On December 1–2, the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA) at the University of Wisconsin—Madison hosted IMR Senior Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza for the screening of They Chose Freedom, his documentary on Soviet dissidents. Kara-Murza also spoke with students and participants in the U.S. government’s Russian Flagship Program.



“The story of Soviet dissidents is one of the most inspiring and optimistic stories of the twentieth century—the story of a small group of people ‘armed’ only with their conscience and their sense of dignity that proved stronger than a mighty totalitarian system with the world’s most developed machine of repression,” Vladimir Kara-Murza told the audience in his introduction to his film They Chose Freedom at the University of Wisconsin—Madison’s Marquee Theatre. “They were the people who fought against the lies and injustice of the Soviet regime in the face of prisons, labor camps and psychiatric torture, knowing that five minutes of demonstrating in the square would cost them years behind the walls of the Gulag. They saved the honor of the Russian nation while the majority remained silent.” 

They Chose Freedom tells the story of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union from its emergence in the 1950s until the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship in 1991. It is narrated primarily through interviews with prominent Russian dissidents, including Elena Bonner, Vladimir Bukovsky, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Viktor Fainberg, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Naum Korzhavin, Sergei Kovalev, Eduard Kuznetsov, Pavel Litvinov, Yuri Orlov, Alexander Podrabinek, Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, and Alexander Yesenin-Volpin. The Institute of Modern Russia sponsored the translation and English-language production of They Chose Freedom as part of its commitment to preserving the legacy of those who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for freedom, human rights, and the rule of law in Russia. Screenings have been held in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, London, New York, Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

“The dissidents did not hope for a victory—but they achieved it. As Andrei Sakharov used to say, the moral solution is ultimately also the most pragmatic one.” 

The screening at the University of Wisconsin—Madison was attended by prominent members of the academic community, including professors Kathryn Hendley, Alexander Dolinin, and Karen Evans-Romaine; CREECA associate director Jennifer Tischler; and a number of special guests, including Russian writer and poet Dmitry Bykov. 

“The dissidents did not hope for a victory—but they achieved it. As Andrei Sakharov used to say, the moral solution is ultimately also the most pragmatic one,” Kara-Murza noted during the discussion of the film. “Alexander Yakovlev, a leading member of the last Soviet Politburo, admitted that the dissident movement contributed more than anything else to delegitimizing the regime in the eyes of Russian society, the outside world, and even in the eyes of its own leaders.” 

Kara-Murza was invited to talk about the history of the dissident movement and the current political situation in Russia with students from the University of Wisconsin—Madison and participants in the Russian Flagship Program, a U.S. government—supported program for intensive study of the Russian language. 

Established in 1993, the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia is one of America’s premier institutions for research and training on the Eurasian region. 

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Truly yours,

IMR team

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