Plus ca change c’est la meme chose

Natalya Gorbanevskaya, the Russian journalist, translator and poet who has died aged 77, was one of the most visible women in the Soviet human rights movement and came to the notice of the West in 1968 when she led a demonstration in Moscow in protest at the crushing of the Prague Spring.

For several days after Red Army tanks rolled into Prague on August 21 1968 there were no outward signs in Moscow of unrest. Workers in Soviet factories were made to gather at meetings to show their “support” for the invasion. The first sign the Soviet authorities had that not all their citizens were prepared to endorse the invasion came on August 25 when eight protesters unfurled banners in Red Square. Leading the way was Natalya Gorbanevskaya, pushing her three-month-old son in a pram. At noon precisely she reached into the pram and pulled out a Czechoslovak flag and banners reading “For Your Freedom and Ours” and “Hands Off Czechoslovakia”.

The demonstration ended in a matter of minutes when plainclothes KGB agents closed in. “As they ran up to us they shouted, ‘These are all dirty Jews!’ and ‘Beat the anti-Soviets!’” she recalled. “We sat quietly and offered no resistance.” The KGB men tore the banners out of their hands and beat up the men in the group before bundling them into cars. As they drove off towards a police station, another convoy of cars sped out of the Kremlin’s Spassky Gate. Among the passengers was Alexander Dubcek, the deposed Czechoslovak leader who had been flown to Moscow in handcuffs on the night of the invasion.

A very brave woman indeed.

On August 25 last year Natalya Gorbanevskaya returned to Red Square with nine other demonstrators to mark the 45th anniversary of her famous protest. They were arrested on charges of holding an unlicensed rally.


6 thoughts on “Plus ca change c’est la meme chose”

  1. As I always say, 21st century tyranny has learned much from the overbearing, bad PR of 20th century tyranny. Who needs a Lubyanka when prosecution under a micro-regulation is enough to cost you financial ruin and possibly the loss of your job? Much easier just to keep your head down.

  2. Edward, the PR may be a but slicker but it’s still not much good. Perhaps some think Putin is a he-man, but most of us, seeing him wrestle sedated cats and stuff just see a little bald bloke overcompensating at the gym.

  3. Then you’ve got the nine year old arrested for telling her classmates she’s gay. Russia is sliding into another tyranny.

  4. Here you can be arrested for calling a policeman’s horse gay.

    Or battered to a bloody pulp by the Metropolitan Police for taking part in a Countryside Alliance demo.

  5. Not the same.

    Arrested and quickly released is not the same as beaten up and given a prison sentence. Nor is their ability to ring up the western press and get coverage the same as then.

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