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.
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.