Film on Soviet Dissidents Presented at Harvard University
On February 26 Harvard University (USA) hosted a special presentation of “They Chose Freedom”, a television documentary on the history of political dissent in the USSR. The presentation was organized by the Sakharov Program on Human Rights at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
“They Chose Freedom”, produced by Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. for RTVI television network in 2005, tells the story of the Soviet dissident movement from its emergence in the late 1950s until the 1990s. The documentary covers key events in the struggle between dissidents and the Communist regime, including public readings of banned poetry on Mayakovsky Square, the development of samizdat, the 1965 and 1968 opposition demonstrations in Moscow, the harsh repressions unleashed against dissenters (forced psychiatric “treatment”, prison camps and deportations), as well as the events leading to the collapse of Soviet dictatorship and the democratic revolution of August 1991.
The documentary is narrated primarily through the interviews of prominent Russian dissidents. The film’s participants are Elena Bonner, Vladimir Bukovsky, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Viktor Fainberg, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Sergei Kovalev, Naum Korzhavin, Eduard Kuznetsov, Pavel Litvinov, Yuri Orlov, Alexander Podrabinek, Anatoly Sharansky and Alexander Yessenin-Volpin.
According to the film’s author, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who spoke at the presentation in Harvard, dissidents were heroes who saved the honour of Russia and of the Russian people when the majority remained silent. “They had the courage, the dignity and the responsibility to stand up against the deception, tyranny and injustice of the Communist regime”, Kara-Murza said. “When the majority asked “why me”, they asked: “if not me, who?” They were prepared to come out and demonstrate publicly for what they knew was right, knowing that those five minutes on the square will cost them years in prison or, worse, in a special psychiatric unit”.
Tatiana Yankelevich, director of the Sakharov Program on Human Rights at Harvard’s Davis Center, spoke of the importance of “They Chose Freedom” for preserving the historical memory of Soviet dissenters. In her view, this film should above all be seen by younger viewers, as it can “teach the new generation the concept of peaceful opposition, which involves thinking and behaving as a citizen”.
“They Chose Freedom” was first broadcast on RTVI in 2005. It was later shown at the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow and the Cinema House in Ekaterinburg. The film may be watched on the Web (in its original Russian) by following this link
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