MOSCOW -- When Vladimir Bukovsky was flown out of the Soviet Union in handcuffs in 1976, he was one of a tiny group of openly anti-Communist dissidents dedicated to transforming his country's political system.
He returned this week for the first time since his involuntary exile to find his views shared by many, probably most, Russians -- from striking miners to radical parliamentarians.
Mr. Bukovsky, 48 and graying but by no means mellowed, is not using the platform he has been granted by his Soviet visa to express his gratitude for glasnost and perestroika. He is rather picking up where he left off 15 years ago, proposing to his fellow citizens what amounts to non-violent revolution.
Unless the people "tell the Communists to clear out," Mr. Bukovsky told a packed lecture hall last night, Russia faces Ethiopian-style famine and Lebanese-style civil war.
He urged Russians to use political strikes and civil disobedience to force the Communist Party to relinquish the power it has held for seven decades. He advised them not to cling to republics that are inclined to seek independence, saying that "the breakup of the empire" is a precondition for Russian democracy.
Like Vladimir Lenin returning to Russia in 1917 when he thought conditions were ripe for seizing power, Mr. Bukovsky seemed to have chosen the moment for his return.
A quarter-million coal miners are in their seventh week on strike, rejecting government offers to double their wages and stubbornly demanding the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his government and his parliament.
[But the nation's largest coal mine resumed operations yesterday free from Kremlin control -- a small crack in a crippling strike but a victory in the fight by republics to gain control over industry and natural wealth, the Associated Press said.]
The authorities are energetically trying to turn metallurgy and rail workers, who are being gradually put out of work by the coal strike, against the miners. But independent reports suggest that the opposite is happening: Industrial workers are expressing their support for the miners' demands in telegrams and symbolic strikes of a few hours.
The current strike could be viewed as the logical culmination of the movement that began at the end of the 1950s, when Mr. Bukovsky and a few Moscow State University friends gathered for unofficial poetry readings around the statue of revolution-era poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
That modest beginning grew into the human rights movement, which Mr. Bukovsky made his life.
He paid with a series of psychiatric-hospital and prison terms, culminating in 1972 with a sentence of 10 years in a labor camp and in exile. Protests in the West led to his expulsion four years later.
In 1977, Mr. Bukovsky was received at the White House by President Jimmy Carter in a gesture of support for the dissident movement. He worked at Cambridge University and Stanford University in biological research on brain physiology, but he always found time for politics.
Mr. Bukovsky's sharp-tongued anti-communism has long been unfashionable in most circles in the West, where it was considered extreme. But millions of Soviet citizens, having suffered decades of Communist rule, have no such hesitations.
Among those bombarding him with questions last night were the Islamic Democratic Party, the Moscow Union for the Battle for human Rights, the anti-Communist faction in the Russian parliament, the Anti-Nuclear Society and other, mostly minuscule but diverse organizations.