Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Soviet Dissident and Poet, Dies at 77
Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a Russian dissident and poet who defied Soviet authorities by starting an influential underground publication and protesting the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, died on Friday at her home in Paris. She was 77.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti announced her death but did not give a cause.
On Aug. 25, 1968, Ms. Gorbanevskaya and a handful of other dissidents gathered in Red Square, in Moscow, to denounce the Soviets’ sending tanks to Czechoslovakia four days earlier to quell the liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring. The group stood on a spot reserved for executions in prerevolutionary times and held up banners with slogans like “shame to the invaders.”
Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s companions were arrested, but she was not, presumably because she had two young sons. She wrote about the trial of her associates for The Chronicle of Current Events, an influential underground publication she had helped to start earlier that year. Produced on mimeographed sheets, it concentrated on human rights news. Such publications — called “samizdat,” meaning self-published — were meant to be counterweights to official Soviet publications like Pravda and Izvestia.
In 1969, Ms. Gorbanevskaya helped found a group to promote civil rights in the Soviet Union. “One must begin by postulating that truth is needed for its own sake and no other reason,” she said.
The next year, she published a book called “Noon” about the demonstration and subsequent trial. Later in the 1970s, it was published in Britain, France, Mexico and the United States under the title “Red Square at Noon.”
The author and New York Times journalist Harrison E. Salisbury wrote in the introduction to the English edition, “The virtue of the document is its meticulous detail; its crystal exposition of the rude violation of Soviet law; the willful application of force and deceit; the use of the court as an instrument of injustice; the falsification and suppression of testimony; the deliberate provocation by state organs; and over it all the total banality of the system.”
Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s Chronicle writings prompted her arrest and imprisonment in December 1969. Psychiatrists diagnosed “continuous sluggish schizophrenia,” and she was confined to a psychiatric prison until February 1972. Joan Baez sang a song about her, titled “Natalya,” with lyrics by the Iranian singer and composer Shusha Guppy. It was included on Ms. Baez’s 1976 album “From Every Stage.”
When introducing the song, Ms. Baez said, “It is because of people like Natalya Gorbanevskaya, I am convinced, that you and I are still alive and walking around on the face of the earth.”
Natalya Yevgenyevna Gorbanevskaya was born in Moscow on May 26, 1936. She was expelled from Moscow State University for her political activities, then earned a degree in philology from Leningrad State University.
She worked as a librarian, bibliographer and translator, but her focus was on poetry, little of which was published. Her poems were described as more modern in style and content than most Soviet poetry. Konstantin Bazarov wrote in 1972 in the British publication Books and Bookmen, “Great claims have been made for her as one of the most important contemporary poets.”