On 25 August, 1968, Natalya Gorbanevskaya (1936 – 2013) and seven other dissidents gathered in Red Square, Moscow, to denounce the Soviets’ sending tanks to Czechoslovakia four days earlier to quell the reforms known as the Prague Spring. The group stood on a spot reserved for executions in pre-revolutionary times and held up banners with slogans like “shame to the invaders.”
Her companions were arrested, but she was not, as she had recently given birth. 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, she 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.”
Ms. Gorbanevskaya’s Chronicle writings prompted her arrest and imprisonment in December 1969. Psychiatrists diagnosed “continuous sluggish schizophrenia,” a diagnosis frequently given to dissidents, 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 Baez’s 1976 album “From Every Stage.”
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.
She emigrated to Paris three years after her release from the psychiatric hospital. There, she worked as a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and as an editor of Russian-language publications.
In 2013, on the 45th anniversary of her arrest in Red Square, Ms. Gorbanevskaya returned there with nine other demonstrators to commemorate the protest. They were arrested on charges of holding an unsanctioned rally.
‘Don’t touch me!’ I scream at passers-by –
they do not even notice me.
Cursing the rooms of other people,
I hang about their anterooms.
But who will knock a window through?
Who will hold out his hand to me?
I am roasting over a slow fire.