The KGB Never Forgets and Never Forgives

 

In 1977, Tom Stoppard wrote a play dedicated to Soviet dissidents Vladimir Bukovsky and Viktor Fainberg. It is set in a Soviet mental hospital. Two men, both named Ivanov, share a cell. Alexander Ivanov is a dissident who cannot be released until he admits that he is mad and agrees that all of his statements against the government were the product of his mental illness. His cellmate, the other Ivanov, is mad. He believes he is conducting a symphony orchestra, which he hears in his mind.

In 2009, the play was revived at the National Theatre, in London. It received lukewarm reviews. “Unpacking the setting,” wrote critic Mark Espiner, “leads you into the heart of the problem — that it is dated.” Ian Shuttleworth dismissed it on similar grounds. “To put it harshly, this bleak, fantastical indictment of the Soviet Union’s use of psychiatric hospitalisation against dissidents is a play for yesterday.”

If only that had been true.

Shortly after I wrote about Vladimir Bukovsky’s hunger strike, a few days ago, I received to my surprise a phone call from Viktor Fainberg. I had not known he lived in Paris. He asked me to visit him as soon as I could.

So I went to his home, in the Latin Quarter, and he embraced me at the front door, as if I was his granddaughter. He led me up the stairs to a small apartment with slanting light and wooden beams. His wife Françoise met us at the door. She had prepared a table, a meal with good red wine, but she declined to join us for lunch. She spoke to Viktor in Russian, and then implored me, in French, to eat.

They had spoken to Vladimir, or Volodya, as they call him, the day before. He had sounded strong. He had said he was fine. His doctor had visited and his EKG was normal. I asked Françoise to stay with us, but she refused: “It is very important that you eat with Viktor,” she said. I suddenly gathered, from her face, that Viktor — out of anguish, or solidarity with his friend — had not been eating properly.

We sat down. IMG_0287“L’chaim,” I said. When he didn’t reply, I realized he was hard of hearing. I tried shouting. “L’chaim! L’chaim!”

“L’chaim!” His face broke into a smile. “To Volodya.”

“To Volodya.”

He downed his glass of wine in one swallow. “This is the first wine I drink since Volodya made his declaration.” He apologized for forgetting his English. I tried speaking French, but he said he’d never studied French. “I never intended to stay here for so long,” he said.

He had trouble hearing me, or perhaps understanding my American accent. Françoise was napping in the room next door, so I didn’t want to shout. In the end, I just listened, even when I wasn’t sure what he meant.

I recorded a few fragments of our conversation and spliced them (badly) together:

This is what he told me, although in places I didn’t understand the words he used, and wasn’t quite sure if he was speaking of himself or of Bukovsky.

“In 1972, Volodya went on a hunger strike, for 81 days. In the end, all of the demands were met. He had demanded the guards stop beating the patients who were genuinely psychiatrically ill. Of the 700 people in the psychiatric hospital, a dozen were there only for political reasons.

“The political prisoners, like the mentally ill people, were given tablets, injections. It was causing them brain damage. This is what made [a name I could not understand] give up — she felt so ashamed, that she had betrayed us, but she had to choose between losing her mind and doing what they said.” His other demand was that the political prisoners be released.

“I was in Leningrad psychiatric prison. I was there for [his role in] the 25 August protest in Red Square.”

He described to me the psychiatric prisons. He had been in solitary confinement for two years. He had kept his mind occupied by practicing the English he’d studied in school. He was frustrated that the words he’d practiced for so many hours were now deserting him. The phrase “I am a bad machine” flitted through my mind as he spoke, although I couldn’t remember where it was from. Only when I left his apartment did it come back to me. It is from Midnight Express:

Viktor is deeply worried for Vladimir. “I think he was so shocked, when he became ill, so shocked, so traumatized that people in Britain believed these ridiculous charges — he is Vladimir Bukovsky, known around the world for his moral stature — after he was diagnosed with this illness, then these charges were made against him, before, he hadn’t been religious. He was such a strong character that he couldn’t accept being bossed around even by God.

“But the shock of this made him very fatalistic. And when he realized that this time, unlike the other times, no one was coming to his support, no one was standing with him in solidarity against the Kremlin, the West had changed, he didn’t recognize England anymore — the shock was too great. So by reflex, almost, he did what he had always done, declared a hunger strike. It was all he knew how to do, to protest an injustice.”

I said that I thought it unnecessary. I had faith in the British legal system. The burden of proof was on the prosecutor. He would be acquitted if he was innocent, and would even win his libel case. But I was worried he would die from the hunger strike.

“So am I, and I am against this hunger strike. But now, he is — when he says he will do something, he has to.” The intimation was obvious: Now it was a point of pride. “All he wants is a word from the government, from the judge, acknowledging who he is. He is Vladimir Bukovsky. All his life they have been making one charge, another one — he is insane, he is this, that. But this time, for first time, West believes these charges. And at his age, all he had was his name, recognized everywhere as a great hero of human rights, and then suddenly, one day, people look at him like a filthy child molester. And even his friends, some of his friends, don’t call. So I know him. I agree with you, I disagree with this hunger strike. But I understand he will not stop.”

We spoke a bit of Viktor’s childhood, growing up with serene faith in the benevolence of Comrade Stalin, unable to understand, as a boy, why his parents seemed strangely overjoyed and not at all saddened by the news of the death of Comrade Yezhov.

“Putin and his mafia understand the West,” he said. “They understand that the West is now in a political, economic and moral crisis. Putin said it was time to strike, and he was proven right — in Ukraine, in Syria. In the UN, with the UN resolutions. He knew well-organized authoritarianism like his, run by a good KGB officer like him, would win. He saw that the West was weak, and used this period to get away with as much as he could.

“The Russian people are accustomed to a very strong power. For them, it’s a guarantee against the horror of anarchy. The main fault is with Obama, who has returned to isolationism, leaving the world to this new Soviet Union. Hollande and Merkel feel they have no choice but to cooperate, even in matters as basic as human rights. Only a small part of Russian intelligentsia is fighting for freedom.

“Frankly, I think that what happened now — it is very, it is very naive to speak about bureaucratic differences. About the traditions of the British jurisprudence. It is the situation, it is so complicated now with the West, with the crisis, this weakness, that this is, this is an event of very great betrayal, it is a knife in the door, which, especially, if this would be the tragic end, it would stay in history, not only in this period of jurisprudence, but for history in general. And it is especially painful for me and I’m sure for Bukovsky. Because we love this country.

“And if he said, ‘It is hunger strike,’ it is not to argue with the British judicial or political authorities — because he couldn’t trust them, after all that. It was for the British people, who he likes, and because he is a British citizen. He had chosen this country. A number of countries proposed him this. He had chosen this country. And he’s suffering from this: that these people doesn’t understand the danger. The danger is daily, when Russian military planes just intruded … “

He lapsed into Russian, unable to find the right word. “He told this, in his latest statement, that he’s doing this for British people. He’s ready to die even for that. And therefore I can tell you that I am against this hunger strike. I think it is a great mistake. But I understand him. And I’ll do, personally, all that I can, that in this battle, he would win. His victory, it is our victory. And his defeat, it is our defeat. I mean, the movement for human rights. It is a universal movement. For freedom, ours and yours. I’ll do everything for this. I joined him on hunger strike, when he was in labor camp, Number 35. I was put, myself, in a psychiatric hospital, but I was released after the BBC interfered into this because they knew my biography and because so many times there was a scandal about our hunger strike. So the last time, I was very soon released.

“The first time, when I was in psychiatric prison in Leningrad, with Vladimir Borisov. And when they were expecting the congress of World Psychiatric Organizations in Mexico City, Bukovsky, on the eve of this congress, he had sent the dossier of ten people, including Vladimir Borisov and myself. And he asked, “Is it right, is it just, to send these people to psychiatric prison, even if there are suspicions that they are not completely sane?”

“And therefore our hunger strike with Vladimir Borisov was victorious, and the authorities met almost all our conditions, but it lasted only a very short period of time. After that, Vladimir Borisov, they began to torture him. He resumed his hunger strike, I also. This time it was about two months, and this was such a hunger strike that it was … the conditions were very much worse.

“I survived because one psychiatrist, he was an officer, like all the psychiatrists at psychiatric prison. The captain, Petrov, of my life and my freedom. He had the reputation of a torturer and the most cruel psychiatrist in the prison. And when we were betrayed, with Volodya Borisov, by a member in our cell, and we transferred to his department — the most cruel one — he told me he was waiting for a man like me for three and a half years. He observed me, in the other department, and he would do everything that they want because he understood what was going on there. And he was my volunteer spy. And he saved us, because during every hunger strike, the BBC, The Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and the other stations, they each, the same day, they spoke about it. Because a week before this, he delivered our declaration of Moscow dissidents to the foreign correspondents.

“And so therefore I was released. I was released without any conditions. Otherwise, I don’t know that I would have survived this, because otherwise I would never have agreed to their conditions to be released.”

The role of the Western media, of outrage in the West, had been key to his release and to Vladimir’s. “Bukovsky received twelve years, twelve years! Seven years of prison in the camps of the Soviet regime, including two years of prison and five years of exile. Fortunately, he was released after the greatest campaign in the West.”

I asked him why, in his opinion, there was no media campaign for Vladimir now, no attention to his hunger strike. I was, I said, surprised by this.

“I was also amazed. Probably there are two reasons. One, the major one, is that the mentality of people in the West has changed. They … officially, the Cold War is finished. And officially the Soviet Union now it is a, it is even viewed as democratic. So, ‘It’s a very young democracy, not perfect, but still, it’s like this.’ And also that Putin is a great, well, he is a great partner in their worldwide war against jihadis, against this fanaticism — extremely dangerous — while also that it’s penetrated in Europe, in the West, and so it is the main danger. So Putin used this and appeared very resolute in  this struggle. While he’s chosen not so much fight against the real jihadis as the others, the moderates, or even the democrats who are fighting against the extremely cruel regime of Bashar al Assad. Because Putin has the old dream of Russia, and then the Soviet Union. It just confirmed their presence in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean.”

What, I asked him, did he think the West should do about Putin?

“It is not only the question, it is the central question, to fight against Putin. All of the success of Putin, it is not as a result of his intelligence. It is the result of the weakness, the criminal weakness of the West. Criminal weakness. That is the story, the modern story of the West’s behavior. It is ridiculous and very sad.

“They — Obama said that he would never allow that transfer — a red line. About chemical weapon in Syria. He did it, and then Putin sent there his aviation, his troops, his [Russian], his weapon, well, he really acted. Obama put him, he allowed him the area. And then he couldn’t return there, it was too late. And then Western Europe, very weakened by the crisis, had no force to do something — they were accustomed to be defended by the United States, for the First War, for the Second World War, during the Cold War, also.

“And now they are in despair. Because they can’t do it, it is too late. So that they left him the space in Ukraine, in the Middle East, and so on.” …

We talked a bit about American politics, which he said were saddening.

“Reagan, you know, he understood the danger much better than all the other presidents of the United States. And he contributed to this, to the chute [fall] of the Soviet Union, and he supported the new power hoping that that democracy would do well. So for me, he was a great president for Russia and I think unfortunately, the others, his successors didn’t show the same shrewdness as him.

“And now the situation is very dangerous. It’s as dangerous, even if not more, than before the Second World War. That’s so.

“And therefore, I think that the people who are ready to defend their freedom, their independence, to defend the peace at least in the world, they should unite themselves. They should unite themselves, and that the case of Bukovsky, it is typical. When we defended such personalities as Bukovsky and the others, in gulag, we knew that we defended not only them, we defended the future of these people, where they live, we defended the freedom, we defended the peace, because without freedom, the peace is not possible. And I think that now it is a fight for Bukovsky. He is between death and life. And then, it is a fight for the life. Not only for Bukovsky, but for us, also.”

I had been there for several hours. I wished that I spoke Russian. I asked, in the end, what he made of our presidential campaign, and whether he saw in it any reason for hope.

“Of Donald Trump and Hillary, I think that Trump is more dangerous, certainly. Much more dangerous. It is demagogue, who, you know, is not capable to be president. I think that he knows that. He’s not dupe, he knows this. About Hillary, well, between two evils, I would choose less dangerous.

“I am very sad that the people are so, now … they are lost. In despair, the world situation for them is so complicated, they can’t see the issue in this. It is so great crisis, not only economical and political, but moral crisis, and they can’t see the issue in this. And for Putin, it is everything clear, it is a continuation of the history of his country. It’s a constant. And he’s using it, and he’s using the tradition of the people, of the people who couldn’t, in the so-short period of time, couldn’t liberate itself. And this is dangerous for all the world. Extremely dangerous. So that I think that only it would be the very strong minority, intellectually and spiritually strong, that would just begin the movement to liberate itself, from this intellectual weakness and slavery. It’s only this could save the world.

“And now I think, concretely, we should fight for the right and freedom of Bukovsky — freedom, yes, because he’s in such a situation as in prison. Nobody hears him. If somebody hears him, he doesn’t listen to him. It is a most tragical situation. Tragical. Well, and painful.”

After leaving his apartment, I exchanged e-mails with another one of Bukovsky’s close friends, the journalist and translator Alyona Kojevnikov. “We shall see what we shall see come next Monday,” she wrote.

On Monday, Bukovsky will be tried on five charges of making indecent images of children, five charges of possession of indecent images of children and one charge of possession of a prohibited image. That is according to the press release that in Bukovsky’s view irreparably destroyed his most treasured possession: the world’s esteem. He says that he will remain on a hunger strike until the court restores it.

“Volodya thinks the lawyers handling his case are doing a good job,” she wrote. “Of course, a lot depends on the jury: We can only hope and pray that the jurors are your average middle-class Britons, who still have plenty of common sense and are largely unaffected by left-wing liberal notions and political correctness. You know what I mean, the butcher, the baker, and candlestick-maker type of people.

“On the down side, it may be hard for them to grasp the entire complexity of the matter. It is a lot to expect for them to grasp the idea that the KGB (whatever it calls itself at any point in history) never forgets and never forgives anything. Their patience is extremely long – look at how they finally got to Trotsky when he thought he was safe and sound and beyond their reach.”

………………………

Postscript: The new Cold War will be one of the themes of Brave Old World. Thank you for your generous contributions. They are making it possible for me to work on this story. I could not do it without your support. I’m also grateful to Michael Yaroshevsky for allowing me to use  the trailer for his Portrait of Vladimir Bukovsky.

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  1. Robert Zubrin Inactive
    Robert Zubrin
    @RobertZubrin

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:“Of Donald Trump and Hillary, I think that Trump is more dangerous, certainly. Much more dangerous. It is demagogue, who, you know, is not capable to be president. I think that he knows that. He’s not dupe, he knows this. About Hillary, well, between two evils, I would choose less dangerous.

    “I am very sad that the people are so, now … they are lost. In despair, the world situation for them is so complicated, they can’t see the issue in this. It is so great crisis, not only economical and political, but moral crisis, and they can’t see the issue in this. And for Putin, it is everything clear, it is a continuation of the history of his country. It’s a constant. And he’s using it, and he’s using the tradition of the people, of the people who couldn’t, in the so-short period of time, couldn’t liberate itself. And this is dangerous for all the world. Extremely dangerous. So that I think that only it would be the very strong minority, intellectually and spiritually strong, that would just begin the movement to liberate itself, from this intellectual weakness and slavery. It’s only this could save the world.

    точно так. Precisely so.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I don’t suppose any journalists will ask Trump and Clinton for their take on this matter.

    • #2
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The Reticulator:

    I don’t suppose any journalists will ask Trump and Clinton for their take on this matter.

    I’m glad of that. The less those two say about anything of significance, the safer the world will be.

    • #3
  4. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Vladimir Bukovsky seeks justice and name clearing from a western democracy?  That is rich.  How much money does his supporters have to purchase this for him, how many favors are owed to them?  Because unless the politicians and the elites see something in it for them he will not get what he seeks.  That is just how the system works.

    • #4
  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Fake John/Jane Galt:Vladimir Bukovsky seeks justice and name clearing from a western democracy? That is rich. How much money does his supporters have to purchase this for him, how many favors are owed to them? Because unless the politicians and the elites see something in it for them he will not get what he seeks. That is just how the system works.

    All the contact I’ve personally had with Western legal systems has suggested to me they work very well. Whose legal systems do you think work better?

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Viktor Fainberg. Wow.

    In 1968, people all over the world protested the Red Army rolling into Prague to crush the flower that had sprung up among the weeds. They chanted slogans. They waved banners. They made their voices heard – safe in the bosom of democracy and the Rights of Man, where one may do so with impunity.

    Eight of them weren’t so safe. They made their voices heard where they had no right to a voice. They made their voices heard where they knew they had no right to a voice. They did it anyway. In Moscow. In Red Square.

    There really needs to be a statue.

    Thank you Claire.

    • #6
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Fake John/Jane Galt:Vladimir Bukovsky seeks justice and name clearing from a western democracy? That is rich. How much money does his supporters have to purchase this for him, how many favors are owed to them? Because unless the politicians and the elites see something in it for them he will not get what he seeks. That is just how the system works.

    All the contact I’ve personally had with Western legal systems has suggested to me they work very well. Whose legal systems do you think work better?

    If you think the one in the United States works well then you have not actually been involved in it to any degree.  It’s main purpose is to extract money from the poor unfortunates that get caught up in it.  Anything like justice, protection, security are platitudes to justify its existence.  If they happen at all it is by accident.  Maybe the one in Britian is better, but from what I have heard it is worse.

    We can watch Vladimir Bukovsky to see if he finds the Justice he seeks.  It may be his contacts have enough juice to get him that result, after extracting as much legal fees as possible, of course.  They do after all have enough juice to get persons such as yourself to advocate on his behalf.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    The Reticulator:

    I don’t suppose any journalists will ask Trump and Clinton for their take on this matter.

    I’m glad of that. The less those two say about anything of significance, the safer the world will be.

    Do you also think it would be best for our journalists to be ignorant of the matter?

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

    Fake John/Jane Galt: Maybe the one in Britian is better, but from what I have heard it is worse.

    My experiences with it, admittedly two decades ago, suggested to me that it was fair. I was questioned by the police because a student I knew had been accused of a crime. They determined there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges. It seemed to me a rational and appropriate procedure. I know a number of magistrates and solicitors in the UK; they all seem competent and honest.

    The legal system in France seems to work well; I was just able to settle a contract dispute with my landlord in a way that made sense to me, based on the contract.

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The Reticulator: Do you also think it would be best for our journalists to be ignorant of the matter?

    No, I don’t. But I genuinely fear what either of them might say and the consequences it could have.

    • #10
  11. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    It is a privilege to help support your work.

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Sandy:It is a privilege to help support your work.

    Thank you. That’s a very kind thing to say.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    The Reticulator: Do you also think it would be best for our journalists to be ignorant of the matter?

    No, I don’t. But I genuinely fear what either of them might say and the consequences it could have.

    That’s a legitimate fear, but I fear for the consequences of questions like this never being part of the national conversation.

    • #13
  14. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    The Reticulator:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    The Reticulator: Do you also think it would be best for our journalists to be ignorant of the matter?

    No, I don’t. But I genuinely fear what either of them might say and the consequences it could have.

    That’s a legitimate fear, but I fear for the consequences of questions like this never being part of the national conversation.

    Unless the question involves gays, cross dressing, racism, misogyny or abortion it will never be allowed in the public debate.  Those are the only questions we are and will be allowed to debate until the lefts goals are achieved.

    • #14
  15. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Fake John/Jane Galt: Maybe the one in Britian is better, but from what I have heard it is worse.

    My experiences with it, admittedly two decades ago, suggested to me that it was fair. I was questioned by the police because a student I knew had been accused of a crime. They determined there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges. It seemed to me a rational and appropriate procedure. I know a number of magistrates and solicitors in the UK; they all seem competent and honest.

    The legal system in France seems to work well; I was just able to settle a contract dispute with my landlord in a way that made sense to me, based on the contract.

    So you really have no experience with the west’s criminal law system.  Except you know some people that work in it that seem nice, so it must be good.  Why are you writing about Vladimir Bukovsky?  If he is in the hands of such a wonderful criminal system that is ran by such competent and honest people?  Why is he on a hunger strike if the same?  Why do you seem to fear the result?  A result created by competent and honest people.

    As for your contract dispute, I am not sure how France works but that is civil law in the US and not really the same thing as what holds Vladimir Bukovsky’s life in check.

    • #15
  16. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    Dear Claire,

    I had no idea, really who Bukovsky was before I began reading your articles.  They have had a powerful impact on me, and I shared them with my students in both literature and journalism.

    We live in a world gone mad.

    Please keep up the good work.

    Eric Cook

    • #16
  17. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    These men, along with other brave souls, have been sounding the alarm about Russia for some time. The world wants to think the bear is sluggish, broke, snoring. But the long list of journalists who have fallen ill or disappeared, the businessmen who have been smeared and threatened, the musicians, and on and on tell a different story – they are all Mr. Bukovskys.  We documented the indescribable evil from the past two world wars. Now the modern world has once again become lulled into complacency.  Each provocation is just one more story in many – forgotten tomorrow.  What will it take to listen this time?

    • #17
  18. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    Every time this comes to light it saps some of one’s soul and should be humbling. As Front Seat Cat noted in a way, that after some 70 years of confort and compacency, historical cycles have been ignored.

    Odd as it sounds, some today claim “My Government would never do that to me !”.  The willfull blindness has become painfull to see.

    • #18
  19. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Fake John/Jane Galt:

    So you really have no experience with the west’s criminal law system.

    Well, I’ve never been accused of a crime, thankfully; so no, I have no personal experience of it in that sense. I’ve been a witness to one, or as in the case I mentioned above, I’ve had knowledge that might be relevant to a criminal investigation, so I’ve seen parts of how a criminal investigation proceeds in the US and the UK. I’ve never done jury duty (to my disappointment: I’ve always wanted to), but I’ve watched trials, and I’ve been pretty impressed by our criminal law system. Increasingly, I’ve been dismayed by the number of people we imprison, which seems a great stain on our society, but my dismay is with the fact that we seem to be a criminogenic society that creates dangerous, criminal people. I don’t think we’re locking up innocent people or dissidents.

    Like all systems created by man, ours is capable of error or corruption. I can think the UK justice system is pretty good overall and suspect it made a big mistake with Bukovsky’s case. (And mind you, I don’t know, for sure: I haven’t looked at the prosecutor’s evidence. I just find it highly, highly unlikely, given the circumstances, that he is guilty as charged.) No system made by humans is a Utopia; as I’m sure Bukovsky would be the first to tell you, having grown up in one that aspired to be — to a cruel and murderous end.

    Vladimir’s libel suit is a civil suit, not  criminal one. My experience of UK libel law has been that it’s certainly been used effectively to shut me up, and I’m not even British (nor did I commit libel). That was a case of editors being unwilling to spend the money to defend me and the laws being (in my view) too friendly to libel suits. Libel law is a big problem even in the US, and a threat to the First Amendment, but this doesn’t make me think that overall, our justice system is unfair or capricious.

    Similarly, I’ve resolved civil suits in France and in the US fairly expeditiously, and the law and the courts seemed to have worked much as I expected them to.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen the Turkish legal system in action, both personally, in a civil suit, and as a witness to criminal suits. That’s a broken and dysfunctional system that truly works as you describe ours: “It’s main purpose is to extract money from the poor unfortunates that get caught up in it. Anything like justice, protection, security are platitudes to justify its existence. If they happen at all it is by accident.” Worse still, it’s used as a tool of terror and intimidation by the state. And by all accounts I’ve heard, this was true of the Soviet legal system and is still true of the Russian system.

    I think there’s value in recognizing that European and American jurisprudence isn’t perfect, and there’s much room for improvement — but also remembering that “perfection” is not a reasonable goal where human societies are concerned, and holding the achievements of our legal system in some esteem. My experience is that Western legal systems generally work better far better than legal systems everywhere else.

    I haven’t lived everywhere, of course, but anecdotally, if I had to be falsely charged with a crime, I’d far rather it happened in Britain than in China, Brazil, or Egypt.

    Except you know some people that work in it that seem nice, so it must be good. Why are you writing about Vladimir Bukovsky? If he is in the hands of such a wonderful criminal system that is ran by such competent and honest people?

    Because I think this is an unusual case, in which it’s highly likely they’ve made a mistake. Most people are not so unfortunate as to have a highly sophisticated, lifetime enemy in the Kremlin.

    Why is he on a hunger strike if the same? Why do you seem to fear the result? A result created by competent and honest people.

    I don’t fear the result. I think his hunger strike is idiotic: I’m worried he’s going to wind up killing himself. I think he’ll be acquitted. But I do fear a Kremlin that causes even this amount of havoc on foreign, sovereign territory, and agree with Vladimir that even if he’s acquitted, the damage the Kremlin (if indeed they planted the images) has done to his reputation is already grievous.

    As for your contract dispute, I am not sure how France works but that is civil law in the US and not really the same thing as what holds Vladimir Bukovsky’s life in check.

    No, but the same underlying principles apply. There is an established body of law that functions more or less as reasonable people hope it will. This is, again, not true of Turkey, even though on the surface, you could imagine it is, because the laws on the books are modeled on Western legal codes. It’s just that in reality, they don’t apply to anything.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The Reticulator: That’s a legitimate fear, but I fear for the consequences of questions like this never being part of the national conversation.

    Questions like this haven’t been part of a wider national conversation in a long time. To some degree that’s because of the sharp dropoff in foreign news coverage; to another because, as Fainberg says, we’re simply unwilling to admit to ourselves frankly that our victory in the Cold War was far from what we hoped it was. It’s too demoralizing to understand this. But he’s correct to say that America is looking at the world in its hideous, frightening complexity and recoiling from it, whereas Putin sees in this only an obvious opportunity. So, yes, I agree: Questions like this will become part of the national conversation sooner or later; we’d be much better off if we had them sooner.

    But right now, I see no point in having them, unless a third-party candidate manifests magically. The voters have made their preference for a certain vision of America about as clear as they could possibly make it. They want us to be a country that walls itself off from the world and leaves it to sort out its own problems. All I can hope is that there’s more wisdom in that decision than I’m able right now to see.

    • #20
  21. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    Thank you so much for this. We have lost our moral clarity. We forget just how much it can matter to those around the world who are oppressed.

    Natan Sharansky Remembers Ronald Reagan

    Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?

    I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell’s Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.

    It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s “Great October Bolshevik Revolution” and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution–Reagan’s Revolution.

    We were all in and out of punishment cells so often–me more than most–that we developed our own tapping language to communicate with each other between the walls. A secret code. We had to develop new communication methods to pass on this great, impossible news. We even used the toilets to tap on.

    Keep shining the light Claire you are an angel of mercy in this.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
  22. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The less those two say about anything of significance, the safer the world will be.

    That word “anything” here cannot be stressed enough.

    wilber forge: …some today claim “My Government would never do that to me !”. The willfull blindness has become painfull to see.

    I suspect the pain will become more real to many in the near future.

    Front Seat Cat: Now the modern world has once again become lulled into complacency. Each provocation is just one more story in many – forgotten tomorrow. What will it take to listen this time?

    Answer: 2017 (Regardless of who wins prevails in November.)

    • #22
  23. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I haven’t lived everywhere, of course, but anecdotally, if I had to be falsely charged with a crime, I’d far rather it happened in Britain than in China, Brazil, or Egypt.

    Except you know some people that work in it that seem nice, so it must be good. Why are you writing about Vladimir Bukovsky? If he is in the hands of such a wonderful criminal system that is ran by such competent and honest people?

    Because I think this is an unusual case, in which it’s highly likely they’ve made a mistake. Most people are not so unfortunate as to have a highly sophisticated, lifetime enemy in the Kremlin.

    You think they mistakenly accused Vladimir Bukovsky?  A country that is so haphazard about their child sex laws as to allow a Rotherham (and a dozen or so other sex rings) to exist for over a decade?  This was no mistake but purpose action.  Maybe they will convict him, maybe let him go, but they are making a point.  Oh, and some money too.   Always make the money.

    • #23
  24. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Ms. Berlinski,

    As noted in the conversation above, the discussion is important.

    A French essayist has said: ”What is terrible when you seek the truth, is that you find it.” You find it, and then you are no longer free to follow the biases of your personal circle, or to accept fashionable clichés. – Page xxi [Quote from Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge]

    Keep up the good work.

    • #24
  25. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I haven’t lived everywhere, of course, but anecdotally, if I had to be falsely charged with a crime, I’d far rather it happened in Britain than in China, Brazil, or Egypt.

    I can understand that.  From what I understand the prison systems in Britain is much better and corruption is not so deep so you can buy your way out easier.  Especially if you are innocent, if innocent it will most likely just cost you everything you own but in the end they tend to let you free once your money is gone.

    • #25
  26. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    The KGB never forgets and never forgives but they can’t stop the music.

    Keep the heat on them. Maybe Gd will hear the music.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #26
  27. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: All the contact I’ve personally had with Western legal systems has suggested to me they work very well.

    Lewis Libby

    Jim McDougal

    Tom Delay

    Perhaps the Western legal systems work well when there’s no power or politics involved.  Mr Bukovsky, however, is toast.

    • #27
  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    The Reticulator: That’s a legitimate fear, but I fear for the consequences of questions like this never being part of the national conversation.

    By the way, I couldn’t understand the word he used when he was talking about what Putin sent into Syria. I think it was a Russian proper noun. Were you able to catch it?

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    The Reticulator: That’s a legitimate fear, but I fear for the consequences of questions like this never being part of the national conversation.

    By the way, I couldn’t understand the word he used when he was talking about what Putin sent into Syria. I think it was a Russian proper noun. Were you able to catch it?

    “Putin — he sent there his [reservations?] … his troops, his [concerns?], his weapons…”

    That bit? I couldn’t quite make it all out either.

    • #29
  30. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The voters have made their preference for a certain vision of America about as clear as they could possibly make it.

    No one has actually voted in an election, yet. The votes of a comparatively small number of primary voters, cast at different times and in different circumstances, filtered through the actions of large donors to political campaigns and the decisions of campaign professionals and politicians, has led us to a particular situation. As tempting as it may be to project upon this entirely contingent set of circumstances something like ‘the popular will’, one should resist this temptation, for nothing can be learned from giving in to it.

    • #30
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