By Peter Barry Chowka
“The idea that (Trump) was in cahoots with Moscow, ridiculous.” — Vladimir Bukovsky 2019
Vladimir Bukovsky, the most famous surviving anti-communist Soviet dissident, has passed away. The sad news broke almost simultaneously early Sunday evening EDT in a tweet from journalist Diana West at 6:07 PM and in a news release emailed by Elizabeth Childs of the Bukovsky Center at 6:34 PM. This reporter was also one of the first to report the news on Twitter at 7:11 PM EDT on Sunday October 27th.
In poor health in recent years, Bukovsky, age 76, according to Childs had died of cardiac arrest at Addenbrookes Hospital near his home in Cambridge, England on Sunday evening at 9:30 PM local time in the UK.
In the 24 hours following Bukovsky’s death, his passing was taken note of in feature articles and obituaries by most of the world’s major media, including the BBC, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian.
Bukovsky had lived in the West since he was traded for a Chilean communist in a swap in Zurich in 1976. Before his release to freedom, he had spent a dozen years locked up in the old Soviet Union in prisons, gulags, and mental institutions.
The announcement of Bukovsky’s death emailed by Childs, and posted as an obituary at the Bukovsky Center’s Web site, summarized his life as a dissident in the Soviet Union and his achievements since his departure from the USSR in 1976:
A leading Russian human rights writer and activist, Bukovsky spent a total of 12 years imprisoned by the USSR. After his release to the West in 1976, he spent his last four decades writing and campaigning against successive regimes in his homeland.
Bukovsky first gained notoriety as a student writer and organizer in Moscow. In 1963, he was arrested for possessing forbidden literature. Rather than put him on trial, Soviet authorities had him declared mentally ill and locked him in a psychiatric hospital — a common tactic used in the USSR to discredit dissenters and confine them without appearing to be holding political prisoners. He was arrested again in 1967 and sent to a labor camp for three years.
After his release, Bukovsky created an international uproar when he had psychiatric hospital records for six well-known dissidents smuggled to the West in 1971. International psychiatrists’ organizations studied the records and charged Soviet doctors and the government with creating false diagnoses as a way to indefinitely detain possibly thousands of political opponents who showed no medically recognized symptoms of mental illness.
A gifted writer, Bukovsky was revered for his ability to document both the daily insults and grand oppression of Soviet prison life, and to convey with detail the soul-crushing effects of torture on both prisoner and jailer.
In 2019, one of Bukovsky’s most substantive works, Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity, was finally published in English in the United States for the first time by Ninth of November Press. It had been scheduled for publication in the U.S. in the 1990s, but never came out. Meanwhile, it was published in England and a number of European countries including, ironically, Russia. The book is based on internal Soviet era documents that Bukovsky got his hands on and managed to copy and smuggle out of Russia when he visited the former USSR under Boris Yelstsin’s post-communist regime in the early 1990s. The 2019 English language version of Judgment in Moscow brought renewed attention to Bukovsky, and he was interviewed at length earlier this year by several leading American journalists, including Celia Farber, who wrote two extensive articles for the Epoch Times, one of them a Q & A that she had on the phone with Bukovsky.
Farber’s articles (here and here), and three lengthy interviews with Bukovsky by Jay Nordlinger published in the National Review (here, here, and here), really need to be read in their entirety to get a full appreciation of the richness in experience and analysis of this man who never sold out his principles.
Asked about the left’s ongoing charges of collusion between the Russians and Donald Trump, Bukovsky told Farber:
Mind you, the idea that he was initially somehow in cahoots with Moscow, ridiculous. I mean he is doing his thing, with some limitations in his understanding of Russia. But calling him a Moscow agent is ridiculous. You might like or dislike him. He has strong character, not very critical of himself, and so forth, but to suggest that he is Moscow’s agent is absolutely ridiculous. . . The president is limited by legislation, by Congress, by whatever. It’s not in his power to change the course of the country as much as they suggest. The president is only an executive officer and that’s it.
Following the news of Bukovsky’s death, journalist Diana West immediately employed her prolific Twitter account to share her thoughts about Bukovsky in a series of incisive tweets and an appreciation of him posted at her Web site. West wrote:
How do we mark the consequence and courage of such an extraordinary man who chose to lead his life in outspoken opposition to evil, who chose to sacrifice years of his life in Soviet labor camps and psychiatric hospitals rather than submit to communist slavery?
In many ways, Diana West is a Western intellectual counterpart to Bukovsky. Her scholarship, especially in her 2013 book American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character and more recently in The Red Thread: A Search for Ideological Drivers Inside the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, has shed considerable new light on the decades-long collusion between many influential political and cultural leaders of the United States and the old Soviet Union. As Farber concluded after speaking with Bukovsky:
Sen. Joseph McCarthy, it turns out, was correct, but was the wrong messenger, and wound up derailing the cause of anti-communist awareness for half a century.
For more information, the Bukovsky Center Web site, run by volunteers, has been updated with news of Bukovsky’s passing and will be an ongoing source of information.
A two-minute film clip of a clandestine 1970 video interview with Bukovsky in a park outside Moscow, with the caption “The man on camera [Bukovsky] risks his life by speaking,” has been posted as a memoriam to him at YouTube here. It is highly recommended viewing.
As I wrote in an email of condolence to my friend Elizabeth Childs of the Bukovsky Center:
The death of someone who I respect, even if I never met him, usually stops me in my tracks, occasions deep thoughts, and is ultimately rather depressing. . . When you think of what Bukovsky lived through, and survived, it really is astonishing. Re-reading his 2019 interviews Sunday, it was so clear that his perspective today was grounded in a life of truly amazing and unique experiences and was so valuable.
[An earlier version of this article was originally published at American Thinker on October 28, 2019.]
Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. Peter’s website is http://peter.media. Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.