Semyon Gluzman in 1989

Within the Soviet Union there have been uncommon people who fought for human rights, at nice private expense. One was psychiatrist Semyon Gluzman, who condemned the incarceration of dissidents in psychological hospitals. The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones met him as soon as within the 1980s and once more this yr – and this time he was stuffed with hope for the way forward for his nation.

All of it started once I instructed my tutor on the London College of Economics that I and a fellow scholar have been planning to journey across the Soviet Union by prepare.

“Perhaps,” he stated, “you can go to somebody in Kiev.”

A powerful opponent of Soviet communism, my tutor used to assist dissidents – particularly these falsely declared mentally unwell – a observe that had been highlighted by the writings of a Ukrainian psychiatrist known as Semyon Gluzman. It was Gluzman he needed me to fulfill. “He is simply again from exile in Siberia,” my tutor stated, “you can let him know he isn’t been forgotten.”

He gave me a thick pile of papers detailing the pro-Gluzman marketing campaign. “Do not take this behind the iron curtain. Greatest to memorise it.”

I studied the paperwork on the prepare from London after which, once I received to Vienna, took benefit of a 30-minute break to dump them in a platform dustbin. I went for a wander after which as I returned to the prepare glanced on the bin. The paperwork had vanished.

Anxious, we pressed on. In Kiev, every house block regarded the precisely identical – we needed to ask for assist repeatedly, every time fearing somebody would name the police, however ultimately we reached Gluzman.

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He was a sorry sight, with sunken cheeks after a starvation strike, and the still-shaven head of a prisoner. We delivered the message of encouragement and left.

Occasionally I’ve questioned what occurred to Semyon Gluzman. And now I do know. After I recorded a radio programme in Kiev not too long ago, one of many panellists – an MP – requested if I had ever been within the nation earlier than.

“Thirty-five years in the past in the past,” I stated.

“How come?” she requested.

“I used to be a scholar. I visited a dissident.”

“I see. What title?”

“Semyon Gluzman.”

“Ah! A beautiful man.”

“You realize him?”

“Sure, after all. He’s very well-known,” she stated, scrolling by way of the contacts on her telephone.

I known as.


“You do not know me,” I stated, “however we met 35 years in the past and I’ve simply received your telephone quantity – I’m in Kiev.”

“And also you wish to meet me,” he stated. “And I wish to meet you.”

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Alexander Chekmenev

The following morning a a lot fuller-faced Semyon Gluzman was in my lodge foyer. We sat by a window – outdoors there was ice on the bottom and flurries of snow within the air. He instructed me about his time in jail and exile and concerning the time the well-known dissident, Andrei Sakharov, had come to fulfill him in Kiev in 1971.

“We spoke on the railway station surrounded by 10 KGB males all pretending to learn newspapers.” He laughed on the reminiscence however added: “I used to be afraid then.”

“Do you bear in mind our assembly in your house?” I requested.

“No,” he stated. After which, sensing my disappointment, added: “There have been many conferences. Perhaps 90% have been individuals despatched from American synagogues. They thought I used to be a refusenik.” The time period referred to Soviet Jews who needed to go to Israel however have been refused permission.

“Nevertheless it was a misunderstanding”, he went on. “I used to be not a refusenik. One man got here from New Orleans. ‘Sure, I’m Jewish,’ I stated, ‘however I used to be in a camp for political prisoners. I am staying right here in Ukraine.’ After about 15 minutes he understood my place.”

“I might have left,” he stated. “As soon as a Soviet official instructed me even Prince Charles in Nice Britain is elevating your case. You’re a problem for us.”

“No, you’re a problem for me,” Gluzman replied.

“Fill in these papers and possibly you possibly can go to Israel,” the official stated. “Please go!”

“No,” Gluzman replied. “YOU go.”

Irritated by well-meaning overseas guests misunderstanding his stance, Gluzman ultimately wrote a letter asking that no extra be despatched to see him.

He went on: “Some activists within the West have been confused when Gorbachev launched the political prisoners. The dissidents weren’t what they anticipated. Not everybody is usually a Mandela. One lady in Holland who used to put in writing letters to a dissident invited him to stick with her. However inside hours of his arriving, she found he was a fascist.”

And what about in the present day?

“I can criticise the president with out punishment,” he stated.

“And I’ve hope. Once I was in jail I seen that round 30% of the prisoners from the Soviet Union have been Ukrainians. Why, I do not know.

“Many have been nationalists with no real interest in human rights. However nonetheless, the Ukrainians weren’t all slaves. And that is one thing.”

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