All Soviet dissidents are legendary, to one degree or another. Vladimir Bukovsky is especially so. He is held in awe by people whom the rest of us hold in awe. I’m speaking of his fellow dissidents. He is a dissident’s dissident, so to speak. …
He spent twelve years in the Gulag: prisons, labor camps, and sadistic psychiatric hospitals. I ask, “Did you ever think you would not survive?” “Oh, yeah,” he answers. “It was the dominant idea.” He thought they would kill him. “Most of my friends never expected to live to the age of 30. We all thought it was a given. It was just luck that I survived. Most of my friends were killed.” …
Early in 1977, Bukovsky had a long talk with President Carter — “naïve,” he says of that president. He would also talk many times with President Reagan. Very different. “We called him ‘Grandpa Reagan,’” Bukovsky remembers. (When he says “we,” he means Soviet dissidents.) “He was a member of the family. He loved Russian political jokes. Whenever he saw any of us, he’d immediately ask, ‘Got any new jokes?’”
The Great Heist of Soviet Archives, by Stephen Bates and Claire Berlinski.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Bukovsky … saw an opportunity to get at confidential Soviet archives which he had sought to get at, one way or another.
Bukovsky was invited back to Moscow in 1992 by Boris Yeltsin, President of the newly established Russian Federation. Yeltsin asked Bukovsky to testify in a trial brought by former members of the Communist Party, who had charged Yeltsin with illegally banning their party and confiscating property they had acquired under the Soviet regime. Bukovsky consented, letting Yeltsin think that it was Bukovsky who was being played.
Bukovsky explains what he did:
Foreseeing that I would not be allowed to make any copies — because no photocopier was available, supposedly, or special permission was needed for every scrap of paper, or for God knows what other reason — I took the precaution of acquiring a portable computer with a hand-held scanner. This piece of high tech, a miracle of Japanese manufacture, had only just appeared in the West and was completely unknown to our naïve Russians. I was able to sit and scan piles of documents, page after page, right under their noses, with no worries about curious onlookers, who kept coming up to admire my machine.
“Look at that!” exclaimed the leaders of democratic Russia, peering admiringly over my shoulder. “That must have cost a few bucks!”
Nobody realized what I was doing until December 1992, when the Court hearing was almost over. Then, suddenly, one of them was struck by a horrible thought and yelled loudly enough to be heard all over the building:
“He’s been copying everything!!!”
There was a deathly hush. I kept scanning, as though I had not heard.
“He’ll publish everything OVER THERE!!!”
I finished work, packed up my computer and headed calmly for the door, looking neither left nor right. From the corner of my eye I could see the horrified faces of Yeltsin’s elite, frozen in disbelief, and Pikhoya’s childishly hurt features which seemed to say: “Let him! Serves you all right!”
Nobody said a word as I made my way to the door. They were probably busy calculating what untold millions I would make in the West.
… And that is how the pile of classified documents marked “Secret”, “Top Secret”, “Of Particular Importance” and “Special File” came into my hands. Several thousand priceless pages of our history.
From which the West learned, for instance, that nearly all the people Joseph McCarthy had accused of being Soviet spies in the 1950s … were in fact Soviet spies.