Arseny Roginsky: Natasha’s World

posted 9 Dec 2013, 11:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Dec 2013, 11:21 ]
5 December 2013

Arseny Roginsky

Today the funeral of Natalya Evgenievna Gorbanevskaya, a great friend to very many people around the world, took place in Paris. Natasha – for she was called Natasha by everyone, both her contemporaries and younger generations –was a major Russian poet of great significance and standing, who had been singled out for praise by Akhmatova in her youth.

At the age of 25, Natasha wrote these lines:

Like a soldier in Anders’ army,
Like Andersen’s Tin Soldier,
I have nothing to do. I compose poems,
But sadly I cannot tell lies.

Every word here is chosen deliberately, including the reference to Anders’ Army. Natasha maintained close ties with Poland throughout her lifetime, and eventually became a Polish citizen. But the key phrases are “I compose poems” and “I have nothing to do”. She found something to do, and this was the human rights movement. Natasha was a founder and first editor of the Chronicle of Current Events, an uncensored bulletin put out by human rights defenders which survived for 15 years, longer than any other uncensored publication, despite the fact that all those who worked on it were arrested one by one.

Natasha is most famous for having participated in the demonstration held on 25 August 1968 against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Yet Natasha was at heart a worker, and as a human rights defender she took upon herself the most difficult and toughest kinds of work: collecting information, collating it and dividing it into themes. This is hard work: working with information. She invented this work, and in essence was its founder. She paid for it by being put in a psychiatric prison, and declared mentally ill. Although many were outraged at the fact that Natasha took her small child along with her to the demonstration, for her it was an entirely natural thing to do: she never separated her children from herself.

This was followed by her work on Russkaya mysl (Russian Thought) and Kontinent (Continent), for which she she also took on herself the vast amounts of editorial work, just as she had done with the Chronicle of Current Events. And all this time she wrote poetry, poetry and more poetry. She was a wonderful poet, a wonderful worker and a wonderful mother and grandmother, gathering around herself all her children and all her grandchildren, as well as a huge number of young people who also called her Natasha, and for whom her poems and fate were never a model, but instead a password of sorts: I love Gorbanevskaya. And now she has been buried, almost in the centre of Paris, in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, not far from where she lived and where her children live. Hers was a happy fate, and indeed we are happy to have been her friends.

The Soviet human rights movement was itself the core of the much broader dissident movement, which also included nationalist movements, religious movements, movements for emigration, and many others. Yet the human rights movement, which spoke in the language of law, which brought people together and gave them the possibility to talk with the authorities, was at its very heart and core. The Chronicle of Current Events was the central point and focus for all of these various movements, metaphorically speaking a place where they joined together for each other and for the world. It goes without saying that the Chronicle was enormously significant as a completely independent space for information, and this space was truly the creation of Natasha. She simply took on the task and got down to work.

Sasha Podrabinek tells the story of how Natasha found him hard at work on Express Chronicle on one of her first trips to Russia after emigrating: there was still an enormous amount to do before publication the following day, so she sat down next to him and stayed there for the next four hours, without even a break to smoke a cigarette. She did a first-rate and expert job of editing and compiling, despite being under no obligation to do so.

Natasha was blessed with a very clear and systematic mind, and the language she used was elegant and wonderful, never official in style or journalese. She was in fact largely responsible for creating this language, the Russian language of independent information.

Arseny Roginsky
Historian, human rights activist, chair of the board of International Memorial Society

Source: Radio Svoboda 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds