"If I don’t do it, who will?” asks the man with his back to the wall. And everyone is saved.
That is how a man begins building his castle. - Vladimir Bukovsky
New Lisbon WI – Vladimir Bukovsky grew up under the shadow of Stalin. When he was a small boy, his friends beat up a Jew because Jews had tried to assassinate Stalin. At seventeen, a group of his friends started a literary magazine. The regime chose to view it as subversive, and he was suspended from school. Angry, he decided to fight back.
Writing complaints, making speeches, and holding public poetry readings of banned or censored poets; he soon had the KGB on his tail. He was jailed, spending much of his adult life, in prison, work camps, and mental hospitals. He was called insane and a psychopath, diagnosed as such, and locked away for long periods of time.
The KGB were such a part of his life that the agents that were detailed to follow him would hold his spot in line for him at the bakery. If it was late and the tobacco shops were closed, they would bum cigarettes from each other. If he gave them the slip too many times they would be sacked and a new group would follow him and beat him up occasionally.
To keep his sanity, while in long periods of solitary confinement, he would draw castles on the walls of his cell, and imagine he lived there, hence the title of his memoir To Build a Castle.
The government controlled every part of his life in a very real way. There was nothing he could do easily. You want your roof fixed? It might take three years. You want to leave the country? Forget it. They told you where and how to work. What you could buy, where you could live.
“And so there you have a symbolic picture of our glorious motherland! An enormous madhouse, where everything is looted down to the last rotten spud; where the whole shebang is run by a handful of the “sane;”
Bukovsky explains to us that when the children are young they are taken off to the schools, which teach them to worship at the feet of men like Stalin. They are told of the glories of Communism, of the wealth that shared farming brings, of the wisdom of the central planners. But eventually, in time, some begin to question, to wonder if it is all really as they it is. Those that speak out are given a talking to, if they keep quiet, then good. Only one in ten thousand need be knocked off to make others shut up. Even then, Bukovsky estimates that, in his time, a third of Russian citizens would in some way or other do time in camps, prisons, or mental hospitals.
A society built on silence, fear, and secrecy. Everybody has secret doubts, but the machine crushes you if you voice them. Russia is not a special nation on the face of the earth, what happened there can happen elsewhere. Ronald Reagan taught us that liberty “is always only one generation away from extinction.”
In Russia, only some phones were bugged, we find out from our president that the majority of our calls are being monitored. We do not have KGB officials following us around, but our Facebook pages are being accessed.
Bukovsky won, in the end, his war with the system; they had to kick him out because they could not tame him. They are afraid of the ones they cannot tame. The ones who look at the “authority” and say, without raising their voice, “no.” They do not shout, they do not need to, they just say no. Every time someone says no it makes the enemy weaker by one person. If they have three hundred million they lose on three hundred millions of their power. Every time someone refuses to be frightened by a bully with a night stick they lose power. Every time someone protests peacefully they lose power. Power is all they have, and fear their only mechanism for holding it.
The Berlin wall did come down, Bukovsky in the end did leave his country. Even if by protesting you are unable to change them, you will at least keep them from changing you.
Andrew C. Abbott