Gunārs Astra during his trial in Riga. 1983
|Born||22 October 1931
|Died||6 April 1988
Leningrad, Soviet Union
|Known for||human rights activism|
Gunārs Astra (1931–1988) was a Latvian human rights activist and anti-soviet dissident arrested by the Soviet Union in 1961 and sentenced to prison for 15 years. He was released in 1976. In 1983, he was arrested again but released several weeks before his death.
Gunārs Astra was born in Riga, 22 October 1931. He graduated primary school and later continued education in electromechanical technical school. After graduation in 1952, he started to work in one of the biggest electromechanical factories in Latvian SSR- VEF. Astra was very erudite and industrious worker so he soon had promotion and became chief of the 7th Radio manufacturing workshop. He also studied English language in university as external student.
In 1958, Gunārs Astra had a chance to meet American diplomats in Riga and this meeting had a great influence on his later life. In 1961, Astra was accused for spying, anti-soviet propaganda and homeland betrayal. He was sentenced with 15 years in prison. He was imprisoned in Mordovia and later in the Perm Oblast. During custody, he self-educated himself and met with other political prisoners from all Soviet union.
Astra was released in 1976 and returned to Latvia. He had not changed his political views and continued to oppose soviet regime. In 1983, he was arrested for the second time. This time he was accused for possessing and distributing anti-soviet literature (for example: George Orwell 1984). He was sentenced with 7 years in strict regime prison. Court proceedings of the Gunārs Astra is known for his famous Last statement in which he defended the Latvian rights for their language and condemned soviet regime. He ended his speech with a phrase: "I believe that this time will disappear like a nightmare. This gives me the strength to stand and breathe here."
He was released from prison in February 1988, but died in hospital in Leningrad in 6 April from heart disease. Although there was unconfirmed theory that KGB is involved in his death. His funeral in Riga was attended by 10,000 people and his grave was filled up with bare hands.
There is a commemorative plaque on the District Court building in Riga where Astra was sentenced. Also in Riga there is a street named in his name.
Gunārs Astra is buried in the Meža kapi (Forest cemetery) in Riga.
1998. Novel Gunars Astra written by Māris Ruks (awarded the General Goppers Prize (USA) - a historical documentary of the most renowned defenders of human rights, renewal of independence in the Baltic States and dissident Gunārs Astra)