SOVIET DISSIDENT MOVEMENT
IN THE FRENCH PRESS
This sweet word “Socialism".
by Bernard-Henri Lévy in Le Matin newspaper.
July 20, 1981.
I know they weren’t there on the steps of the Pantheon, amongst the invited personalities attending, on May 21 at the coronation of Mitterrand. I am aware that, here and there, in the salons and in the "beautiful districts", it appears to be good form to mock this "primal" and almost "vulgar" anticommunism which they have brought back, like a case of scabies, from their journey to the GULAG. I even read, more and more frequently, some really odd articles, signed by beautiful souls who, only yesterday, worshipped them, and who have now discovered that, all things considered, there has been a misunderstanding, that we no longer want this message, this "ideology" which they are surreptitiously sharing with us. And yet, may I be excused for my stubborn, hard-headed and twisted nature or for lagging behind the course of history: but I myself believe, on the contrary, that we are only starting to measure, at this time and place, the many things the USSR dissidents have to tell us, to communicate to us, to teach us.
Take Vladimir Bukovsky, for instance. We remember the marvelous insolence with which, one day, he replied to someone asking him whether he identified with the "right" or the "left" camp, that of all camps, he knew, alas, only the concentration camp. It is difficult to forget the genius humorist who, a little earlier, in the evening of his swap for the Chilean communist Corvalan, publicly lamented that we didn’t think of exchanging Brezhnev for Pinochet, and laid down, in front of cameras from all over the world, the key equation of the century. He even published a book that resonated immensely, a modest and simple chronicle of a long antifascist resistance, which could have earned him, alone, the entrance to the other pantheon, more unusual and less fashionable, of the rebels, the insubordinate, of the great disobedients of the mass grave era. It looks like this particular disobedient is doing it again. He just published a new book, perhaps a more provocative one. Now, he is only proclaiming two or three slightly scary things that he had learned during his exile regarding the baseness and cowardice of the Western universe.
Unsurprisingly, it starts with a slightly bitter chronicle of a long process of disenchantment. In his five years of his life among us, full of trials and tribulations, he claims that everywhere he went he felt like a lone voice in the wilderness. All in all, he only encountered deaf and blind persons, or worse, indifferent people, who couldn’t have cared less about witnesses of his kind. Although he bore the terrible stigma of a barbaric reality on his own flesh, he was met by a multitude of prematurely bent backs and necks, of masks defeated by fear and languor. In France, in the France of Resistance, whose glowing legend he once heard, over there, in the darkness of winter, he found the same resignation, the same abnegation, and already, deep in their souls, the quiet decline which usually preludes servitude. In short: in proportional terms, and with Leonid Brezhnev enthroned in the place of Adolf Hitler, he discovered, with abhorrence, the "free world", rolling again, without knowing it, towards fascist regression.
These are terrible words, clearly. But reality, according to him, is not much better. Some intellectuals, for instance, have spontaneously found some old collaborators’ slogans, and go around saying over and over again that it is better to "spend life on one’s knees" than taking the risk of "dying standing up". Those diplomats, those heads of State, who obey at the Soviets’ slightest frowning, naturally find themselves on the paved path leading to yesterday’s Munich. These very public opinions, which are stupid and deprived of nerve, swear by their divine "détente" -- an idol gorged with blood, with the tears of Afghanistan, just as the "peace" of the 1930s was full of Spanish tears and Spanish blood. This book was written at the time when a poll revealed that two out of three French citizens are ready to collaborate, in case of invasion, with the troops of the Red Army. It doesn't mention the perplexing return of Willy Brandt from the USSR, who was raving, in the shadow of the SS-20, about the Kremlin’s desire for peace. Nor does it mention the shift in the French politics, which, since the 10th of May, seems to move toward a greater certainty. Nevertheless, this point wouldn’t really change a thing to his thesis – and to the image he gives of the West, which now seems closer to Red Fascism than it was, fifty years ago, to Brown Totalitarianism…
Why? Because Bukovsky – and this is essential – doesn’t properly speak the same language as statesmen or ex-chancellors. Because all these stories of SS-20, of missiles, of Red Army, aren’t exactly the centre of his argument. Because, if you will, he is simultaneously betting on the improbability of a real power grab in Western Europe. Because, what truly troubles him, fascinates him, frightens him, is actually this: an ideologically disarmed Europe, before it is even disarmed militarily: a mode of brainwashing which would eventually make “finlandisation” of countries futile; a desire, a mad temptation of servitude, for which we will bear responsibility, one day, in the eyes of the world and of History… In other words, the classical right-wing anti-Soviet will suffer the consequences. It has nothing to do with his old fantasies about the arrival of communism through the invader’s tanks or on the Cossacks’ heels. And that is what makes this book authentic: this "red fascism", far from being imposed by force or external means, will always arrive from below, from the inside, from the depths of ourselves, like a very old track whose slope we have just found.
Are you sure, he asks us, that the pressure comes from "the outside" when your television channels usually choose to censor programs that are "unfriendly" toward the USSR? Is there any sort of pressure when, on May 1, in Paris, a very Parisian minister decides to deploy his guards, i.e. the CRS, against a handful of intellectuals, whose only crime is to parade under the windows of the Soviet Embassy? How is it possible, or how did it happen that I, an exile, have that bizarre and indefinable feeling of familiarity when noticing foreign faces in the streets of your capitals? Well, to tell the truth, when I see you, he continues, I still -- and already -- see us. Under your masks of free men is the blueprint, the sketch of the slaves we have become. Behind your looks of peaceful fathers, is the presentiment of the Zek, the Kapo, the snitch, the commissioner or branch secretary, all of whom you are now becoming. In a word: beyond the cardboard setting of your democratic societies, a diffuse, crawling, conniving "Sovietism", silently undermines and haunts your future, without the slightest intervention or external contamination.
The French readers could try to recall -- to better understand the miracle of this Sovietism without the Soviets -- the not-so-distant times when their country knew how to invent fascism without fascists, featuring the Nation’s coat of arms and smelling of the good old fragrance of the country’s flower. They could imagine how -- in order to anchor these ideas -- communist ministers (and not necessarily those linked to Moscow), zealous and possibly sincere patriots, would be loudly outraged by suspicions of cooperation with the enemy they would be accused of, but who would bring with them, to the highest levels of the State, a racist, authoritarian, despotic, and "French Soviet" conception of the community. Finally, one could envision – and this, I think, is Bukovsky’s chosen hypothesis – desperate governments, unable to maintain any longer the threads of the community, deprived of any words capable of founding and consecrating their eminence, and who would find within this "Sovietism" the ultimate and miraculous remedy to their spiritual defeat. In any case, the result would be identical: whether it is the pétainism of the 1980s, a communism in the colours of France, or the giant arsenal of future smiling princes, this "Sovietism" is nothing else but the future of the West.
Concretely? Concretely, and according to Bukovsky, of course, we can recognize a sovietized society by, for instance, its Marxist waffle which becomes pretty much the official speech of a group of new leaders who, from now on, draw from it the essential part of their reprimands. Or by a monumental State apparatus, which controls the key sectors of national economy, provider of meaning, of ideals and values, and which spares its people the trouble of acting and thinking. Or by the intellectuals, who -- for their part -- under the influence of some fright or some obscure interests, align themselves en masse with a regime which they will relentlessly support, stand to attention and to boot, chant its praises. Or by the fabric of collective memory which eventually starts to unknit itself, when we see the last clerks debate on the possibility of 'revising' the history of, for instance, a genocide… We could – and the text does so – pursue this list much further. But that is enough, I believe, to evoke the style of a Republic, which I wouldn’t consider entirely imaginary. As well as to explain what Bukovsky means when he declares that, as a consequence, and at the risk of shocking some people, Western societies have well and truly, for a long time, and even without our knowing, been building socialism.
He doesn’t mean by that the increase of the guaranteed minimum wage or the struggle against unemployment. Neither is he condemning, of course, the ideals of justice, equality or fraternity. But the socialism he is talking about is a generic reality, which, regardless of the color of those in power, has become, nowadays, "an inherent part of the Western mentality". Conservatives or Labour, progressives or reactionaries, apostles of the old left or prophets of the new right, all are partisans in the same way, as soon as the new order begins to function through them. The issue concerns politics -- with its references and slogans -- less than it concerns the basic condition of all policies, the base upon which they lean, the unsurpassable horizon across which they will now spread, as long as they conspire to lock in place human desires and establish frames for human wishes. Should one become a socialist of the world? Or should one create a world of socialism? What is certain, anyhow, is that this kind of "socialism" is nothing but a name for tomorrow’s mode of management. And I don’t think I would betray Bukovsky by suggesting that he is thus giving a name, after all, to an unprecedented social link -- albeit the one which has been tried and tested elsewhere -- and that it will have, among its other merits, the capacity of interrupting, once again, and for a while, the innumerable, the inexhaustible rebellion of the governed.
It is up to the hurried reader, from then on, to read this analysis as another contribution to our electoral debate. No one will prevent a warrant officer or cultural guard from seeing in this outcast, in this survivor of camps and of hell, the unlikely ally of some kind of "reaction". What I know for a fact is that many readers, including important ones, will be surprised that such a man has chosen the sweet name of "socialism" to baptize his monsters and to even exorcise them. France, in turn, has chosen this same word to express its hope. Bukovsky, I think, knows this, and I believe he would reply, that he personally considers very strange seeing the peasants, the workers, the simple people of a free country who are given, as a token of hope, a name whose mere utterance inflicts a burning sensation on the skin of half of the peasants, the workers and the simple people of the world.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
"To Choose Freedom" Review by Alain Malraux
in Le Journal du Parlement, 1981.
Vladimir Bukovsky shares with us his impressions of the West, where he has been living for just over four years. In 1976 the Soviet government exchanged him for Luis Corvalan, the leader of the Chilean Communist Party. At the time he was 34 years old, and 12 years of his life had been spent between labor camps and psychiatric hospitals: more than four thousand days… A superb testimony titled To Build a Castle came out as a result of these many thousands of days. Now living in Cambridge, Great Britain, where he currently studies, Bukovsky had been approached by an editor who sought his insights into life on this side of the Berlin Wall. Hesitant because of the scale of the task, as he also knew all too well that he had unpleasant things to say about our ways and pompous attitudes. But here he is, nonetheless, after having been relentlessly pressured to write this book: it is now done. The result is a remarkable work in all respects, although almost every page puts us to shame… Surely, Solzhenitsyn didn’t wait for his junior to admonish Westerners, and Americans in particular, during a famous Congress speech. This book here, of modest size, has other merits: its verve, its devastating humour, its lack of solemnity. Or rather, the quality that sums them all: the extraordinary youthfulness that motivates Bukovsky’s comments that are as delicate as they are clear-sighted. This youthful approach is perhaps what other major books on demystification of communism lacked, to name but three: Darkness at Noon, The Opium of the Intellectuals, and The GULAG Archipelago. Each in their own way, Koestler, Raymond Aron and Solzhenitsyn wrote books in a state of full-blown maturity and addressed their readers at their own level of moral and intellectual reflection. The same can be said of Bukovsky, as long as it is added that he blends a streak of mischief into his impressions, and that makes this book marvellous.
It is this playful approach that makes To Choose Freedom accessible to a very large audience, despite the enormity of what he finds among us. He draws from his Russian origin this marvelous knack for portrayal. Like that of these British Labour Party workers who yawn while he speaks and “who have never carried anything heavier than a toast in their hands”
This funny and libertarian disrespect is continuously found here. For example, “In order to deal with the Soviets, the West would be better off appointing… an old Chicago sheriff who is completely familiar with the mentality of that environment, instead of professional diplomats”. How can one explain this in about fifteen minutes to the American president? Another discovery: “The incredible western bureaucracy and the population’s immense docility to it”. But “where to find, in this cynical century, men who can afford the luxury of having principles and to actually follow them?” French officials don’t have the elementary courage to receive Bukovsky, in order not to jeopardise the policy of détente… As for the editors (Anglo-Saxon, as well as others), Bukovsky notes their contradictions, their weak-willed spirit and their way of complicating things and slowing them down as soon as they get a chance… All of this is as terrible as it is laughable. Besides, as he himself puts it, “In order to appreciate the rule of law, one has to have gone without it for a very long time”. He continues: “In practice, totalitarianism accepts compromises, but only those that are beneficial to it”. Hence, this permanent illusion of détente, this farcical myth which European and American diplomats revel in. If only the disrespect for the Helsinki Accords could be ceased for one day only… But how does one resist?
By changing mental habits. By ceasing to view socialism as it should be, and seeing it for what it is. By only counting on ourselves and not on the assistance of others if we want to get out of the crisis. The least we can say, when finishing reading this little book, as singularly corrosive and devastating as Bernanos’ famous La liberté, pour quoi faire? , is that we are not taking the path of socialism.
We must read To Choose Freedom carefully while there is still time.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Interview with Vladimir Bukovsky by Benoit Rayski,
France-Soir daily newspaper, June 26, 1981.
RAYSKI: I have read your book carefully and, in my eyes, the thought that emerges could be roughly summarised as follows: western countries are countries that are becoming – I am using your word – socialised, countries that are moving towards a communist system, albeit in a slower pace than the Soviet Union. Coming from you, is that supposed to be a joke?
BUKOVSKY: This is not a joke. Of course, I tried to be a little provocative. But, more than anything else, I tried to reflect on how a regular Soviet person regards the West. For this reason, what I say in this book is not a sociological or a scientific analysis: these are impressions, my actual impressions.
RAYSKI: In that case, let’s talk in more detail about your impressions. When I read this book, my understanding was that we can no longer distinguish between the Swedish or the British socialism and Soviet socialism, because you explain that one sort of socialism leads necessarily to the other. Yet, the reality that is lived in Sweden or in Great Britain is light years away from the Soviet Union. How do you reconcile these two things?
BUKOVSKY: I talk about a process. Besides, I do not say that the outcome Great Britain or France are moving towards will be exactly the same as the one in the Soviet Union. But I know that the same disease can develop in a different way. Some diseases evolve more lightly, others in a more serious way, but the fact remains that it is still a disease.
RAYSKI: Anyway, you are well aware that as far as history is concerned, whether it is Soviet history or history of other countries, the first opponents as well as the first victims of communism were, precisely, socialists. How can you say that a certain form of liberal socialism is a stepping stone for communism?
BUKOVSKY: It is history, actually, that proves my point best. Socialists have always thought that they were the toughest enemies, the most capable of standing against communism. At first, indeed, we may get that impression from looking at France, for instance, where socialists are victorious and communists are defeated*. But there’s a detail we need to keep in mind. Communists can only flourish, develop and expand in a socialist climate.
RAYSKI: I have to stop you here: communists, in France, grew up and thrived until today in a climate which wasn’t exactly socialist, and which was, precisely, anti-socialist, for a quarter of a century…
BUKOVSKY: You have misunderstood. When I speak about climate, I am actually referring to a mental and psychological climate, not to the appearance of the political power. A climate that allows some principles to be accepted, such as the idea that we need material equality, the idea that we must emphasise the importance of life’s material aspect. Another favourite idea of communists is class struggle within society. However, as soon as you adopt those principles, everything moves in the direction of Marxism. Socialists may well consider themselves as the most important force against Marxism, but they are, in fact, its first victims.
If I may make a comparison, I would say that socialists actually provide the food that feeds communists. Communism is like a parasite that develops on the socialist body. In this regard, one day I had a rather amusing conversation with Pierre Mauroy, who is now your Prime Minister. We were in Lille, where he was the mayor. He welcomed us warmly and, of course, we started talking about socialists and communists. And he said: “You know, us socialists, we have a tremendous experience and we know how to deal with communists.” And I replied to him: “Yes, I know that it’s a great experience, and that’s why I am not surprised to see that socialists continue to be massacred everywhere by communists!”
RAYSKI: What was Pierre Mauroy’s response?
BUKOVSKY: Oh! Everyone around us started laughing… But let’s talk about more serious things, and look at what is happening in Great Britain. In this country there was a great Labour party with a social democratic tradition. But, inside this party, a tiny little left-wing extremist group established itself. Throughout the past fifteen years, this group started getting hold of the entire party. Well, at the present time, all the social democrats, the wisest ones, the old ministers, etc., all those who founded the party, have already been removed…
RAYSKI: Let’s continue with this issue, but let’s leave England. If we look at the evolution of the relationship between western countries and the Soviet Union, we realise that, in reality, the best allies of the USSR were capitalist regimes or systems, which we consider “bourgeois”, and which saw the Soviet Union as another power with which they could do business and sell machines. And yet, these people I am referring to, are men who pretend to be fiercely anti-communists and fiercely anti-socialists!
BUKOVSKY: It is true that whichever State, whichever western structure, from the moment it is democratic, it becomes a very easy prey for the Soviet system. And not only for the Soviet system, but for the Hitlerian one too. The problem you are now talking about is, in reality, slightly different from the issue of the relations between socialists and communists. I would say that the question of the relations between the capitalist West and the Soviet Union is that of a relation between a raptor and its prey, while, the relation between communists and socialists is, in biological terms, that of a parasite and the parasitized organism.
RAYSKI: I am looking for some sort of logic in your line of thought. If democracies aren’t capable of resisting a totalitarian grip, be it Nazi or Communist, if liberal socialism is a field which allows communism to flourish, what should we then oppose to Soviet communism? Fascist dictatorships?
BUKOVSKY: No, that’s absolutely not the solution. In reality, the policy of fascist dictatorships is almost the same thing as Soviet totalitarianism. Both systems are very close and, in this day and age, they are practically indistinguishable. If you want an answer, I could give you a general definition, but nothing more: one should resist communism with personal responsibility of each human being.
RAYSKI: This means you are not a strong supporter of the struggle against communism through the repressive means of authoritarian anti-communist systems (like Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, Pinochet in Chile, the Greek Colonels in Athens), since they are regimes which, actually, use methods that look like Soviet methods?
BUKOVSKY: I have written an entire chapter on this matter in my book, to show that authoritarian or totalitarian means of defense against communism clearly accelerate the process of communist victory. If we really have to choose between this authoritarian solution and that of liberal socialism, we might as well opt for liberal socialism, because, at that point, the road is longer and slower…
RAYSKI: In your book there is a sentence that caught my attention and which requires explanation. So, you refer to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing as “Brejnev’s best friend”. Can you clarify what you mean by that?
BUKOVSKY: I would have never thought that one day I would have to explain this to a Frenchman. It seems to me that the French know this better than anyone else.
RAYSKI: If I ask you that, it’s probably because a number of French people do not agree with your analysis…
BUKOVSKY: Let’s simply recount the facts: who gave a fraternal hand to Brejnev during the invasion of Afghanistan?
RAYSKI: You are talking about the meeting in Warsaw?
BUKOVSKY: Not only that. Before the meeting in Warsaw, there has been an entire series of French diplomatic manoeuvres. We know them well because each time we have tried to do something against USSR, we came up against a very active French counteraction.
RAYSKI: I am going to pose my question differently. How can you explain that type of attitude, which might appear odd, coming from a democratic, liberal and anti-communist country? How can you explain that type of behaviour vis-à-vis USSR?
BUKOVSKY: About Giscard, I would tell you that he was so crafty that he himself ended up making a mistake. He may have thought that, by finding an agreement with the Soviets, he could calm his own communists down… But, for us, what matters, is the result. And it has always been the same: whether it was in Belgrade or in Madrid, during the conferences on European security, the resistance we have met came from Giscard’s France.
RAYSKI: Let’s talk about the other France… From what you know about French socialist leaders, don’t you have the impression that they share some sort of traditional attachment to human rights, hence making them tougher and stricter towards the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union?
BUKOVSKY: I think there is an attempt of such nature. Well, I hope so… I hope that, in relation to the USSR, because of his attitude towards the issue with Afghanistan, and because of USSR’s problem with human rights, Mitterrand will be stronger than Giscard. That’s why I am giving you my response to these French elections, which, of course, aren’t my concern: for us, obviously, it’s good. But… poor French people!
RAYSKI: Regarding these “poor French people”, don’t you think it would be good to mobilise them a bit more to participate in the struggle for human rights and freedom?
BUKOVSKY: Yes, but we already had a disappointing experience with President Carter. I believe I am correct when I say that the first reactions of a socialist government can be favourable to us: but given the fact that the PS is made up of different groups, different fractions, which are more or less left wing and more or less pro-Soviet, there will be, in the next phase, an enormous pressure for it to pay exclusive attention to the human rights problems in South Africa and Latin America. And the following step will consist of forgetting, completely, about the Soviet Union. That’s exactly what happened with Carter…
Let’s return, if you will, to the case of François Mitterrand. We are wondering about his plan in relation to the Soviet Union. But he took the time already to express his sympathy towards Cuba through a message. And when he did it, he did not talk about Castro’s political prisoners, who have been detained over there for fifteen or twenty years. Another significant fact. At the time of the Pantheon ceremony, he gathered a great number of intellectuals around him; most of them were representatives of Latin American countries. Yet, there was a Czech on the guest list who was supposed to come. It was Milan Kundera (famous dissident writer). Well, at the last moment, they refused to invite him…
RAYSKI: Was he really on the list?
BUKOVSKY: Yes, I saw it. It must have been Régis Debray or Jack Lang who erased his name at the very end…
RAYSKI: Are you not worried that we might put the reactionary or far-right label on you?
BUKOVSKY: No label… I accept no label…
RAYSKI: The title of your book (“To Choose Freedom”) suggests that you are concerned about a central issue: freedom. But your vision of freedom is not the same as everyone’s. In fact, you seem to be horrified – it is in your book – when workers occupy their factories because of a pay rise demand or unemployment concerns. You ask what would happen if a cleaning lady occupied your apartment because you have decided that you could do without her services! Therefore, I am asking you, what is, according to you, the freedom of a worker, the freedom of a cleaning lady?
BUKOVSKY: What I am trying to say, above all, is that I am not horrified about the case I mention: I am amused and surprised by it. When I see, for instance, these protests with all the workers holding signs through which they demand instant money, it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t shock me, it amuses me. I myself grew up thinking that money should not be asked for, but earned. And I got used to it.
RAYSKI: Those workers, their money, they earn it, however…
BUKOVSKY: Yes, they earn it. But if they want to earn more and more of it, well! let them earn it…
RAYSKI: You come from a country where freedom doesn’t exist, but I’m sure you can imagine that taking to the streets and saying “I like this, I don’t like that, I want this, I don’t want that” represents to some people a fantastic psychological and moral satisfaction. Even though it may look naive to you…
BUKOVSKY: Maybe, but we cannot level the people. There will always be people who are different, and there lies the problem. The idea of socialism automatically degenerates into an idea of uniformity and not of equality.
RAYSKI: Let’s conclude: you believe, therefore, that the existing democracies, with their economic and political systems, are doomed, in the long run.
BUKOVSKY: I wouldn’t say that they are doomed, because the battle continues and it is a question that is being taken care of at the present time. I would say that they have chances to survive in medical terms, but for those chances to materialise, we really need to defend ourselves!
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Bukovsky On Television.
Ecrits de Paris magazine, July 1981.
We were not expecting that, and I don’t know whether Bernard Pivot meant any harm. The best spokesperson for the opponents of socialism, throughout this electoral campaign, was not Chirac, Lecanuet, or any other adventure seeker, but, in all likelihood, the dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who found refuge in the West in 1978.
Invited to the show “Apostrophes” (last January the 5th) on the occasion of the publication of his last book ("To Choose Freedom"), he was flanked by Louis Pauwels and came face to face with the repented Stalinists Simone Signoret and Edgard Morin. His opponents were quite dull: the ex-Stalinists had nothing to say, and Pauwels, who isn’t a man of debate, had an unfortunate tendency to cite his own articles to get away with it; he barely managed to get a word out, and that merely was to recall Mrs Signoret to a sense of decency, and to say that “naivety” of the Cold War years “was, in fact, submissiveness”.
Only Bukovsky held the audience’s attention. Not only by evoking his terrible experience of the Soviet regime, which allows him still today to “stand out amongst the crowd, with its defensive look and on his guard, a face from over there”. But also by fully stepping into French political news:
“When I see these young happy people who believe that socialism is going to give them a job… in a year they will be cruelly disappointed…”
Vladimir Bukovsky lives in England and is surprised by the little amount of curiosity the French have about that country where socialism has been established by the Labour Party and the trade unions:
“It is only 40 km away from France… there, I am having fun watching union leaders shout through their microphones to the workers: – What do you want? – Money! – When? – Now!... The French should go and see the results: a decaying country, a country that is being demolished. And it is irreversible: all the efforts the British government has tried to put on won’t do any good.”
Simone Signoret and Edgard Morin tried, in vain, to block his subversive comments. We thought that Edgard Morin would gently distance himself from his past errors, that he would have made some progress since his Stalinist period and since the time he commented on the events of May 1968 in Le Monde with his endless and muddled analyses. He proved otherwise. The unique response the Doctor of Humanities gave to Bukovsky was that socialism wasn’t what he expected, but… “aspirations…”, “aspirations…”.
Bukovsky is “laughing his head off” (that’s his expression, and, actually, his attitude) when he hears that. Let’s laugh about it too.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Interview with Vladimir Bukovsky in L’Express,
French weekly magazine. June 12, 1981.
L'Express: After four years of residence in the West, you judge our society harshly; can you contextualise your comments?
Vladimir Bukovsky: When I first arrived in Paris, I asked my French friends how they voted. One of them told me, "Even though I’m disgusted, I voted for Giscard." Another one said, "My vote was suicidal," meaning that he voted for the socialists. It is a form of self-expression that appears rather strange to someone who, coming from the Soviet Union, only dreamt of freedom of expression and decided to go to prison for it.
L'Express: In your book, you say, in short, that there is a universal tendency of bureaucratization…
Vladimir Bukovsky: I would rather say socialist-ization… At first, people only sacrifice a little bit of freedom in exchange for a little bit of security. Then, yet a bit more, because that little bit of security was not enough for them. Next, they go for real socialism. But it is only fiction that does not guarantee stability. Which goes to show that, fatally, we are lead, sooner or later, towards communism. It happens when there is general bankruptcy, when everything collapses.
L'Express: Is that process irreversible?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. In Great Britain, where I live, they have come to a point where nobody wants that system any longer, but at the same time, it has become impossible, and I really mean impossible, to get out of it. During the last elections, more than half of the population voted for the Tories, against the Labour Party. It didn’t change a thing. We can freely distribute everything and anything, but it is not possible to take these things back. The British may actually be in the avant-garde of our times, because they dislike work even more than all others; they prefer to talk. But we find in every country the seeds of such evolution.
L'Express: How do you explain that?
Vladimir Bukovsky: In reality, people are seeking justice, but, instead of looking for it themselves, they rely on government agencies.
L'Express: Yet, isn’t it in the East that we have witnessed the biggest rebellion against this bureaucratisation?
Vladimir Bukovsky: That is because, over there, we have reached the bottom of the abyss. The population’s mentality, in the USSR, is more suited to a capitalistic society than to a communist one.
L'Express: Precisely, Zinoviev writes that the Soviet man is perfectly adapted to the regime; he even adds that, to a certain extent, this regime succeeded in creating a new type of man, i.e. the Soviet man.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Let’s not forget that the system also had to adapt to man. It is mutual adaptation. There is an official Soviet economy and, next to it, an underground economy, which constitutes an important percentage of the national product.
L'Express: Is it, in your opinion, the result of an absurd bureaucracy?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. Lately, the food situation deteriorated considerably in the USSR. But do you know why? Under Stalin and after Stalin, everyone was forced to work in the collective farms for derisory salaries. However, everybody had his or her own patch of land. The total surface of these plots only represented 3% of the land...
L'Express: …but it constituted at least 30% of the total production…
Vladimir Bukovsky: That’s right. At the end of the 1960s and in the beginning of the 1970s, the government decided to increase the pay of the collective farmers, in order to improve the situation with the country's agriculture. Therefore, the collective farmers who benefited from a better salary, developed their own patches of land while spending less energy on it.
L'Express: Let’s return to Zinoviev’s interpretation, for whom Stalin’s big purges were a sort of tyranny coming from society itself, a sort of popular movement.
Vladimir Bukovsky: There is some truth to that. One of my friends noted that communist regimes are the same in every country, because this system creates the most favourable conditions for the ascension of crooks. Yet, this kind of individual is everywhere.
L'Express: What about the new situation in France?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I am happy to see this change. Now, at least, everything is clear, we know where we are. Personally, I think that a small experience is more effective than long explanations. For four years, I have tried to explain what communism was to the French, without success.
L'Express: During Mitterrand’s inauguration, numerous foreign writers were invited, but not a single dissident from the East. What do you think of it?
Vladimir Bukovsky: The absence of dissidents doesn’t mean that there are no socialists among us. If this absence was deliberate, it would be a bad omen.
L'Express: In your book you surprisingly focus on your struggles with Western publishers.
Vladimir Bukovsky: If I talk about the 7,500 copies of the first print run in Great Britain, it is intended for the Soviets. They will remain speechless. Over there, this book, as samizdat, would go around via 20 000 copies. Typewritten, of course, not printed.
L'Express: It is also surprising to see you write that, in a society without freedom, people are better informed.
Vladimir Bukovsky: It is a fact which can be explained very easily. Bear in mind that access to information is forbidden to us; therefore we develop a great thirst for knowledge. People in the USSR wish to know what is happening in the West. That is why they read enormously. Eventually, any Soviet person knows more about the West than westerners know about the USSR. Some British friends showed me a list of books they had to read for their exams. They were surprised to know that I have read them all. You won’t find anyone in the USSR who doesn’t know Dickens or Hemingway. It would be unthinkable.
L'Express: Could we say that freedom leads to loss of culture?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Freedom leads to indifference.
L'Express: In your opinion, how do you think Brezhnev and the Soviet leaders see the West?
Vladimir Bukovsky: According to my friend General Grigorenko, their world is reduced to being a map, an earth model, and they consider the West, not without reason, as a very weak partner, which cannot, or does not want to resist them. So, why should they deprive themselves of what is being offered to them on a silver platter? If almost half the population of a country that interests them calls upon their government to disarm and keep quiet, why wouldn’t they get their hands on it?
L'Express: Precisely, when you arrived to Europe, the human rights movement was in full swing; now it is the pacifist-neutralist movement that is gaining ground.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes, it is blatantly clear. It’s our fault; to a certain extent, we should have included the issues of peace within the human rights agenda. Because, in the USSR, there are hundreds of conscientious objectors who have been jailed. We are now in this absurd situation where campaigners for peace refuse to speak of the fact that Soviet soldiers who do not want to go to Afghanistan are being executed. But I’m sure Mr. Aron remembers how the peace movement was born in the 1950s. He knows how many billions it cost the Soviet budget. All it takes is for the Soviet Union to spend billions in order for movements of this kind to proliferate and to make it look as if the West is re-arming.
L'Express: Still, there is an example that doesn’t correspond with your theory of general adaptation to socialism and, subsequently, to communism, and that is Poland.
Vladimir Bukovsky: The Polish adapted to it in the past. They are now healing. I believe that they will have to face two very serious crises. The first one, in July-August, when the meeting of the Party’s Congress happens. Since the Party consists by 60% of the members of Solidarity, it will surely elect members of Solidarity, and the Soviets can’t allow that. The second crisis will occur during the parliamentary elections to the Sejm, because this time around the those who will get elected won’t be to the liking of the Soviets. That will be the final step, which will turn Poland into a normal State.
L'Express: How will the Kremlin react?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I don’t know. It will depend on many circumstances, but a military intervention can clearly not be excluded.
L'Express: Would the risk be greater than in Czechoslovakia?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Without any doubt. I wish the obstacles were insuperable, but I am not sure, this is why we can’t exclude the possibility that after the intervention of Soviet tanks the old situation wouldn't re-establish itself, with a few dissidents lost in a world of crooks.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Interview with Vladimir Bukovsky by Raymond Couraud
in L’Alsace-Le Pays, a regional French daily newspaper. October 11, 1981.
Vladimir Bukovsky likes to provoke. He admits it, not to apologize for disturbing the comfort and the habits of the West, but to transmit a message. This message is a cry we hear at the very bottom of GULAGs and psychiatric hospitals of the USSR. This scream is called freedom. Passing through Mulhouse, Bukovsky agreed to give an interview to our journal. In this interview, Vladimir Bukovsky explains the theses of his latest book.
Raymond Couraud: As we speak, the greatest peaceful protest that has ever happened in Europe is being prepared in Bonn. How do you feel about this movement?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I am baffled, I am worried. This protest takes place in times when the Soviet Union is stronger than ever. I don’t understand why these pacifists didn’t protest earlier against the Soviet missiles. In England, where I live, the same movement exists. What I am really worried about is the manipulation of the pacifists by the Russians. Numerous organizations advocating peace are financed by the USSR.
Raymond Couraud: But what about the détente? It exists, we can’t deny it?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Détente was invented by the Russians to avoid the economic disaster of the early 1960s. In fact, it is a bait.
Raymond Couraud: You are a supporter of a forceful position regarding the Soviet Union, but Reagan’s politics seem to have provoked an interior hardening within the USSR. The number of emigration authorizations has sharply reduced as of late.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Actually since 1980, since the approach of the Olympic Games in Moscow, the number of emigration authorizations has decreased. The State feared, first and foremost, anti-Soviet publicity. But -- and this is what explains the restrictions on the right to emigrate -- the authorities want to put a brake on the brain drain.
Raymond Couraud: What would have happened if Western countries had boycotted the Olympics?
Vladimir Bukovsky: The entire Soviet Union would have laughed.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Communism is absolute evil
By Danièle Brison in Dernières nouvelles d’Alsace,
regional French newspaper. October 11, 1981.
For Christmas 1976, Brezhnev and Pinochet exchanged gifts: Vladimir Bukovsky, who had spent 12 years in camps and psychiatric hospitals, was "exchanged" for Luis Corvalan, head of the Chilean Communist Party. Since then, time has passed. But Bukovsky hasn’t changed: he once remained resilient, at the cost of his freedom, health and safety, and now, as an exile, he is now committed to testify against what he believes is the absolute evil: totalitarian communism.
Settled in Great Britain for the past three years, and working at the university of Cambridge, he is now ready to make the big move to Stanford University in California. Before disconnecting with old Europe, he spent a few days in France to present his book. On Friday evening, he was in Mulhouse, yesterday in Strasbourg to attend two forums at FNAC, where he had to engage in a difficult game of questions, which were not easy, especially since the answers he had to give aren’t just a matter of intelligence and spirit. The man Bukovsky, with his looks of a stubborn and disappointed child, who saw many of his dreams confiscated and crushed, had suffered terribly.
What about the left? What about that dream of providing equality for all, of establishing a fairer society? Bukovsky would laugh if he didn’t know a thing or two about socialist countries. "What the French did when they elected the left is the stupidest thing. It is true that they acted out of ignorance. The President of the Republic is acting in good faith, surely, but he will become a captive, even less of the communists than of his own left wing."
Bukovsky doesn't believe in the human face of socialism, with all due respect he has for the Western intellectual world. And he proposes to shred that image into pieces in order to rebuff any such fascination, especially the worst type of it, according to him, – i.e. neutralism with its long pacifist marches, which, in his opinion, are marches toward suicide. "Of course people are afraid of war. But rest assured that all of this is directly orchestrated by Moscow. Communists infiltrate leadership of these protests. And the rest, those who march, are naive." Clearly, the importance given by the Soviet media to these parades shows that it doesn’t displease the Kremlin. All the more so, as Bukovsky very rightly points out, "if these people were actually indeed afraid of war, they would also ask themselves about Poland and Afghanistan."
It is true that we must ask ourselves – if there is still time – about USSR’s infiltration and disinformation politics. There were thousands who, in the 1960s and the 1970s, marched to show their hatred toward the American war in Vietnam. But who took to the streets these past few months to defend Kabul, crushed under the boot of its so-called "elder brother"? What would happen if tomorrow Moscow – which Bukovsky accused last May’s of attack on the Pope – invaded Poland? "This is where the neutralists commit the greatest error. Because the most honest bunch actually believe they are fighting for human rights. And it is easy for them to say that the West – the United States – does not care about individual freedoms by choosing force. Yet it is necessary to think of both. That’s what Carter, despite all his failures, tried to do. And that’s the only thing that earned him the eternal hatred of the Soviet leaders: he took a stand on the issue of dissidents."
Jimmy Carter went even further: he welcomed Bukovsky. "But at that time," he bitterly points out, "dissidents were trendy…" In more recent times – those of Solzhenitsyn’s books – the world seems to have suddenly realized the durability of stalinism, despite Helsinki and so many speeches about peace at "historical summits." Today, without much hope, the members of resistance to the Soviet Union’s totalitarian system continue their struggle with their own means. But do you know what is a real totalitarian country, where terror is constant, where all the power is concentrated in one single place, where the only employer is the state, which possesses all modern and scientific means to control people's opinion?”
Bukovsky doesn’t have much hope for his compatriots. Not that they are fooled by the situation. "Over there, we learn very well and very early how to read between the lines of what the newspaper write." But because those who could rebel – if nothing else, then against the fact that their regional culture or their religion have been destroyed – cannot do it without well-organized national consciousness. And yet, says Bukovsky, who still manages to inform himself on everything that happens on the planet, over there things are also moving. There are more and more strikes, for instance. Public opinion is putting into question Afghanistan, to such an extent that, to prevent possible protests, the bodies of the young Red Army soldiers in Afghanistan are no longer repatriated. But hope, if it exists, is more than tenuous. "The system, even more than the people in power, has been conceived to sow destruction, and nothing will stop it…”.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
The new "Persian letters”
By Claude Jannoud in Le Figaro. August 27, 1981.
In his first book, Vladimir Bukovsky told us about his life as a dissident in the USSR. His impressions as an exile in the West are the subject of his new book "To Choose Freedom". By force of circumstance the dissidents in the East have a Manichean vision. The democratic nations of the West represent the good in relation to the hated communist regime, the incarnation of evil. The contact with reality alters, however, this ideal image. Hence thе sentiment of deception among a large group of political refugees from the East.
Following his long and painful experience of socialism, Bukovsky didn’t have any sort of prejudice against capitalism, on the contrary. Today, after a few years of living in the West, he doubts if capitalism exists, and feels that he has never encountered it. It is true that this former dissident spent the majority of his time in Great Britain, a country which he portrays in a tender and somehow pitying manner but which no longer lives up to its reputation for free enterprise. Instead, Bukovsky had discovered rampant socialism where bureaucracy, the idleness, and collective irresponsibility have become, like in USSR, its cardinal virtues.
In short, the West has a tendency to move toward the Soviet model, with the exception that workers earn five or six times more than their Russian counterparts and that GULAGs don’t exist here. Bukovsky underestimates these essential differences. His beautiful book is marked by the simmering passion of freedom. Having been barred from it for such a long time and in such an inhumane way, he ceaselessly celebrates it and savours it. He blames us for not appreciating freedom as we should, and for not being determined to defend it at all costs.
For Bukovsky, Westerners are spoilt children who aren’t aware of their happiness, who have forgotten that in the face of a fierce totalitarian system, freedom must be defended. Due to their blind selfishness and unhealthy taste for intellectual comfort, democracies unilaterally and dangerously practice the policy of appeasement in relation to the USSR.
In many ways, the parallel Bukovsky establishes between a Soviet man and a Westerner is more favorable to the former. Since the in East people live in a society marked by frustration, scarcity and coercion, they have an acute and nostalgic sentiment for fundamental values. They read more, have a stronger respect for the past and their origins than Westerners do, who, in all fields, are conveniently devoted to waste.
Soviets are worth more than their execrable society, and we don’t deserve ours, which is infinitely better. This is Bukovsky's cardinal statement which should have been more refined; but the fact remains that this intelligent observer’s testimony, coming from another planet, is stimulating, breaks us out of our routine, and is grounded in common sense. Let’s hope that the teachings of these new "Persian Letters" will be heard.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Freedom is an inner quality that cannot be measured
Interview with Vladimir Bukovsky by Annie Epelboin
in La Quinzaine littéraire magazine. September 1, 1981.
Annie Epelboin: Straightaway: I think your second book has disappointed the public who admired you when discovering "To Build a Castle". Did you expect this?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. It is a book I wrote in a hurry, in response to my editor. I am actually astounded to see the success the first one has had in France. I really do not understand it.
Annie Epelboin: In your second book you criticise this "freedom", which you supposedly acquired upon you arrival in the West. And you claim that in the Soviet Union, through the hardship you encountered, you felt as free as here. Isn’t it a rather paradoxical statement?
Vladimir Bukovsky: No, we are either free or we are not, it is an inner quality that cannot be measured. What I wanted to highlight is that within this very measure it demands a tension or a choice, irrespective of external conditions. And our tendency is to trade it, at least partially, for a more peaceful life. This leads to voluntary slavery and to this rigid form that is socialism, as we know it in the USSR, which takes charge of this desire for peacefulness and walls you in at the same time. That’s what explains this society better than any ideology. And since this exchange of freedom against comfort has reached its peak point in the USSR, a person realises that the measurement is complete and wants to pull himself together. Thus, he makes a concrete choice, which, often, means prison, but which allows him to feel that he has attained his freedom.
Annie Epelboin: It is therefore a very powerful subjective experience?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course, and many Soviets have had this same experience. For instance, I had a friend in school, right-minded, perfect Komsomol member, but one day, they wanted to enlist him to fight against protesters. He refused and clearly shared his reasons in public. It didn’t last more than ten minutes, but it was enough to destroy his career: no thesis, no job was waiting for him in Moscow. Even though he didn’t go to prison, his life became very hard. But he never had any regrets and, later, he said to me that those ten minutes were the most intense moment of his life, the most powerful feeling.
Annie Epelboin: Did you lose that feeling in the West?
Vladimir Bukovsky: It isn’t as sharp, but I think I will always have it; it’s part of my nature. I am always driven by contest dynamics, which puts me in a situation of opposition against the world order, even this one. Regarding Afghanistan, for instance, I am in conflict with governments, which, here, merely try to avert the worst and maintain at all costs their own interests in relation to the USSR.
Annie Epelboin: How do you think Westerners experience their freedom?
Vladimir Bukovsky: They do not know it through its limits. Thus, they often need to resort to extremes to discover it, they invent limits, obstacles, to accentuate that feeling: this partly explains terrorism or the struggle against atomic energy.
Annie Epelboin: You are going to work in the USA. Isn’t that a country which enjoys particular prestige in the Soviets’ mind?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I am only going because they offer better research conditions. England has really good scholars, great education, but it lacks money for research, otherwise I would have stayed there. As for the Soviets, it’s a bit like children who ask: who is stronger -- an elephant or a crocodile? To them, the idea of a super-powerful nation is appealing, a place where the scientific sector seems more developed. When I arrived here, I was shocked to learn that Japanese technology was more advanced than in the United States, but no Soviet would ever believe it, especially since we defeated them in the war…
Annie Epelboin: And what is the image of France, in the eyes of the Soviets?
Vladimir Bukovsky: It lost its moral authority. Yet, it was the guiding culture in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, but they see there has been some sort of moral decline. We would gladly say that English society is manly, able to defend itself and maintain its positions; it would be difficult, no offence, to say the same about France, aside from de Gaulle. We had the impression of a futile and vile speculation on the part of the government to gain the good will of the Soviet State, and we were very upset by it. Cinema and fashion, however, remain attached to a positive image… Unfortunately, I don’t speak French.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Giscard was a disaster, but your communists are going to devour you
Interview with Vladimir Bukovsky by Annie Daubenton
in Les Nouvelle Littéraires newspaper. July 23, 1981.
Annie Daubenton: Your departure from USSR and your Western experience seem to encourage you to cast some sort of universal pessimism on all kinds of regimes. We knew – and we even expected – that the West wouldn’t be your shiny future, but your testimony confuses the ideological cards to such an extent that we remain a little puzzled…
Vladimir Bukovsky: First, I don’t agree with you when you mention pessimism. I am interested in people, human psychology, since that is my profession. But we must admit that it is a rather sad spectacle; people very often confuse knowledge with pessimism. Knowledge is sad. Even in Ecclesiastes we learn that a lot of sadness inhabits supreme wisdom...
Annie Daubenton: I know you are sceptical of the new political situation in France. Is there any political hope you can observe, here and there?
Vladimir Bukovsky: There are positive and negative aspects in all situations. From an idealist and selfish point of view, I am happy of this change, because the previous government was plainly pro-Soviet. It was in fact downright catastrophic: it looked as though the main task of Giscard’s France was to disrupt Western unity, to allow access to Soviet propositions, to provoke a violent anti-American feeling. This nonsense is very dangerous. The current situation is better, at least temporarily. Of course, little by little, all of this will ease down, and we will return to the previous situation, or to a worse one for that matter, but there will be a temporary improvement.
Annie Daubenton: Is the presence of communist ministers an indication that the power is already slightly elsewhere?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Power is where we think it is, but the communists are experts in state machinery and their influence will continue to grow. It’s like an animal growing inside you, under your skin. They are, by essence, apparatchiks. It’s like when Lenin won within the Social-Democratic Party and when Stalin won within the Communist Party. I am sure that from the moment they were let inside, they started devouring everything, little by little. Moreover, within the Socialist Party, there must be a left wing that is just as bad as the Communist Party. They will develop and they will take charge of the machinery… Mark my words!
Annie Daubenton: The West placed great hopes in you, and this situation, where people expect you to spread the good word, seems to be a burden. Because of your situation, you are somehow forced to delivery prophecies in a rather paralysing way…
Vladimir Bukovsky: Clearly, it is very far from my profession and my interests. But I want to keep myself busy with science and I will succeed! As everyone knows, scientists are very picky when it comes to prophecies… Besides, I never delivery prophecies, I only express my doubts. It is burdensome, of course, but given the fact that it is essential to those who continue to fight, I am myself forced to continue. People always have the tendency to fall asleep and our task is to try to wake them up. We function a bit like alarm clocks.
Annie Daubenton: You are a political scientist against your will!
Vladimir Bukovsky: If only I could be a political scientist, nothing more! But I also have to write books even though I hate it, to do conferences, even though I hate speaking in public… Destiny pushes me. It forced me, for instance, to learn about the tax legislation of three different countries because, without knowing that, I wouldn’t have earned a penny, and I need to help my family. The State is always an immense thief…
Annie Daubenton: Do you consider yourself as being the globetrotter of this injustice, of which thousands of people are currently the victims?
Vladimir Bukovksy: We all have our own cross to carry, as they say, and as long as it is necessary, I will do it. When I am no longer needed, I will stop. Clearly, the chances are slim!
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
Interview with Eduard Kuznetsov
and Vladimir Bukovsky
by Jacques Henric and Guy Scarpetta.
Art Press magazine, March 1980.
Not so long ago, Eduard Kuznetzov and Vladimir Bukovsky were in Paris to participate in a press conference and talk about the struggle for human rights in the Soviet Union and about the boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow, a conference organised by the “Human rights inMoscow 1980” Committee, presided over by Marek Halter. Before Bukovsky returned to England, and Kuznetsov to Israel, both kindly agreed to answer to our questions. They were joined by Natalya Gorbanevskaya and translator Olga Svintsova.
Why are you campaigning for the boycott of the Moscow’s Olympic Games?
Kuznetsov: How can one not draw a parallel with the Berlin Games in 1936? Without any doubt, it was the first Munich before a series of other Munich-type of events. Boycott is a way of expressing our views on what is happening in the Soviet Union in the realm of human rights and in relation to the invasion of Afghanistan. We actually consider the latter as a particular and symptomatic case of USSR’s general politics. The aggression on the part of an inhumane regime cannot be a postitive event. Moscow tries to use the Olympic Games for political purposes, this is why these Games themselves have become a political event and boycotting should be a form of Western protest against what is happening in the East. Our hope, as unrealistic as it may sound, is to be able to help our friends, who remain over there and continue to suffer. Possibly, a boycott will have the effect of bringing some reason into the minds of the Kremlin leaders.
Bukovsky: I don’t have much to add to this. If the games take place, the leaders would interpret it as an approval of their internal and external politics. In such circumstances, they wouldn’t care about the way you address the problem. They would have their own justification, and they would use it as propaganda. Haven’t they already claimed that the Olympic Games will be “a great historical event” (it’s a quote from their newspapers)? This means that they want to be recognised like any other nation, to be able to justify their future actions in advance.
Kuznetsov: To prove the importance the Soviets attach to these Games, we shouldn’t forget that in 1972, when Nixon went to the USSR, a series of arrests occurred in Ukraine and the KGB said that they were doing it on purpose, that they were taking advantage of this visit to increase repression.
What types of repression are you worried about regarding the Olympic Games, and have they started already?
Kuznetsov: Over these past three months, more than forty people have been arrested and, in other circumstances, this wouldn’t have happened to them. In fact, a woman who deals with the issues on human rights…
Gorbanevskaya: Especially now when people hesitate to arrest women…
Bukovsky: Two priests were also arrested, internationally renowned men, and it is clear that without these games approaching, Father Dudko wouldn’t have been imprisoned. But this is only one aspect of the question, because the ordinary local population is also suffering.
Children leave Moscow
Gorbanevskaya: All families with children must leave, get away from Moscow.
Bukovsky: Lists of undesirable people are being made, real police files. They even indicate who, for instance, is prone to drink. And these people are relocated, far from Moscow. Even the grouchy people, who moan while queuing in the streets because of the food shortage, are taken to the KGB and have their “propiska” (registration) cancelled, and for them it’s a disaster. Furthermore, on a related issue, the interruption of construction works is done at the expense of the population; food supply is used during the games to show that we eat properly in this country, and as a result food shortage gets worse, provincial warehouses are being plundered for the benefit of Moscow. A bitter joke is currently going around in Moscow, and it very well expresses the situation of the ordinary man in the street in the face of future foreign visitors: “We have survived Stalin’s purges, we have survived the Nazi invasion, therefore we might as well survive the Olympics”.
The Games on the occupied territory
Kuznetsov: It is true that many people have an apocalyptic feeling and vision of reality. In this context of fearful anticipation, all those type of claims made by de Marchais or athletes, telling us that they only want to run or jump, sound utterly bizarre, disconnected, actually, from reality. Besides, through these claims, they are betraying the very principles upon which the Olympics were founded in the first place. At that time, way before Jesus Christ, laurel wreaths were placed on the heads of those who accomplished some physical performances but also on those who fulfilled some moral criteria, which means that we expected human beings to be harmonious. All the principles of the Olympics will be violated at Moscow. We have studied the text of the Olympic Charter: it states in black and white that it is a political event, that the Games cannot be organised in a country at war, and where religious discrimination exists, as is the case with the USSR. Moreover, according to the Olympic Committee’s rules, the right to organise an Olympiad is bestowed upon a country, not a city. Yet, what is going to happen in this particular case? Part of the Games will take place in Estonia, that is, on occupied territory, whose annexation has never been recognised. Additionally, there is a Games preparation Committee, to which Soviet government members belong, among whom the Minister of the Interior and three former Deputy Prime Ministers.
Bukovsky: The Chief of the Propaganda Section of the Central Committee is also taking part, and at least two KGB officials, one of whom has actually been expelled from the United Kingdom.
The West retreats
Let’s talk, if you don't mind, about the repercussions these Games have over here, in the West. All political parties, whether they belong to the majority or to the opposition, many intellectuals, even those who sometimes speak on human rights issues, took a stand for the Olympic Games. How do you interpret such behaviour?
Kuznetsov: They do not understand that currently there is a global opposition between two systems. Boycott is a small battle that needs to be put in the context of a larger conflict. It is clear that the West is retreating and it will certainly lose this battle.
Gorbanevskaya: The West believes or wants to believe that we are in a situation of peace.
Bukovsky: If the boycott were to succeed, it would be a way to show the Soviets that democratic countries are united against totalitarianism. If they take place, it will prove the latters’ powerlessness, and this will represent an invitation to invade a new Afghanistan.
Kuznetsov: And what should the Afghan athletes do? Should they also go to Moscow? Here again, it looks as though we are outside politics, without a doubt…
Bukovsky: It’s been already two years that I follow this boycott campaign, and I notice that responses in the West are diverse and they sometimes tend to change. The American press had rather positive reactions, the British press too.
What about France? Isn’t the influence of the communist party still very heavy?
Bukovsky: I don’t know whether the influence of the communist party is decisive. To me, it looks like a specifically French disease.
Have you heard about that symposium on psychoanalysis that took place recently in Tbilisi, in Georgia?
Bukovsky: Yes, of course. If only French, Italian psychoanalysts and psychiatrists went there to protest against repression… Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.
Gorbanevskaya: Upon their return to France, they wrote that Georgian and Russian psychiatrists were so smart that they held this symposium against the government’s wishes. One should be really oblivious to realities of Soviet life to write such nonsense.
Bukovsky: Of course, I am a foreigner, I don’t live here, therefore I can only judge France superficially, but it seems to me that a psychological misery inhabits the French: the French would like to be big and strong, they want it with all their strength, but they can’t make it happen. For them, power resides in opposing America. What a strange, slightly hypocritical and boastful attitude, since, after all, America is not going to invade and occupy them tomorrow. However, they are scared to oppose USSR. All of this, therefore, is a senseless game…
Gorbanevskaya: Cheap opposition.
Bukovsky: It’s all quite strange, since in England, for instance, the leaders from different political parties listen to you with interest. Not long ago, Thatcher welcomed Guinsbourg, and you can also meet senators, businessmen, and unionists. In Germany, we can talk with the opposition, but it’s impossible with the government. In France, it’s very simple; we couldn’t talk to anyone, because no one invited us.
Gorbanvskaya: Except in the rare cases where they hope to use us for the purpose of French internal politics.
The first victims
Kuznetsov: The worrying thing about Western intelligentsia is the fact that it uses left-wing phraseology and means of combat borrowed from the Soviet system, and that it tries to solve
some local problems with that; while being truly convinced that what happened in the Soviet Union cannot happen over here. They are playing a very dangerous game. And these same people from the left may as well be the first victims of their own neglect. Let’s not forget that the number of victims of Soviet camps is millions.
Translated from French by Dr. Zahra Tavassoli Zea.
The True Face of Vladimir Bukovsky
Arkady and Dmitry Stolypin in
Ecrits de Paris magazine, April 1972.
Through the figure of the young writer Bukovsky, a simultaneously skimpy and ambiguous sketch of the dissidence movement in the Soviet Union has been drawn up. This young combatant has been presented as an informer to the Western press -– a questionable term –- and, in his own country, as an isolated figure. In the precipitation that characterised Vladimir Bukovksy’s trial, it seems observers did not seek to look further and analyse certain facts.
The regime handed Vladimir Bukovsky a particularly harsh sentence, that is to say two years of prison, five years of strict-regime camp, and five years of internal exile. In other words, twelve years of detention in various forms. Sinyavsky and Daniel, who everyone wrote about in 1966, were handed smaller sentences. Clearly, Bukovsky’s sentence was meant to serve as an example.
Vladimir Bukovsky’s trial lasted a few hours. The regime wanted it done very quickly, and this had a dual objective: not to allow Western opinion the time to ask questions and, potentially, to protest; and not to crystallise attention around this case in the USSR. All of this demonstrates that Vladimir Bukovsky was of some significance in the Soviet Union.
The defendant, who is barely thirty years old, pleaded not guilty, like almost all those of his generation. This “not guilty” needs to be understood in a very broad sense. The defendant considers that the Soviet Constitution, which, paradoxically, allows for a certain number of freedoms, hasn’t been applied.
Implicitly, this means: you are cheating, you are cheating deliberately, because if you applied your Constitution (freedom of expression, freedom of association, recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), you would be blown away in a jiffy. In any case, our demands are grounded in law.
Pleading not guilty also means: we are at peace with our conscience.
The young protester notably declared: “Our society is still sick, it is sick with the fear that came to us from Stalinism, but it is beginning to open its eyes. This process cannot be stopped. Our society already understands that the criminal is not the one who ‘takes the trash out of the house, but the one who spreads filth within the house’. However long I will be detained in prison for, I will never go back on my convictions and I will express them, in accordance with the right that is given to me by Article 125 of the Constitution, to all those who would want to hear me. I will never stop fighting for legality and for Justice.”
More than mere clues were pointing to the fact that fear was diminishing, that the opposition was beginning to organise.
In spite of the special precautions taken by the KGB (State Security) to ensure that Vladimir Bukovsky’s trial took place behind closed doors and that no information, other than that broadcast by the TASS agency, leaked, the final declaration of the convicted man made its way with exceptional efficiency and speed to Western correspondents. Yet everything had been done to avoid a repeat of what had taken place during the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial (gatherings around the courthouse, gifts of flowers to the families of the defendants, messages passed to journalists present in the area). Drastic measures had been brought out this time: a hand-picked audience, no examination of the defendant’s witnesses, apprehensions of Western journalists before the hearing and, as an additional form of intimidation, the erection of metallic barriers in a radius of one kilometre around the courthouse, blocking any movement in the direction of the building.
And yet, Bukovsky’s declaration reached the press a few hours after being made. The minutes of the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial had taken far longer time to reach the West.
Along the same lines, let us remember that, on the eve of Leonid Brezhnev’s arrival in Paris (November 1971), a short and precise text reached Western agencies, who circulated it, about arbitrary arrests followed by internment in “special” psychiatric hospitals in the USSR. This text was signed by a young researcher, Petr Yakir, the son of a Red Army general executed by order of Stalin.
The speed with which the facts become known seems to reflect a certain sympathy on the part of the silent majority. A type of “grapevine” functions. The principal phenomenon in this domain is “Samizdat”. This composite Russian word, which means “to publish oneself”, covers an entire mechanism: clandestine reproduction, with makeshift means, of manuscripts, circulation of these works inside the country, sending them to the outside. The spearhead of “Samizdat” is the “Chronicle of Current Events”, which arrives quite regularly in the West and brings information on the political and social situation that “Pravda” denies its readers, analysis of literature circulating secretly, etc.
It is thanks to “Samizdat” that we know the stories written by Vladimir Bukovsky in 1962 and 1966. These texts, reproduced in 1967 by the Russian-language review “Grany”, are very revealing, and one of them, “An Incoherent Question Addressed to the Doctor”, in particular.
In this text, well-known in the USSR, Bukovsky imagines a dialogue between a patient and a doctor. The patient addresses the following words to the practitioner: “I am experiencing an insurmountable need to breathe -– do you understand? -– to fill my lungs with air. Especially with spring coming… Do not go thinking that I have come here to complain. I am able to work. In general, I can breathe, that is to say I can inhale oxygen more or less. Only I cannot, you know, inhale deeply, to feel light; I never breathe fully, as if something is bothering me, as if there is not enough air. How can I explain this more clearly?”
Without a doubt it can be acknowledged that Bukovsky, a satirist, has a certain talent. As for the Soviet regime, however, it does not recognise him as a writer.
We also owe to “Samizdat” the circulation of a letter written by the young Russian intellectual to the Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis. Here is the text, as interesting as it is unknown, in full:
“Esteemed Mr. Theodorakis,
I do not know you personally and I can only judge of you based on the information from the Soviet press.
Better than anyone else, you must understand what a “police state” is, what persecutions against non-conformists are, and what the struggle against equality in these conditions represent. As a man gifted with a creative talent, you cannot be indifferent to the fate of men deprived of their freedom because of their work; as a former political prisoner, you cannot be indifferent to the conditions in which political prisoners in other countries live; as a fighter for democracy you cannot be indifferent to the fate of men who openly took a stance to defend their civil rights.
In our day and age, these problems have stopped being those of isolated individuals. They concern all of the humanity.
Non-conformists are persecuted in our country and some are detained in psychiatric hospital-prisons. Writers are hounded because of their work and believers because of their faith. Before international public opinion, these facts have to be confirmed with authority and objectivity, otherwise there would be talk of “fakery” or “slander”.
You are a man whose objectivity and honesty have neither been cast into doubt by the Soviet government, nor by the international public opinion. More than that; in our country, you are extraordinarily popular and greatly respected. There is no reason for you to be refused the right to visit the camps, the prisons or the psychiatric hospitals, unless illegal and arbitrary deeds are being deliberately hidden.
A few years ago, our leaders declared publicly that there are no political prisoners in our country. Today, they cannot say that anymore, because, throughout the world, we know the names of many people arrested in our country over the course of the last few years for political motives. We also know the addresses of the camps, prisons, and hospital-prisons where these people are. You could visit the writers Sinyavsky, Ginzburg, and others in the camps, see the writer Daniel in his cell in Vladimir prison, or even, for example, see General Grigorenko and the poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya placed in the company of degenerates and maniacs.
You could see the writers Amalrik and Marchenko, the theologian Levitin-Krasnov, the poets Delaunay and Gabay, locked up with criminal prisoners, see the conditions in which they live, taste the food that is given to them day after day, you could ask the poet Galanskov what kind of medical assistance he is being provided with. You could compare the conditions in which prisoners are held in Greece and in the Soviet Union.
All this very important information must be made public and thus make up an important new contribution to the cause of the struggle for civil rights and democracy, and -– what is more important -– provide assistance to innocent people.
The Soviet government may deny you the right to visit the detention centres, but it is unlikely that they will refuse to grant you a visa. If the latter turns out to be the case, I would be able to put you in contact with a great number of former political prisoners who spent many years in detention and would agree to provide their testimony.
As a political prisoner to a former political prisoner, I call upon you so that you may help our comrades –- the political prisoners in the USSR.”
We do not know of any answer to this letter from Mr. Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber’s protégé.
Vladimir Bukovsky reminds us that he was imprisoned for having defended ideas. This is absolutely true. His activity was at the heart of groups which, a decade ago, expressed their non-conformism in various magazines, and it resulted in his first prison term in 1963. He was freed in 1965, arrested once again the next year and sentenced to three years in prison. The regime accuses him of having organised demonstrations in favour of imprisoned writers. He served a portion of his sentence in a special psychiatric hospital. Before his last sentence handed out to him this January, he had been free for one year, two months and three days, as he remarked to his judges. He dedicated some of this time to alerting Western opinion about internments in the USSR. Ahead of the Mexico Congress (which took place in October 1971), Bukovsky, in January last year, sent a letter in which he addressed Western psychiatrists and told them about the issue of arbitrary internments in the USSR. To this letter is attached a file, containing the names and testimonies of interned opponents of the regime, photocopies of their psychiatric assessments and the “medical prescriptions” applied to them.
The criminal charges of his most recent trial included the ties established by the defendant with military circles.
Contact between the dissident intelligentsia and the army does not, it seems, constitute a novelty.
“The Chronicle of Current Events” reported the arrest, in 1969, of a certain number of navy officers belonging to the Baltic squadron. It also announced their sentencing either to detention, or to internment. The investigators, The Chronicle specified, were seeking to establish whether the arrested officers have had any connections with citizens who had signed protests against the violations of human rights in the USSR. The same document from the USSR indicated that the prosecution had charged the officers with an attempt to create a “Union for the struggle for political rights.” Gennady Gavrilov, one of the Navy men, was depicted as the leader of the movement.
The Chronicle adds that the “Union’s” objective was to have democratic rights and freedoms recognised as they are guaranteed by the UN Human Rights Charter.
The authorities, according to The Chronicle, proceeded to the arrest hundreds of people in Leningrad, Khabarovsk, Riga, Baku, Perm, and in Poland. It does not specify whether they are military or civilians, but the list of cities alone is enough to indicate that the organisation was not comprised merely of sailors. Indeed, Khabarovsk and Perm are situated inland. In general, the cited cities are in opposite regions of the USSR, which shows the multiple ramifications of the organisation.
Similarly, after Bukovsky’s sentence, a whole series of police raids and arrests took place in very different regions, such as Ukraine and Lithuania. Moreover, we know that “psychiatric hospitals” were implanted in various locations of the territory of the USSR: Kazan, Sicheva (Smolensk region), Leningrad, Cherniakovsk, Dniepopetrovsk, Orel. This list was made public by six archbishops and bishops from the “transborder” Orthodox Church, that is to say from the non-communist world. The prelates believe that the list is most likely incomplete.
In an interview given in 1970 to the American TV journalist William Cole, Bukovsky gave indications on the prevailing “climate” in the USSR. He estimated at two thousand the number of people, whom he knew personally, who had signed protests or taken a stance openly in other ways. He added that he knew only a minute fraction of the protesters and he declared he was certain their number would not cease growing.
We are witnessing an attempt to return to Stalinism, but also growth of an opposition which, instead, is thinking only about the future.
Translated from French by Arthur Beard.