Aleksandr Cherkasov on Natalya Gorbanevskaya

posted 5 Dec 2013, 14:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Dec 2013, 14:42 ]
3 December 2013

By Aleksandr Cherkasov 

The poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya has died. She was a wonderful person and one of the best known and heroic first figures of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union. She was a poet with good connections across the poetic scene. Not just connections: more like friends. They included those who had launched the new poetry movement in the 1950s and 1960s - Joseph Brodsky, the Tartu linguistic school, a broad and free company.

Back then, as even perhaps in part now, opposition to the regime was to a considerable extent aesthetic in style. And it was poets and artists who protested even before the emergence of a human rights movement. Actually, the crucial point is that Natalia Gorbanevskaya was responsible for the Chronicle of Current Events newsletter. It was the lifeblood of the Soviet human rights movement for over 15 years, from 1968 to 1983, providing information about different events, including resistance to the regime, repressive action by the regime against independent figures and independent social activity

In April 1968, she sat down at her typewriter in order to collate all that which was known as the letter-writing revolution of 1968 - protests against repression, repression against participants in the protests, and suchlike. On the first typesheet she wrote "Year of Human Rights in the Soviet Union" (1968 was declared by the United Nations as the “Year of Human Rights”). And below this, three more words, “Khronika tekushchikh sobytii” (Chronicle of Current Events). It was this subtitle which later became the title. But the text itself was dry, unemotional, without feelings or evaluations. A Text. It was this that came to constitute the essence of the human rights movement. No angry denunciation, no emotions, no anger; only an attitude expressed in truthful and direct words.

So all this really started with the poets. . It was continued by the scientists. And, probably, this ensured the long existence of the movement and its ultimate victory. Natalya Gorbanevskaya was one of the eight people who took part in a protest on Red Square on August 25th 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, a protest "For your freedom and ours".

She was then detained together with the ninth participant in the demonstration, with her young son, who was in a pram. She was not prosecuted at the time. But she was prosecuted later, after she had told about what happened in her book "Red Square at Noon". She was then sentenced and sent to a psychiatric hospital. For several years Natalya Gorbanevskaya resisted there, where it is very hard to resist, because in those places they are out to destroy a person’s very soul.

When released, she continued, among other things, to involve herself, to participate in editing the "Chronicle". But then she was forced to emigrate. For many years she lived in Paris, where she died. And there, too, in various editing roles and in editing the newspaper Russkaya mysl, she remained somebody who did not rush to pass a weighty opinion on everything. She was a person who did not claim that her own opinions were of such importance, and that is probably why her opinions and her words were so very significant. And she wrote poetry. Until the very end she wrote poetry. She was our very good friend. And this is a huge loss for us. And I don't even know if you can say that we are expressing our condolences to the family and friends of Natalya Gorbanevskaya, because for all of us she was someone who was dear to us, and close to our hearts. She slipped away easily into death, as a good person, they say, is supposed to do. But without her now, it will be much, much harder for us.

Таких легких и в то же время несгибаемых, не горящих в огне, не растворяемых в кислоте людей мало. То золото, которое не подвластно времени, но не стремится блестеть, чтобы доказать, что оно золото.

There are few people that have such lightness of being but are so resolute that fire will not burn them, nor acid dissolve them. They are like gold that is resistant to time, but does not need to dazzle to prove that it is gold.

Author: Alexander Cherkasov,
Chair of the Board Memorial Human Rights Centre

Dmitry Boiko: I took this photo of Natalya Gorbanevskaya near the Sakharov Centre in Moscow on 1st May. Along the pathways of the square, which had still not been dug over, there were little pictures hanging on strings, a "flying" exhibition on the theme of political action. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. It was very quiet, as always during the holidays away from the squares that attract revellers. Suddenly, among these rows of white pictures like linen hanging out to dry, Gorbanevskaya appeared. She walked along and then sat on a bench, smoking, immersed in reading an electronic book. A young couple cuddled up together beside her. Then their place was taken by a venerable gentleman with a snow white bull terrier. When he left, she was still reading. Behind her, on a slope in the sunlight some kind of tiny yellow flowers were shining brilliantly. Now it seems to me that this was a scattering of stars in the sky...