The following interview with Vladimir Bukovsky, by Peter Williams of Thames Television’s “This Week,” took place in London a few weeks after Bukovsky was released from a Russian prison on December 18, in exchange for the Chilean communist leader, Luis Corvalán.
Peter Williams: Vladimir Bukovsky has spent eleven of the last fourteen years in Russian prisons. He is now thirty-four years old. He first smuggled to the West the names of some of those people who were criticizing the Soviet regime and who had been confined and tortured in prison mental hospitals for expressing their opposition.
It was for things as innocuous as organizing exhibitions of abstract paintings and, with his friends, reading poetry in public that Bukovsky was first in trouble with the authorities. For this, he was expelled both from school and later from his university. Born in 1942, Bukovsky was old enough to remember the repression and mass murders of the Stalinist era.
Vladimir Bukovsky: So many years, so many decades our people had been oppressed—not only oppressed but persecuted severely. So many millions of people had been killed selectively. This power, this authority, Soviet power: they killed everybody who could make any resistance, who could explain his own way of thinking and who could follow his own way of thinking, of believing. This terrible time created a very widespread fear in people. It created a very awful hypocrisy. For us in the Soviet Union it is not the question, the way of thinking. It is not the question of political stand. It is a question of moral stand, being able to articulate his belief openly; to behave himself according to his beliefs, not to be afraid, no matter if you win in this battle or you lose it.
Williams: Do you think that you have won or lost?
Bukovsky: I can judge only from my subjective standpoint, you know, and for me it is a big victory not to be frightened, not to be forced to confess in the crimes I didn’t do, not to betray my friends. Just to withstand all this pressure, all those years, it is a victory for human spirit, you know, and I cannot regard it as victory, as a political one. Maybe it is a big mistake of mine from the political standpoint. But I should like to underline: no people, no country, in which a Communist dictatorship has been established, ever found its way out of it. We [have] had no such example until now. My belief is that the single way out of it is a human way, is a moral way, not political.
Williams: At one of your trials, Mr. Bukovsky, you told the judge that whatever he did, you were still a free man inside. What did you mean?
Bukovsky: Oh, it’s a new layer of questions you’re just raising now, because the main problem with us in the Soviet Union, and I suppose in other socialist countries, is the inner freedom of persons. I am…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.