Russia’s opposition has nominated a former Soviet dissident living in London as its single candidate to run for president in Russia next year.
“The emergence of an initiative group to advance the famous writer and former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky as a candidate for the presidency in Russia was announced in Moscow May 28,” the group said in a statement. Bukovsky, 65, who spent a total of 12 years in Soviet prisons, is a co-founder of Committee 2008, along with chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov, liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and others. The organization the opposition says is designed to ensure free presidential elections in 2008. Bukovsky has agreed to stand: “I cannot promise happiness to our people. A long and difficult road toward recovery is before us. We could well fail to cope. But if this nation has the courage to appeal to people like me, we are willing to try.”
Bukovsky was imprisoned several times for organizing poetry meetings in central Moscow and the first demonstration in 40 years in the early 1960s. And in 1970, he managed to smuggle evidence of the use of Soviet psychiatric hospitals as prisons to the West. In 1976, Bukovsky was exchanged for former Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan in Switzerland. Bukovsky, who has lived in Cambridge doing neurophysiology research and publishing books since 1976, came to Moscow in 1991 during Boris Yeltsin’s campaign for presidency as an expert to testify at a Communist Party trial. He was considered a potential vice-presidential running mate for Yeltsin. He has also been offered a chance to run for mayor in a post-Soviet Moscow, but refused.
President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly criticized in the West for his democratic record but rather popular within Russia, has repeatedly declined the possibility of his staying in office for a third term, but is widely expected to name his successor, who is likely to win polls in March 2008.
This is a powerful ideological statement, underlining the neo-Soviet character of modern Russia in the strongest way possible. But on the other hand it can be viewed as a blunder, since choosing a candidate who doesn’t even live in Russia and lacks the political experience of a Kasyanov or Illarionov undermines his group’s credibility, making it seem as if they’ve given up before they’ve even started. As well, if Kasyanov or Illarionov or Kasparov actually get into the ring, it will divide the opposition. The Moscow Times has more:
Vladimir Bukovsky, the prominent Soviet-era dissident, will run for president in 2008, a group of his supporters said Monday. Bukovsky, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1976 and now lives in Britain, said in a statement that he wanted to run because he would like to reverse unfair court verdicts and “a man is suffocating in prison” — an apparent reference to Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “I cannot promise happiness to our people. Maybe polonium-210 awaits me. But this won’t stop me,” Bukovsky said in a statement released by his supporters. The supporters include Yury Ryzhov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; opposition journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.; political scientists Andrei Piontkovsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky; and Roman Dobrokhotov, leader of the opposition youth group My. They called on all opposition groups to back Bukovsky’s candidacy. Bukovsky was a friend of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who British prosecutors believe was poisoned with polonium-210 planted by former security services agent Andrei Lugovoi last year. Lugovoi denies the charge. Several opposition leaders have already expressed interest in running for president next year, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko. Bukovsky, 64, spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet authorities agreed to let him leave the country in exchange for the release of Chilean communist leader Luis Alberto Corvalan Castillo by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976. He is the author of several books, including “To Build a Castle” and “Judgment in Moscow.”
Other Russia plans two more major dissent marches, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, for early June. Its position on the above is not yet clear.