SOVIET DISSIDENT MOVEMENT
IN THE FRENCH PRESS
Excerpts from articles 1972 - 1983.
Review of Bukovsky's Book To Choose Freedom
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. 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 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, moving toward 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 - that 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 becomes democratic, it turns into 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: 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: I accept no labels.
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.
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” (aired last January the 5th) on the occasion of the publication of his latest 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 the unfortunate tendency to cite his own articles. He barely managed to get a word out, and when he did, 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 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."
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 long-winded 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 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 living 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. This 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, toward communism. It happens when there is general bankruptcy, when everything collapses.
L'Express: 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.
L'Express: 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 in order to apologize for disturbing the comfort and the habits of the West, but to transmit a message. 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? Can we deny that it exists?
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 a 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 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, and 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.
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 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 represents the good in comparison to the hated communist regime. The contact with reality alters, however, this ideal image.
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 the requests of 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 the 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 human rights in the Soviet Union and about the boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow, a conference organised by the “Human rights in Moscow 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. 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 if not for these games approaching, Father Dudko wouldn’t have been imprisoned. But this is only one aspect of the question, because 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 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 in a country 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 the 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 must 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…
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.
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.
Strolling through the streets, a taste of freedom.
An interview with Vladimir Bukovsky.
France Catholique-Ecclesia newspaper, June 17, 1983.
Vladimir Bukovsky is a household name of dissidence in the East. Before having been exchanged, in 1975, for the leader of the Chilean Communist Party, he spent many years in the GULAG. His only crime was free thought. He voiced his resistance in three books (published in France by Editions Robert Laffont):
To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter
To Choose Freedom
The Peace Movement and the Soviet Union
During his recent visit to Paris, Bukovsky agreed to answer our questions and asked us some of his own.
Vladimir Bukovsky, you are what is known as a dissident. What paths did this dissidence take you down?
I describe everything in my book, and once my book was written, I freed myself in a way from these memories.
But how does one “catch” the dissidence bug, if I may put it this way?
For us, it could not have been simpler. We lived at the time of the revelations on Stalin. And never-ceasing repression pushes you to act. Some pretend not to see it, others want to protest, or to escape, or even to take up arms and start shooting. Finally, among the many possible reactions, there is what is known as dissidence.
The most difficult of them?
Yes, in the USSR it is clearly the most difficult solution because it never produces immediate results.
This kind of opposition must require great strength of spirit?
I must insist, opposition of this type does not give immediate concrete results. Its effect is hardly visible. It requires a certain kind of perseverance.
All the more so because the regime’s information system aims to stop people thinking that things could be different, that there are other ways, in other places, to live in society?
Once a given system does not satisfy you in any way, you start searching for any possible alternative. One alternative we get is from classical literature, which remains accessible. The regime also spreads a negative iconography of what happens in the West. But it is always possible to discern, in the anti-Western propaganda itself, the elements that can be reinterpreted to extract a positive model. Of course, this necessarily implies a certain number of errors, but overall, it corresponds to reality.
But those who resist know the risks they are taking. And sometimes, once they have taken those risks, some falter, go back “over the fence.”
There are such people, but not many. As I have told you already, this kind of opposition cannot count on an immediate practical result. Rather, this opposition is primarily moral, a kind of duty towards oneself, quite a rational one in fact. You do not enter this opposition because you seek an outcome or a solution, but because it is for you the only possible course of action.
Yesterday evening, at the Maison de la Mutualité, you said that dissidence was not a revolt driven by national sentiment, but a human response to a kind of International of Evil…
Yes, the problem set out by the dissident movement goes beyond national allegiances. It questions a bad system which takes on a supranational dimension because of the existence in all countries of a particular type of scumbag, so to say.
But at the origin of this “International,” there was all the same a feeling of hope?
Yes, but you are not revealing a contradiction here, because scumbags are always full of hope. Remember the famous phrase which Soviet leaders kept repeating in the early days of the regime: “Proletarians around the world, unite.” But what was a proletarian? An uprooted man, shorn of country and nationality. This is the basis of the original idea. Then the system established itself, and today we see the products of that system.
Solzhenitsyn recently said in London: “Men have forgotten God, everything stems from this.” What do you think of that?
This is a difficult topic for me. If Solzhenitsyn has in mind a broad concept, according to which people have lost moral criteria, then I agree. But if he means God in a strictly religious sense, then I do not share this type of analysis.
You have spoken of a pulsating taste of freedom. How did you discover it?
I explain in my book that this taste can be revealed by rather ordinary aspects of everyday reality, things that can seem to be details. For instance, consciousness or the taste of freedom is when you arrive in the West and realise that there are photocopiers pretty much everywhere and anyone, by inserting a coin, can make photocopies. I can give you another, more personal example. Strolling along the street, I suddenly saw a sign on a building saying: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I thought to myself: “That’s wonderful.” Because in the USSR, these things are always hidden. You never find them. That is the taste of freedom…
But freedom is based on something located within man. Is the problem not to understand whether history without transcendence can lead to something human?
You use the word “history.” This is quite an obscure idea to me. I do not think it is possible to establish a true concept of history.
But people are engaged in history? They are inspired by values, the appeal and meaning of which goes beyond them. They are witnesses to them. These values have a universal reach.
The struggle for freedom does not only incriminate the communist system, but all forms of totalitarianism. Because there are others. As a current example, we can think of Chile…
Chile is not a totalitarian state. It is an authoritarian state, a dictatorship that practices imprisonment and torture, but we cannot say that it is totalitarian.
But the result for the oppressed is roughly the same, no?
Not quite. The totalitarian State holds everything in its hands, absolutely everything. Your question is timely because just yesterday evening, a round table discussion took place at the “Nouvel Observateur”, with representatives from countries who had lived under a dictatorial regime for some, under a totalitarian regime for others. So there was a Cuban, Valladeres, who did time in Castro’s prison cells, a person from Nicaragua who lived under both the Somoza and Sandinista regimes, an Argentine who only lived under an authoritarian regime, and myself, who only ever lived in a totalitarian regime.
We discussed this and we concluded there was a big difference between these types of regime. Valladeres notably declared: “When the regime is authoritarian, they cut off your legs; but when it is totalitarian, they cut off your legs, your arms and your head on top of that!” Then he gave an example, which is not an absolute example but is a good example all the same: under an authoritarian regime, there at least remains a freedom of property, including private means of production. This is important not just for those who own this property, but for everyone. Indeed, in a totalitarian State, there is only one employer, the State. This means that if the State is not happy with you and kicks you out of your job, it kicks you out of everything. Whereas in an authoritarian State, a company employs you for your labour, not for your ideas, and you can leave it for another one.
For those who want to engage in resistance, the existence of private property is important: they can use their money to serve a cause. A person involved in resistance can, for example, use what he owns to help prisoners. In the Soviet Union, all this was impossible.
Also, authoritarian regimes in general do not last beyond the dictator. They are characterised by their temporary nature. The death of the dictator gives a chance for a beginning of democracy.
Franco and francoism have not survived?…
This is precisely why one must weigh consequences carefully. In some cases, if a person involved in resistance has been sentenced to 25 years of detention, he will not serve them. In Bolivia, for example, there is a coup every nine months: if you are arrested, you will effectively only serve eight months of prison. In the Soviet Union, if you are sentenced to 25 years, you will be locked up for 25 years.
And the totalitarian State, in today’s world, is communism?
Nowadays, yes. A few decades ago, there was Nazism too, but today communism is alone.
Is it a contagious form of regime and is it gaining ground at the moment? And does this extension of totalitarianism not expose us to the danger of total war?
Yes, quite, that is another aspect of the matter. Authoritarian regimes do not seek to impose themselves on the entire world, whereas a totalitarian regime does exactly that. Can you imagine Western political parties supporting Pinochet? On the other hand, the West can have 500 000 people on a march supporting the Soviet Union…
So this ideology continues to mobilise people beyond the borders? How can this confiscation of hope be explained?
This ideology gives a kind of mental structure to people who do not have a clear place in life, and who have not experienced what communism really is. Also, this ideology is attractive (and dangerous) because it exploits human aspirations for peace, happiness, justice. Finally, this ideology is built on a number of false ideas that people are willing to take on board. For example, it postulates that we can create a society that would allow us to remodel people. Why is this dangerous? Because some people fall for it. For example, people who were illiterate until recently and have only just learned to read and write are ready to believe this idea. And teachers think they have a privileged role to play in this “remodelling”. That is why there are a lot of pro-communist teachers.
We also should not forget that the Soviet Union excels at camouflaging itself inside all sorts of “movements,” it finds supporters and agents everywhere. And it spends more money on this than on the military industry.
In fact, propaganda is its primary weapon?
It is waging an ideological war against the West, and it knows how to go about it.
Is the paradox not that the lie manages to pass for truth at a distance, but up close, in the Soviet Union, no one falls for it anymore?
That is true. But we should not be surprised. The people whom the lie benefits can clearly see how it is a lie. This is why they make every effort to present it well. The problem for them is to know how to sell it. On the other hand, truth is accompanied by a kind of pride. Those who take the side of truth tend to believe that it is so obvious that it has no need to be demonstrated or sold.
But to pick up again on the question of peace, we hear – in Germany more than in France – the famous slogan: “Better red than dead.” What do you make of this idea?
I refer you to my third book!
Can that which gives meaning to life, and which such a slogan forgets, be more important than life itself?
The slogan “better red than dead” is a completely mistaken affirmation, because this is not how the problem presents itself, we do not have to choose between these two outcomes. But I would like to ask you a question myself about something I really cannot get my head around. How is it that so many priests are engaged in pacifist movements?
They believe they are serving peace in this way, probably without actually realising that peace requires peaceful neighbours, and not pacifists. However, the potential total destruction of humanity remains a big problem all the same.
What intrigues me in the declaration of the American bishops is that they begin by making distinctions between ways of killing. Up until then, bishops had not condemned the national defense effort. Today, they are lashing out against nuclear war. In other words: if you kill someone with an atom bomb, that’s a no-go. But if you kill someone with a knife, that’s okay. Or in another sense, the bishops will not accept 20 million people being killed by a nuclear weapon, but they will accept 20 000 people killed with traditional weapons. I thought that in the Christian worldview, one murder was already one too many, because every human life is something priceless.
In effect, humanity today is caught between two threats: the threat of ideology and nuclear threat… Can it be cured of totalitarian communism without going through atomic horror?
Of course. And the atom cannot be considered a cure! What is more, the nuclear menace only exists because totalitarianism exists. Therefore we cannot be cured of the bomb if we are not cured of totalitarianism.
But the expansion of totalitarianism goes on. As has been said,“The islands of freedoms are shrinking”?
True. It just happens that, for me, the nuclear weapon is only a symptom of a disease called totalitarianism. Therefore, all those who see the nuclear weapon as Evil itself are mistaken. It is not even a consequence of it. It is a symptom.
And this is the Evil that must be treated? Could we see dissidence in the Soviet Union and in other places as an inverted nuclear weapon? Is it disrupting the system?
It is a weapon, of course. A more or less serious one, depending on the country…
So this system can end up bursting from within?
I do not think that dissidence can burst this type of society apart. But it is capable of transforming it. And explosion within the system would actually be dangerous because it could result in spilled blood. Which would not be any better for us than nuclear war.
How do you see the coming decades?
At the moment, there are so many different factors taking over that it is very difficult to say. We can speak of two or three possible scenarios, but it is difficult to give a definite answer.
Since you have arrived among us here, Mr. Bukovsky, what is your appraisal of the world we live in?
Let us just say that the more life is comfortable, the less good it is for the individual.
But one cannot be against progress, surely?
I am not against progress. But there needs to be a certain balance. People soak in their own self-satisfaction, are not interested in anything, do not see anything or hear anything.
Have they forgotten that they still have something to protect?
They do not use their full potential because they do not need to struggle to survive, they do not need to risk anything. Their potential is stymied by affluence. They think that whatever decision they make is capable of changing the way things are. They are always extremely surprised, and disappointed like children, when they find out there are things they cannot do.
What do you expect from this International of democratic resistance that you have just established with a few other people?
It is still very early days for this International. It is difficult to predict what will happen with it. I hope that it will establish itself as a powerful international organisation serving democratic resistance.
Able to influence public opinion and even governments?
Do people in the East know about the creation of this International?
From today, from this morning, they do know because everything was broadcast over the radio.
Does information reach them?
Through radio channels that broadcast in Russian and Polish.
And do you believe that this creation can give birth to hope over there?
Certainly, because public opinion is very “geopolitical” in all these countries. People understand the importance of this kind of thing.
How exactly do you assess the situation in Poland?
For now, we are seeing a process and it is difficult to speak of a process as of a result. Therefore, everything will depend on how events develop, for example how the Pope’s visit will go. In any case, it is already clear that the martial law has not been able to crush the resistance…
It is, however, the first time that such collective dissidence has taken form there?
The Polish government is to blame.
Why is such a movement impossible in the USSR?
Firstly, Poland is a single nationality State. Secondly, there is only one religion in Poland, which unites the people around it, whereas in the Soviet Union, there are around twenty different religions. The religious population is dispersed among them, in the overall population is eight times that of Poland. Finally, in Poland communist government has only been established forty years ago or so, whereas in the Soviet Union it has been in power for several generations. And it is worth noting that the Polish regime was never as cruel as that of the Soviet Union…
Interview by Rémy Montour.
Translated from French by Arthur Beard.
As I stared up at the sky, I saw Bukovsky flying past one way and Corvalan the other way
Charlie Hebdo, December 23, 1976
“The Russians are idiots!” cry out all those who don’t like such twaddle. “Pathetic!” adds the Party. “Brezhnev is a doddering old fool, end of discussion,” suggest people who know all about doddering old fools. I’m not suggesting that he isn’t a doddering old fool. In fact, he almost certainly is one, but this exchange –- The Exchange! –- in itself is not a symptom of this. At least I don’t see how it could be.
The big mistake that they are all making, starting with the Communist Party (but is the C.P. being sincere here?) is to assign their own point of view, as exterior observers of the USSR, to Brezhnev. “What a sinister, degrading, mind-boggling decision,” they complain. The USSR’s image abroad comes out of it weakened, ridiculed, dirtied. Yet another proof of the GULAG’s existence. Yet another testimony to the veracity of Solzhenitsyn and the others, to the ferocity of Soviet repression. You think?
The USSR gave up any illusions it may have had on its brand image beyond its borders long ago. Solzhenitsyn didn’t bring anything new to the table. He just confirmed, specified, reported certain names, places, numbers. So what? Be they justified or not, the Soviet concentration camp atrocities are anyways only brandished by frenzied anti-Soviets and denied, or ignored, by others. Even if they were one hundred per cent slander, they would be used by exactly the same people with the same vehemence. And the pro-Soviets would face the exact same difficulty denying them, and people would not believe them more. What does truth bring to a table where polemic reigns? Once polemic gets involved, it’s over: true, untrue, proof, no proof, it’s all the same.
Conviction precedes discussion, and testimony will only be welcomed with open arms if it bolsters the passionate belief of the person concerned. Solzhenitsyn hardly generated a single additional anti-Soviet. So, and here’s my question, how can plus or minus one Bukovsky, testifying about the misery of the Soviet people before Western plutocracies, possibly aggravate the brand image, as you like to say, of the USSR? It will not add a single argument for the slanderers, nor a single dialectic entanglement for your pals. And also, you know what, the USSR doesn’t give a damn about its image abroad. In the decadent West, I mean.
What the USSR, i.e. Brezhnev, does care and worry about however, is fledgling contestation at home. It’s not a mass movement. It’s bubbling among a few hot heads. Hot and educated. And restless. And annoying. And they just won’t shut up. Just like, most recently, Bukovsky.
These unbearable blabbermouths are seriously starting to stir shit up in some circles that are a real nuisance to proper functioning of the huge machine. The new caste at the helm is not bloodthirsty. Well, not particularly. Not if not absolutely necessary. They don’t have the megalomaniacal madness of a Stalin. Nor his panache, will say those nostalgic for the great old days. They’re very happy to be in charge, by the pantry door, and they don’t want that to change. That’s as vicious as it is. An economy based on free-of-charge labour of millions of slaves in “re-education” camps suits them well, while it lasts. Let’s make it last. Shut up any idealist fond of logic, of justice, of equality, of — what’s the word again? — communism, that’ll do nicely, thank you very much. We could get rid of these blabbermouths discretely in the famed cellars of the Kremlin where the pop of champagne bottles is actually that of revolver shots to the back of the neck. We could… but we’ve kind of lost the habit. And with those methods, people always end up finding out, terror just isn’t what it once was, we’d need to rethink the whole thing, it’d be a ton of work! And it would create martyrs, who knows what kind of popular ferment it would lead to… That won’t do! Let’s keep the people out of these things. Vodka, waiting in line for potatoes and a family photo on Sundays, that’s all the people ask for, they’re happy, even if their brother or cousin is somewhere in the GULAG, planting sugar cane in Siberia with their teeth. The people don’t make a big deal of it: one day it’s you, one day it’s me, go on buddy, take a swig.
Anyway, so there’s another option, and what do you know, it’s the best one: spit the shit stirrer out of the USSR, as far from the borders as possible.
Of course, the Soviet people won’t know anything about it. Why should they know about that specifically when they know nothing, absolutely nothing? Who will know? The Western capitalists, who are rotten stupid. Why should we give a damn! They’ll have one more testimony against the USSR, but they already have more testimonies than they know what to do with. What’s the point of yet another piece of evidence when the case has been heard? Bukovsky will raise his loud voice, it’ll be yet another loud voice in a chorus of loud voices, next to those of Solzhenitsyn, Plyushch and so many others…
Even if there were a hundred times more of these loud and noble voices, it’s not going to trigger the anti-Bolshevik crusade, am I right? You don’t plunge humanity into a Third World War (third time lucky) for such trifling matters. Right, so here’s the plan: chuck the blabbermouths over the Iron Curtain, and voilà. And of course, if we can at the same time pick up a prestige boost (prestige at home of course, we don’t give a damn about the other kind of prestige) by setting up a little exchange or similar shenanigans, why shouldn’t we?
We get it. But what about Pinochet in all this, what did Pinochet have to gain? What about him? Well, it’s exactly the opposite. For him, it was precisely the international aspect of the deal that was convenient. He needed to restore a brand image. Show that the viciousness of the early days was merely a just and necessary clean-up. That, now that order and stability had been definitively and solidly ensured, he had no objection to clemency. That in fact, seeing as how he could now speak from the heart as a human and as a Christian, he was resolutely making generous initiatives his personal business.
So all is for the best. Pinochet is no longer a bastard. We can shake his hand and do business with him. Brezhnev has got rid of a shit stirrer and is blowing his horn among his people for having snatched Luis Corvalan from the sinister Pinochet. Hurray for both.
Who’s the chump in all this?
And now, questions on the text. Open your notebooks.
Question one: In Chile, after the coup, Pinochet assassinated in mass anything that leant left, with or without preliminary recreational torture, and first of all anyone who was suspected, even vaguely, of entertaining communist-like sympathies. So, I ask you, how is it possible that three years later the General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party, Luis Corvalan, can be used as a bargaining chip? That’s a question about hypocrisy and far-right politics.
Question two: Our two jokers, Brezhnev and Pinochet, aren’t going to stop there. When you’ve started down the path of degrading haggling, you can’t stop. So much so that one day all Chileans who oppose the regime will end up in the USSR and all the opponents of the Gulag will end up in Chile. In other words, the entirety of each population. Wouldn’t we save time and energy by immediately swapping Pinochet and Brezhnev? That’s a question that’s as stupid as it seems.
Question three: A harsh, but quite satisfying result in terms of symmetry, would be Bukovsky locked up in a Chilean psychiatric ward and Corvalan in a Russian prison. That’s a question for boulevard theatre.
Question five: Can someone explain to me what is cowardly, humiliating, outrageous, degrading, stupid, and so on, about saving a human life, two in fact, be it by coming to terms with a tyrant, be it by showing your own ass? These guys are saving people for once, and we’re yelling at them. “L’Humanité”, that never faulted Stalin for assassinations left right and centre, castigates Brezhnev when he shows some magnanimity. Is stupidity more damaging than viciousness? That’s a question from an old sentimental lady.
Translated from French by Arthur Beard.
A Hero of Our Time, Vladimir Bukovsky.
by Gabriel Marcel
Le Figaro, May 18, 1972.
The name of Vladimir Bukovsky is — or should be — familiar to all French people who follow the crimes the Kremlin authorities commit ceaselessly against all those (believers and non-believers) who have the laudable courage to express non-conformist opinions. I insist on believers and non-believers, and the case of Vladimir Bukovsky is all the more significant and worthy of admiration because he is always presented as a non-believer. I am convinced that very often it is in the nature of belief not to be transparent to itself. And I will not hesitate to say that in reality few Christians will have contributed as decisive a testimony as this man, who believes that he does not believe.
The April issue of the Etudes magazine provides information on this extraordinary man, this hero of our time, the information which we were missing until now. It was brought to us by one of his friends, Levitin Krasnov, who has also been in incarceration for several months now.
Vladimir Bukovsky was born on the 30th of December 1942; he is therefore 29 years old today. Raised primarily by his mother, a particularly intelligent and cultured woman, he intended to pursue a scientific career and studied for a year at the biology faculty of the Moscow State University. We know for a fact that his teacher saw in him a future scientist.
Levitin Krasnov tells us that “he is a young man whose outer appearance is extremely impressive. He is slender, admirably built, has chestnut hair and the frank and open face of a country boy. He is virile and Russian to the core. He has a light and rhythmical gait, his movements are harmonious, his way of speaking very personal, nothing is borrowed, or strange, or ostentatious. He is full of courage. But there is no affectation in the slightest. It seems that he has never had to fight fear. It seems that he simply does not understand what fear is, does not comprehend this concept.”
From the start, he displayed an unbending, unshakeable will, but in everyday life he has always shown himself to be conciliatory and amenable. His generosity and his selflessness are such that he has never been able to keep for himself the sums of money — usually tiny for that matter — that he may have had at his disposal.
It is, it seems, in 1962 that he became fully aware of the imposture, violence and even cowardice that ran rampant among the intelligentsia even after the disappearance of Stalin. He has never been a theoretician nor a dreamer in any way. He is, first of all, a man of action but his passionate love for truth, that could have been embodied in the life of a scientist, was to push him to such a combative attitude that the Soviet authorities took him for the very incarnation of the spirit that they aimed to extinguish. It is therefore no surprise that he spent ten years in prisons and psychiatric asylums and that at the end of his latest trial, carried out, let it be said, in conditions far removed from the rule of law, he was once again sentenced to seven years of prison which will then be followed by a long period on probation: we know what these words can mean in Soviet Russia. In the humidity of these prisons, he has, in fact, already caught articular rheumatism which makes one fear the worst.
As we know, he was one of the very first — probably the first, in fact, — to publicly denounce the odious crime of incarcerating non-conformists of all kinds in psychiatric asylums, which are simply jails.
In a heart-wrenching letter addressed to all people of good will, V. Bukovsky’s mother implores them to intervene while there is still time, to save from the worst this son whom she contributed to shaping.
But alas! What entity is capable of intimidating the tormentors in the Kremlin? I learned with consternation a few days ago that during the international psychiatric Congress in Mexico City, in response to those who would have liked to hold a debate on this horrific scandal, the Secretary General himself (from the United States), in full agreement with the Soviet delegates, declared that an assembly of scientists should not concern itself with political issues. The ignominy of such an attitude needs no further underlining. And when one dwells on the fact that Soviet Russia has also signed the international convention on Human Rights, we realise with a heavy heart that once again words mean nothing in the presence of the blackmail over a terrorised humanity that can be carried out by powers possessing nuclear weapons.
Gabriel Marcel, member of the Institut de France.
Translated from French by Arthur Beard.
It is not the system that needs to be changed, it’s the people.
Les Nouvelles Littéraires, December 7, 1978.
by Richard Liscia.
Cambridge, Sunday morning. The buildings, some of them Gothic, some of them modern, of Kings College shine under the icy rays of the sun. A student in a duffle coat walks towards us. It's Vladimir Bukovsky, the man Brezhnev traded for Luis Corvalan. He takes us to his room, a cramped room, filled with paperwork covered with calculations, and Italian and Swedish editions of “To Build a Castle", the story of his long years of protest and of prison.
The Soviet dissident's book testifies to his indifference to abstraction and conceptualization. The interview which we publish below also shows that this very great simplicity is not affected, as it is sometimes the case with intelligent and prudent people — it is natural. No matter how much Vladimir Bukovsky searches, under the spur of our questions, he does not discover any particular virtue; instead, he finds only objective reasons for what we call his courage and his will.
He considers himself to be an inevitable product of the post-Stalinist period, in the same way that, if we compliment him for his literary talent, he can only attribute this to the Russian tradition which holds that the intellectuals always know how to write.
Why did you choose England as your country of exile, rather than the United States, like Solzhenitsyn, or even France?
Bukovsky: It is first of all a problem of language. I am continuing my studies and English is the only foreign language I know. And then Kings College here in Cambridge invited me. I really like it here. They have a very good education system. But when the opportunity arises, I will certainly go to other countries. It is even likely that, when I have completed the three-year course at Cambridge, I will travel to another country to do research.
Do you miss Russia?
Bukovsky: No, not a lot now. I think it's too early for me to feel nostalgia. In fact, it is in prison that I spent my last seven years in Russia and I have only kept few memories of the country. People don't long for a prison.
Maybe you are disgusted?
Bukovsky: Not by Russia, by its system, by its government, by the situation there. Russia itself is a very beautiful country and its people are good, but ...
You are an early dissident; you rebelled when you were only sixteen or seventeen. What prompted you to act so early?
Bukovsky: It was a very important time; Stalin had just died, everything was changing, Stalin's crimes were being revealed, he was criticized. Suddenly we all became aware of the crimes committed in our name. It was inevitable that I would take a personal stand in one way or another, as it was for everyone at the time. My generation, those born in the forties, never accepted the system.
How do you explain that this general awareness of a whole generation did not bring about a change?
Bukovsky: Oh, it's very simple: the application of brute force explains it all. After a while, people got scared, they stopped being outraged. You, French, you had the same experience during the Occupation. At first, resistance was only a matter of a handful of men. I met some friends who resisted in Norway. They ironically asked me what Soviet dissent represents in numbers. I replied: a very small minority. The same was the case with the Norwegian Resistance during the Occupation. There is no doubt about the deeply held opinions of the Russians at the present time. The public expression of this opinion is another matter.
Among those who observe the Soviet Union from the outside, the feeling prevails that the post-Stalinist period was still better than the Stalinist period. But you attack Khrushchev in your book, you say, "He did not root out Stalinism, he did not restore the economy".
Bukovsky: Yes, there has been an improvement because the scope and objectives of the repression have been reduced. We put an end to the Terror. But that was not Khrushchev's merit, as I explain in my book. This is because the Party leadership realized that it itself could become a victim of the Terror. They put an end to it when they found that the two thirds of party leaders had been exterminated during the time of the Stalinist repression. Khrushchev's efforts were very limited. His main idea was to cure the evils of the Soviet society within the boundaries of the communist-type state. Because he was a staunch communist. All this got him nowhere.
But finally, he put an end to the killings...
Bukovsky: Yes. But it was not enough reason for us to sit idly by. The underlying reasons for what had happened in the USSR have not disappeared. Nothing was preventing the same system from relapsing into its past aberrations. The institutions have not changed, the same men worked in the KGB, there were the same judges in the courts. If the German generals' coup against Hitler in 1944 had been successful, the number of concentration camps might have been reduced, but if the Nazis had remained in power nothing fundamentally would have changed. That said, we must not be pessimistic: we can sometimes resist and survive. But the dissidents of my generation could never have accomplished what they have, had Stalin remained in power. Because at the time the Soviet power was perfectly indifferent to the pressures of foreign opinion. Our leaders believed they were right, no matter what.
You write, "It is curious how nobody have had an idea to write a study on the following topic: The soul of man under the socialists system". Why didn't you write it?
Bukovsky: Well, up to a point, I tried to do it in my book. It was not my goal, I could not go into details, but in the first part of the book, I tried to do it.
But you are content to denounce the Soviet system, you are not proposing anything to replace it; you want to abolish it, but what would you install in its place?
Bukovsky: I am not a politician. I am a biologist. Every time the system tries to change me, I try to change it. But in any case, there is one thing of which I am certain: the Soviet Union needs free elections, with a plurality of parties, and freedom of expression. This is what seems most obviously necessary to me. It was not my vocation, initially, to create a new system, or a new ideology, or a substitute for communism. In fact, I'm a little afraid of substitutes, of all substitutes, of ideologies. Any rigorously applied ideology risks giving rise to disastrous results.
How do you see the future of the Soviet Union? Or, if you will, what hope can it have?
Bukovsky: There is already this movement that my friends and I are leading and which continues to shake things up...
But aren't you a very small minority?
Bukovsky: No, it is a movement which has become important, with various branches which are sometimes powerful, in particular in the regions which the USSR occupied during the Second World War. There are now tens of millions of dissidents.
Your desire to change the legal system is commendable, and I personally endorse nonviolence. But many people will tell you that you can't get anything without the use of force.
Bukovsky: This is precisely what frightens me about people, the idea that one evil can be eliminated by another evil and that violence can overcome violence, to end in a new form of dictatorship. Fortunately, our dissidents understood that this was not the solution. We had oppression, occupation by Hitler troops, we had sixty years of communism, we had time to understand that no kind of violence would bring improvement.
Do you blame President Carter for supporting you first and then backing down?
Bukovsky: His position was very helpful to us. And we expected, after the words, some form of more or less concrete action, nothing really aggressive, of course, but action at the diplomatic and international level. However, I don't blame Carter, I don't think he backed down on purpose. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, in fact, did all he could to stop Carter's campaign for human rights. He did it openly. Do you remember him attacking Carter's position?
Giscard was wrong, according to you?
Bukovsky: Of course, Carter couldn't do it alone.
It is not entirely obvious. Giscard believes that Carter's public statements endangered Soviet dissidents themselves. The French position is, officially, determined by the very interest of the Soviet protesters.
Bukovsky: This is not true. It is exactly the opposite. When the world is silent, the Soviet leaders do not flinch, they know that there will be no one to counter them. If, on the other hand, the West openly expresses its disagreement, things are moving.
What are your relations with other exiled dissidents?
With Solzhenitsyn too?
Bukovsky: Yes, we are always writing to each other.
He took a very tough stance on the West; he says values here are declining.
Bukovsky: I agree, because the point of view of your president and of Chancellor Schmidt now predominates, and this position is disastrous as far as we are concerned.
But Solzhenitsyn speaks of Western customs. He does not like the evolution of our culture, music for example.
Bukovsky: Personally, I do not see any particular danger in the evolution of Western culture.
Do you like rock music?
Bukovsky: Not a lot, I find it a bit noisy. But I wouldn't stop others from listening to it.
Conversely, have you ever tried to fit into the system?
Bukovsky: No. I do not believe that the system could have integrated me.
Didn't you think that would put an end to your worries?
Bukovsky: It was only the beginning. They would never have been satisfied until they had completely enslaved me. This is the danger of compromise. There are people here who advocate compromise, but they reason in terms of Western culture, of democracy. Western psychology is democratic, Soviet psychology is criminal. You are educated to feel that compromise leads to evolution and change. In our culture, on the contrary, dialogue with the totalitarian state excludes compromise. When you give them your hand, they ask for your arm, until they swallow you whole. As I have experienced myself, the smallest compromise sometimes leads you to the KGB.
What do you think of Alexander Zinoviev's attitude? He says something like this, "I am not a dissident, I am independent". Shouldn't dissidence be seen as a form of solidarity?
Bukovsky: The misunderstanding comes from the word "dissident". Dissidents are essentially independent people, they do not form a party.
He only means that he belongs only to himself.
Bukovsky: No, he belongs to our movement. The best proof of this is that he wrote a book which was distributed in the form of samizdat; and when he was fired from the Communist Youth, all the people who are truly independent in the USSR protested. If we speak of membership in the broad sense of the term, Zinoviev presents himself as a man who has never taken part in any collective action, he has never affixed his signature to the bottom of a document, along with other signatures; that's probably what he means. The term dissent is ambiguous; there are all kinds of dissidents.
But is there a concrete action?
Bukovsky: No, there are people who participate in some form of protest; there is no other obligation than that dictated by conscience.
When you were in the USSR, was there no organized meeting or demonstration planned in advance?
Bukovsky: Yes, there were meetings or demonstrations; but people were simply invited there.
Do you now consider yourself a writer?
Bukovsky: No. It is not my main occupation. It is a sort of inevitable activity. When you have something to say, you have to write it down.
In France, your book has just been published and it will undoubtedly have some success. Does this kind of success lead you to become a writer?
Bukovsky: This book is special. It aims to tell my life and that of the people I have met, to describe the situation my country finds itself in. I have no other subject, I am not a novelist. I will write whenever I find it necessary. But I don't have a specific project.
I read your book very carefully before meeting you. It's an embarrassing question I'm going to ask you. It is about your talent. If you are planning to become a biologist, how come you have enough talent to write a good book?
Bukovsky: I don't think anyone can explain where the talent comes from. Talent cannot be taught. But in general, the intellectuals in our country are very cultivated, and the quality of style in Russia is considered a necessary and a widespread thing. This phenomenon is linked to our tradition, so much so that an intellectual of average value is able to write a good book. In our country, the intellectuals do not resemble those of the West; they all know how to write, whereas with you, writing is a specialty.
Is there not another explanation for the quality of your book? Excuse me for forcing your modesty this way. Someone said, "If you do not suffer, you can't write." Perhaps you have suffered enough to write well?
Bukovsky: It's hard to say. I will put it this way: those who have experience have something to write about. The experience will not improve your style, but it does provide you with valuable material. But prison or mental asylum do not bestow a donation.
To broach another subject, you seem irritated by the fact that the people you knew in the USSR have asked you to confirm that you are Russian and that their uncertainty arises from the fact that you were born in the Urals. Is it important for you to be Russian?
Bukovsky: Not for me, but for other people.
This sheds a kind of light on the Moscow hegemony in your book.
Bukovsky: Yes, one of the goals of our movement is to defend the rights of the minorities.
And, in prison, the fact that you came from Moscow gave you a certain importance.
Bukovsky: Yes, because the communist state is very centralized. Everything takes place in the capital. Muscovites have more opportunities, more food, more contacts with foreigners because tourists come there; but three hundred kilometers away from Moscow, you have villages where there is no meat. Muscovites are privileged.
Which brings us to talk about the standard of living. You described the situation in the USSR. In the West, have you seen similar situations in certain circumstances?
Bukovsky: No, not at all, the situations are incomparable. Here in England a few weeks ago bakers went on strike. And the British stood in lines for a few days! It vaguely reminded me of the permanent situation in my country.
There are still slums in Europe and the United States.
Bukovsky: Slums? Your slums can be compared to our best housing. We don't have, for example, single-family homes in Moscow or Leningrad. Only peasants sometimes own them. I made a trip to the United States organized by the AFL-CIO, the trade union federation. They were very keen to show me reality, they have a strong social conscience. They wanted me to compare slums and houses for the rich. I laughed, because the slums largely resembled our good housing.
You are not afraid to suggest economical solutions in your book. You are in no way opposed to the spirit of free enterprise.
Bukovsky: Up to a point, yes. When the economy is centralized, nothing goes further, the system is blocked. I have no doubt that the introduction of free enterprise methods would immediately create unemployment in the USSR; especially since unemployment already exists in a disguised manner; and it would generate inflation. But the whole system would kick in and production would automatically increase. We wouldn't have to buy our wheat in Canada; it would work, as the experiments of this kind which were made during the Sixties show. But I did not, however, express my admiration for the characters who tried to make money by devious means and whom I described in my book. What I am saying is that while we must condemn such people, we must not lose sight of the fact that the economy needs stimuli to run.
You even go so far as to try to explain the behavior of thieves, or at least of those who were your companions in misfortune.
Bukovsky: Oh, sometimes they're awful characters. It is a social phenomenon that I wanted to explain, but it is not unrelated to the overall climate that prevails in the country. We have two ideologies in the USSR: that of the communist bureaucracy and that of the thieves. Up to a point they're pretty similar, you know. No, I have no admiration for thieves, but they are human beings and the situation is causing them to proliferate. It is a phenomenon that I began to study as a witness.
Perhaps there was also this terrible complicity that engenders suffering?
Bukovsky: Yes, to a certain extent, especially since they have no prospect in front of them.
But after all, we have the same problems in the West. We ask ourselves the same questions as you. Should we repress them or, on the contrary, help them to become different?
Bukovsky: It would be useless to make them different if they do not change themselves. I recognize the right of society to defend itself, to isolate men who are dangerous to it. But I am opposed to any form of oppression against criminals. Once they're isolated and disarmed, I don't want them to suffer. I am for the improvement of prison conditions. Something else would have to be invented, other methods to solve the problems posed by crime.
Are you against the death penalty?
Throughout this interview, I have tried to draw your attention to the fact that the West is not the best of all possible worlds. We too have bureaucracies, our systems are also sometimes blocked and there are very serious injustices here. Admittedly, there is a very important difference between the two systems: at least, with us, the people who do not agree are not put in jail. But perhaps the root of the problem is that when you bring people together into what is commonly called a community, a form of order arises which naturally oppresses those who try to change it. You fought Stalinism, but isn't Stalinism, in the final analysis, the product of collective behavior?
Bukovsky: I agree with you. Totalitarianism did not come from the Moon. It is inside people. But when this inclination is helped by some stupid system like Marxism, it grows very quickly. You may remember the excellent film by Milos Forman, One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest: it describes very well what we are talking about. Society, the community, is naturally inclined to oppress people, to fight their personality, their individuality; so the only solution is not to re-adapt the system, but to improve the people themselves. Which means that we have very little hope of lasting change; apart from an attempt to explain or describe our ills, we do not have the administrative means to improve things. We can only hope that people will improve themselves and gradually realize the mistakes that are being made. But this effort must be individual, it is not the community that must accomplish it.
For example, I was in Glasgow to see a man imprisoned for life for murder. He has already served ten years in prison. And he has completely changed. He sculpts, he reads everything that he can find. I can explain to you how it happened. When people tried to change him from the outside, his natural reaction was to resist. The balance of power that was established between his jailers and himself kept getting worse until he tried to kill one of his wardens. And they added 25 years to his prison sentence, which is unbelievable.
They even put him in a sort of cage. Such a phenomenon is only possible because society can only justify itself by showing itself to be cruel. Which is absurd, because that doesn't solve anything. Finally, they decided to conduct an experiment. Because this is not, of course, the only case of its kind. They decided to change the usual prison regime, to cease the punishments, to give the prisoners books, television, radio, records, whatever they would ask for. They let the prisoners meet and cook. They were only forbidden to go out. At first the man I'm talking about believed, and he believed it for a year, that this was a trap, a new way to circumvent him, as happens with a lot of people in its condition.
But he finally understood that they didn't mean harm to him. Left to himself, in the company of his heap of books, allowed to receive visitors, he began to reflect, to develop intellectually, and as no one was attempting to enslave him, he stopped resisting. The man I met is excellent, he is friendly, busy sculpting. And all the money made from the sale of his works is donated to a children's foundation, because he thinks he was a victim of the bad education he received.
He is already a normal citizen. Now they are thinking of putting him on conditional release. But at the same time, society cannot admit this. It will say: this man is a criminal and he has a better life than honest people. This reaction is very difficult to overcome. It means changing people's psychology. This is what our task consists of. We have to explain. When people say, “This murderer has not been punished,” they react in a primitive way.
Isn't your reasoning Christian in its essence?
Bukovsky: No. I am not a Christian. The Christian idea is that God must punish the criminals. We are not Christians in our country; our government is not. Of course, the anecdote I told you is of only relative importance. And I am not sure that the experiment will continue, in the face of the hostility from the society. But, I had a very interesting conversation both with the guards and with the prisoners. They were all very enthusiastic, and they feared that the experiment would ended. They realized that at last they had stopped hating each other. With a hatred that was not spontaneous but emanating from society.
You explain this phenomenon in your book. You say that your guards did not have any particular hatred toward you.
Bukovsky: Sometimes, when they acted cruelly, they tried to justify themselves, and to instill hatred in themselves in an artificial way, because their job is to be aggressive. But in their majority, they are not cruel. They may be harsh and brutal, but not cruel.
In fact, when I read your book, I had a feeling that you often manage to dismantle your guards, that you even manage to make them suffer. I do not compare the suffering you endured with the inconveniences they might complain about because of the behavior of their prisoners. You resorted to the rules of the system to poison their existence. We thus discover that there is a kind of strange relationship between the executioner and his victim.
Bukovsky: We were trying to escape it. Our defenses were