, said Mr. Bukovsky.

When a Conservative MP apologised for Mr. Callaghan’s behaviour in the Commons, Mr. Bukovsky smilingly suggested that the British people did not have the government they deserved. 

He praised the British press and television for their coverage of his release, but criticised the BBC’s external services for not allowing him to broadcast his views back to the Russian people. 

After sitting in the pubic gallery at the House of Commons yesterday, the freed Russian dissident, Mr. Vladimir Bukovsky, joined members of the Women’s Campaign of Soviet Jewry in a symbolic “prisoner’s meal” of bread and soup in a London restaurant. 

Vladimir Bukovsky interview in the Sunday Telegraph, October 8, 1978

Introducing Cambridge’s Most

Unusual Freshman


The Sunday Telegraph


October 8, 1978




The Mandrake diary column


Vladimir Bukovsky has just moved into a student room exactly the same size as the Soviet cell in which he spent most of the past 12 years.


There are, however, a number of crucial differences: he does not share his accommodation at King’s College, Cambridge, with nine others, nor does he have to smuggle books in, rip off their covers and pretend they are merely toilet paper. Most important of all, he locks the door himself from within, although he admits to feeling nervous about the cleaners having their own key.


Eighteen months ago his gaunt, spectral, chain-smoking figure, topped with a savage crew cut, arrived at Heathrow Airport. There, on the tarmac, looking bemused and clutching a Soviet passport, was a distinct whiff of the Gulag. He weighed 9 1/2 stone. He had ulcers, arthritis, a heart complaint and a defective liver.


For his dissident views he had spent almost his entire adult life in a continuum of jails, labour camps and mental hospitals until rushed unexpectedly to Switzerland and exchanged for Luis Corvalan, the imprisoned Chilean Communist.


Since then he has been recuperating and put on two stone, despite having lost all enjoyment of food. His hair has grown; the ulcers and the liver are much improved. But the heart ailment lingers, and a Swiss doctor has just told him that he will be completely crippled with arthritis in 10 years’ time.


Although this would be a disaster for ordinary mortals, it is shrugged off by one who has endured so much. "Ten years is a long time to me. I can do a lot," he said explaining that at 35 he must now start adult life again where it was so wretchedly interrupted when he was a student.


"I do not want to study politics because I am not a politician. I want to research into the physiology of the brain. I want to be an ordinary student now," said Bukovsky, who is described as "mildly gregarious" by fellow students.


On October 26 his book To Build a Castle: Мy Life as a Dissenter" is published. It will be serialized in The Sunday Telegraph, starting next week and shows how a humorous, naturally rebellious boy, expelled from school at 17 for writing a non-political but irreverent magazine, took on Soviet totalitarianism.


He is a remarkable man to meet because you can see immediately how he was able to do it. Even when he is drinking sherry in his room, you are aware of the stubborn dignity which has enabled him to withstand anything: pain, hunger strikes, even the dangers involved in smuggling to the West his book revealing psychiatric abuse of political prisoners.


You know that he is special from the way he can look you straight in the eye for longer than anyone else.


His hair is matted and unkempt. His face is tough looking, until illuminated by infectiously friendly smiles. He is wholly detached from his circumstances and finds humor in the bleakest moments regarding prisoners, like May Balls and punting, as merely various aspects of human behavior.


"All problems in the world are exactly the same. You are always wanting something you cannot have. Recently I was in London with friends. It was late at night and we had run out of vodka, as is the way with us.


"In Moscow taxi drivers carry illegal drink for sale. As a bet, I got a taxi and asked where I could get vodka. He took me to a place immediately. What I did then was basically no different to what I was doing and feeling in prison."


Most amazingly of all, he says precisely what he is thinking, regardless of social nicety. For example, I said that I would try to leave him 15 minutes early so he could relax before his next lecture. His reply was "I hope so." This was not meant rudely; it was simply the unbending truth. 

Vladimir Bukovsky interview by John Banks, The Times, October 7, 1978

Vladimir Bukovsky’s escape

from insanity


by John Banks in The Times 

October 7, 1978



If one expects a "young Solzhenitsyn," with a prophet’s warnings and a supernatural dedication to work, Vladimir Bukovsky is disappointing. He is a dissident with a human face.


He came to the door of his room at King’s College, Cambridge, wearing cord trousers, shirtless, shoeless, his hair sprung out. He rubbed his face with both hands against the mid-day light. "I warned you I am a late bird," he said. He handed me the galley proofs of his book, To Build a Castle. "Perhaps you’d like to look at this," he said and went off to pull himself together.


For most of his adult life Bukovsky’s awakenings have been much ruder. The 6 a.m. hammering on his prison door, the shouting and cursing, and the Soviet national anthem blaring through a loudspeaker are gone. In their place are the bells of King’s College Chapel. 


His curriculum vitae includes 11 years of prison, psychiatric hospitals and labour camps from age 20. Since his release to the West in exchange for Chilean communist party chief, Luis Corvalan, in December, 1976, Bukovsky has been a high-powered politician and has put on three stone in weight. He speaks fluent English, a spin-off from prison days when political prisoners used American slang to confound their guards and memorized English vocabulary to keep their sanity.


It is difficult to imagine Bukovsky out of action for long. His fellow dissidents need his freedom, his voice, his money to carry on their struggle for human rights. He drew on the Solzhenitsyn fund during his many years in prison and knows the meaning of a bribe when it comes to getting letters out and books in.


Seventeen years ago, the KGB stopped him from entering his second year in biophysics at the University of Moscow because he didn’t conform to "the ethos of a Soviet student." Their rehabilitation failed and left him with a greater desire to study the physiology of the brain.


"I always wanted to be a scientist, not a politician. Politics was something thrust upon me, it’s too superficial, it’s not my life’s work."


The first test of his ability to struggle with the distraction of being an international celebrity as well as a student will come within weeks of his reentry to the university. To Build A Castle, the story of his life and the origins of the Soviet human rights movement, will be published in 12 countries. Andre Deutsch are buying out the book in Britain.


Despite his claims not to be a writer, Bukovsky has written a powerful book. It opens like a novel with a vivid account of his last day in a high-security prison in the town of Vladimir, about 100 miles north-east of Moscow. At wake up he is told to get his gear together. He is angry, worried about his contraband — three foreign razor blades, a pen-knife, a homemade awl. He hides these in the lining of his jacket. He thinks he’s being transferred to another cell block or to another prison. He won’t go anywhere without his boots which are in the repair shop. He demands the boots and gets them. (He laughs now about these petty concerns of a prisoner).


A minibus with blinds drawn and a police escort takes him to another prison in Moscow. He’s given a Paris suit and feels uncomfortable in it. The KGB take him to an airforce base. To his surprise, his mother, than 63, his sister, 36 and divorced, and his nephew, a teenager on a stretcher, are there. They are being flown out to Zurich with only the police and KGB men aboard.


Leaving Russia for the last time he feels neither sadness nor joy, only an "incredible fatigue." In flight he learns from his mother that he is being exchanged for Corvalan. Prisoner Bukovsky argues to get the plastic handcuffs, cutting his hands behind his back, removed.


He left his family in Zurich where the boy’s cancer could be treated and he toured the West from his base in England. A month-and-a-half blitz of America sponsored by the AFL-CIO made him feel the strain and numbness of a political candidate and he picked up American slang.


"In prison anyone who didn’t discipline himself, who didn’t concentrate his attention on some steady object or study, was in danger of losing his reason, or at the very least of losing control of himself. I was stronger than many others because I knew something about the physiology of the human brain. I knew what belonged to me and what belonged to the situation. I never had delusions.


"They do test you to the limit when you are sick, tired, in most need of a respite. At that point they take you and try to break you like a stick across their knees. They believe in the breaking point idea. What I did helped me not to have a breaking point. Like when I was in a box (solitary confinement cell) I constructed an entire castle — it could have been anything not just a castle — but for me the castle was an outward symbol to protect me internally.


"That’s why I’m so interested in all the functions of the human brain. There’s something peculiar about the brain -- it’s too stable. People can withstand any kind of torture. We have an extraordinary capacity to endure. You start to liberate this capacity only when you’re under torture.


"For me the worst kind took place in the mental hospitals. It was far worse than solitary confinement. Towards the end of 1963 I was sent to the Leningrad psychiatric hospital. I was locked in a room with two other men, both really insane. One was a Ukranian nationalist who had been locked up for 17 years and would shout Ukranian slogans all day long. The guards would come in and beat him fiercely when they got tired of his shouting, and when I intervened they beat me too and wrote in my record that I was violent. The other man had murdered his children and then cut off his ears and eaten them. He sat and giggled to himself all the time.


"Besides the beatings, there were three common forms of torture in the hospitals. The first was the injection of aminazin which would put you into a permanent doze of stupor and made you oblivious of what was going on around you. The second was an injection of sulphazine or sulphur, which caused excruciating pain and gave you a high fever for two or three days. The third was the roll-up. They’d take wet canvas in long pieces and wrap you up in it from head to foot, so tight it was difficult to breathe. Then as it dried, the canvas would get tighter and tighter until it almost strangled you. A nurse would always watch you and when you lost consciousness, they would unwind the canvas.


"I was never given the injections or the roll-up because both my father and mother were writers. My father was an official Soviet writer specializing in rural matters and a member of the Writer’s Union, my mother a radio journalist. It also helped to be known in the West. General Grigorenko was spared drug treatment the entire five years he was kept in psychiatric hospital. Leonid Plyushch was the exception. They gave him a horrible drug treatment, but still couldn’t break him.


Bukovsky’s "law-breaking" began at school. He resigned his office as chairman of the pioneers in his class at age 10. Four years later he refused to join the Komsomol. In his last year of school in Moscow, at 17, he started a typescript magazine. The single copy full of jokes about the school and the teachers went from hand to hand and got read aloud in small groups.


Soviet authorities viewed the magazine as an "act of ideological sabotage" and Bukovsky and the school’s headmaster were summoned to review the issue with the Moscow city committee of the Party. The disproportionality between his school magazine and the official response to it still amuses Bukovsky today. But the authorities were not amused. The headmaster was sacked. Bukovsky’s father was reprimanded, and he was barred from university studies and told to work in factories. His right to education was permanently waived.


By attending an evening institute for young workers he persuaded a teacher to get him a reference to university. There were 16 applicants for every place at the University of Moscow, but in competitive exams he won a place. He and two student friends reopened the public readings in Mayakovsky Square that had been stopped two years earlier.


That put him in touch with the budding dissident movement and with the art of samizdat, "self-publishing." The KGB had his admission to the second year of university blocked. They began arresting his friends. Bukovsky joined a geological expedition in Siberia for six months. Shortly after he returned, the KGB caught him making a photograph copy of Djilas’s The New Class, a book on the Soviet index that he had borrowed from the wife of an American correspondent.


Because he had taken two photos of each page to get the clear copy, the KGB was able to charge him with planning to distribute the book. "I really had no such plan. That was decisive, because at that point they decided to put me in prison. They took me straight to a solitary sell in the Lubyanka." 


The hospitals gave him his first direct experience of psychiatric terror in suppressing dissent. Later he documented the abuse in a report on six cases which he released to the West. The Bukovsky Papers gave defenders of human rights the hard data they needed. As Peter Reddaway, a founder of the working group on the Internment of Dissenters in Mental Hospitals, recalled: "Here for the first time were clinical assessments written by psychiatrists and revealing the details of their diagnostic method. The material from  Bukovsky included his personal appeal addressed to western psychiatrists. They were asked to examine the documents and to express an opinion on the need for internment in mental hospitals of the six persons concerned."


His 11 years in confinement have left him with three difficult habits. He has a strong need for tobacco which comes from smoking shag, made from the stem and root of the tobacco plant. His addiction takes up to 80 cigarettes and a pipe to ease. He also has a compulsion to answer letters immediately and tear them up lest they be used as evidence against him. He avoids new friends and is still very secretive about his women friends, both reflex actions from his dealings with the KGB.


Was he not already bored with Cambridge? To go from political action on a global scale (on one TV program, CBS’s 60 Minutes, he reached 40 million people) to the campus King’s College must be deflating.To go from face-to-face meetings with President Carter and other heads of state to sessions with his Cambridge tutors must surely be a comedown.


"Not really," he replied. "Cambridge is incredibly calm and quiet and I’m enjoying it. I like losing myself in math problems and the discipline of books. I really want to do research work in the physiology of the brain. I feel as if I know something about it and have the urge for further discovery. I want to establish something and to further our knowledge of the brain.


"I’m not out to win a Nobel Prize. You can’t say anything about society unless you first know about the human being. Political speculation about the constructs of society and forecasts for the future are too superficial and too premature. Society is a function of the human being, not vice versa.

Stella Rimington — former director of MI5 — talks to Vladimir Bukovsky.

Watching the Russians documentary, BBC, 2007. 


In 1956 the first visit of a Soviet leader to Britain produced a decidedly mixed response. And there were many of those who turned up to boo on that day in April 1956 really knew what they were protesting about. It was certainly true of me when later on Bulganin and Khrushchev turned up in Edign and there I was as a student with my home-made poster declaring in the immortal words, "Bulgeon, Crush, go home!". 


In fact, amazingly enough, my own protest was filmed. For the most part, crowds that turned up to stare at Khrushchev and Bulganin, seemed uncertain whether to welcome them as peacemakers or condemn them as oppressors. They just stood quiet.


Then in October of the same year, a rather more effective student protest in Hungary precipitated a revolt, and the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. This brutal response tipped the balance. Now even faithful supporters of the Soviet Union deserted it. Russia had become what in the 19th century we had always feared her to be — a powerful, ruthless, expansionist nation. 


As the Cold War progressed, our fear of the Soviet Union became tied up with another fear -- of the nuclear war. When the Soviet Union acquired the hydrogen bomb, our predictions for war changed radically. The war would be a matter of minutes and Britain would be destroyed. 


The 1960s cemented another enduring image of the Soviet Union — as a nation of spies. And reality fed the fiction, with series of Soviet spy cases hitting the news. Culminating in 1971 with the expulsion of 105 Soviet Embassy staff from Britain for spying. Meanwhile Soviet defectors and dissidents brought news from behind the Iron Curtain. One who caught our attention was Vladimir Bukovsky. He became a cause celebre when he exposed the Soviet regime's use of psychiatric insititutions for political prisoners. Then in 1976, while in prison, Bukovsky was exchanged for a Chilean communist leader. 


Rimington to Bukovsky: They came along, put your handcuffs on, and took you out?


Bukovsky: Only when I was put aboard of a plane I suddenly realised that I must have been expelled. 


Rimington: In 1977 Bukovsky was invited to study in Britain. I wanted to know what he thought of Britain's view of Russia at the time. 


Rimington to Bukovsky: When you came to Britain, what sort of attitude — apart from all these people who were supporting you — did you find?


Bukovsky: When I came, it was still the government of Jim Callaghan. I was a Labour government. Who were more ideologically attuned to the regime in Moscow. Although occasionally critical of it. They would be kind of inclined to understand it and forgive it, going along with it. It was not possible to change their minds at all. The general public was much better at that time. In the Soviet times it was a closed society. People knew that something was going on behind the Iron Curtain, which they are not allowed to know and only occasionally have a glimpse of it. And iI was one of these glimpses. And then 1978 was the year when the campaign for human rights became very fashionable. The repressive nature of the Soviet regime was pretty much obvious to people at that time. And they were sympathetic to anyone who tried to stand up to it. 


Rimington: Bukovsky developed a friendship with Margaret Thatcher shortly after he arrived. But during perestroika, as the popular mood in Britain became pro-Russian, Bukovsky didn't agree with her support of Gorbavhev.


Bukovsky: She took him seriously. She took him at face value. And I had to argue with her for seven years, trying to prove to her that he is not what she thinks. She would argue, she would say, "He is pragmatic." And I would say, "Give me a definition of a pragmatic communist. It's a very strange creature." She wouldn't, and I would say, "I can give a definition of a pragmatic communist. A pragmatic communist is a communist who had run out of money. It's very simple." But she would still argue.


Rimington to Bukovsky: But I think she say, you know, the beginning of change, frankly, and, you know, Gorbachev — whatever his intentions had been instrumental, ultimately, in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union.


Bukovsky: Yes. I would say God chooses very strange instruments for his will. The initial reaction when the Soviet Union collapsed was kind of a great relief: "It's all over, and now Russia is instantly democratic." And no matter how much I tried to explain that it's not, and it's a big question would it ever be... "No, that wouldn't be percieved. No-no. It's now democratic, finished."


Rimington to Bukovsky: Yes. I can remember we in my service thought, you know, this is a moment of greater openness. And maybe we'll be able to start having good relationships with our colleagues in Russian. But that's not really how it worked.


Bukovsky: They are not really your colleagues, believe me. They are more like Gestapo, so... Never call them your colleagues.


Stella Rimington talks to Vladimir Bukovsky. The BBC, 2007

Vladimir Bukovsky

interviewed by Irena Maryniak.


Index of Censorship. Issue 4, 2001. 


You were twice subjected to compulsory psychiatric treatment in the 1960s, first in Leningrad's Special Psychiatric Hospital and then in "ordinary" psychiatric clinics. What were the conditions of your internment and how did it affect you?


I was young and curious so I wasn't seriously intimidated, even though the chances of never getting out of hospital were high. But I didn't know that then. The special hospital was an overtly penal institution. The orderlies were criminals who had been designated to do time there. As far as they were concerned there were no rules, anything went. They could steal, beat or kill. The authorities never punished them, they put everything down to the patient's condition. If an orderly killed a patient, it was the patient who was to blame.


Unofficial forms of punishment included injections and "roll-ups". I never had a "roll-up", but it was an ugly thing to watch. They'd wrap wet canvas strips around the patient which shrank when they dried so that the victim lost consciousness. Then a nurse would come and loosen them. This could go on for any length of time. They called it "restraint"; in fact it was torture. Some people suffocated and died. A young political I knew, Tolik Belyaev, was given this treatment because he had been reading after lights out.


The punishment drug aminazine was widely used — in the early 1960s they had little else. They also gave sulfazine which was a solution of sulphur in peach oil, injected into muscle. It caused an abscess, high temperature and intense pain. In one section they gave insulin shocks, but we were spared those. Electric shocks were introduced later. They didn't have the technology then. Subsequently, the range of available equipment grew much wider.


They also administered the drug haloperidol. The idea was that it lowered the severity of the psychotic state by affecting neurotransmitters. An excess of dopamine induces a severe psychotic state and a low level of dopamine causes Parkinson's disease. They gave high doses of haloperidol to lower the dopamine level, and people got symptoms of Parkinson's.


All this made everything that came after seem much easier. When I was imprisoned, I found it quite simple to tolerate punishments like solitary confinement, cold or hunger. They didn't touch me. In prison you had colleagues, cell mates and limited rights. We used what we had. We went on hunger strike... In psychiatric hospitals there was nothing.


What about friendship?


We had that, but in those conditions there wasn't much we could do for one another. It was like a mischievous trick. You'd been diagnosed mentally ill. You were no longer responsible for yourself. You had no rights, even theoretically. I was fortunate in that our doctor was well over 70 and very experienced. If an orderly said that a patient had woken up and attacked him, he'd say: "I've been working here 40 years and I've never seen a patient get aggressive. What did you do to him? You must have done something..." So in his section they never touched anyone. There was also a woman doctor who secretly helped us. She still lives in St Petersburg. She was an 'ascetic' in the Russian Orthodox sense of the word. She worked in mental hospitals to help people. She wouldn'tlet them punish usand helped to get us discharged. I kept in touch with her quietly after my release. She went o n giving help, and was eventually caught and sacked. I lost sight of her after that. In 1991, I found her again, destitute, penniless, with no teeth. She was in a horrifying state. Her former patients now send her money from abroad.


What was the relationship between real patients and political prisoners?


We made a joke of them. Over half of the patients in our section were healthy — it was considered a "soft" section. In "hard" sections the number of sane patients was very small. About 10% ofall patients in Soviet psychiatric hospitals were politicals. A hospital might have 1,000 patients, of whom 100 would be mentally sound. Many o f the others were multiple murderers; they might have killed in desperate circumstances.


How did ordinary and special hospitals differ?


People were sent to special hospitals following a court decision. There'd be a trial and if the investigation found you mentally irresponsible you'd be sent for compulsory treatment. But you could end up in an ordinary hospital o n the basis o f complaints from neighbours o r relatives. People turned up fortuitously. Some had tried to commit suicide, others were merely thought to have attempted suicide. This was categorised as "dangerous". A potential suicide was dangerous to himself. Anyone who attempted suicide and survived had to submit to psychiatric treatment. You weren't supposed to commit suicide — it was seen as deviancy.


In ordinary hospitals the percentage ofpeople who were genuinely ill was high and most came o f their own accord, through a doctor. The different sections were graded. There was a ward for the chronically ill who had been there for decades. There were also wards for alcoholics and drug addicts.


In To Build a Castle you describe how it felt to leave hospital and go back into what we think of as "normal" life...


It was a reaction many people experience after release from imprisonment of any kind. The process o f reintegration is intensely difficult. Getting used to prison is far easier. In extreme conditions you discover a greater capacity to adapt and react quickly. When you're freed you expect normality and there's no such thing. In prison you idealise life and freedom, it's like nostalgia for an imagined world. The mind embellishes what it wants. When you're released you perceive that things are quite different. It's a passage from one universe into another. You need time — and when you're set free you don't get that. There's a life to live, there's work, and people don't realise what's happening to you. It's as if you'd changed your skin. You walk around bare-skinned, highly sensitised. As a prisoner you're subjected to sensory deprivation. I remember the first thing that struck me when I came out of prison was colour. You're out of the habit of seeing colour — nothing coloured is permitted in prison. Even the strength of colour is painful and demands reintegration.


It's also a time of rejection. You want solitude but you're in work, there's family, friends keep dropping in. You don't want that. If you're just out of psychiatric hospital it's twice as bad because of the psychological tension there. You're constantly wondering if you're normal. Even though you know you were diagnosed for political reasons you still watch yourself. Perhaps I am mad? Those big nobs in white coats with diplomas and professorial status decided I was. There must be something wrong. You keep analysing yourself, comparing yourself with others. It's an additional burden.


You must have thought a lot about mental illness and what it is.


I saw too much of it. I had the feeling it was like a technical fault, an engine running after something's seized up, or one of those old gramophone records that goes into permanent replay. No one has really understood schizophrenia yet.


It's ironic that Professor Andrei Snezhnevsky of Moscow's Serbsky Institute apparently thought he did. The story of the struggle between the two Soviet schools of psychiatry, "Moscow" and "Leningrad", is well known. How different were they?


Snezhnevsky dreamed up a new form of schizophrenia: "sluggish" or "creeping" schizophrenia. The idea was that schizophrenia can begin in early childhood as a result of psychological shock that evolves into clear symptoms only years later. The problem with this was that there were no objective criteria. Living in the Soviet system it was virtually impossible not to be traumatised. Snezhnevsky saw potential schizophrenia from early childhood in everyone. You could show him anybody and he'd say 'schizophrenic'. I knew him quite well and I think part o f him really believed it. But it was very convenient for the KGB. In any other country his views would have raised a laugh o r prompted debate; h e would never have dominated his field. Here h e was useful without realising it. I don't think h e understood it for a very long time, only towards the end. If they wanted someone diagnosed as mentally ill he'd do it. It was as simple as that.


The Leningrad school was more traditional. They weren't intellectual giants, they were professional psychiatrists and didn't hold with all this nonsense. So if you were diagnosed with schizophrenia in Moscow and taken to Leningrad, they'd often say you were fine. "And as to the future — who knows? We don't have a crystal ball." Sluchevsky — the leading Leningrad psychiatrist — was an old, highly intelligent and educated man. He regarded Snezhnevsky's theory as absurd. In the 1960s, he was very influential in Leningrad, so if they brought him a patient from Snezhnevsky he'd delete him from the list without a second look. This discrepancy explains a whole series of cases. The dissident Marxist- Leninist Pyotr Grigorenko was diagnosed twice as healthy and then taken to Moscow and diagnosed as mentally ill. It was a time of covert attack and counter-attack between these two schools ofthought. Butit ended soon enough because, with the support of the authorities, the Moscow school prevailed and became obligatory.


In the 1970s you collaborated with Semyon Gulman on A Manual on Psychiatry for Political Dissidents, which gave advice on how to deal with internment in psychiatric hospitals. Did you follow your own recommendations?


Not always. Some of it came from experience, some was put in because Slava (Semyon) felt, as a psychiatrist, that it was necessary. Some of it was intentionally malicious. A sort of joke to demonstrate the paradoxes of the situation. But it was useful; the advice is sound. People like us were quite unprepared.


You suggested that people should, if they had to, retract their beliefs.


We had to explain that there would be a dilemma. I can't advise anyone to deny their own views. I didn't do it myself. But people needed to know that there might be a moment when they would have to choose. They needed to be ready. After that, it was up to them.


I was lucky. The doctor said to me: "I expect you're pretending. I can't see any symptoms. How did you get in here?" "You'd better ask them," I said. He kept demonstrating that I was mentally sound, which wasn't what the authorities wanted to hear. So, in the end, they compromised: they said my condition had "improved" and retired the doctor.


I thought about what I might do, of course. You didn't usually get discharged from psychiatric hospitals unless you admitted your "mistakes". In the event, it proved simpler for them to let me out. But many others had to do it. If you had a family you were very vulnerable. But I had comparatively few Achilles heels and never had to make the choice.


What is happening in Russian psychiatry now?


Systematic abuse is over. The authorities have no interest in it, there's no demand. But occasional abuses occur, even in St Petersburg, and religious groups are sometimes still exposed. I recently received reports about regional authorities persecuting religious communes. The Moscow Patriarchate is often involved because it doesn't want competition, or needs a new church building, whatever. Sectarians are diagnosed as psychiatrically ill. It's convenient. They're taken away and there's more room for manoeuvre. These are localised cases. It doesn't happen in Moscow. There it's simpler and cheaper to kill people than to imprison o r hospitalise them. Moscow is indifferent. This isn't the age of Andropov. Psychiatric diagnosis implies a complicated process once controlled by the Party and the system. Today there are voluntary groups of psychiatrists who monitor what's happening. So incidents are publicised and a system can't be built up. You get isolated cases, but not a system. I suppose that can be considered a success.


What do you make of the Russian Psychiatric Society's estimate in April that, today, a third of Russians suffer psychological disorders?


Russia was traumatised by 73 years of communism followed by a sudden transition to capitalism. It's hard to find anyone who hasn't been personally traumatised. The new generation may be normal — time will tell. Many older people are psychologically broken. The experience of totalitarianism was immensely hard: total dependence and uncertainty, the arbitrary abuse of power. You had no idea what the authorities would do with you tomorrow. Even the existence oftwo conflicting channels of information was a trauma. I say that as a neurophysiologist. Radio, television, the press said one thing; life showed you something very different. It's a classic way o f inducing trauma o r neurosis. The way Russians escaped this discrepancy was to get drunk or tell jokes. 


There was a well-known anecdote in which a man goes into a hospital and demands to see an ear-eye specialist. They say to him: "There's no such thing. There are ear, nose and throat specialists and eye specialists. What do you need an ear-eye specialist for?" "I've got this problem, I don't see what I hear and I can't hear what I see." Thousands o f anecdotes were told in response to the lies people were fed, and to the internal, psychological conflicts this provoked. And then there was the hopelessness, the impossibility of getting out. It was deeply damaging for all those who lived through it.


Today people are still highly suspicious of one another. No one believes what they hear. There's always something behind it, and something beyond that — layer after layer like a matrioshka doll. That's how life was arranged. No one will ever do anything simply. You have to find a way round, take a detour. They talk about creating "market relations". You won't get 'market relations' in Russia so long as people don't have a direct relationship with things, let alone with each other.


Shortly before your arrest, Nikita Khrushchev declared that everyone was happy with the communist system and that those who expressed dissatisfaction had to be mentally ill. Do you think the view that if you're in conflict with society you must be mad still carries weight in Russia?


Today's generation, the people we call "Generation X", believe in total conformism. It's all they have: a reaction against the excessive idealism of their fathers and grandfathers. We were too idealistic and our children are conformists. There are similarities in Britain, especially now. It's even worse in the US. American society has a mob psychology. Ask for salt and you're an enemy of the people. In the West people don't know what historical experience has taught us in Russia: that conformism is dangerous. It's the foundation of totalitarianism. It was the same in Nazi Germany. Brecht writes a lot about conformism. There are always small groups of fanatics, but if a society is healthy enough it won't let them impose their madness on the rest. But a society predisposed to conformism will succumb.


How do you explain Russia's recent restoration of some aspects of Soviet rule?


They didn't carry things through and break the system. In 1991, we suggested putting communism on trial to draw a line under it once and for all. It didn't need to be a trial of personalities as in the Czech Republic — individuals could be left alone. We should have tried the system so that people understood to what extent they had participated in it. It was essential, and they didn't do it. The nomenklatura hung on to power and subsequently took the offensive. The former KGB has taken control of the mafias, the administration, the legislative apparatus, everything. This is as dangerous for the country as it is for its neighbours. But it can't last. People didn't understand why the Soviet Union fell. They didn't see that it was inevitable. They thought the CIA or a criminal conspiracy had undermined the state. They blamed Yakovlev or Gorbachev even though these were the people who wanted to maintain the regime, not destroy it. The people in power today are revanchists. They are trying t o create a partial image o f the Soviet Union without understanding that it can't be done. They could cripple the lives of yet another generation. Russia has minimal chances ofrecovery asit is. The chance that it will simply die is very high. If you break another generation the country will disintegrate.


You haven't been given a visa to travelto Russia since 1996. Why?


Since the mid 1990s, the ex-KGB has been taking over key positions i n the administration and preparing to get their man to the top. They're still "myth-making" in a way. They imagine that people like me cando something. They're terrified, they always were. I've seen documents showing that they always thought there were more ofus, that we were stronger, that there was something behind all this when there wasn't.In their eyes we became giants. In fact there's nothing I can do. I don't even try. They recently denied Alexander Ginsburg a visa. He isn't well, he's only got one lung. What have they got to fear? H e goes over to buy books. But they didn't let him in just in case. We're trapped in myths.


And paranoia?


There's never been any shortage of that. They spent decades hunting enemies of the people. They invented them. How could you avoid going mad? It was the way the system worked. Look at the resolutions passed by the Politburo, the minutes of the meetings they held. It was a nuthouse. I discuss them in my latest book, Judgement in Moscow. In 1992, I was invited to testify at the trial the Russian Supreme Court conducted against the Party. I was given access to the Central Committee archives and to some of the Politburo archives. I scanned many o f the documents and published a book.


The Politbiuro would be discussing a problem and they'd say world imperialism was behind the Solidarity movement, for example. It's impossible to tell whether they believed what they're saying. On the one hand they had to talk as ideology decreed, on the other they needed to be effective. They understood that it was an ideology, they weren't naive. But the power of inertia, the habit of believing the doctrine had done its work. They were fighting shadows. It was a cast of mind in which they had grown up. And even if you were cynical enough to understand how relative it all was, it didn't mean that you were free in relation to it.


I examined records of meetings on the invasion of Afghanistan, for instance. The Politburo spent six months persuading themselves not to send troops: everyone understood that it was a mistake. Then they went anyway. It was Moscow's decision to destabilise the country by removing the Shah. They put the former prime minister, Mohammad Daud, in charge. Five years later, the 1978 April Revolution took place. But in Moscow they seemed to be incapable of understanding the level of instability they were provoking. I found a remarkable dialogue between Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin and the PDPA Khalqi faction leader Nur Mohammad Taraki. When the 1979 crisis began, Kosygin telephoned Taraki and they had a conversation reminiscent of something out of Tom Stoppard. A division had rebelled and it looked like the end. "Why aren't you arming the workers?" Kosygin said in time-honoured Marxist style. "We don't have workers, we have artisans." "What about the students?" "We don't have them, we have schoolchildren." "Where are the officers we trained for you?" (Afghan officers were trained in Russian academies.) "Oh, they've all gone over to the enemy." The Soviet Union had provoked revolution in a pre-industrial country which was, by any Marxist criteria, totally unsuitable. And then it wondered why it couldn't stay in power. Marxist ideology was spectacularly unrelated to reality.


And today's paranoia is a vestige of this... But isn't it understandable that Russians might be genuinely concerned about how richer and more powerful countries could treat them?

They're more cynical than that. People are filling their pockets and the KGB has degenerated into a Bond-style crime cartel, a "Spectre". Its concerns are more banal than ever: control and money. In that sense the paranoia has subsided but the mindset is still there: suspicion, mistrust. In the end it can only turn against itself.

Index on Censorship, Issue 4, 2005


The late-1980s, the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s "restructuring" (perestroika), saw the Russian media exposing the Soviet past. There were revelations about repressions, the labour camps and the activities of the KGB. Was this the start of any kind of serious attempt to work through a totalitarian past and "de-Sovietise" Russia?


Vladimir Bukovsky: The waves of exposure were very artificial. They were released by decisions taken from above. The authorities called it glasnost. They disclosed only what they considered necessary and it was done very gradually. There was no cathartic moment and the revelations were by no means complete. The Communist Party did not disclose its basic secrets. Glasnost was a way of lifting the lid off the pot to prevent an explosion. They gently released the pressure, and it fell. It was neither "de-Sovietisation" nor "de-Communisation", it was a way of stabilising the situation. The Soviet leadership understood this, and did it quite consciously. What was said and written then was mostly familiar. Everyone in the Soviet Union knew about the camps and the KGB. It wasn’t news — though the fact that the authorities permitted the discussion continued to astonish people. Stalinism had been examined to some extent in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during Khrushchev’s Thaw. Not fully or in detail, but these things had been talked about before. I saw nothing new under glasnost.


At the time, from the outside, there seemed to be a genuine moral imperative, a sense of moral protest behind the revelations. Where did this go?


Since everything was manipulated, and happened from above, it didn’t lead to anything. The only consequence was something the leadership wanted least: in 1990–91, the country slipped out of its control. The same had happened in 1989 in Eastern Europe. It was something the Soviet leadership neither wanted nor expected. As they saw it, everything was measured, controllable and neat. They thought they knew what they were doing. But the population wanted to go further, and further still. To do so the authorities would have had to admit that the entire system was a mistake, that it had never worked and that Soviet ideology itself was deeply flawed. They wouldn’t go down that route. But the people did. That was where the dichotomy arose, and it defeated the communists.


What role did the dissident movement play in the process?


We paved the way. Our part came earlier. We discredited the Party and communist ideology, and under our influence they were forced to opt for glasnost. In their efforts to gain credibility they had to confirm the very things we had once said. We delegitimised them and forced them to find other ways of establishing a working relationship with society. But our influence was perhaps even greater in the West. There was a very equable attitude to communism over here, especially among left-wing intellectuals. It was widely held that these were, in essence, people with good intentions who may have made a few mistakes. Ideologically, communists were seen as kindred spirits. That was why the West never demanded the dismantling of the Soviet system. It merely talked about reform. Compare this with attitudes to apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid had to be dismantled, but the Soviet Union was to be "reformed".


No human rights indictments were ever made in Russia and there was no equivalent to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Why didn’t the dissident movement take things to their logical conclusion?


We would have done, but we weren’t given the chance. I talked and wrote about this a great deal at the time. I made public statements and spoke to the Yeltsin leadership. I proposed that they should immediately organise a trial of the Emergency Committee that organised the 1991 putsch. The entire Committee, 14 men, had been placed under arrest. I suggested to the Yeltsin leadership that they should hold an open trial and turn this into a judicial examination of the Communist Party and its history. The defendants represented the very apex of the Soviet system. I proposed the release of archival documents and so on. Many members of the government wanted this, but Boris Yeltsin wouldn’t agree and the West put a lot of pressure on him not to pursue it. The disclosures might have been uncomfortable. Over the course of 73 years, the West had collaborated so much with the Soviet regime, and many prominent or influential figures — some in public life – were linked with Moscow. No one wanted to talk about it then any more than they do now. The West generally opposed the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they did all they could to prevent it. Attitudes were completely different from ours. They certainly didn’t want to take things to their logical conclusion. We were up against Yeltsin and his team on the one hand, and the West on the other: between them they didn’t let us do it.


There was also no discussion about the question of individual and collective responsibility.


There was a discussion. It wasn’t widespread and it didn’t grip the country. In 1992, the Russian Constitutional Court began its work and the discussion process continued only within its framework. I participated as an expert and witness of the court. But the court would not permit any discussion on criminality. If the conversation turned to crimes, the judge would stop us and say that the Constitutional Court had no right to examine criminal acts. It could only look at the constitutionality of particular events and actions. The judge was right, of course. Criminal justice was outside his jurisdiction. But a trial that would have talked concretely about crimes and murders committed under the Soviet regime never took place, as it should have done. On the other hand, Yeltsin was right in his way. He had not been involved in anything himself, but he understood that if such a trial began, he would not be able to stay in politics. The fact that he had once been a member of the Politburo would have made him unacceptable in normal political life. He sensed this very acutely and he was not alone. The same is true of many others.


So there was a compromise between the opposition and the regime.


We never compromised with the regime.


People who were in power then are back in power now.


What could we have done? Nobody asked us. We didn’t have the influence and the population soon became indifferent. There was no great pressure from below — even though it had existed in 1990 and 1991. At that time people had a very strong political sense. Miners were demanding changes in the constitution. The country was demanding openly that the communists should go. In April 1991, when I was there, you could sense the tension and the energy in the country. But nobody picked up on this. No one took it further. The intelligentsia took fright. They feared a rebellion, bloodshed and tanks (I told them we’d be seeing tanks in any case), and by 1992 it had all gone to sleep. People lost interest. The economy collapsed. The most important priority was survival. People lost their savings, the cost of living rose almost 30 times over. Politically speaking, people are now completely apathetic.


So is there any sense in talking about de-Sovietisation and ‘surmounting’ the totalitarian experience?


It never happened in Russia. Nor do I think it ever happened in Eastern Europe. There was no process of de-communisation anywhere. There were limited "lustrations" in the Czech republic, but my Czech colleagues tell me that these collapsed very quickly because a great deal couldn’t be proved. After a while, communists returned to power everywhere in Eastern Europe and halted everything. It was a very brief moment, just a few years. The Czech Republic did well out of it at first, the country began to develop but all that soon turned round. The Poles attempted to carry out lustrations several times over and never did. Whenever a new government came to power it was discussed, then nothing would happen. The most troubling aspect of it all is that communist regimes were never dismantled, which is why things are taking the form they are. In Russia, they refer to "post-communism" or the "post-totalitarian period", they don’t talk about "democracy" or "freedom". The same people are still in power, but now they also have the lucre. That is all.


Wasn’t there also a kind of danger in the notion of de-Sovietisation or de-communisation in the sense that the idea of re-education, or creating a new kind of person, is a very Soviet one – the "New Man".


That was their concept. It wasn’t ours. We didn’t want re-education, we wanted a cathartic experience, a public expression of "repentance". The sort of thing the Germans went through in the period of de-Nazification when the country had to acknowledge that everybody was guilty because everyone had in some sense colluded. The degree doesn’t matter. This acknowledgement has never been made in Russia; in Germany it has. Germany is flourishing and Russia remains caught in the doldrums.


Will it ever happen?


There’s very little hope of that now. It’s all been relegated to history. People have other concerns and new crimes are taking place. So there will never be a full acknowledgement or any kind of contrition. The generation that lived then will soon no longer be with us, and the new generation knows nothing of the communist experience. The moment has been lost. I don’t think that it can ever be brought back.


And what of the future?


Because the regime was never dismantled, vestiges of the nomenklatura have returned and taken over leading positions in the country. Essentially, this means the KGB. But the KGB was also part of the Communist Party. Lenin called the KGB the armed detachment of the Party — which is exactly what it was. This group is back in power and they are openly trying to restore a semblance of the Soviet system. This is bound to fail; a full restoration is out of the question. We’re in a different age, different times, the people are different. The entire history of the Soviet Union would have to be played out anew. It cannot be done.


In what sense do you think the leadership would want this? In terms of empire? Of economics?


Certainly in terms of empire. Economics is less of an issue. The authorities merely want to control the economy in the final instance. But they would want it in terms of empire, internal control, the level of censorship and so on. They have restored elements of repressive politics. We have seen what they tried to do in Ukraine, in Georgia; what they are constantly attempting to do in the Baltic States. They cherish an urge to take over and crush. Though I think they understand that it’s impossible to return to the level of control that existed in the Soviet Union.


That control was largely ideological.


Indeed and there is no ideology today. Things are happening at the level of economic integration, though. It is constantly under discussion and there is an economic union once again. But the present leadership is stillborn. They might kill large numbers of people, which they will, but they are incapable of doing or changing anything. They have been at war in Chechnya for ten years; they’ve probably already killed about half a million people. There’s likely to be further friction with Ukraine and the Baltic States and Kazakhstan. This isn’t the end. But they are incapable of creating anything. And all this could last for as long as the price of oil remains high. As soon as the price of oil begins to drop the further fragmentation of the country will begin. Regions will begin to break away: the far east, eastern Siberia, the Urals, the South. These areas are already showing tendencies towards separatism. As soon as the centre is weakened and the price of oil and petrol falls, Russia will be over. I don’t suppose it will disappear altogether but there will be a time of division and the strengthening of regional structures, of regional self-government. Later, they may come together again into some kind of confederation — that is too far off to predict. But I’d anticipate about 30 years of separatist rule.


What kind of role does Orthodox Christianity have in Russia now?


Orthodox Christianity has no role at all. The Russian Orthodox Church has been wholly discredited. It is a Stalinist institution and everybody knows it. They also know that its hierarchs worked for the KGB. They even know their KGB sobriquets. It’s all in the public domain. What kind of credibility could a Church that spent decades in the pocket of the KGB ever have?


There is a national religious tradition and people maintain it by going to Church for the Easter and Christmas liturgies. But they have no trust in this Church, quite rightly, and the Church has no moral authority. That is why any spiritual revival on a religious basis would be out of the question. There are no parallels with Poland where the Catholic Church never yielded to pressure; continued to defend its rights — thanks largely to Cardinal Wyszynski’s determined stance; and acted as bastion for the opposition during the Solidarity years and under martial law [December 1981 to July 1983].


In Russia, the authorities were always attempting to use the Church as a supplementary tool of control. This was also true under the Tsars and everyone understands it. People aren’t fools. They can perfectly well recognise political control when it’s masquerading as religion. That is why there has been such a proliferation of sectarian religions in Russia – there are hundreds of them now. People who are looking for spirituality don’t go to the Russian Orthodox Church. They will go anywhere but there.

Irena Maryniak interviews Vladimir Bukovsky for Index on Censorship, 2001 and 2005.

How Russia breaks the rules of the Games

The Times, October 2, 1979


by Vladimir Bukovsky


The Olympic Games are not simply a sports event. It is not just by chance that the first point of the "Rules of the International Olympic Committee" refers to the political aims of the Olympic Games, which are the strengthening of peace and friendly relations between States. Traditionally the Olympic Games were not staged in war years, whether the conflict was an external or internal one. The Rules of the IOC also say the Games can take place only in a country where there is political stability. What is more, according to Point 3 of the Rules, the Games cannot be influenced by racial, nationalistic, religions or political discrimination. 


It is easy to prove that the present ruling regime in the Soviet Union, where the next Games are scheduled to be held, does not accord with those ideals. It is a State involved in numerous aggressions; it occupied several countries and territories and the occupation is still going on: the Baltic States, the Ukraine, Moldavia (in the years 1939-40), East Central Europe, also a part of Germany and some islands belonging to Japan. What is more, it is planned to carry out part of the Olympic Games in illegally occupied territories — the sailing events are to be in Estonia. 


The Soviet Union has an aggressive foreign policy which aims at undermining the stability and sovereignty of other countries by organising enmity, and has supported revolutions in various States: Angola, Afghanistan, Ethiopia. Its rearmament threatens neighbours of the Soviet bloc. So to hold the Olympic Games in the Soviet Union would not support the strengthening of peace and friendly relations between States, but would be used by the Soviet regime to pursue its unfriendly political aims. 


Turning to the point that the Games cannot be influenced by racial, nationalistic, religious or political discrimination, we should note that any attempt even to discuss independence for any of the hundred or more nationalities that make up the Soviet Union is punished as treason. Those nations’ cultures, traditions and even their languages are destroyed in a barbaric manner.


Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union is a matter of State political practice. Membership of some other religious groups can be punished by prison sentences. Religious books, including bibles, are looked upon as subversive literature. Parents whose children are brought up in the religious tradition can be denied the right to control their education and the children can be sent to special institutions.


The establishing of organisations which are not controlled by the Communist party, such as free trade unions, is forbidden and punishable. 


All those forms of discrimination are applied also against sportsmen. To be accepted into an Olympic or national team, one is immediately subjected to special control by the KGB because the membership is connected with foreign travel. The Olympic oath taken by Soviet bloc athletes, which makes clear their political obligations, makes them tool of Communist propaganda. 


Let us look now at the requirement that the Games may take place only in a country where there is political stability. 


The fact that the Soviet regime has existed for 62 years does not testify to its stability. Practice shows that the more undemocratic a regime is, the more its methods of persecution prolong its existence. During those 62 years no free elections or referendums were carried out.


In spite of the repression, opposition in the country has never ended; ion fact in the past few years the dissident movement has grown considerably. 


What is more, the Soviet regime itself does not consider its position as legally stable. In 1917, immediately after the Revolution, Lenin issued a decree forbidding any publication except those of the Communist party and its affiliated bodies. The decree stressed that this was a temporary measure and that immediately stability was achieved these measures would be abandoned. Yet this decree has never been withdrawn. 


From a legal point of view, all the measures introduced in connection with the Revolution are still applied. For instance internal passports limit travel by the population, and indeed their choice of domicile. The system of employment has the character of directed labour. 


It has been officially announced that Soviet citizens wishing to emigrate cannot from now on submit their exit visa applications because of the pressure of work connected with applications for entry visas by participants at the Olympic Games. 


The number of foreign Olympic guests will be limited and their stay in one place will also be restricted, perhaps to only three days, and then they will be directed to undertake the usual tourist tours elsewhere in the country. In Moscow itself the number of foreign visitors will be even more limited so that they can be easily controlled by the KGB. 


Experience from recent international sports event in Moscow would indicate that national teams will be isolated. The Israelis will find the environment especially hostile, and they will have no chance to meet Soviet Jews. 


Reliable reports from Russia indicate that there will are other restrictions on people who might come into contact with the visitors. 


From the Games the regime expects an income of several hundred millions and in hard currencies. These funds will then are used to help finance "strategic" needs. 


The citizens of the Soviet Union, limited in their freedom of movement by the internal passport system, the rules for travel, the increased prices for travel and above all by the shortage of Olympic tickets — practically unobtainable on the spot — will be reduced to following events on the television. There they will see how the "greatest protagonist of world peace." Brezhnev, will bless the participants of the Games. 


One has to recall at this point the impact on Hitler and the Nazi Germany of the right to stage the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. No sooner had the Games ended than the Olympic village was turned into military barracks and World War II was upon us. 


The Soviet attempt to threaten Great Britain with an Olympics ban if its sportsmen maintain sports relations with South Africa is nothing but blackmail.


Security and cooperation in Europe will be possible only if all countries respect certain human rights. The Soviet Union has proved her neglect of human rights in more than one way. If the European countries are now seriously seeking peace, good mutual relations and security, it would be most unwise to encourage the Soviet Union’s behaviour by participation at the Moscow Games. Cooperation, cultural and scientific exchanges and mutual economic support will become an instrument of peace only when the European countries succeed in pressing the Soviet Union to honour all the agreements it has signed. 


At this very moment in international relations the Olympic Games in Moscow are badly timed. From a political standpoint they are a great mistake. From a human point of view they are a betrayal. And legally they are a crime. 

How Russia Breaks the Rules of the Games, Vladimir Bukovsky in The Times, October 2, 1979
"Better Red Than Dead is Not Good Enough", The Times, December 4, 1981




The Times, December 4, 1981

by Vladimir Bukovsky

I was not very surprised when suddenly, within a year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a mighty peace movement came into being in Western Europe. Having lived 34 years in my beloved communist motherland, I can easily predict many of their decisions, tricks, pranks and stunts. In fact, it is not very difficult to do, for the Soviet state is not a very intelligent creature, rather a huge brainless antediluvian reptile with a fixed set of reflexes at its disposal.


What was more amusing to observe was the apparent easiness with which mature and responsible people had fallen into the Soviet booby-trap in their thousands. It is as if history was repeating itself in front of us, giving us a chance to see how the Russian state collapsed in 1917, or how France collapsed in 1940.


Once again, the universal craving for peace at any price has rendered people illogical, irrational unable to think calmly. Their arguments, if one may call them so, are so childish, senseless, selfish, that an involuntary smile comes to one’s lips. Any intelligent discussion is impossible with them, because at best they would parrot out the old, mouldy Soviet slogans and cliches which even school children in the Soviet Union would laugh at.


To begin with, why it is that everybody started suddenly to be so apprehensive of nuclear war? What happened to make it more real than a year ago? Just because the Soviet rules were caught cheating the West, and the new American Administration decided to change the pattern of their negotiations with the Soviets, the war is more real? But clearly, the whole history of East-West relations shows that the only way to force the Soviets to respect agreements is to be in a position of strength.


So should we say that war is more real now than a year ago just because the Soviets have got themself into a difficult position and may loose their military superiority? Should we, then, go further to suggest that the only guarantee of peace is Soviet superiority?


The Soviet controlled World Peace Council writes in its booklet of 1980: “The people of the world are alarmed. Never before has there been so great a danger of a world nuclear holocaust. The nuclear arms build-up, the accumulation deadly arsenals has reached a critical point. Further escalation in the arms build-up could create a most dangerous situation, facing humanity with the threat of annihilation. 


But why was it not so dangerous a year to two ago? Why has it become so dangerous only now? Were not the leaders of the peace movement claiming that the nuclear potential accumulated on both sides is sufficient to destroy each other ten times? Is there any technical reason why “20 times” is more dangerous than, say, “5 times”? Somehow, amidst this nuclear hysteria, it is totally forgotten that the bombs themselves are quite harmless unless somebody wishes to throw them. So, why are we suddenly alarmed by the stockpile of hardware and not by the Soviet military move toward the Persian Gulf?


Quite suddenly a large proportion of the population has started an outcry: “Nuclear weapon are immoral!” Wait a minute. Have they just become immoral, while a couple of years ago they were all right? Are conventional weapons moral? Why has this idea just occurred to all these people?


Or take this example of the new missiles in Europe. Why is it more dangerous to replace the old missiles with new ones than to leave the old ones where they are? Were not the old ones equipped with nuclear charges as well? Indeed, the new ones are more accurate. Thank God they are on our side. It may make life more difficult for the Kremlin adventurers. But why should millions of people in the Westsee it as a tragedy and a danger?


In the depths of their hearts, the majority of these frightened people have a simple answer to all these “why’s”. They know that the only source of danger is the Soviet Union and anything which makes it angry is dangerous. But the fear is so paralyzing as to make them totally irrational - as illogical as advocating the abolition of police forces just because criminals have become too aggressive.


Indeed, the most amazing aspect of the present anti-war hysteria is not only the timing od its start, so remarkably favorable for Moscow, but the direction of the campaign. Millions of people in Great Britain, Germany, Holland Denmark, Belgium, France and Italy, being supposedly of sane mind, claim that the threat of war comes from … their own governments and the government of the USA! Psychoanalysts would call it a Freudian replacement of a real object of fear with an imaginary one.


The facts are too obvious. One may like or dislike President Reagan or Chanceler Schmidt, but unlike comrade Brezhnev, they were elected by the majority of their population and are fully accountable to their parliaments and to the people. They cannot simply declare a war of their own volition.


Besides, it is quite easy to see the real source of aggression. Was it American or the Soviet troops who occupied half of Germany and erected a wall in Berlin? Is it not the Soviets who occupy Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, the Baltic States and Afghanistan against the wish of the people of these countries? Are they East or West German troops which concentrate on the Polish border at this very moment?


Everything in the West is done quite openly (one might say, far too openly). But what do we know about the decisions made by 15 old fools, whom nobody elected to make these decisions and nobody can bring to account. No press are allowed to criticize them, no demonstrations to protest against them. Those who refuse to obey their strict orders disappear forever. In fact there is little difference between the Soviet system and that of Nazi Germany.


After speaking several times with the proponents of the current peace movement, I know that no logic would impress them. They would claim unabashed that there is no Soviet military superiority (it is all, as they say, CIA propaganda, the only reliable source of information for them being the KGB). Repeating word for word the old cliches from Pravda, they would maintain that the “crazy American generals” are so trigger-happy as to push the button just for the fun of it. (Although I never could understand why generals must be crazy - the Americans, of course, not the Soviet generals, who are, apparently, immune to craziness - and if they are, why they did not push the bloody button long ago?) Anyway, I can hardly imagine that the generals, who at least have had a good technical education, are more stupid and less equipped to understand nuclear problems than the primary school teachers and historians from the peace movement.


Some of these “peace makers” sincerely believe that as soon as the West disarms itself, the Soviets will follow suit. And with incredible nativity they ask us to try this suicidal experiment. Others are more sophisticated and know that their Soviet masters need only to gain time and a more advantageous position in future  negotiations with the Americans. So they suggest starting negotiations first and improving the Western position later.


Some are more openly selfish and object only to the placement of nuclear weapons near their own village (town, country or the whole country) as if being protected is more dangerous than not to be. Or, better still, as if one village, town or country can maintain nuclear neutrality in the time of the modern war. “Let Americans fight the Russians,” as if the whole problem of the world stems from a stupid quarrel between “Americans ans Russians”.


Surely, they argue, if comrade Brezhnev has promised to respect the “nuclear-free zone” in case of war, we may sigh with relief and sleep peacefully. Has comrade Brezhnev ever broken his word? Of course, not. He is a most honest man, is he not? He can even guarantee the direction if the nuclear-contaminated clouds and the location of the radio-active fall-out.


“Why should the Russians attack us, if we are disarmed?” Why indeed? Ask Afghani peasants. They probably know.


There is no sense in repeating all these “arguments”. In fact, to argue with the “peace lovers” is as senseless as arguing with an old hysterical lady or with Soviet propaganda itself. One thing stands out quite clearly through all their arguments: a panic fear and a readiness to capitulate in front of the Soviet threat even before the capitulation is demanded. Better red than dead. That is why the current Soviet propaganda suddenly became so remarkably successful and this peace movement is so efficiently governed from Moscow.


There is hardly any country, political party or international organization which did not condemn the Soviet aggression unequivocably (including even some communist parties). The only organization which never did, paradoxically, calls itself the “peace movement”. It is equally obvious that a Soviet invasion of Poland would bring us closer to a new world  war or, at least will make relaxation of international tension quite impossible for 10 to 15 years. Once again, the only organization which did not condemn the Soviet threats to Poland was the “peace movement”.


It is common sense to try to restrain both sides of the would-be conflict if we are to promote peace. But the “peace movement” is so “unilateral” that it entirely ignores “the other side”, quite deliberately protecting its interests. They cry shame at the Americans for not existing weapons like the neutron bomb, or for yet-to-be-deployed cruise and Pershings. But the hundreds of SS-20 missiles aimed at Europe do not get more than a brief mention.


At a time when a quarter of a million “peace lovers” are noisily expressing their “unilateral” feelings, thousands of young people in the USSR are imprisoned because they refuse to support the aggressive Soviet policies, because they refuse to serve in the army or shoot civilians in Afghanistan. And still in exile is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, who has done more than anybody in the world. To stop nuclear bomb tests.


Did the self-appointed “peace makers” even say a word in support of these noble people? Never. They would happily throw stones at general Haig, but they would welcomebwith servile smiles Marshal Brezhnev. A good dog does not barks at its master. 


There are plenty of naive and frightened people in the ranks of the peace movement. As in the 1950s, it probably consists of an odd mixture of communists, fellow-travelers, muddle-headed intellectuals, hypocrites seeking popularity, professional political speculators, frightened bourgeois and young people eager to rebel against anything. But there is no doubt that this motley crowd is governed by a handful of scoundrels instructed directly from Moscow. Just when I was about  to finish this article, the news came about one of the leaders of the peace movement in Denmark, Mr. Petersen, being arrested with his wife for channeling the Soviet money into the fund of the peace movement. His master, the Second Secretary of the Soviet Embassy, was expelled from the country.


Right in front of me is further proof, a pamphlet called Programme of Action 1981. It was published in Helsinki by a Soviet organization notorious in the 1950s, the World Peace Council, and it gives a detailed account of how this current “peace movement” was organized. It also gives precise instructions on where, when and what must be done by different groups of the “peace movement” in 1981, which is chosen to be “a year of decisive offensive of peace forces to achieve a break-through in curbing the arms build-up”.


Most of the programme has already been carried out, the recent mass demonstrations being organized in Germany, France, Britain and Belgium within a framework of what is called in this Soviet booklet “Disarmament Week (October 24-31)”. How on earth could the Soviets know in 1980 about the events at the end of 1981, unless they control the whole show?


As could be expected, there is a clear definition of “just” and “unjust” wars: “The policy of destabilization of progressive regimes in developing countries actually constitutes an aggression, waged with psychological, economic, political and other means, including armed intervention”, however similar acts against “racist and racist” regimes is condoned.


In Communist Party jargon there is such a term as a “useful idiot”. Now, despite all their blunders, adventures, economic disasters, the Polish crisis and stubborn Afghan peasants, Reagan’s re-armament plans and UN resolutions, the Soviet rulers have scored a spectacular victory: they have recruited millions of useful idiots to implement their bankrupt foreign policy.


Subsidized trips of peace activists to the best Soviet resorts and the cost of running the campaign must be astronomical. Still, it is cheaper than anther round of the arm race, let alone military superiority. And the results will be long-lasting.


Mind you, it is only the end of the first of a 10-year plan for the “struggle for peace”. Within a few years the earth will be trembling under the feet of the useful idiots, for their resources are inexhaustible. Just wait and see. I remember in the 1950s, when the previous peace was still in full swing, there was a popular joke which people told each other:


“A Jew came to his rabbi and asked: “Rabbi, you are a very wise man. Tell me, is there going to be a war?” “There will be no war”, replied the rabbi. But there will be such a struggle for peace that no stone will be left standing.”



Times Newspapers Limited, 1981



The Soviet use for “peace”



Soldiers on the Russian Front urged by the Communists to desert in their 100,000 for a  “justful peace without annexations”, prolonging the First World War for another year, causing of thousands of deaths on the Western Front.



The wish for peace at ant price brings to an end the Russian Civil War, which has caused the death of 20 million, leaving the communists in control.



In the name of preserving peace, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, allowing the Soviet Union and Germany to divide Poland between them. Britain and France condemned by the Soviet Union for declaring war  on Germany. Communists in the West encouraged to sabotage war efforts.



The fall of France welcomed by French communist leaders who, using German presses, urged workers to undermine resistance.



Tito’s call for resistance against German occupation of Yugoslavia waits until the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.



Peace in Europe amounts to surrendering a dozen countries to Soviet rule. Nato condemned as “very aggressive”.



A rise in the complain against nuclear weapons. The Stockholm Appeal and the World Peace Council organized, financed and conducted from Moscow through the “Peace Fund”. Pacifist pressure on Western leaders allowed the Soviet Union to catch up on nuclear arms.



Poor performance of the Soviet economy causes the Soviet Union to hatch a “detente” policy to thaw the cold war and lift pressure to spend on arms.



Brezhnev launches a “peace programme”, agreeing to a slowdown in arms spending if various demands met.



The Helsinki Agreement confirms the “detente” plan. It concedes the post-war frontiers in Europe, including the division of Germany, increases economic, scientific and cultural cooperation. (The Kama truck factory, build by the Americans, has begun making military trucks used in Afghanistan.)



Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.



New complains for nuclear disarmament across western Europe.





One may say with certainty that the “struggle for peace” is a cornerstone of Soviet international politics. In fact,Soviet Power itself appeared out of the ashes of the First World War under the slogan: “Peace to the Peoples! Power to the Soviets!” Perhaps at that moment the bolshevik ideologists realized for the first time what a powerful weapon is this universal craving for peace, hoe gullible, irrational and illogical people become as soon as they are tempted with the slightest hope for it.


This irresistible craving for peace at any price brought the terrorized population to accept the Soviet rule as a lesser evil. Anything, but these monstrous slaughter, starvation and typhoid. Anything for some sort of order.


Unfortunately, the order established by communists meant nothing less than a permanent civil war., both inside the country and universally. Or, to be more precise, a global “struggle for peace” because in Lenin’s words: “As an ultimate objective “peace” simply means communist world control”.


A resurrection of peaceful sentiments occurred shortly after the Second World War, after the Soviet Union had swallowed a dozen countries in Central Europe and threatened to engulf the rest of the continent. At that time, some “imperialist warmongers” had sounded the alarm and even suggested to increase the armaments to the capitalist countries. Due to their vicious efforts the “very aggressive” Nato alliance was created and “reactionary forces” of the world had started the “cold war”.


There were numerous marches, rallies and petitions in the 1950s(including the famous Stockholm Appeal and the meetings of the indefatigable World Peace Council). It is hardly a secret now that the whole campaign was organized, conducted and financed from Moscow through the so-called Peace Fund and the World Peace Council, where a safe majority was secured by such puppet-figures as Erenburg, Tokhonov, etc.


The purpose of all these pandemonium was quite well calculated in the Kremlin. First, both the threat of nuclear war (of which the Soviets reminded periodically by creating international crisis) and the scope of the peace movement should frighten the bourgeoisie and should make them more tractable.


Secondly, the recent Soviet subjugation of Central European countries would be accepted more smoothly by public opinion in the West and quickly forgotten.


Thirdly, it creates in Europe anti-American sentiments and mistrust of their own governments, thus increasing the chance of victory for opposition parties (more left, as a rule).


Fourthly, it made military expenditures and placement of strategic nuclear weapons so unpopular, so politically embarrassing that in the end it considerably slowed down the process of strengthening Western defenses, giving the Soviets crucial time to catch up.


Fifthly, this odd mixture, mentioned above, is usually the most socially active part of a population and it is important to give it the right direction., otherwise it may be chance stray into activity harmful to the Soviet interests.


All in all, the result had exceeded all expectations and the Soviet money seemed to be well spent. The perception of the Soviet Union as an ally of the West (but not of the Nazis) was still fresh in the minds of the people and this fact, undoubtedly, has greatly contributed to the success of the “struggle for peace”.


Anatoly Krasnov-Levitin writes about Vladimir Bukovsky in a heartfelt essay following Bukovsky's 1971 trial. 

Anatoly Krasnov-Levitin


Vladimir Bukovsky warns against censorship in his 1976 letter to Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe.

Radio Liberty and Censorship


Vladimir Bukovsky's foreword to Andrei and Lois Frolovs' book Against the Odds: A True American-Soviet Love Story.

The Frolovs

© Copyright

Vladimir Bukovsky's 1982 essay on the USSR-inspired peace movement sweeping over the West.

Pacifists Against Peace


Vladimir Bukovsky's obituary written by Alissa Ordabai.

Alissa Ordabai on Vladimir Bukovsky


Grigory Svirsky remembers Vladimir Bukovsky and Victor Feinberg.

Grigory Svirksy


Lord Bethell

Vladimir Bukovsky remembered by Lord Nicholas Bethell in his memoires titled Spies and Other Secrets


Boris Pankin

Boris Pankin, a former Russian Ambassador to Great Britain, recalls his days in London and his encounters with dissidents.


Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Gershovich tells a story of Nabokov's contribution to saving Bukovsky from a Soviet prison.


Dina Kaminskaya

Vladimir Bukovsky's lawyer Dina Kaminskaya remembers his 1967 trial in her memoires.


Victor Krochnoi

Vladimir Bukovsky's foreword to chess master Victor Krochnoi's autobiography.


The Bell Ringer

Vladimir Bukovsky's short story published in Grani magazine in 1967.


Vladimir Bukovsky seminal 1984 essay on Russian government's propaganda and subversion strategies.

Peace as a Political Weapon


Ludmilla Thorne reports from Vladimir Bukovsky's first post-exchange residence in Switzerland.

Mother Courage


Vadim Delaunay writes in verse to his friend Vladimir Bukovsky following their 1967 trial.

Vadim Delaunay

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