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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bukovsky, in Moscow

The Associated Press reports:

Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky [pictured], back in Moscow, said Tuesday his experience resisting the KGB in the 1960s and 1970s could help galvanize the liberal opposition to President Vladimir Putin. For Bukovsky, 64, who lives outside London, it was his first trip to his homeland since Putin became president in 2000 and only his third since he was sent into exile in 1976. Known for his revelations about the Soviet practice of forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents, he spent a total of nearly 12 years in Soviet mental hospitals and jails before international pressure came to bear. He was then bundled out of the country in handcuffs and swapped for Chilean Communist Louis Corvalan.

Bukovsky, who has declared his candidacy for president while acknowledging that he will not be allowed to run, said his main goal was to help build support for the political opposition in Russia, "where everyone is intimidated, where everyone is indifferent."

"We are seeing a return of Soviet times," he said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio hours after his arrival. "I have a lot of experience in confronting the KGB. Today, it's topical," said Bukovsky, whose hair is now gray and thinning.

Under Putin, a former KGB officer, the security services have regained much of their Soviet-era influence, and many of the democratic gains of the 1990s have been reversed. "The KGB has come to power under the name of the FSB," Bukovsky said, referring to the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency. A group of human rights activists, academics and independent journalists has put Bukovsky forward as a candidate to run against Putin's chosen successor in next spring's presidential election, even though he is unlikely to be allowed to run because he fails to meet a 10-year Russian residency requirement and holds British citizenship.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political historian who is a member of the group, said the backtracking on democracy under Putin is compelling dissidents who fought the Soviet regime to become more politically active. "I hope the return of a legendary Soviet dissident, brilliant writer, outstanding person, will somehow ease the political climate in the country," Pribylovsky said. Bukovsky made his first return trip to Russia in April 1991, several months before the Soviet Union disintegrated. The same year, the Russian Supreme Court voided his Soviet-era convictions.

He came back in 1992 to testify when the Communist Party was put on trial in the Constitutional Court. His later attempts to travel to Russia were blocked when the Russian Embassy refused to issue him a visa on his British passport, saying he was a Russian citizen. Bukovsky received a new Russian passport in August. He was first arrested in 1963 for the possession of a book by Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas and kept in a psychiatric hospital until 1965. Later that year, he helped organize a rally in support of arrested dissident writers and was sent back to the psychiatric hospital for another year. In 1967, after organizing another rally, he was sent to jail for three years. After his release in 1970, he sent documents to the World Psychiatry Association and foreign press revealing the Soviet practice of forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents — documents that became known as the "Bukovsky dossier" and led to the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the association. After being put under constant KGB surveillance, he was arrested in 1971.

Fears that Russian authorities may be returning to the practice of forced psychiatric treatment as a way of silencing critics were raised when opposition activist Larisa Arap was placed in a psychiatric clinic in the northern Murmansk region in July and held there against her will for 46 days. Her supporters called it revenge for exposing alleged abuse of children in a local psychiatric hospital.

Bukovsky is a neurophysiologist with degrees from Cambridge University in Britain and Stanford University, and the author of several books. During his five-day visit to Moscow, Bukovsky plans to meet with pro-democracy activists and to introduce a new edition of his book, "And the Wind Comes Back ..." — an autobiographical novel about a Soviet dissident's life in the gulag. His trip ends with a rally Saturday in front of the monument to poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in central Moscow, where in 1960 Bukovsky and other dissidents started to hold readings of banned poetry — his first political action, which led to his expulsion from Moscow State University's biology department.

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