On June 3, Pushkin House in London hosted a screening of They Chose Freedom, a documentary film on the Soviet dissident movement. Following the screening, legendary Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky and the film’s director, IMR Senior Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza, discussed the historical lessons of confronting totalitarianism and the present-day situation in Russia.

 

 

“For me, the story of the Soviet dissidents is one of the most inspiring and, ultimately, one of the most 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 that a mighty totalitarian system with the world’s most developed machine of repression,” Vladimir Kara-Murza said in his introduction to the film. “They were the people who saved the honor of the Russian nation while the majority remained silent. . . . Today, when Russia is once again ruled by a repressive regime, when the Kremlin is once again suppressing its own citizens and engaging in aggression against other countries, it is more important than ever to hear and to heed their message.”

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.

“It is the story of a small group of people, armed only with their conscience and their sense of dignity, that proved stronger that a mighty totalitarian system with the world’s most developed machine of repression.”

Discussing the role of the dissidents in the demise of the Soviet regime, Vladimir Bukovsky noted the lasting importance of the ideas concerning the rule of law voiced by the dissidents in the 1960s. “When the coal miners went on strike in 1989 and 1990, their demand was not for bread or pay raises,” Bukovsky recalled. “Their demand was for the abolition of Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution that provided for one-party rule. And at that moment, I felt that our efforts had not been in vain.”

Turning to the present day, Bukovsky suggested that with the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin’s regime pushed itself into a corner—unable to turn back because of the public hysteria it had itself created, and unable to move ahead with further land grabs because of international pressure. “In a few months’ time, many of those 80 percent who now say they back Putin will start hating him,” Bukovsky predicted.

Pushkin House was established in London in 1954 for the promotion of Russian culture. Its programs feature a wide variety of lectures, talks, exhibitions, films, concerts, and readings.

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