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Remembering Natalya Gorbanevskaya

Natalia Gorbanevskaya at RFE/RL Moscow bureau on Aug 28, 2013
Natalia Gorbanevskaya at RFE/RL Moscow bureau on Aug 28, 2013
Natalya Gorbanevskaya liked to quote a line from Andrei Platonov, one of her favorite Russian authors. "Without me, the nation is not complete," she would say, reflecting her conviction that every individual has a valid voice in the life of a country, and all voices are entitled to be heard.

RFE/RL remembers Gorbanevskaya, a poet, author, dissident and contributor to Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian service, from 1976 - 1986, who passed away in Paris on November 29 at the age of 78.

Gorbanevskaya is widely remembered for her participation in a protest in Moscow's Red Square against the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, an act of defiance for which she was confined to a psychiatric facility for three years. Together with veteran human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva, she helped compile the first human rights newsletter in Soviet Russia, the samizdat "Chronicle of Current Events." She emigrated to Paris in 1975, her home for the next three decades, where she continued her activism, wrote for numerous émigré publications and developed a relationship with RFE/RL’s Paris bureau.
Russia -- Natalya Gorbanevskaya March, 1973
Russia -- Natalya Gorbanevskaya March, 1973

She was granted Polish citizenship in 2005.

In 2008, Gorbanevskaya joined Vaclav Havel and other European leaders and former dissidents in signing the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism.

Last August, in what would be one of her last public acts, she reprised her 1968 protest, participating in a Moscow demonstration on the 45th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

She received an honorary medal from Prague’s Charles University last October for her lifelong commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights.

RFE/RL spoke to several of Gorbanevskaya’s colleagues and friends upon the occasion of her death.

Former dissident and human rights activist Vera Lashkova offered this memory:

"Natasha called me her sister. When she was jailed for the demonstration on Red Square, I was able to register as her sister in Butyrskaya prison. That way I could bring her packages, write her letters and she could write letters to me. Ever since then Natasha called me her sister even in letters: 'Dear Sister.' I was very proud of that. But Natasha was more than a sister to me. The first issue of the "Chronicle of Current Events" Natasha wrote by hand in a thin school notebook. I didn’t read it, because I was still imprisoned, but the second issue that she also wrote in a notebook she gave to me. I had already returned to Moscow by then and it was the second issue that I typed completely. In every sense of the word she really is a founder of the "Chronicles." It is the document that will stay here forever.

"Besides, Natasha was a poet. She felt herself to be one and was praised for her skills. When she came to Russia I would often go to her public readings that she would hold in little clubs or halls. Except for us, Natasha’s not very young friends, there were a lot of young people. And when sometimes she would forget a line, they would remind her of it. These moments would make me so happy. Natasha, of course, was a true Russian poet in her spirit, culture and lifestyle. Another amazing trait of Natasha was her loyalty, even in friendships. And she was never jealous, which is a feature of a great soul."

Poet Tatiana Neshumova offered this tribute:

“I think of Natalya with tenderness and amazement. All that we know about her amazing and difficult human experience combined in an odd way with a lively rhythm peculiar to her up until the last hours of her life. She was a rare kind of poet who loved others’ poetry. Just look through her blog and you will find her heroes, modern martyrs and prisoners, and lines of others’ poetry. I can still see her during the Mandelstam days in Warsaw in the Fall of 2011. Here she is getting on stage to read her paper and the Poles--the entire auditorium!--stands up. Here we are running away from the event, just to drink a quick cup of coffee. But when she is to start reading poetry this haste disappears. It was the most important part of her life..."

Jerzy Pomianowski, Editor-in-chief of the Russian language magazine, “Novaya Polsha,” [published in Poland] remembered her this way:

Russia -- Human rights activist Natalya Gorbanevskaya (C) attends a memorial protest action on Red square in Moscow, August 25, 2013.
Russia -- Human rights activist Natalya Gorbanevskaya (C) attends a memorial protest action on Red square in Moscow, August 25, 2013.
"Gorbanevskaya was a part of a remarkable part of the Russian intelligentsia on which the future of Russia depends. Not only Russian language and literature, but also politics. This modest, small, not very strong woman turned out to be one of the most courageous representatives of that part of the society that pushes Russian thought forward. She was a contributor to the “Russian Thought” [émigré] publication in Paris."

"Gorbanevskaya understood very well the relationship between Poland and Russia. She was a famous poet in Poland. Not only did she translate Polish poets, but our poets would translate her work from Russian. She was the most faithful contributor to “Novaya Polsha,” a monthly dedicated to a dialogue between the Russian and Polish intelligentsia. She was chairman of one of the most important Polish literary awards, Angelus. Literary performances were just a part of her courageous life that was dedicated to the public cause. This fragile woman, who wasn’t young, became an example for the Russian and Polish intelligentsia on which the future of an advanced and courageous Russia depends."

(This is an adaptation of an article by Yelena Polyakovskaya and Dmitry Volchek that was originally published on RFE/RL's Russian service website. Translations are by Anna Shamanska.)