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Last October 27th, a 76-year-old man died from cardiac arrest in a Cambridge hospital. This event didn’t make the headlines. However this man was a giant, a man of the stature of Nelson Mandela, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vaclav Havel. Vladimir Boukovski was, among Soviet dissidents, one of the most flamboyant.
Born in 1942, he very quickly became conscious of the lies in Soviet propaganda. From the time he entered school, he refused to participate. Openly in front of the regime, he organized public meetings devoted to poetry readings and led the dissident movement. Constantly followed, threatened, beatened up, he was finally arrested. Over a period of 12 years, he was in psychiatric hospitals for “those-who-think-differently,” in prison and in work camps. But he never admitted defeat. He fought for his rights and brought his fellow prisoners into actions or hunger strikes that were often victorious. In the eyes of the West, he became one of the figureheads of the resistance to the regime. Exasperated, the Soviet government expulsed him in 1976, in exchange for a Communist leader detained in Chili. He took his studies up again in the West, wrote his autobiography, participated in memorable meetings with European intellectuals and counseled Western leaders. When Communism fell in 1991, he called for a Soviet trial. In vain. After the arrival to power of the KGB offspring Vladimir Poutine in 2000, he became an opponent in exile and denounced the return of Sovietism that is spreading in Russia.
We met Boukovski at his home in Cambridge, England, at the beginning of 2012 just after an unprecedented civil protest in Russia against the rigged elections. In his small house, between ashtrays filling up and telephone calls from Russia, we listened to a free being, lucid, of prodigious intelligence and gifted with an enormous sense of humor. We invited him to Paris several times, but he was took weak to travel. Now, he is no more. But one can make his acquaintance, or meet up with him again, by reading his autobiography, “To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter.” Although out of print, there is a Kindle edition available on amazon.com, as well as several other books of his. In England and France, it is known as: “Et le vent reprend ses tours” (Robert Laffont and in paperback, Le Livre de poche). These editions are also out of print, but available from secondhand book dealers. It’s important the book be republished! He is entirely present there with his Soviet jokes, his courage, his vital force. Vladimir Boukovski, who slipped away, is and will become again one of the principal sources of inspiration for today’s dissidents. He will not leave us as easily as that!
Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark