On December 18, 1976, jailed Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky was traded for Luis Corvalan, the Chilean communist leader, who had been imprisoned since the 1973 military coup in that country. The secret operation took place in Zurich, Switzerland and has become known as the first political exchange between the USSR and the West.
Vladimir Bukovsky was a prominent Soviet dissident and a human rights activist. He had spent a total of 12 years in prisons, labor camps and forced-treatment psychiatric hospitals for organizing unauthorized poetry readings, demonstrations defending other Soviet dissidents, reporting human rights violations and distributing anti-Soviet literature, all punishable activities under Communist rule.
In 1971, Bukovsky managed to smuggle documents to the West detailing the abuse of psychiatric institutions for political reasons in the Soviet Union. This served as a pretext for his subsequent arrest that same year. He was 29 years old at the time.
Bukovsky was tried and sentenced to seven years imprisonment and five years exile in 1972, on charges of slandering the Soviet psychiatry profession, having contacts with foreign journalists and possession and distribution of "samizdat" - underground printed press. His arrest was preceded by an article in the “Pravda” newspaper, in which he was named the most malicious hooligan to be involved in anti-Soviet activities.
While in exile, Bukovsky, together with his fellow inmate, psychiatrist Semen Gluzman, co-authored the “Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents” - a guidebook to help other dissidents whom the authorities were trying to declare insane.
In the meantime, the intense international campaign in defense of Bukovsky had acquired an extraordinary magnitude, which apparently precipitated the exchange.
The trade took place in a Zurich airport, where Bukovsky was brought to under guard and in handcuffs. Together with their families, Corvalan and Bukovsky were seated in empty aircraft. Neither Luis nor Vladimir fully understood what was going to happen next. They were exchanged casually and punctually. They did not even catch a glimpse of each other. The barter deal sparked a humorous rhyme by an unknown author: “They swapped a hooligan for Luis Corvalan. Where can you find such a bastard to swap for Brezhnev?”
Shortly after the expulsion from the Soviet Union, Bukovsky visited the White House, where he met US President Jimmy Carter. He eventually settled in the UK and graduated from Cambridge University, specializing in neurophysiology.
He is the author of the bestselling autobiography, “To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter”. In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin's government invited Bukovsky to serve as an expert witness at the trial conducted to determine whether the activity of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was unconstitutional. The result of his testimony and research was the book “Judgment in Moscow”.