Nicholas William Bethell, who died on 8 September, 2007, aged 69, after suffering with Parkinson’s disease for a decade, used his career as an historian and Member of European Parliament to promote human rights and criticise the Soviet Union.The 4th Baron Bethell served as an MEP for a total of 23 years and also sat in the House of Lords for the Conservative Party, briefly as a Government whip.He published a number of notable historical texts, most focussing critically on Russia, the Soviet Union and the rise of communism in Eastern Europe, but also covering the Israel-Palestine conflict and Adolf Hitler.He also translated the works of Russian Nobel Prize-winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other Russian and Polish writers, for which work he received the Order of Merit from the Polish government in 1991. He often spoke out against the Soviet policies of restricting free speech and imprisoning writers.Lord Bethell was born in 1938, to the Hon William Bethell (third son of the first Baron Bethell) and his wife Ann. He was educated at Harrow and Pembroke College, Cambridge.It was during his national service that he learnt Russian and he read Oriental Languages at Cambridge. He also mastered Arabic and Persian. While at Cambridge he formed friendships with Polish undergraduates, shaping his political views and interests for later life.His first marriage, in 1964, was to Cecilia Mary Honeyman, the daughter of a distinguished Arabist professor. The couple divorced in 1971 after having two children.He spent two years writing for the Times Literary Supplement and in 1964 joined the BBC's radio drama department as a script editor specialising in East European drama.He succeeded his cousin to become the Fourth Baron Bethell in December 1967 and his first political involvement came with the 1968 invasion by Eastern Bloc countries of Czechoslovakia, for which he heavily criticised the Soviets.Despite his outspoken anti-communist views, in 1971 Lord Bethell was forced to fight a libel action against the magazine Private Eye after they claimed he was a KGB agent and his unauthorised translation Solzhenitsyn’s allegorical novel Cancer Ward was done deliberately to allow the Soviet Union to prosecute its author for the illegal publication.The suit was successful but the affair cost him his seat in the House of Lords. Ironically, he was also suspected by some on the left of being a member of the British intelligence services.A few years later he returned to politics and took up a seat in the European Parliament, nominated in 1975 and then elected for London North-West under the new system in 1979. He was a strong advocate of European Monetary Union and continued to support dissidents in the Soviet Union.He was defeated in the 1994 elections but won back his seat five years later. In 1995 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but was able to continue his work until the disease eventually forced him to retire in 2003.He was survived by his second wife, Bryony, whom he married in 1992, their son, and two sons from his first marriage. The eldest of these, James, inherits the title. He was regarded as an agreeable man and was fond of playing tennis and poker.
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