Staunton, August 25 – Forty-five years ago today, seven brave Soviet citizens staged a demonstration in Moscow’s Red Square against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, an action that played a key role in the rise of dissent in the USSR and that, in the words of one Moscow commentator now, “saved the honor and future” of Russia.
The seven – Konstantin Babitsky, Larisa Bogoraz, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Vadim Delone, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Pavel Litvinov, and Viktor Fainberg – carried signs reading “Shame on the Occupiers!,” “Hands Off Czechoslovakia!” “Long live a free and independent Czechoslovakia!” “Freedom or Dubcek!” and, most important, “For your freedom and ours!”
They were quickly surrounded, beaten and arrested by officers of the KGB. At their trials, none of them acknowledged any guilt. Babitsky, Bogoraz and Litvinov were exiled. Delone and Dremlyuga were sent to the camps. And Gorbanevskaya and Fainberg were confined in a psychiatric prison for forcible “treatment.”
These seven and those who followed them “at the risk of their freedom and lives or the defense of human rights and human dignity in a totalitarian country,” Vladimir Kara-Murza writes in an article on the anniversary, “were truly the conscience of the nation. They saved the honor and future of their country, just as the ten just men save a whole city” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5217043C37B33).
Or as Gobanevskaya, one of the seven put it, “the entire people minus me is not the entire people. The entire people minus ten or a hundred or a thousand individuals is not the entire people” either. There was thus “no basis claims that “the entire people” approved what the Soviet state had done. She added that she had joined the demonstration for “selfish” reasons: she simply wanted to “have a clear conscience.”
Her words come from a four-part documentary film “They Chose Freedom” prepared by Kara-Murza about the history of the dissident movement in the USSR from the 1950s to 1991, a film that features interviews with many of the leading surviving dissidents of that time and their thoughts about the future prospects of Russia.
The film can be viewed by going to the Institute of Contemporary Russia web page at imrussia.org/ru/project/534-they-chose-freedom-the-story-of-soviet-dissidents