Viktor Isaakovich Fainberg: A Defiant Voice in Soviet Dissent

Viktor Isaakovich Fainberg (Russian: Ви́ктор Исаа́кович Фа́йнберг) was a Russian philologist and a prominent figure in the dissident movement within the Soviet Union. Born on November 26, 1931, he became known for his unwavering commitment to speaking out against the oppressive regime of his time. Sadly, on January 2, 2023, at the age of 91, Viktor Fainberg passed away, leaving behind a legacy of courage and resistance.

Early Life and Activism

Viktor Fainberg was born to Isaac Fainberg and Sarah Dashevskaya. Growing up in a tumultuous period marked by antisemitic campaigns from 1948 to 1952, Fainberg faced harassment and discrimination. Rather than accepting these injustices, he often found himself standing up to his oppressors. This defiance led to him being referred to a psychiatrist at one point.

In 1957, after an altercation with a policeman due to antisemitic insults, Fainberg was sentenced to one year of corrective labor as a consequence of his actions. His determination to resist injustice remained steadfast throughout his life.

Academic Pursuits and Dissident Activities

In 1968, Fainberg graduated from the English unit of the philological department at Leningrad University. He completed his diploma thesis on the writer Salinger, earning distinction for his scholarly work. During that summer, he worked as a guide at Pavlovsk Palace.

Fainberg’s most notable act of dissent occurred in 1968 when he joined the infamous Red Square demonstration against the Soviet-led military invasion of Czechoslovakia. This courageous act led to his arrest and subsequent confinement in a psychiatric hospital. During the demonstration, Fainberg sustained injuries, including the loss of many teeth. He was never presented for trial in such an unpresentable state and was instead institutionalized.

The Serbsky Institute commissioned a psychiatric examination of Fainberg, which downplayed the true reason for the demonstration. Instead, it described the event as “disorderly conduct at Red Square.” Despite the absence of a fair trial, Fainberg was committed for compulsory treatment at the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Leningrad from January 1969 to February 1973.

During his time at the hospital, Fainberg engaged in a hunger strike to protest his unjust confinement. He also endured forced feeding and received treatment with chlorpromazine, despite having hyperthyroidism, a condition for which chlorpromazine therapy was contraindicated.

Emigration and Activism Abroad

In 1974, Fainberg emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel. His escape from the repressive regime allowed him to continue his activism in new ways. He played a pivotal role in initiating the “Campaign Against Psychiatric Abuse” (CAPA) to combat punitive psychiatry in the USSR. The international community recognized the severity of psychiatric abuses in the Soviet Union when, in 1983, the country was expelled from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA).

Fainberg’s relentless efforts, combined with support from fellow activists like Marina Voikhanskaya, who assisted him by passing information to dissidents outside the Soviet Union, contributed to his eventual release.

Legacy and Recognition

On October 27, 2014, Viktor Fainberg was honored by Slovak President Andrej Kiska, alongside other dissenters from the summer of 1968. He received the Medal of the President of the Slovak Republic in recognition of his solidarity with Czechoslovakia. British playwright Tom Stoppard even dedicated the play “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” to both Vladimir Bukovsky and Viktor Fainberg.

Viktor Fainberg’s legacy lives on, as does his impact on the fight for human rights and freedom. He leaves behind a daughter, Sarah, who carries on his spirit of activism as a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Though Viktor Fainberg is no longer with us, his courageous stand against oppression continues to inspire individuals around the world, reminding us all of the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of adversity.