25.04.2016 | Masha Karp

Why Has a Former Soviet Dissident Gone on Hunger-Strike in Britain?


My British friends are puzzled: why should one weaken oneself? Why jeopardize one’s already very poor health? Can’t things be resolved in court? No, says Vladimir Bukovsky, a man of outstanding courage and integrity, who has devoted his life to the struggle with the Soviet regime, spent 12 years in the Soviet prisons and mental hospitals and was banished from his native country. He has lived in Britain since 1976, first admiring the country, but now getting desperate about its failure to understand the sinister character of the current Russian regime. 

Last year the CPS charged Bukovsky with possessing indecent images of children on his computer. He is sure that this was just one of the numerous operations that the Russian KGB-FSB is conducting against its opponents. They murder some, poison others, accuse one of being a CIA agent and film another in bed with his mistress. Why not plant indecent images in somebody’s computer? Paradoxically, if Bukovsky had lived in Russia, hardly anybody would have doubted the origin of these images. 

But we are in Britain, where it is difficult for people to grasp that something like this can happen. Moreover, here the general public is already used to “exposing celebrities” and they watch the process with malicious glee – look, even his fame has not saved him from justice! Nobody is above the law. Let the jurors consider the evidence and they will decide whether the man is guilty or not. OK, let him walk free if he is not, as if nothing has happened. 

What my British friends fail to realize is that Bukovsky’s enemies in Russia do not care much whether the criminal court finds him guilty or non-guilty. This does not matter. The Russian propagandists do not care whether anybody believes them when they say that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, that the MH-17 plane had been full of dead bodies before it crashed, or that a Russian girl was raped by migrants in Germany. Their aim is planting suspicion in people’s minds – what if it’s true? – and making “objective” foreign journalists present their position. In Bukovsky’s case their aim is to smear a man of immaculate reputation, a true hero who has spent his life exposing KGB-FSB dirty tricks. “Character assassination” is certainly one of them. 

When last year the CPS brought charges against Bukovsky and publicized this case to the media, did it know that it was playing into the Kremlin hands? Was it infiltrated, was it duped, or was it just unaware of what it was doing? Even if the latter is true, it is still disastrous. It shows how oblivious British institutions, British media and the British public are about the threat coming from Russia. Even after Alexander Litvinenko’s murder… 

Incidentally it was Bukovsky, who together with Oleg Gordievsky and Litvinenko himself, had warned the world about the danger coming from the Russian law adopted in 2006, which granted the Russian state the right to kill anybody they considered “extremists, ” even abroad. Nobody paid attention to this warning then… 

Moreover, when Litvinenko was assassinated, the line of the Kremlin propagandists was: “Why should we kill him? He was a nobody: a former police operative, an oligarch’s side-kick, who needs to kill him?” And the British media at this point could not think of anything better than calling him “a spy” – thus confirming the image of some inconspicuous cog doing something unsavoury. It was only the recent inquiry, held thanks to his widow’s perseverance, that revealed to the general public what a unique man Litvinenko was to fight against his omnipotent FSB bosses, and what a crucial role he played exposing Putin’s mafia abroad. But the original Kremlin line still lingers in people’s minds... 

Playing up to the Kremlin has become common in the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia has become different, people said to themselves, especially when they found thick wads of “petro-dollars” in their pockets. And although after the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbass, the West has learnt a bit more about Kremlin propaganda, the West still underestimates its ingenuity in getting its own way. Just two examples of recent weeks --the Dutch referendum going against the EU-Ukraine association agreement and The Hague court overturning the decision on YUKOS -- show the scale of the Kremlin’s influence. 

This is precisely what Bukovsky is fighting against, what he has been fighting against throughout his life – the powerful KGB- FSB monster that builds its authority on lies. Yes, it is unusual to accuse the CPS of libel and to go on hunger-strike when the High Court puts off the hearing in the libel case for the third time. It is not commonly done in the UK – there are better, safer, more pragmatic ways to behave, the Brits would say. But this is the former dissident’s only way to attract attention to the capacity of the foreign state to corrupt the life of his adopted country. And it is not only about clearing his name from false charges. It is about Britain’s power to resist manipulation from abroad. Bukovsky is risking his life for this – with his poor health (last year he had a heart operation in Germany and spent months recovering from a coma) he can’t be expected to survive for very long on hunger-strike. Maybe somebody in this country will hear what he is trying to say?


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