Bukovsky’s dissent

Vladimir Bukovsky died this past Sunday at his home in Cambridge (UK) at the age of 76. The New York Times obituary is here; the brief AP obituary is here. The Vladimir Bukovsky site has much more.

Bukovsky was of course the incredibly brave dissident who spent 12 years in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and labor camps before his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1976. His memoir — To Build a Castle (1978, translated by Michael Scammell and published in the United States in 1979) — is one of the great documents of the era (and now out of print). It has apparently become a collector’s item. It is posted online in PDF here; it is also available on Kindle here.

When Bukovsky turned 70, Michael Ledeen recognized him as “the greatest subversive of our time” and celebrated the occasion with this arresting observation: “We’ve been friends for a long time, ever since he came to America to study at Stanford, which he left after the university president bestowed an award on a phony group of Soviet physicians who had been actively involved in Bukovsky’s torture.”

Claire Berlinski’s 2010 City Journal essay “A hidden history of evil” drew on Bukovsky’s work documenting the crimes of Soviet Communism. The Bukovsky Archives: Communism on Trial remain a living legacy online. In her Wall Street Journal column eulogizing Bukovsky, Juliana Geran Pilon summed up this aspect of his work:

In 1992, the year after the Soviet Union collapsed, Bukovsky was asked to return to Russia as an expert witness at a trial against President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had banned the Communist Party and seized its property. Bukovsky’s argument, which he had always believed, was that the party had been unconstitutional. To demonstrate it, Bukovsky requested access to the Central Committee archives. Using a laptop and hand-held scanner, he surreptitiously copied and smuggled out thousands of pages before being discovered.

His findings were captured in “Judgment in Moscow,” first published in 1995 in French, then in Russian and other European languages. It didn’t come out in English until this year. Its subtitle, “Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity,” gives a clue as to why. When Bukovsky first attempted to publish the book in English, in the 1990s, the American publisher had asked him to rewrite “the entire book from the point of view of a leftist liberal,” he wrote. Specifically, he was told to omit all mention of media companies that had entered agreements to publish articles and cover media events “under the direct editorial control of the Soviets.” He rejected the offer, and the publisher canceled the contract.

The documents cited in the book demonstrate, he wrote, the “treacherous role of the American left”—its complicity with Moscow during the 1930s and ’40s, infiltration of the U.S. government and assistance to the Soviets during the Cold War. They demonstrate also the Kremlin’s support for Middle Eastern terrorists, Mikhail Gorbachev’s sabotage of the European Community, and the pseudoliberalism of Mr. Gorbachev’s “perestroika.”

It took a quarter-century for this book to reach America, but it is here, thanks to a small California publisher, Ninth of November Press. Vladimir Bukovsky can rest in peace.

The American left learned from its Soviet friends. The thugs running the Soviet Union pioneered the use of psychiatry for totalitarian purposes. Bukovsky may have been the most prominent victims of the practice. Dissent from the party line was treated as a form of mental illness. The practice continues in the left’s stigmatization of dissent from its agenda as “phobias,” as in “homophobia” and “Islamophobia.” The example of Bukovsky’s almost unbelievable courage should serve as a continuing inspiration to those who seek in their own way to dissent in the service of freedom and dignity.

CORRECTION: I have added the link to the Kindle edition of Bukovsky’s classic memoir in the second paragraph above since I originally posted this remembrance.

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