Soviet-era Russian dissident Viktor Fainberg, who stood up for Czechoslovakia in 1968, has died
Soviet-era Russian dissident Viktor Fainberg, one of the eight brave human rights activists who risked their lives to protest against the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has died at the age of 91. Fainberg was locked up in a psychiatric hospital for five years for his brave action and later emigrated to the West where he remained a vocal defender of human rights the world over.
On August 25th, 1968, just four days after Soviet tanks rolled through Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring reform movement, eight brave Russians gathered in Moscow’s Red Square to protest against the invasion, unfurling banners that read “Hands off Czechoslovakia!” and “Shame to the Invaders!”. They were linguist Viktor Fainberg, academic Konstantin Babitski, student Tatiana Bayeva, philosopher Larisa Bogoraz, poet Vadim Delone, manual worker Vladimir Dremliuga, mathematician Pavel Litvinov and Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a young mother of two pushing a pram with her 3-month-old-baby. Their brave protest was short-lived. The square was full of secret police in plainclothes who cracked down on the group, knocking Fainberg’s teeth in and beating Litvinov over the head, before throwing them all into a police van. In an interview for Czech Radio, years later, Fainberg explained what made him take the risk.
“We were not thinking about the danger. We were filled with anger over what we considered to be an act of treason. Soviet tanks did not just crush the Prague Spring they crushed our hopes of what might have been in our own country as well.”
Following swift, mock trials, the protesters were locked up in prison or, worse still, in psychiatric institutions. Fainberg spent five years in the latter. Shortly after his release he emigrated to Israel and later settled in France. He remained a staunch and vocal defender of human rights throughout his life.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has expressed “deep sadness” over his passing, noting that his legacy is highly relevant in today’s turbulent times.
The human rights organization Memorial Czech Republic, the Czech branch of the Russian NGO Memorial which works on uncovering the fates of victims of Soviet political repressions, wrote on Facebook "After the brave protest in 1968 Viktor Fainberg's fate was closely linked to that of the Czech Republic. From that time on, he often stayed here and made many friends. His lifelong clear stand against any abuse of power will be sorely missed."
In 2018, along with Litvinov and Bayeva, Fainberg received the Gratias Agit award for all of the brave human rights activists who stood up for Czechoslovakia in 1968 from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.