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The Return of Bukovsky

After 15 years abroad, the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has returned to Russia to formerly declare his bid for the presidency. Bukovsky, who spent many years in labor camps and psychiatric institutions, played an instrumental role in alerting the wider world to the Soviet practice of forcing political dissidents to undergo mental health internment, and has more recently been an outspoken advocate against the war in Iraq and torture by the United States.

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Like many other former dissidents, Bukovsky draws comparisons between the current government and the autocracy he spent his life fighting against:

“You must understand my emotional reaction to this,” he said. “I was fighting the Communist regime all my life since the age of 16. And after it collapsed, to see it returning back is really painful. Again and again, the same restrictions and the same power over the people. It’s really abusive. I’m just trying to help.” He said most Russians have tuned out politics because they know they have no say. “People here are either a boss or a subordinate, either a master or a slave, and nothing in between.” What he’d love to see occur in Russia, and what he hopes to inspire, is a grassroots uprising similar to the peaceful, pro-democracy movements in Georgia and Ukraine. “If people, in their huge masses want to change something, they can. And they’ve seen examples of this in neighbouring countries.”

Insofar as his government platform, Bukovsky today presented an eight-page manifesto entitled “Russia on the Chekists’ Hook” – possibly a reference to the recent Cherkesov open letter which boasted that the seizure of power by Russia’s former KGB officers offered the nation a cohesive “hook” to prevent a “freefall” into chaos following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Bukovsky is unique from other marginal opposition candidates in his promise to initiate a full investigation into the abuses of both the KGB and FSB: “Authority in the country has been fully and wholly usurped by chekists, as in the Bourbon period of the Restoration, and they didn’t understand anything and didn’t learn anything. They declared the collapse of the Soviet Union a disaster and are methodically and stubbornly restoring the Soviet regime.” Looking noticeably frail in his first day of campaigning (see this video interview by CBS), Bukovsky also sounded out notes of economic populism, remarking on the growing inequality between the wealthy of Moscow’s high rises and impoverished of the nation’s interior. Bukovsky’s efforts may not amount to much more than a Western journalist’s Kasparovian fantasy (it is, after all, a very good story yet not politically realistic). Many point out the Russian Constitution requires any presidential candidate to have lived in Russia in the preceding 10 years – although there are some discrepancies.