Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Soviet Dissident Larisa Bogoraz Dead At 74

One of the former Soviet Union's best-known dissidents, Larisa Bogoraz, died yesterday in Moscow at the age of 74.

Prague, 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Larisa Bogoraz, one of a handful of courageous individuals who helped launch an active dissent movement in the former Soviet Union starting in the 1960s, died in Moscow yesterday at the age of 74.

Bogoraz was born on 8 August 1929 to a family of Communist Party functionaries. In 1950, after graduating as a linguist from Kharkov University in Ukraine, she married her first husband, writer Yulii Daniel, and moved to Moscow.

It was there that Bogoraz began her human rights activism after Daniel's arrest in 1965. He was released in 1970 and the couple later divorced.

Bogoraz was "one of the brightest figures of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union and Russia" -- Yelena Bonner.
In August 1968, she took part in a demonstration on Red Square with a handful of other dissidents, to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

That earned Bogoraz a four-year sentence of exile to Siberia. But when she returned to Moscow, Bogoraz continued her human rights appeals undaunted.

"Her life was exceptionally hard: exile after the 1968 demonstration, and that wasn't the end of it," said author and RFE/RL Russian Service commentator Vladimir Tolz. "After returning from exile, she took active part in a very dangerous activity, the publishing of the 'Chronicle of Current Events.' She took part in many public actions that were widely noticed by society. For example, in 1975, she wrote a letter to [KGB head Yurii] Andropov, demanding that he open the organization's archive."

Bogoraz became a conduit between the burgeoning Soviet dissident movement and the West, helping to create an international audience for voices suppressed in Moscow, and to draw attention to Soviet rights abuses.

The fact that her second husband, fellow activist Anatolii Marchenko, was repeatedly imprisoned by the Soviet authorities drove Bogoraz to campaign on behalf of all Soviet political prisoners.

"She took an active part in the publishing of the historical collection entitled 'Memory,' which first came out in samizdat and was subsequently published abroad,” Tolz said. “She wrote for emigration publishing houses such as Kontinent. Since both her husbands were political prisoners, she did much to keep the public informed about Soviet political prisoners."

Despite her efforts, Marchenko died in prison in 1986 after a hunger strike.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bogoraz continued to be active in Russia's human rights movement, becoming chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group and the Seminar on Human Rights, a joint Russian-American nongovernmental organization.

Lev Ponomaryov, executive director of the Moscow-based Movement for Human Rights, said Bogoraz continued to exert great influence in postcommunist Russia's human rights circles.

"When she saw a problem and she did not receive a satisfactory answer from those around her [about how to deal with it], she raised the issue in society," Ponomaryov said. "She was the initiator of many questions that were later discussed in the press. She could write a letter to [liberal politician Grigorii] Yavlinskii and ask him: 'What's your answer to this question?' And a general discussion in society would follow. She was a spiritual person. I could see she was physically suffering, but she never paid any attention to this," Ponomaryov added.

Despite the obstacles and personal tragedies she was made to endure, by all accounts, Larisa Bogoraz bore her fate with serenity, Tolz recalled.

"Several years ago, when Larisa was in Prague, we got to talking not about politics, but about everyday life. And that's when she told me what I later read in her book, which was published in France in the year 2000. She wrote a book about women and dissent in Russia. She told me that despite all the hardships in her life -- about which we all knew so much -- her life, as she had believed then and I think as she believed until her dying breath, was joyful," Tolz said. "I think Larisa's memory will be preserved not just among those who knew her. I think she will be remembered by people interested in the 20th-century history of Russia."

Yelena Bonner, widow of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, mourned Bogoraz's passing with similar words, calling her "one of the brightest figures of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union and Russia."