Russia Needs Dissidents Like Novodvorskaya
Published: July 23, 2014 (Issue # 1821)
Valeria Novodvorskaya is dead. Novodvorskaya was not only an opposition politician, human rights activist and Soviet dissident who endured prison and Soviet punitive psychiatry, but also was a talented writer and publicist.
“Putin,” she once said, “is a Chekist to his bones, a political incompetent and a follower of Stalin. He is vindictive and cruel and a creation of the shadowy Soviet system from which he emerged.”
And that was far from the harshest criticism that Novodvorskaya ever leveled at Putin.
Despite being labeled criminals and maniacs, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed their condolences to her family. Medvedev issued a statement praising her contributions to Russia and her personal qualities. “She did a great deal for democracy in our country, was actively engaged in human rights work and was never afraid to defend her point of view. This earned her the respect of her supporters and opponents.”
The tormentors she battled her whole life now publicly mourn her, however insincerely, after her death. Novodvorskaya’s life, death and the Kremlin’s condolences capture the very essence of Russian history, society and statehood.
The loner-critic-writer is an exceptionally important factor in Russia’s public and political life. Such individuals are persecuted and repressed during their lifetimes, but immortalized after their deaths, their lonely voices thundering out across the country even after their corporeal presence has ended. These writers often de facto become the most important thinkers and politicians of their day, forming or heavily influencing state policy and the country’s political agenda for many decades into the future.
Novodvorskaya fits a classic character type in Russian history. In his article about social critic Alexander Radishchev, Alexander Pushkin defined the type as “political fanatics.” Writers, literary critics, journalists and publishers were the main opposition types of Russian history in both the 19th century and the Soviet period. Valeria Novodvorskaya is a direct successor to Radishchev, the Decembrists, Pyotr Chaadayev, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, who at times listed his occupation as “writer,” Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Except for only rare and brief periods in the early and late 20th century, the Russian authorities never permitted the appearance of a Western-style politician with the attendant parties, elections and free press. Therefore, those individuals turned to literary expression as their only option and thus the main form of their oppositional activity. Even then they were often persecuted.
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