A peculiar kind of despair follows a catastrophe. There is no special word for this despair, though there should be; it requires a name all its own. It involves such associated concepts as bitterness, resilience, justice, trauma, insult, and injury. It is the state of mind that arises when one has suffered an event that shatters the soul. That is half of it. But the other half involves the way the world perversely refuses to understand. Having experienced the injury of loss, the victim then discovers the insult of indifference. The rest of the world continues to go about its business, blithely forgiving and forgetting, or never having known at all. Auden’s poem captures some of this: About suffering they were never wrong …
Because I’m a journalist, sometimes I receive letters from people who want the world to know that a terrible thing has happened to them. They cannot understand why no one cares. The letters are heartbreaking. Usually, there’s not much I can do. Although the story means everything to the person who has written to me, to the rest of the world, it means nothing — it is sad, but it is not significant, politically or historically. It is a human-interest feature at best.
Six years ago, however, I received a letter from someone whose story was not only sad, but massively significant. It should have been headline news. I couldn’t figure out why there was so little interest in it. Could the world really be so preoccupied — or so stupid — as to fail to grasp the importance of what Pavel Stroilov wrote to me? He was sitting on 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, Top Secret documents from the Kremlin archives, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. And no one much wanted to read them.
How was this possible?
I learned that Stroilov was a close friend of the legendary Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. Then I learned that Bukovsky, too, had a massive archive of stolen and smuggled papers from the Central Committee Archives, which, as he wrote, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.”
These documents were available online, but most were untranslated. “I offer them,” he wrote, “free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them. Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”
When I spoke to him about his papers, I heard in his voice that emotion without a name. By this point I had been living in Turkey for some years. I had met many people with that voice. You can sense it in Bukovsky’s introduction to his archives:
… And what I feared most, came to pass: the former cowardly refusal to fight has turned into an inability to recover. The inhuman Utopia fell, but neither spiritual freedom nor honorable thought has risen from the ruins. There is nothing but an absurd, pathetic farce. The unnumbered millions of victims died in vain: humanity did not become better, wiser, more mature…
For Russia, the result was a shoddy tragicomedy, in which former second rate party bosses and KGB generals play the part of leading democrats and saviours of the country from communism. All that was most ugly, rotten and base, which had lurked in the darkest corners of the communist dungeon and survived due to a total absence of conscience, now struts in the center of the stage. They are those whom prison jargon labels “jackals”: while there are real gangsters in the cell, they are neither seen nor heard, huddling on the floor under the lowest bunk. But when the ranking thieves are marched off to the camps, the “jackals” emerge and begin to throw their weight around until another real gangster appears, and they dive back to the floor. Looking at this “jackals’ democracy” one cannot help recalling Vysotsky’s prophetic words:
I live. But I’m surrounded By beasts, to whom the wolf’s cry is unknown. They’re dogs our distant kindred, Whom we regarded as our prey.
Obviously, I don’t know all the facts of the case. What I know is suggestive, but not dispositive. We’ll either learn more, or he’ll die first. Diana West has also written about this story: FLASH: British Court Imposes Gag Order on Bukovsky Libel Proceedings and Silencing Bukovsky. Diana and I have never exchanged e-mails before, but this week we met each other online. She too, I think, knows about the emotion without a name. As far as we know, we’re the only Americans to have written about this. I would say I’m surprised by this, but in truth, I’m not. Not anymore.
Vladimir Bukovsky is a colossus of the 20th century who, along with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, was a founder of non-violent resistance. But while Gandhi and King created their movements in democratic countries, Bukovsky nurtured his in the communist Soviet Union, where the authorities didn’t care about public opinion and human lives, having killed millions of their own people. Yet Bukovsky prevailed while the communist regime eventually collapsed. Another important difference is that Gandhi and King were both assassinated and became martyrs. Bukovsky, despite all his twelve years of torment in Soviet labor camps and psychiatric prisons, is still alive. …
Bukovsky’s demand is that the court attends his case immediately, without any further delay, and he intends to hold his hunger strike until that happens.
Bukovsky’s case once again exposes Putin’s impunity in his aggressive actions against nations and individuals around the world. As long as those actions are not properly countered and even supported, Putin will feel emboldened to only expand them. Bukovsky’s case is a watershed, and must become a turning point. His persecutions must be stopped, and its perpetrators must be exposed and punished. It is in the power of British justice to do that.
“Is it not incredible,” Diana wrote to me last night, “that there is not one MP to bring this up in Parliament?”
Is it? I don’t know. I would guess a hunger strike rubs the British the wrong way. It must remind them of the IRA. It’s not the form of protest I would have advised him, but no one asked me.
I don’t know how normal it is to delay a hearing like his three times. Nor do I know what evidence the Crown Prosecution Service has. They declined to comment when I asked, which is of course normal.
I last heard from Vladimir on May 8.
I am feeling fine, even better than before hunger strike. Please don’t worry. With best wishes. V.
Postscript: Putin and the return of the Soviet Union will be one of the major themes ofBrave Old World. Thank you for your generous contributions. They made it possible for me to work on this story. I could not have done so without your support.
Contributions made this week will go, specifically, to covering my travel costs when I do further research about this here in Paris, in London, and, if Bukovsky survives this — I hope — in Cambridge.