Vladimir Bukovsky v. The Kremlin, Final Round

 

vladimir-bukovsky-807954I’m working on a much longer article about this, which I hope to publish today or tomorrow. I’ll link to it when I do. For now, some of you may remember these pieces I wrote about the unread Soviet archives:

In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. …

I wrote several articles about the papers smuggled out of Russia by Pavel Stroilov and Vladimir Bukovsky, including this one about the Soviet legacy in the Middle East. I also participated in a few online debates about them. Because I know Bukovsky’s work so well, I was particularly shocked to receive this e-mail about two weeks ago:

I greatly enjoyed your articles about the Bukovsky archives and I know you admire him. I thought you might want to know that he is on hunger strike now to protest the delay of his trial on child pornography charges in Britain.  He says the FSB framed him and I believe him.

I’ve spent the past week looking into the story, and I too believe him. I’ve written a much longer article about it, which I hope will be published very soon. For now, here’s the Guardian’s summary. (They got the timeline wrong; the charges were filed about a month after he testified in the Litvinenko inquiry.)

He’s been on a hunger strike since April 20 to protest what he calls the the “Kafkaesque” British judicial system. It is not his first hunger strike, but it’s his first in protest of the actions of a Western government.

Here he explains why he’s doing this:

I’ve explained the larger context of this, and why I believe him, in the longer article.

But for now — if you’ll take my word for it — consider what this implies about Putin’s malice and that of the KGB’s successor organ, the FSB. The object of this exercise isn’t something as banal as killing a dissident on foreign soil. Bukovsky is 72. He’s suffering from multiple organ failure. When these charges were brought against him, he wasn’t expected to live. He couldn’t attend the hearing because he was having complex heart surgery, after which he was in a medically-induced coma and hospitalized for four months. He survived, but he was not expected to do so at the time.

So the point of the exercise wasn’t just to shut him up. He would soon be dead anyway. The point was to nullify his life. It was to prove to him, and to anyone tempted to emulate him, that the Kremlin will punish you for defying it even after your death. It will turn you, in the eyes of the world and of history, into a child molester. These charges, even if he’s acquitted, as he expects to be, would tarnish any man with an ineradicable stain. No one will believe there could be that kind of smoke without fire. They call into doubt Bukovsky’s entire life, testimony, and legacy. He is all too aware of this:

Frankly, I don’t care about the risk of being sent to prison. I have already spent 12 years in Soviet prisons having committed no crime in my life, I don’t expect to live for very long, and it makes little difference to me whether I spend the final few weeks of my life in jail. However, what is fundamentally important to me is defending my reputation. …

Throughout the 72 years of my life, my moral reputation had been spotless. It has been ruined in one day by the worldwide publicity given to the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] allegations.

I’ll have much more to say about this in the coming days. But for now, Bukovsky is prepared to die rather than to permit the Kremlin to have the last word, and given his health, he may well do that. It doesn’t seem to me he can survive a long hunger strike. So I wanted to publish at least this much about the case before that happens. I want him to know that I won’t leave the story alone, even if the hunger strike kills him.

“I’m not afraid of it,” he told the Guardian. “How can you be afraid of something inevitable? It isn’t a senseless death. It’s a purposeful death. I’m an old man anyway.”

I’ve urged him, as have his friends, to give up the hunger strike. I expect the British justice system to be thoroughly unimpressed by it. He doesn’t care. He’s doing this, as he says in the video, for Britain. He doesn’t want the Soviet Union to come there. He finds the West childlike in its naivete about the USSR’s continued existence, through Putin and the KGB’s successors, and unwilling to confront plainly its reach, brazenness, and depravity. This is the only way he knows to make the world pay notice.

When I look at our choices in the presidential race, I ask myself: Which one of the candidates is more apt to grasp the nature of that regime? The one who offered Sergei Lavrov a misspelled “reset” button? Or the one who thinks he’ll get along great with Putin, thinks NATO’s obsolete, and suggests that as far as he’s concerned, Putin’s innocent because he hasn’t been proven guilty? All I can say is that if God loves America, he’ll give us another choice. And at this point, it seems as if only an act of God could bring that about.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted and let you know when the article is published.

Putin and the return of the Soviet Union will be one of the major themes of Brave Old World. Thanks for making it possible for me to work on this story, which I couldn’t have done without your support.

Contributions made this week will go, specifically, to covering my travel costs when I do more research about this in London and, if Bukovsky lives through this, in Cambridge, England.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Umbra Fractus: Stalin is Lenin’s most distinguished pupil. From a historical standpoint Stalin is Lenin’s best friend – so terrible that historians are allowed to ignore Lenin’s crimes because he wasn’t quite as bad.

    That is correct. Putin gets off on the same logic: “But at least he’s not as bad as Stalin.” (He is as bad as Khrushchev, however. And perhaps Brezhnev. And he’s surely as bad as Chernenko. But we’ll get along fine, because at least he’s not quite as bad as Stalin!)

    I’m not so sure they’re saying that sort of thing anymore.  Stalin has already been rehabilitated. Lately YouTube is flooded with movies, documentaries, and docudramas designed to show Lavrentiy Beria as a noble leader, or to show him that way in passing. And of course they show people all the good the NKVD has done for the country. It’s not like 10-15 years ago when films would show the fear and horror people had whenever the NKVD showed up. Some of these new films are quite good, and some are rather wooden. I find some of the documentaries to be interesting (when they don’t overdo it) and the fiction to be unimaginative.   I’m not sure that I haven’t seen a couple putting Felix Dzerzhinsky in a good light, too.

    • #31
  2. Joe P Member
    Joe P
    @JoeP

    James Gawron?

    Joe,

    Yes, the ideology destroys the productive capacity that starts the famine but it is also the ideology that denies that it is taking place and exacerbates the damage.

    Ahh yes, the ideological purity that convinces people of otherwise average intelligence  to believe that “bad weather” explains all of the failures.

    I’ll be sure to read that book. Thank you for the link.

    • #32
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    For people needing an education as to what Communism does to actual human beings, I recommend:

    *The 2006 German film The Lives of Others, set in East Germany

    *Anna Funder’s book Stasiland, based on her travels in East Germany 5 years after the wall came down.  I reviewed it here.

    *Ayn Rand’s novel We the Living, set in the Soviet Union shortly after the Revolution.  Much better character development than her later novels.  I haven’t reviewed it formally yet, but excerpted it extensively in my post Life in the Fully Politicized Society.  There is also a good movie based on the book, produced (oddly enough) in Fascist Italy.

    • #33
  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Umbra Fractus:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Section 2: Purpose: The Stalin Society of North America is organized exclusively for charitable, scientific and education purposes. The purpose of this society is: To serve as an educational and research organization devoted to studying and popularizing the life, work, and legacy of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. Our aim is to engage the American and Canadian public with an end to countering anti-Stalin myths and propaganda; and with the goal of restoring, in the public eye, Stalin to his rightful place as Lenin’s most distinguished pupil and defender.

    Stalin is Lenin’s most distinguished pupil. From a historical standpoint Stalin is Lenin’s best friend – so terrible that historians are allowed to ignore Lenin’s crimes because he wasn’t quite as bad.

    There’s a Stalin Society of North America? Good grief!!!!

    • #34
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Front Seat Cat:

    Umbra Fractus:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Section 2: Purpose: The Stalin Society of North America is organized exclusively for charitable, scientific and education purposes. The purpose of this society is: To serve as an educational and research organization devoted to studying and popularizing the life, work, and legacy of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. Our aim is to engage the American and Canadian public with an end to countering anti-Stalin myths and propaganda; and with the goal of restoring, in the public eye, Stalin to his rightful place as Lenin’s most distinguished pupil and defender.

    Stalin is Lenin’s most distinguished pupil. From a historical standpoint Stalin is Lenin’s best friend – so terrible that historians are allowed to ignore Lenin’s crimes because he wasn’t quite as bad.

    There’s a Stalin Society of North America? Good grief!!!!

    Why is this surprising?  This is a country that has Hillary Clinton supporters.

    • #35
  6. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Joe P:

    Umbra Fractus:

    Joe P: I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I think it matters whether or not you count the people who died of starvation during the Great Leap Forward as murders. Mao wasn’t intending to kill them, they just died when his ideas resulted in the worst famine in human history.

    While true, that makes it even more of an indictment of the system itself.

    Most certainly it is an indictment of the system.

    I merely meant to clairify that, purely as an exercise in accounting, the answer to “which Communist regime murdered more than the other” may vary by as many as 40 million people depending on what a “murder” is. Personally, I’d count them as murders.

    If you’ve read anything about what the famines were actually like for the victims, you would count it genocide as bad as or worse than any other.  I recommend Professor Tim Snyder’s brilliant Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. And of course Vasily Grossman’s  Everything Flows.

    • #36
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    i-hate-illinois-stalinists_large

    • #37
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Speaking of Uncle Joe, I just found this. Published in Life in 1945. You can hardly blame Americans for being confused, can you?

    Take the time to read that, if you can. It will blow your mind.

    • #38
  9. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Speaking of Uncle Joe, I just found this. Published in Life in 1945. You can hardly blame Americans for being confused, can you?

    Take the time to read that, if you can. It will blow your mind.

    The Soviet information machine was very, very good, and, yes, it does blow the mind.  I particularly loved: “He has the knack of pushing everything aside…and concentrating on a new problem until it is solved,” and “he has a habit of telephoning people in the middle of the night to express his opinions on their books.”   So charming, eh?

    So I looked up the author, and why am I not surprised?  From Wikipedia:

    Richard Edward Lauterbach was the Time magazine Moscow bureau chief during World War II.

    Lauterbach was among a group of several journalists employed by Time magazine including John Scott that demanded publisher Henry Luce fire Whittaker Chambers as head of the foreign news department because of Chambers views toward Stalinism and Soviet Communism. Lauterbach was Time’s Moscow bureau correspondent.[1] According to Jack Soble, Lauterbach threatened to resign rather than write articles critical of the Soviet Union. Soble recommended Lauterbach for recruitment to the KGB.

    • #39
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Sandy:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Speaking of Uncle Joe, I just found this. Published in Life in 1945. You can hardly blame Americans for being confused, can you?

    Take the time to read that, if you can. It will blow your mind.

    The Soviet information machine was very, very good, and, yes, it does blow the mind. I particularly loved: “He has the knack of pushing everything aside…and concentrating on a new problem until it is solved,” and “he has a habit of telephoning people in the middle of the night to express his opinions on their books.” So charming, eh?

    So I looked up the author, and why am I not surprised? From Wikipedia:

    Richard Edward Lauterbach was the Time magazine Moscow bureau chief during World War II.

    Lauterbach was among a group of several journalists employed by Time magazine including John Scott that demanded publisher Henry Luce fire Whittaker Chambers as head of the foreign news department because of Chambers views toward Stalinism and Soviet Communism. Lauterbach was Time’s Moscow bureau correspondent.[1] According to Jack Soble, Lauterbach threatened to resign rather than write articles critical of the Soviet Union. Soble recommended Lauterbach for recruitment to the KGB.

    Yeah, I went checking on Lauterbach too after that malarkey.

    Would the KGB bother recruiting Lauterbach? Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free?

    • #40
  11. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Speaking of Uncle Joe, I just found this. Published in Life in 1945. You can hardly blame Americans for being confused, can you?

    Take the time to read that, if you can. It will blow your mind.

    A general rule:  If they had access to the Soviet Union (or Cuba) to set up a news bureau or similar operation there, they were already compromised.  They wouldn’t have got visas otherwise.

    It would work pretty well, because when I would argue here in the U.S. about the crimes of the Soviet Union, I would be told by the local leftists that it may be so, but we don’t have access to that information so can’t judge. But we do have access to information about the crimes of the Reagan administration so we should concentrate on fighting that.

    • #41
  12. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    I hadn’t seen this. You made me go look.

    My favorite quote of Kotkin and I’ll paraphrase it. People assume that the things that were done were because Stalin was a sociopath. He did them because Stalin was a communist. The cold war was necessary. It was an evil empire.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #42
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I listened to Kotkin’s book last year.  It’s in my audible.com library.  I’m eager for the next volumes to come out.

    • #43
  14. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    More Kotkin. This time on Putin.

    As clear as Kotkin is on Stalin, Kotkin is conflicted on Putin. According to Kotkin, Putin is clearly not a non-entity and has held power for as long as he has because the man is talented and cunning. Yet, when he assesses Putin’s intentions Kotkin doesn’t think that Putin is the revanchist that Putin claims to be. When Kotkin discusses Russian capabilities he is insistent that the only way Putin can be deterred is to put a large enough force in his way. He says that no one wants to commit that much force. Kotkin then says literally that appeasement is the right course for EU.

    These look like major contradictions to me.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #44
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Gawron:Claire,

    I hadn’t seen this. You made me go look.

    My favorite quote of Kotkin and I’ll paraphrase it. People assume that the things that were done were because Stalin was a sociopath. He did them because Stalin was a communist. The cold war was necessary. It was an evil empire.

    Regards,

    Jim

    That was a great interview.  I would sometimes flinch when Kotkin got going and it seemed that Robinson might derail him, as happens too often in such interviews.  But Robinson had enough background to handle it well and he let Kotkin say his piece. And Kotkin was organized enough in what he had to say that he didn’t need to be herded.

    Aside from what he said about Stalin in particular, I liked the part at the end where he compared the roles of cultural history and political history.

    • #45
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Gawron: Yet, when he assesses Putin’s intentions Kotkin doesn’t think that Putin is the revanchist that Putin claims to be.

    I didn’t get this from the interview.  What I heard him say was that Putin doesn’t have the capability to take back all that he would like.

    • #46
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The Reticulator: It would work pretty well, because when I would argue here in the U.S. about the crimes of the Soviet Union, I would be told by the local leftists that it may be so, but we don’t have access to that information so can’t judge. But we

    The argument one heard from some leftists, e.g. Chomsky, and it wasn’t stupid or thoughtless, is that as American citizens we had more responsibility for what our government did than for what the USSR did, and rehearsing or condemning or protesting Soviet crimes was not apt to sway the regime’s behavior, so the moral priority was to contain the superpower we might reasonably be expected to contain. And I actually agree that we are more responsible, morally, for what our government does than we are for what other governments do, although I don’t accept that protesting what other governments do is not apt to change their behavior. Bukovsky’s release, for example, was a consequence of Western agitation on his behalf.

    But I would also argue that citizens of a country with a free press have an obligation to speak on behalf of citizens of countries without one, and on behalf of the dead whose lives would otherwise be unknown. It’s perhaps a supererogatory obligation, but it has always seemed to me obvious that those who can freely speak on behalf of the silenced and the dead should do so.

    • #47
  18. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I think the indifference is because the west always says there is nothing wrong with socialism or communism if it was only done right by better people. Of course that is nonsense.

    • #48
  19. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    The Reticulator:

    James Gawron: Yet, when he assesses Putin’s intentions Kotkin doesn’t think that Putin is the revanchist that Putin claims to be.

    I didn’t get this from the interview. What I heard him say was that Putin doesn’t have the capability to take back all that he would like.

    Ret,

    Well yes, Kotkin is a little cagey here but his basic analysis revolves around “capabilities and intentions”. Yes, Kotkin is implying, as you say, that Putin doesn’t have the capabilities to take back all that he would like. Of course, that having been said, faced with almost zero active area resistance, Putin might be able to take back a lot more than we want him to. What isn’t clear is that if Putin is competent & cunning why is it that we don’t believe him when he asserts his revanchist rhetoric? This speaks to “intentions”.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #49
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:The argument one heard from some leftists, e.g. Chomsky, and it wasn’t stupid or thoughtless, is that as American citizens we had more responsibility for what our government did than for what the USSR did, and rehearsing or condemning or protesting Soviet crimes was not apt to sway the regime’s behavior, so the moral priority was to contain the superpower we might reasonably be expected to contain. And I actually agree that we are more responsible, morally, for what our government does than we are for what other governments do, although I don’t accept that protesting what other governments do is not apt to change their behavior. Bukovsky’s release, for example, was a consequence of Western agitation on his behalf.

    But I would also argue that citizens of a country with a free press have an obligation to speak on behalf of citizens of countries without one, and on behalf of the dead whose lives would otherwise be unknown. It’s perhaps a supererogatory obligation, but it has always seemed to me obvious that those who can freely speak on behalf of the silenced and the dead should do so.

    I have on occasion made some of those points myself, but not the one in your final paragraph. I will not forget if an opportunity arises again. Thanks.

    • #50
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