Voices of Ukraine senior staff
Leonid Plyushch, a legendary human rights activist, dissident and symbol of resistance to the totalitarian Soviet regime, died in France yesterday at the age of 76.
“Leonid died on Thursday morning [June 4]. He was an extraordinary person who has gone through a difficult time,” said his friend Arina Ginzburg, also a former dissident of the Soviet era.
Born in Naryn, Kirghyzia on April 25, 1939, Leonid Plyushch was a talented mathematician, a prominent publicist and a literature specialist, a human rights activist, a member of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, a member of the External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki group (UHG), and a victim of Soviet punitive psychiatry.
I believe that our only weapon is the truth. –Leonid Plyushch
Plyushch’s official obituary has been republished many times in the past 2 days. This is a small remembrance of the important role he played in human rights work in the diaspora at a crucial time in the formation of international policies towards the former Soviet Union. What follows are a few excerpts, used with the author’s permission, from the recently-published book Negotiating Human Rights: In Defence of Dissidents during the Soviet Era. A Memoir by Christina Isajiw, former director of the Human Rights Commission of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (currently the Ukrainian World Congress) who spent over twenty-five years lobbying in defense of dissidents and human rights activists of the former USSR. Some of the images and quotes are taken from other sources listed either on each image or at the bottom of this post.
Bohden Nahaylo interpreting for Leonid Plyushch in Trafalgar Square, London, in 1977 at a rally in defense of Soviet political prisoners confined in mental hospitals. Leonid Plyushch, Vladimir Bukovsky, Maria Phillimore-Slonim and British actor David Markham. Photos & source: Bohdan Nahaylo FB post.
Leonid Plyushch, a former Soviet political prisoner who suffered 2 1/2 years of psychiatric repression and forced confinement [he was arrested in January 1972, brought to trial January 25, 1973, was sent by the court to the Dnipropetrovsk Special Psychiatric Hospital for forced treatment from July 5, 1973 until January 10, 1976 and was treated with dangerous drugs such as haloperidol, triftazin, and even large doses of insulin] has died on June 4th in France.
“At the time, the incarceration of this young scientist evoked a strong response in the West. Appeals poured into Moscow from the American Medical Association, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and Ukrainian organizations. His case acquired even more resonance when French mathematicians joined with Amnesty International to sponsor an international Leonid Plyushch Day on April 23, 1975. On October 23, 1975, a public meeting was held in Paris in support of Plyushch. Attended by some five thousand people, including representatives of socialist organizations, it was the largest rally ever organized in support of a Soviet prisoner of conscience. Fearful of losing electoral support, the French Communist Party declared two days later in L’Humanité, “If it is true that [Plyushch] is interned in a psychiatric hospital solely because he has taken a stand against some aspects of Soviet policy or against the regime itself, we can only confirm with the greatest clarity our total disapproval and demand that he be liberated as quickly as possible.” In January 1976, Tatiana Plyushch was given exit visas for her family, and the Soviet news agency TASS announced that they would be permitted to emigrate to Israel. Arriving in Austria, the family proceeded to settle in France. “Lyonya,” as he was known to his friends, was bright, witty, and sometimes bitterly sarcastic, but always engaging and a good, loyal friend.
Bern Experts’ Meeting on Human Contacts, 1986
From April 15 to May 26, 1986, Bern, Switzerland was the sight of this special six-week human rights conference where all thirty-five participating states committed to talks on compliance with the Helsinki Accords on the key subject of human contacts. The Bern Meeting was something of a turning point leading to promises for changes in the Helsinki Process.
Leonid Plyushch…gave numerous interviews that I arranged…Leonid was quoted in various major news media. In Le Monde, he talked about the severe repression of Ukrainians, who constituted 30 to 40 percent of all the political prisoners in the USSR. He emphasized the fact that the KGB (secret police) was experimenting with new methods of terror in Ukraine by intimidating the family members of dissidents, including their elderly parents.
24 Heures, an important daily from Lausanne, Switzerland, ran a full-page interview with Leonid on April 16, in which he was asked whether Ukrainians limited their struggle to a form of autonomy or were aiming for independence. He replied:
“Almost all the dissidents of our republic follow the same evolution. First, they oppose the Russification of their culture and fight for more autonomy within the USSR. Then, little by little they realize that the maintenance of their culture will be impossible if Ukraine does not become an independent state. Therefore, they express themselves in such a way that the implications are clear.”
When he was asked: “For what society are you fighting in the Soviet Union?” Leonid Plyushch answered that his aim was to help Ukraine above all:
“Above all, for Ukraine, to be able to escape Russification. This republic consists of 50 million people, which is close to the population of France. It has its own language and culture. The
Russian government does everything to crush our uniqueness and to impose their ideas. To the point that when in a library in my village, I asked for information in my language and was
answered: ‘Speak to me in a human language.’ I suddenly knew what it felt like to be a Jew. This affected me pro-foundly. Today, the prisons are full of Ukrainians who fight for the recognition of their culture.’ (UkrainianWeekly, p.11)
At the Helsinki Review meeting in Vienna (November 4, 1986–January 19, 1989), Leonid Plyushch emphasized that the principles contained in the Helsinki Accords had been talked about since the 1960s among the dissidents and that it was inconceivable to “solve the problems of Ukraine, the Baltic nations, or Crimean Tatars” without solving human rights issues. He detailed current abuses in Ukraine and cautioned that international issues cannot be resolved if the individual nations concerned are not allowed to be part of the resolution.”
“Leonid Plyushch once wrote:
…mine is an account of one more road to freedom, a description of how the Soviet union appears in the eyes of a citizen whose fanatical faith in the system gave way to a struggle to free himself of its illusions, slavery and terror.
Leonid became a prominent Ukrainian dissident witnessing the draconian trials of dissenters during the mid 1960s.
Forgetting, shutting my eyes and ears, remaining silent was impossible. Above all, as an oppositionist I would not need to lie or to play the double role of ‘building the brilliant future’ while suppressing the dismal present.
His spiritual awakening evolved with witnessing the continuous distortion of history, the suppression of independent thinking, the annihilation of intellectuals, a process whereby intelligent individuals were virtually forced into dissidence. With admirable courage he challenged the authorities, was persecuted and suffered two-and-a-half years of abuse and torturous treatments in the infamous special psychiatric institution in Dnipropetrovsk. The huge human rights movement in the west fought for his release and Leonid became its avid supporter and participant for the rest of his life.
Leonid possessed a unique intellectual integrity, he was a humanist and a philosopher, he was an eloquent story teller, an intellectual, he possessed inexhaustible political wit, and he was a dear friend. May He Rest in Peace!”
Source: Christina Isajiw FB
Truth in politics for those like Putin, is lies. And he has made a great many of them. But regardless, truth, in my view, will prevail. –Leonid Plyushch
Voices of Ukraine would like to extend its sincere condolences to Leonid Plyushch’s wife, family, fellow dissident friends and loved ones. If you remember Plyushch, please feel free to share your memories in the comments.
Related reading and viewing:
Business Insider, Prominent Soviet dissident Leonid Plyushch dies
Psychiatric Abuse of Political Prisoners in the Soviet Union–Testimony by Leonid Plyushch (March 30, 1976). Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Organizations, of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington, DC.
Video (in Ukrainian), Dialogue: Vasyl Herasym’yuk – Leonid Plyushch Part 1 (2014)