Vladimir Bukovsky, 1942–2019
The lifelong dissident who exposed Soviet abuse
Vladimir Bukovsky and other Soviet dissidents were subjected to a diabolical Catch-22. State doctors insisted that their denunciations of the communist system were a symptom of paranoia, and if they rejected the diagnosis, they were locked up in asylums and injected with psychotropic drugs. For his campaigning against oppression, Bukovsky earned 12 years in prisons and psychiatric hospitals, during which he purloined 150 pages of psychiatric records exposing this mistreatment of political prisoners. Smuggled to the West in 1971, the pages triggered worldwide outrage, and the KGB eventually abandoned the practice. After the U.S. mediated his release in 1976, Bukovsky settled in Cambridge, England, where he continued his battle with the Kremlin and spoke of the horrors of captivity. “Time could crawl with agonizing slowness,” he said. “It would seem as if a whole year had gone by, but no, it was still the same old month, and no end was in sight.”
Born in the Urals town of Belebei, Bukovsky was “an inveterate dissident,” said The Washington Post. He was expelled from high school for editing an unauthorized magazine and later booted from Moscow University for attacking the USSR as a doomed “illegal society.” Bukovsky was arrested for the first time in 1963, for possession of banned books, said The New York Times. While imprisoned, he went on 20 hunger strikes and was force-fed through his nose with oversize tubes that cracked the cartilage. After his release in a prisoner swap, Bukovsky was asked at a press conference how many political prisoners remained in the USSR. He replied “280 million”—the entire population.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Bukovsky “tried to galvanize opposition” to Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). He ran for the Russian presidency in 2007 but was disqualified by the Kremlin. Seven years later, British police raided his home and found child pornography on his laptop. Bukovsky insisted it had been planted by Moscow to discredit him; his trial was indefinitely postponed in 2018 because of his ill health. In his final years, Bukovsky lived almost as a recluse. “When you meet someone for the first time,” he once wrote of his life after prison, “you inevitably view them as a future witness in your future trial.” ■