The Release of Bukovsky, 18 December 1976 (43.1)

<< No 43 : 31 December 1976 >>

In September (?) of this year, the Danish Committee for the Sakharov Hearings proposed to the Soviet and Chilean authorities that they should simultaneously release Vladimir Bukovsky and Luis Corvalan from imprisonment.


V. Bukovsky was arrested in March 1971 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and five years’ exile. Senator L. Corvalan (Secretary-General of the Chilean Communist Party) was arrested in September 1973 and imprisoned without trial.

The Chilean authorities declared that they were prepared to release Corvalan and send him out of the country, if the Soviet leaders released Bukovsky. L. Corvalan himself, as some Western radio stations reported, protested against this plan and was particularly opposed to being exiled. As for Bukovsky, it proved impossible to inform him of the ‘exchange’ in advance.

Meanwhile, the Danish Committee’s proposal had received widespread international support (in particular, from Amnesty International and the International League for Human Rights).

Campaign in the West for
Bukovsky’s release

At the same time, independently of the Danish Committee’s proposal, the campaign for Bukovsky’s release was gaining momentum in the West. In Paris, for example, at a meeting in the Mutualité hall in defence of political prisoners in various countries, a resolution was adopted demanding the release of V. Bukovsky and S. Gluzman. The meeting was chaired by Laurent Schwartz, one of the greatest contemporary mathematicians, who is also well known as a left-wing activist (in addition, he is known to readers of the Chronicle as the chairman of the International Mathematicians’ Committee in Defence of Yu. Shikhanovich and L. Plyushch, CCE 32.//, CCE 36.//). Among those who participated in the meeting were certain leading members of the French Communist Party. The Soviet authorities were especially displeased at this fact.

Inside the Soviet Union the Danish Committee’s proposal evoked a sympathetic response from many people. Unfortunately the Chronicle is not fully informed of all the statements, both individual and collective, which called for the simultaneous release of Bukovsky and Corvalan.

On 18 October the writer Lev Kopelev and Academician Andrei Sakharov sent letters to Willy Brandt, Henry Kissinger and Bruno Kreisky, calling on them to support the proposal for the simultaneous release of Corvalan and Bukovsky. A reply was received from one of the addressees — Bruno Kreisky, Chancellor of the Republic of Austria. Kreisky wrote that his numerous interventions on behalf of people persecuted for their political views had often been successful. However, Kreisky said that he considered the proposed ‘exchange’ to be “of little use and probably disadvantageous for the defence of human rights”.

On 29 October A. Sakharov sent a letter to [UK] Prime Minister Callaghan, asking him “to support the campaign in defence of the Soviet political prisoner Vladimir Bukovsky, which has been started in England, as well as in many other countries”.

A joint declaration was issued by members of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights (T. Velikanova and T. Khodorovich) and members of the Helsinki Group (L. Alexeyeva, A. Ginzburg, M. Landa, Yu, Orlov and A. Shcharansky). Later, on 12 December, the same authors and P. Grigorenko demanded that the authorities should allow Bukovsky “an unsupervised meeting with his mother” and give him the opportunity of meeting representatives of the press, the Danish Committee or Amnesty International so that Bukovsky could be informed of the Committee’s proposal and could express his point of view on the matter. They also demanded the publication of the trial record of ‘the Bukovsky case’ and the text of the verdict.


In connection with the declaration made by the Chilean government of its readiness to release Luis Corvalan on condition that the Soviet government released Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet Amnesty International group (V. Turchin, V. Albrekht, V. Voinovich and V. Kornilov) and the Helsinki Group (Yu. Orlov, A. Shcharansky, L. Alexeyeva, V. Slepak and E. Bonner) addressed this appeal to the Communist Parties of France, Italy, Great Britain and Spain:

We condemn the imprisonment of both Corvalan and Bukovsky. Political prisoners in all the countries of the world should be liberated. While this is not yet so, every action which leads to the release of even one or two prisoners of conscience is justified and humane.

The government of Chile has declared its readiness to take such action. Now Corvalan’s release depends solely on the government of the USSR. Communists in the Soviet Union and all over the world have many times demanded the release of Luis Corvalan. However, the Soviet government has not reacted in any way so far to the Chilean government’s offer. Can it be that it will let this opportunity go by?

We consider that Western communists, who have often expressed their interest in the problem of human rights, could exert a decisive influence in the matter of a simultaneous release for Luis Corvalan and Vladimir Bukovsky.


Some time ago Nina Ivanovna Bukovskaya, Vladimir’s mother, received an invitation from England, from the well-known English actor David Markham, one of the organizers of the Committee for the Defence of Bukovsky. She wrote about this to her son in Vladimir Prison, asking him if he would agree to emigrate. On 13 December an answering letter came: the letter contained two statements from [her son] Vladimir — to Podgorny and to OVIR — asking for permission to settle permanently in England. On the same day Nina Ivanovna sent both statements to the addressees.

On 14 December Nina Ivanovna was visited at home by two KGB officials. They told her that the Soviet government had decided to exchange Vladimir Bukovsky for Luis Corvalan. They also said that her son must leave the USSR on 18 December; that she, her daughter and grandson could leave together with him; that they would be spared payment of the visa tax; and that they themselves would arrange all the formalities (including obtaining consent from the father of her grandson) and all the difficulties of preparations for their departure. In addition, they asked Nina Ivanovna not to tell anyone what they had said until 17 December.

It later became known that on 17 December V. Bukovsky was already in Moscow, in Lefortovo Prison.

Early in the morning of 18 December a minibus drove up to the Bukovskys’ house. Bukovsky’s mother, his sister Olga and three friends got into it. The car drove to the hospital, where Olga’s 12-year-old son had been for some time. An ambulance with a doctor inside (he was to accompany the little boy to the end of the journey) drove ahead of them; the minibus followed, carrying those departing and those seeing them off.

Friends of the Bukovskys’, wanting to see them off, were waiting at Sheremetyevo airport, assuming that they would be flying on an ordinary passenger airline. However, the Bukovskys were driven to a military airport near Moscow. At the entrance to the airport the car stopped (the ‘ambulance’ with the little boy was allowed through) and those accompanying the Bukovskys were told to say goodbye. Nina Ivanovna refused to go into the airport, demanding that her friends be allowed through. After lengthy discussions, only Irina Yakir was allowed to go through. Together with N. I. Bukovskaya she was driven up to the aeroplane, which was ready for its ‘special flight’; she turned out to be the only one of Vladimir Bukovsky’s friends who managed to see him — Volodya [Vladimir] was brought out on to the steps for a few seconds so that Nina Ivanovna could be sure he was on the plane.


Bukovsky, 1977Bukovsky and his family were taken to Zurich (Switzerland), where Corvalan had been brought the day before. Bukovsky was taken to the plane in handcuffs. At 5 o’clock local time the procedure of ‘simultaneous release’ was carried out.

At a short press conference V. Bukovsky said that he had learned that he was being ‘exchanged’ for Corvalan only in the plane. Bukovsky added that he was happy that Corvalan had been released.

Neither Vladimir Bukovsky nor the members of his family have been deprived of Soviet citizenship. Vladimir was given a Soviet passport valid for five years. Nina Ivanovna was told that she, her daughter and her grandson could return within six months. In spite of this, on 21 December Vyacheslav Bakhmin, who has power of attorney from N. I. Bukovskaya, was visited at work and told to clear the Bukovskys’ things out of their flat within two days.

A Victory for
the Forces of Reason and Humanity

So two political prisoners are free…

In rejoicing together with all humanity, we should like to believe that this is not a chance incident, not merely a combination of circumstances, but a decisive turning-point in the direction of humanity and reason. And we hope that this change will lead the world towards a general political amnesty. And we should like our country to take the lead in the campaign to achieve such a desirable end.

As a first step we ask the Soviet government to:

1. Give an amnesty to Semyon Gluzman, who was sentenced, like Vladimir Bukovsky, for protesting against the use of psychiatry to crush dissent.

2. Release immediately all prisoners whose state of health puts their lives in danger. In particular, we appeal on behalf of Mustafa Dzhemilev, Valentin Moroz and Vasily Fedorenko, whose health has been seriously undermined by hunger-strikes lasting many months, in protest at their unjust sentences; on behalf of Mikhail Makarenko, Alexander Sergienko and Yevgeny Pronyuk, who are suffering from tuberculosis which has reached a stage endangering their lives; and on behalf of Sergei Kovalyov, who urgently needs a serious operation.

We appeal to international public opinion and the governments of democratic countries to support our demands…


Pyotr Grigorenko, Yury Orlov, Andrei Sakharov


On 17 December 1976 L. Alexeyeva, T. Velikanova, A. Ginzburg, P. Grigorenko, M. Landa, Yu, Orlov, V. Slepak, A. Shcharansky and T. Khodorovich issued a statement responding to part of an interview given by A. Ya. Sukharev, deputy Minister of Justice, Literaturnaya gazeta (No. 43, 27 October 1976), in which he mentioned Vladimir Bukovsky.

The statement accuses Sukharev of libel in the strictly legal sense of this word — “dissemination of knowingly false fabrications defaming another person” (Article 130 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). Expressing their opinion of Bukovsky’s character and activities and of his sentence, which they consider “monstrous”, “unjust” and “illegal”, the authors of the statement write:

However, we now leave aside the question of the unlawful sentence in order to refute the slander against Bukovsky without criticizing the sentence of the court, but rather relying on the sentence.

In accordance with Article 54 of the Principles of Criminal Procedure of the USSR and Article 358 of the RSFSR Code of Criminal Procedure, “after taking legal effect, a verdict, decision or decree of a court is binding on all State and public institutions, enterprises, organizations, responsible officials and citizens”. A verdict is thus binding on A. Ya. Sukharev.

Nevertheless, Sukharev (not a private person but first deputy Minister of Justice of the USSR) publicly accuses Bukovsky of actions and attitudes not established by a court and not mentioned in the court’s conclusion.

His assertion that Bukovsky “never worked anywhere for long” can be documentarily disproved. Sukharev’s statements about Bukovsky’s first two trials are deliberately false. Neither in 1963 nor in 1967 was Bukovsky accused of calling for the overthrow of the system; in addition, in 1963 he was not condemned: he was declared not responsible. (It is noted in passing that the acknowledgement of Bukovsky’s sanity at the trials that followed proves substantially that he is mentally healthy and that his compulsory medical treatment was a form of political repression.)

On the latest trial the statement has this to say:

Sukharev alleges that in January 1972 a court irrefutably established that Bukovsky had “called for the overthrow of the Soviet political system”. This is a deliberate lie. The point is not that everyone who knows Bukovsky personally is aware that he never called on anyone, in any way, to overthrow the Soviet political system, and that he never even formulated such an aim to himself. That can be confirmed by dozens of witnesses.

The point is that Sukharev could not have had any doubts or been mistaken on this matter. He knows (how could he not know?) that Bukovsky was never found guilty in the court’s conclusion of calling for the overthrow of the Soviet political system. This was not established by the court. The court did not find Bukovsky guilty of this. Nor could it have found him guilty, as no such charge was brought against Bukovsky.

Sukharev also asserts that during the trial “it was proved that his (Bukovsky’s) activities were directed from abroad by the notorious NTS”; that “Bukovsky provided this organization with libellous material, receiving gifts of money in return”. This is a deliberate lie. Again the point is not that dozens of witnesses (who were not summoned or questioned either during the investigation or during the trial) could confirm Bukovsky’s exceptionally incorruptible character; he never got a single kopeck as a “gift” from NTS, or anybody else. Sukharev could not have made a mistake about this matter, as he knows (is duty-bound to know!) the sentence passed on Bukovsky.

In the conclusion of the court there is no mention of any links with NTS or of Bukovsky receiving any sums of money from anyone. As we do not have in our possession the text of the court’s conclusion, which was not published and was not given to Bukovsky’s mother, we are deprived of the possibility of publishing its exact text.

Although we, like the other friends of Bukovsky, were not allowed into his so-called ‘open trial’, Bukovsky’s mother was in court and from her words we know that the court found Bukovsky guilty on the following counts:

(a) that he sought an opportunity to obtain a portable printing apparatus from abroad;

(b) that he gave copies of the Chronicle of Current Events, which the court ruled anti-Soviet, to a member of the Flemish Committee for Solidarity with Eastern Europe. (Let us note at this point that the Chronicles, which have figured in many political cases, have never been defined by any court as documents calling for the overthrow of the system);

(c) that he gave foreign journalists material on the incarceration of healthy persons in psychiatric hospitals in the USSR and on the methods of “treatment” in Special Psychiatric Hospitals (this material was declared libellous by the court);

(d) that he had talked to two conscript soldiers in a cafe and in doing so had expressed his opinions (the court declared this conversation anti-Soviet).

The court’s conclusion did not pronounce Bukovsky guilty of any other offences.

If we, not having the text of the court’s conclusion, have described it inaccurately, we are prepared to acknowledge any correction immediately after the publication of the text in the Soviet press.”

The statement says that a refutation written by Bukovsky in prison was not passed by the prison censors. “Now, when… Bukovsky has received his freedom, he himself will be able to defend his honour and integrity against the slanders of A. Ya. Sukharev.” Nevertheless, the authors put forward their own demands: publication of the case-materials of all three of Bukovsky’s “cases” in the Soviet press, and of a refutation of the libellous fabrications in the pages of Literaturnaya gazeta. In addition, they ask that A. Ya. Sukharev and Literaturnaya gazeta be tried in a Soviet court, if Bukovsky should bring a prosecution against them from any country.


Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky was born in Moscow on 30 December 1942.

While he was still a youth he attracted the attention of the KGB through his literary work (poems and stories), as well as by his participation in SMOG (a literary, oppositionally-inclined group of young people) at poetry readings by the Mayakovsky monument and in the samizdat journal Phoenix.

In 1961 Bukovsky became a student of the biology faculty of Moscow University. In the spring of 1962 he gave up his studies and did not take the examinations. When he appealed to the university to reinstate him, he was refused because of his already established reputation as being “politically unreliable”.

After leaving the university, Bukovsky worked on a geological expedition; then, for almost a year at the All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information.

In May 1963 Bukovsky was arrested for being in possession of two photocopies of M. Djilas’ book The New Class. After a diagnosis at the Serbsky Institute, the court sent him for compulsory treatment, which he underwent at the Leningrad Special Psychiatric Hospital (on Arsenalnaya Street) from December 1963 to February 1965.

Bukovsky was one of the organizers of the first demonstration on Pushkin Square in Moscow, on Constitution Day, 5 December 1965. In that same December he was again put in a psychiatric hospital, this time without being tried, until August 1966.

On 22 January 1967 Bukovsky organized a demonstration in protest against the arrest of Galanskov, Lashkova, Dobrovolsky (CCE 1.1) and Radzievsky. This was followed by his arrest and trial under Article 190-3. In his speech at the trial, which was widely distributed in samizdat, Bukovsky defended the constitutional right to demonstrate in protest against government actions, as the right to demonstrate in the government’s support was in no need of constitutional affirmation. The charge of violating public order and resisting the volunteer police [druzhinniki] fell to pieces in court but was nonetheless upheld in the verdict, 3 years in ordinary-regime camps.

Bukovsky served this term in a camp near Voronezh.

After his release in January 1970 Bukovsky took an active part in the movement for the defence of human rights. That summer he gave an interview on the situation of political prisoners in psychiatric hospitals and camps, in which he also spoke of the need to overcome the terror inherited from Stalin’s times. The interview was widely transmitted on English and American television. Bukovsky was ‘warned’ at the Procurator’s Office. He replied that he could name scores of people who would confirm the truth of what he had said.

In January 1971 Bukovsky sent Western psychiatrists officially documented psychiatric diagnoses on six people: P. Grigorenko, I. Yakhimovich, N. Gorbanevskaya, V. Fainberg, V. Borisov and V. Kuznetsov. [CCE 22.3]. In his letter Bukovsky asked the psychiatrists to study this material and state whether the facts contained therein could be made the basis for isolating these people from society and giving them compulsory medical treatment. The letter was published in The Times of 12 March 1971 and prompted an immediate reaction from many psychiatrists.

On 29 March Bukovsky was arrested (CCE 19.1). During the investigation he was sent to the Serbsky Institute, but this time — beyond doubt under the influence of a widespread protest campaign — he was diagnosed sane (CCE 22.5).

On 5 January 1972 Bukovsky was tried and sentenced to the maximum penalty under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, seven years’ imprisonment (the first two years in prison) and five years’ exile (CCE 23.1 and 24.1).

Bukovsky served his term first in Vladimir Prison, then in Perm Camp 35. Before being sent to the camp, Bukovsky was detained for two months in Lefortovo Prison, where attempts were made to persuade him to recant by promising him a pardon.

In Camp 35 Bukovsky actively participated in the well-known campaign of protest against the harsh tyranny of the administration, a campaign which began on 12 May 1974 and continued all summer (CCE 32, 33). Many of those who took part in the campaign were transferred to Vladimir Prison, Bukovsky being one of the first (27 May). In the prison he was subjected to punishments (the cooler, strict regime, deprivation of visits) for his defence of the rights of political prisoners.

From the moment of Bukovsky’s arrest, an active campaign for his release was waged in the West and in the Soviet Union. Among many actions taken in the West, particular mention should be made of the work of the British “Committee for the Defence of Bukovsky”, founded in 1975, and of the International Committee to Combat Abuses of Psychiatry.

An especially important role in the fight to release Vladimir Bukovsky was played by the unceasing petitions — to the Soviet authorities, to State and public figures abroad, and to associations for the defence of human rights — from his mother, Nina Ivanovna Bukovskaya.

43.2 Traditional Days of Protest in the Soviet Union …