‘I came back because people are once again afraid...’”
October 31, 2007
Vladimir Bukovskiy -- the famous Soviet dissident, who first exposed the political abuse of psychiatry then spent 12 years in prison and psychiatric hospitals for it, before being traded in 1976 for the Chilean communist Luis Corvalan – was back in Moscow in the middle of October.
As we rode through the foggy early morning streets from the “Domodedovo” airport, billboards gleamed, as if mockingly, with advertisements for a men’s journal: “Where have you been all these years?” Later, at a meeting with the pro-democracy community at the
It is true that for the past 15 years Bukovskiy could not be found in
His most recent arrival could hardly be called triumphant, but it also did not pass unnoticed. There was certainly no lack of interest from journalists. Bukovskiy did not refuse anyone an interview, even those working for publications from which nothing good could come. From some he evoked praise, from others - jeers, and from others still - irritation. One journalist from “Komsomolskaya Pravda”, Yuliya Yuzik, published a disgraceful and mendacious profile of Bukovskiy, then the following day, on her personal website, wrote that she regretted doing it, making a laughingstock of Bukovskiy, but she had to feed her children. The next day she had to leave her job. Bukovskiy, hearing about this story, remarked with sad irony: “The poor woman… how will she feed her children now? But she did the right thing.”
Despite all the unpleasantness of the current political system, Bukovskiy has not shown any personal enmity toward his political opponents. The harshest thing to be heard from him was in his answer to a question from the news anchor Tatyana Limanova of REN-TV. Paraphrasing the famous question, “With whom would you go to the intelligence services?” she asked Bukovskiy, “With whom would you share a jail cell?” Without hesitating Bokovskiy answered that he would be ready to share a cell with Nemtsov or Kasparov, then after thinking about it for a moment noted that it would better if Putin were not put in the same cell with him. “It would be bad”, he added, as if joking, but his face had become hard, like that of a prisoner who has been backed into a corner.
With everyone else he has been fairly gentle. One very high-ranking Russian official, well-known to the public, asked through a mutual friend for a signed copy of Bukovskiy’s book “И возвращается ветер…”. Bukovskiy made his usual inscription, then added the words, “Honor your own constitution!” - a slogan from the dissident era.
It is a slogan as fresh today as it was 40 years ago. There are two legal obstacles to Bukovskiy being registered as a presidential candidate. First, the Constitution requires that a candidate have lived in Russia at least 10 years - though it does not specify that it must have been the 10 years immediately prior to the election. Second, a law passed this year prohibits any person with dual citizenship from being elected to parliament or the presidency. Bukovskiy, who 30 years ago was sent directly from Vladimirskiy Prison to the West, has both Russian and British citizenship. Both obstacles are patently absurd. The residency requirement clearly contradicts the Constitutional principle of “general, equal and direct vote”. [Article 81: “The President of the
But the real issue is not with the laws.. Bukovskiy knows perfectly well that he will never be allowed to register as a candidate for president, no matter what the law is or who is interpreting it. He took up this patently lost cause in order show our society that it is not doomed to submit to the choice presented by the Kremlin; that one need not agree with “Operation Successor” as long as one still has the strength to resist. In Soviet times, this position found expression in the ironic toast, “To the success of our hopeless project”. History has shown, however, that the dissident project was not so hopeless after all.
“I have never had any political ambitions,” says Bukovskiy. “I gave 12 years of my life to help pull my country away from this abyss, and I cannot sit idly by while it careens back toward it. I will, of course, not become the President, but I will present the voters with a point of view with which they may or may not be acquainted; I will try to sharpen and consolidate the democratic opposition.”
Bukovsky suggested that all the presidential candidates join him in a pre-election pledge containing five points: free all political prisoners; cease all political repressions and reconsider the laws that were adopted for this purpose; cease the misuse of psychiatry for repressive purposes; cease all torture and violent means of dealing with the population being used by the law enforcement agencies; provide for an objective and independent judiciary in Russia. So far the only person to respond to this proposal has been Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, who during a meeting with Bukovskiy said he was ready to sign every word in it. Bukovskiy sincerely hopes that the other presidential candidates will join Yavlinskiy in this.
For the six days he was in
Regarding other opposition leaders, Bukovskiy is ready to meet with everyone, and he might make a good conciliator, since he is not beholden to any one political movement. In fact, it would be hard to doubt the conciliatory capabilities of a man who in his own lifetime has had occasion both to break bread with hardened criminals in prison, and to dine with the Queen of England.
On the other hand, the role of conciliator will hardly be the main one for Vladimir Bukovskiy. He is entirely capable of becoming a political figure in his own right. His supporters are already thinking about creating a political movement based on Bukovskiy’s campaign platform and manifesto “
At a rally on Mayakovskiy Square with Bukovskiy in attendance, his supporters announced a plan to create “Bukovskiy Clubs” in cities throughout Russia, which could eventually form the basis for a new political movement, created from below rather than at the will of political leaders or on orders from bureaucrats at Staraya Ploschad [TN: refers to the Presidential Administration headquarters, located at No. 4 Staraya Ploschad].
This small rally, totaling perhaps 300-400 people, had a very symbolic feel to it. It was here, almost 50 years ago, that the democratic movement essentially began, with public readings of prohibited poetry written by the youth of
Appearing at this meeting on the eve of his departure, Vladimir Bukovskiy explained why he had come back to