Soviet history is often told through the prism of totalitarian oppression, but beneath layers of state control a vibrant dissident movement was active. Whilst they were far from an homogenous group, their presence and sustained activism in the later decades of Soviet history raises broader questions about the communist superpower. What influence could political dissidents have on the world around them? How did they exert influence in a regime that wanted them silenced? What role did they, or could they play in the Cold War?
In this module, you will explore the breadth, depth, and complexity of the Soviet dissident movement and analyse the impact that they had on the wider world. You will explore the nature of political life in the Soviet Union, ranging from the punishment of the labour camp system under Joseph Stalin, the use and abuse of psychiatry under Nikita Khrushchev, and the silencing of the shestidesiatniki under Leonid Brezhnev. This module will also consider the role dissidents played in the collapse of the Soviet regime under Mikhail Gorbachev, and the contemporary parallels with dissidents such as Anna Politkovskaya and Pussy Riot in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. By focusing on the domestic enemies of the Soviet state, this module will allow you to explore in detail how totalitarian governments function, what activists and intellectuals can do to change this, and the role played by the international community in supporting these dissidents. Alongside this, it will address broader issues such as political dissent, human rights and international relations amongst others.
Indicative topics include:
Samizdat, Natalya Gorbanevskaya and the Chronicle of Current Events
Psikhushki and psychiatric abuse
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the ‘Slavophiles’
Andrei Sakharov and the ‘Westernisers’
Vladimir Bukovsky and the ‘non-conformists’
The KGB and state intimidation
The Refuseniks and Soviet Jewry movements
Religious Persecution and Keston College
The Helsinki Accords and the move towards human rights
Amnesty International and the Soviet Union
Pussy Riot and Pyotr Pavlensky