TRIBUTE TO THE FRIEND
“ Just exactly on the place where you are sitting now, yes, here, just opposite the fire-pace, here was sitting Bibi Netanyahu, and I was telling him on all the niceties of the Soviet system and its charming practices”, – my friend was telling me in between puffs of his never-ending chain-smoked cigarettes.
-’ You mean, Bibi was sitting on the floor?” – I was keen to know.
-‘Yep. He seemed to like it, in front of the fire-place. Just as you are” ,- my host was smiling with his smile shared usually with friends, free of anxieties that filled his life.
In Vladimir Bukovsky’s modest house surrounded by beautiful roses which he did love and put quite a time and effort to breed, we were discussing people and events on all five continents days and nights throughout. It was always like them with Volodja, we would talk and work for sixteen hours, eat quickly, and sleep just a few hours to be able to resume the next morning, would it be in his house in Cambridge, in hassle of Moscow, at plenary sessions of the Polish Sejm, at panels in London or at the Congressional meetings in Washington.
He did not like to sleep for long hours because he thought that his time could be spent more efficiently while he is awakened. Or he was unable to as his nervous system had been affected by the ruthless experiments on him at the Soviet psychiatric wards.
He also ate differently than most of the people. He actually did not care about food at all, was satisfied with very little, but always had to have something providing extra vitamins almost sub-consciously. He would eat raw onion as other people eat an apple, and he would really like it and being content with it. People who spent so much time in the Soviet prison and camps would know exactly what I mean.
* * *
This man, Vladimir Bukovsky, has lived in Soviet Union the first thirty four years of his life, twelve of them being imprisoned. He was arrested four times, in a galloping fashion, giving him just a few months of freedom between his terms in Soviet prisons and Gulag camps being arrested first when he was just 22. What for? For public insisting on a possibility to speak, to discuss not even capitalistic system, but the form of another socialism, more human one. For insisting publicly on a possibility to have a different opinion – and not to be jailed for that. Those few brave boys were publicly claiming the basic human rights for enslaved Soviet people, and the system punished them in a crushing way.
Bukovsky and his friends had become subjects of what is known now, thanks to him, as ‘Soviet punitive medicine’, namely subjecting normal healthy people to criminal psychic ‘treatment’ and experiments in the nightmare-like special departments of the Soviet psychiatric clinics. The worst possible version of a Kafkian world, only real one, on alive human beings.
Bukovsky, the only one of the Soviet dissidents (they were few ones, anyway), did manage to collect the evidence of that criminal treatment of their own citizens by the Soviet authorities and get it abroad, to be published there to the astounded world. It is because of that crucial deed he has become well-known in the West, and the campaigns for his release has become the international cause.
I remember how he told me that Simone Veil, at that time the French Minister of Justice , came to Moscow in a fur to give it to Volodja’s mom to sell it, to help them financially. Volodja did remember that outstanding Jewish woman with warm gratitude to the rest of his life. We know that Veil spoke with the Soviet authorities on his release too, as did many other heads of the States, including president Carter with whom Volodja has discussed it later on when visiting him in the White House, after his historic exchange with Louis Corvalan, the head of the Chilean communist party in December 1976.
I am sure that comrade Corvalan was escorted to Moscow with all possible comfort. And I do know that ill and weak after long hunger-strike Bukovsky who was put in the plane to Geneva with his mother, sister and terminally ill nephew, was handcuffed all the time until the very moment of landing. He was escorted by the officers of Soviet Alfa special forces unit. The enemy of the state, seemingly. What could he possibly do against them on that plane?
Being freed, the first thing that Bukovsky did, it was to complete his interrupted education. He studied neurophysiology at Stanford and graduated from there in the early 1980s. He was not that open personality, and only he knew to detail his personal need to get to the bottom of the functioning of a human brain, the brain that they did aim to destroy so efficiently back home. He never worked as a scientist. Not even because he was busy with political activism, but because the university life was not for him.
He was a talented writer, and he knew what and how to do in his life. To free his friends, to help others oppressed by totalitarian regimes, to write his books and articles to let his voice to be heard. He really did care about freedom – because he paid utterly high price for it. And he understood the others – because of his experience of imprisonment. He has told me that all that he did in his life, he did ‘first and foremost for himself’. This is what is self-dignity is about.
Together with the friends and soul-mates, including Eduard Kuznetzov and late Natan Altman, he organised The International of Resistance and for many years he was on the leading frontier of the real fight for real, not fantasied-about and not fancy, human rights.
He fought for Soviet Jewish refuseniks as father and brother for many years, and many of them has become his personal life-long friends. He was very much involved in the efforts to free Natan Scharansky, and later on was invited by the first Netanyahu government to visit Israel. It happened as soon, as Netanyahu was elected the Prime Minister for the first time over twenty years ago.
I remember like Volodja was telling me about that visit, with that special smile on his face, the one reserved for friends. He was really happy to seeing his friends who were helpless Gulag prisoners once to become the members of the Knesset, well-known public figures in Israel and abroad, productive writers and journalists, well respected people. His role in their freedom was serious one. I do hope that all and their families will remember it.
* * *
Vladimir Bukovsky really did care about freedom , not about personal prosperity, not about any titles, not on positions to be occupied. He did care on freedom because he paid utterly high price for it. And he understood the others – because of his experience of imprisonment. He has told me that all that he did in his life, he did ‘first and foremost for himself’. This is what is self-dignity is about.
After the collapse of Soviet Union, he was among the first people living abroad to be invited by President Eltsyn to visit Russia. I was with him there on his second visit. People around were in awe on him returning from the Cold, with many of them lost on his organic independence.
He was not in place there. He was not understood. People in Russia could admire him, from a distance. He was not home at home. Was it a personal tragedy? Probably. He knew that he would not be able to live and function there, he never thought he would. It was not before twelve years that he was willing to visit his native country again, but the Russian authorities did not let him in, under formal pretext, with all diplomatic politeness, nothing personal, dear Vladimir Konstantinovich.
His next extraordinary input into our knowledge on the functioning of the Soviet system was collecting and analysing a vast throve of three thousand pages of the documents from the Soviet Communist Party archive. He has published it in a form of a book called Moscow Process which was published in Russian in early 1990s. It took almost twenty five years to get the book to be published in French, in 2014, and almost thirty years to get it published in English, in May 2019. One can only guess why so much time was lost to get these incredibly important and authentic books published in the West.
By this time, Volodja was very ill, with acute form of diabetes and failing heart. Why his heart was failing?
Bukovsky’s integrity was his most precious possession. And it is on that he was attacked so cruelly, this time by the British authorities, towards the end of his life, in 2014. Two British prosecutors, both females, one acting for Cambridge and another more senior, deputy head of the prosecutor office, all of the sudden ordered search of Bukovsky’s house , and on the seized hard-disk of his computer porno-materials were found. How the prosecutors knew about that vile pedofile? Was he a member of a known group? No. How they knew that in that very house that very material could be found on the hard-disc of that particular computer? As it turned out, the material was there but it was not accessed. Volodja’s house was opened for his friends – and their friends as well. He was travelling often, and the house could be accessed in his absence, too. His computer could be accessed also at the times when he was at home, he had particular life-style and going to bed very late, he was awakening late. One wonders.
It was the time of a wide all-Britain operation on famous people who were accused on pedofile activities, as it turned out, most of them were accused wrongly. Many of them died in shame. In the beginning of October 2019, special report of the formal inquiry into that extraordinary witch-hunt in Britain was published. It is an unbelievable reading. In plain English, the author of the report, the head of the special commission, calls Scotland Yard’s activities on that direction as ‘instituted idiocy’. The investigations and criminal cases, as the case against Bukovsky, were completely unfounded. People who were shamed publicly, died. Prosecutors and detectives who crushed the lives of great people are still working, or having a nice life with lavish pensions. Orwell is paled completely with this reality of Britain today. In the case of Bukovsky, his friends are sure that the attack on him has been orchestrated. I personally asked Boris Johnson, the leading MP at the time, to help Volodja, and he did what he could at the moment.
Bukovsky did never recover from that outrage against him in the free Western society. He had to undergo very complicated operation on an open heart in Germany in 2015, and having a bad diabetes, never fully recovered. His noble heart stopped in the evening of October 27th, 2019 at the Cambridge hospital. He was 76, and could well live another decade.
It is incomprehensibly surreal to think that I can not call you, Volodja.
But people like you, the best of us, never disappear. There are very few people who could be like you. But there are many who can learn what decency and dignity is about reading your books, listening to your interviews and seeing films where you are addressing us, with your unbeatable humour, your elegant irony, your vast and deep knowledge, your giant intellect, your brilliant wit, your strength, and your unbreakable will to live with your back straight.
So long, Volodja. You did this world far better although the world was not gracious to you.