They Chose Freedom, a four-part documentary film written and produced by Russian historian and television journalist Vladimir V. Kara-Murza, tells the story of the dissident movement in the USSR from its emergence in the 1950s until the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship in 1991. Public readings of banned poetry in Mayakovsky Square, the development of samizdat (underground publications), the 1965 and 1968 opposition demonstrations in Moscow, and the harsh repressions unleashed against dissenters by the Communist regime—including forced psychiatric “treatment,” prison camps, and exile—are chronicled in this documentary.

The film is narrated primarily through interviews with prominent Russian dissidents: Elena Bonner, Vladimir Bukovsky, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Viktor Fainberg, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Sergei Kovalev, Naum Korzhavin, Eduard Kuznetsov, Pavel Litvinov, Yuri Orlov, Alexander Podrabinek, Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, and Alexander Yesenin-Volpin. In the final episode, they offer their thoughts on the current situation in Russia under Vladimir Putin and prospects for the future.

Public screenings of They Chose Freedom (in Russian) have been held in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2013, for the 45th anniversary of the 1968 Red Square demonstration against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, 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.

 

Episode One: The Awakening

 

Episode Two: Society Against the State

 

Episode Three: Defeat and Victory

 

Episode Four: History Repeats Itself?

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