Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky dies aged 76
He was exchanged by the Soviet regime for the Chilean Communist party leader Luis Corvalán, who was being held by the Pinochet regime.
Bukovsky settled in Cambridge, where he rebuilt his life around the anti-Soviet struggle and wrote an autobiography, To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter (1978). He spoke out against Soviet oppression and has more recently tried to galvanise opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
He wanted to run for president against Putin in 2008 election but he was denied on procedural grounds.
In 1961 he was expelled from Moscow State University, as a biology student for writing a piece that criticised the Komsomol, the Soviet youth organisation.
Bukovsky was arrested in 1963 for possession of banned books. He was labelled mentally ill and sent to a psychiatric hospital for almost two years. He was rearrested in 1967 for a street protest.
In 1971, Bukovsky smuggled out evidence documenting the Russian authorities’ use of psychiatry to punish dissent, leading to another arrest. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and labour camps to be followed by five years of internal exile.
Amid global attention, in December 1976 the Soviet regime agreed to the prisoner swap.
Yuri Andropov, the KGB boss and future Soviet chief, drew up a secret plan to use psychiatric clinics to “treat” critics. The policy was based on Nikita Khrushchev’s belief that anti-Soviet opinion was caused by a mental disease. Political opponents were injected with psychotropic drugs without trial.
Bukovsky unmasked the role played by doctors and Soviet medicine and delegitimised the leaders who were made the policies.
In 1991 his book “Judgment in Moscow” called for mass trials of Soviet and KGB leaders like the Nuremberg in post-war Germany.
In 1956, when Bukovsky was 14, Khrushchev admitted that Stalin had killed millions. That year the Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian uprising. Bukovsky was in total sympathy with the Hungarians. “We wanted the same thing in Russia,” the increasingly rebellious teen said.
A pro-Bukovsky protest in Amsterdam in 1975. Picture credit: Wikimedia