STUMP » Articles » RIP, Vladimir Bukovsky (1942-2019), Fighter for Truth » 28 October 2019, 05:58

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RIP, Vladimir Bukovsky (1942-2019), Fighter for Truth  


28 October 2019, 05:58

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this so soon. But I can’t say I’m shocked — Bukovsky was in poor health, partly related to his years of poor treatment at the hands of the Soviets; partly due to the deprivation he had to live with in the Soviet Union, even when he wasn’t in prison; and a huge amount due to being a smoker (sorry, I’m an actuary, I know the impact of smoking on mortality, and it’s very large).

The official obituary:

Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky, once dubbed “a hero of almost legendary proportion among the Soviet dissident movement” by the New York Times, died of cardiac arrest in Addenbrookes Hospital, in Cambridge, England at 9:30 PM Greenwich Time on 27 October, 2019. He was 76. His health had been poor in recent years.

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.

Bukovsky’s longtime friend and translator, Alyona Kojevnikov, spoke from the hospital: “A very dear friend of many, a brilliant interlocutor, a man of amazing courage and integrity. God rest his soul. They broke the mould after he was made.”

Novelist Vladimir Nabokov praised him as a “courageous and precious man” in a 1974 letter to the editor of The Observer. Nabokov wrote, “Bukovsky’s heroic speech to the court in defense of freedom, and his five years of martyrdom in a despicable psychiatric jail will be remembered long after the torturers he defied have rotted away.”

Historian and former CIA analyst Richard Pipes said shortly before his death, “Vladimir Bukovsky was an outstanding dissident both in the Soviet Union and abroad, and a man who courageously identified and criticized the totalitarian policies of Moscow. He ought to be remembered as a true hero.”

Edward Lucas, editor of Standpoint, said, “Vladimir Bukovsky was a moral and political titan in the existential struggle of the Cold War. His courage and clarity inspired a generation and fueled the victory of dignity, freedom, and justice. Moreover, he also saw that the victory was incomplete—sounding the alarm about Russia’s unburied totalitarian and imperialist history.”

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.

After another prison sentence, In 1976, Bukovsky was deported from the USSR and exchanged by the Soviet government for Luis Corvalán, the imprisoned general secretary of the Communist Party of Chile.

After his release, he settled in Cambridge, England. He authored a best-selling memoir, To Build a Castle, appeared on American TV shows, and met with President Carter at the White House. His most recent book, Judgment In Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity (Ninth of November Press) published in English on May 14, 2019, analyzes thousands of pages of top secret Soviet archives he stole in 1993.

Over four decades, Bukovsky played key roles in several political organizations, including Resistance International, Human Rights Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which awarded him their Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.

At a time when many young Russians waxed nostalgic for the iron fist of Josef Stalin, Bukovsky was a living role model to his native country’s new generation of dissenters. Political activist rock band Pussy Riot credited him as a major influence, one “undeterred by fear” of state retaliation.

RIP, Bukovsky. I’m sorry I never got to meet him personally, but I am very happy to have been involved in helping to get his book, Judgment in Moscow, published in English.


Before a few thoughts on his passing, here are all my prior posts on Vladimir Bukovsky (in no particular order):

He had an important story to tell, and he’s told it. The story will live on.


If nothing else, Bukovsky’s books will stand for his fight.

He exposed the abuse of psychiatry by the Soviet Union — he got exiled from his homeland, and I understand how he was underwhelmed by Western culture & politics. He had a point.

I want to pull two items from reviews I wrote of his work.

First, from To Build a Castle, which is his memoir as a Soviet dissident. I highly recommend reading this one. It’s short, and extremely compelling.

My point:

Bukovsky details his life in the gulags and mental institutions he was circulated among in the Soviet Union in the 1960s & 1970s. The post-Stalin era Soviet Union was just as repressive of individual freedoms as when Stalin was in charge. Just as Nazi era narratives are important, this is very important for people to read to know what it was like to be an individual caught up in the machinery of the Soviet Union. When Bukovsky wrote, he had been exiled to England, and the USSR seemed as strong as ever – a little over a decade later, it fell, partly due to men like Bukovsky.

The book starts in disorientation, and there is much disorientation found throughout the narrative, but one is quickly drawn into the story. There is a thread of humor, reminding me of Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky. The pyramid scheme of prisoner complaints to gum up Soviet bureaucracy was genuinely funny. The reality is fairly bleak, but Bukovsky retains his humanity and never gives up fighting.

The book retains relevance as totalitarian impulses still exist today, not only in Russia but throughout the world.

Key passage in the book:


Why should I do it?” asks each man in the crowd. “I can do nothing alone.”

And they are all lost.

“If I don’t do it, who will?” asks the man with his back to the wall.

And everyone is saved.

That is how a man begins building his castle.


Individual action can save the world. Go forth and build your castle.

Get a copy.

I didn’t have too much to do with To Build a Castle, other than reviewing the kindle version. But I did have a little to do with the English translation of Judgment in Moscow. It’s a very large book, but not as large as the Gulag Archipelago. It is chock full of details of Soviet machinations, in particular its P.R. with the West (if one wants to call the propaganda operation that).


As I wrote last night, truth is a supreme value for me.

I also wrote that, in July 2017, the reason I joined on in these projects is truth:


I got involved with these particular cases of Bukovsky and Dmitriev because more than anything else, I value truth.

Lies are inherently destructive. Refusal to look at the truth is dangerous. And so much ails us as human beings, much less than what goes on in politics, comes from lies.

And many institutions that are supposed to convey truth are destroying themselves, because they have other aims than finding out the truth and conveying it. It’s not only the media, but many academic areas.

Dmitriev’s and Bukovsky’s stories resonated with me, because they both had powerful truths to convey.

It is not new to observe that many would rather not let the truth out. The great thing is that Bukovsky has documented so much, that the truth does not die with with.

Go forth and build a castle.