The news I have been dreading comes out of England tonight: Vladimir Bukovsky has died. He was 76.
Now that Bukovsky is no more on this earth with the rest of us mortals, the obituaries, like so many doves, will be released to mark his passage out of our lives and into our memories.
I think I have always known that no matter how "prepared" one might be, this moment would be overwhelming. How do we mark the consequence and courage of such an extraordinary man who chose to lead his life in outspoken opposition to evil, who chose to sacrifice years of his life in Soviet labor camps and psychiatric hospitals rather than submit to communist slavery? The unflinching heroism, the giant scale of battle, the enormity of achievment was for Vladimir Bukovsky life's routine, and thus defies the normal sort of reckoning at life's end. The quandary lies in the colossal metaphysical sense of him that must be conveyed only in words.
Certainly, at this time there can be no better words than his own. I find myself thinking about a line that recurs in both of his memoirs, To Build a Castle (1979) and Judgment in Moscow (2019): "I did all that I could."
Here in To Build a Castle, Bukovsky is describing the Soviet dissident movement, of which he was a co-founder.
We weren't playing politics, we didn't compose programs for "the liberation of the people," we didn't found unions of "the plow and the sword." Our sole weapon was publicity. Not propaganda, but publicity, so that no one could say afterward: "I didn't know." The rest depended on each individual's conscience. Neither did we expect victory -- there wasn't the slightest hope of achieving it. But each of craved the right to say to our descendants: "I did all that I could. I was a citizen. I fought for the observance of the law and never went against my conscience." It wasn't a political struggle, but a struggle between the living and the dead, the natural and the artificial.
"I did all that I could." I can't think of a greater expression of devotion, or a greater challenge to the living. Anyway, it is something to hold onto as we mourn.
Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky, Rest in peace.