An interview with Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky

Vladimir Bukovsky, a well-known Soviet-era dissident now living in Britain, is preparing to run for president as an opposition candidate in March 2008. Bukovsky says he is doing this “with the aim of uniting and supporting the opposition.” He will return to Russia soon.

Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky, well-known Soviet-era dissident – and friend of Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in London – is preparing to run for president as an opposition candidate.

Question: Your relationship with our state is somewhat tangled. Your citizenship was restored in 1992; you considered giving it up in 1993, on principle. Your passport expired in 1997, but you have made no move to renew it until now, in order to run for president. Did you expect to be issued a Russian passport so easily?

Vladimir Bukovsky: I didn’t really have any doubts that a passport would be issued. A refusal would have been too much – anyone can get a passport renewed, it’s a technicality. Good on them for getting it done so fast.

Question: Suspiciously fast, in fact – as if they said: all right, let’s give him a passport, since he doesn’t stand a chance anyway.

Vladimir Bukovsky: There are still some obstacles to overcome. They concern the Constitution and the law on dual citizenship. But Vladimir Kara-Murza, for example, has appealed to the Constitutional Court against the prohibition of people with dual citizenship running for office. And the Constitution only specifies that a presidential candidate must have lived in Russia for at least ten years – it doesn’t say that the ten-year period must be immediately before the election. In short, the lawyers have had a look at it, and they told me that there are some grounds for a different interpretation. If I’m denied registration on those grounds, I will appeal. So there’s no reason to despair just yet.

Question: You mean to represent the opposition – but are you aware of how weak the opposition is?

Vladimir Bukovsky: I know them all – Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, Grigory Yavlinsky, Irina Khakamada. I’ve been meeting with all of them for a long time. The opposition is indeed very weak. This is partly due to changes in legislation, making it impossible for small parties to get elected to the Duma. It’s partly due to the state taking control of the electronic media. All these factors have combined to make survival highly problematic for small parties. And it’s partly their own fault for failing to reach agreement with each other. In fact, that’s why I’m doing all this: with the aim of uniting and supporting the opposition. There should always be an opposition.

Question: Will you be managing these processes from London?

Vladimir Bukovsky: No – I’ll come to Moscow in September or October.

Question: Many horror stories are told about Russia abroad. Do you have any particular apprehensions?

Vladimir Bukovsky: I have no apprehensions. It seems to me that the Kremlin is presently inclined to use only lawful methods and obstacles against me. So I don’t expect it to make any hasty moves.

Question: Are your campaign policies ready? What are they about?

Vladimir Bukovsky: I’m working on my policy program. Developing some points myself, asking for help with others, since one person can’t know everything. As for what it’s about – let’s not talk about that just yet. There’s a great deal to say. Countless changes are required in Russia.