Soviet Seminar at
March 7, 1987
Last fall in Vienna, as a member of the American delegation at the third general Helsinki Accord conference, I observed part of the year-long review of compliance with the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. How much greater security and how much more cooperation have we observed thirty-five nations made CSCE pledges in 1975?
Our American ambassador summarized the answer last fall: “The human rights situation in the Soviet Union is, if anything, worse now than it was in 1975." He said that more than a year into the new Gorbachev era. And the West Europeans and North Americans declared that without clearly demonstrated improvements in the ways the Soviet Union fulfills human rights pledges to its own citizens—and thereby increasing the credibility of its governmental pledges to other nations—there can be no substantial arms-control or other international agreements.
Six months later there have been many changes in the ways the Soviet Union conducts its public business. Events, accidents, minor corruption that previously were kept secret were now revealed. Andrei Sakharov has been permitted to return home to Moscow, appeared on American television, and was visited by Margaret Thatcher. Several television "bridges" engaged U.S. and Soviet citizens in live, though "safe," conversations. Prominent American political leaders traveled to the USSR to discuss subjects for overseas reporting which the Kremlin previously considered a restricted agenda. A summit in Reykjavik produced an unexpectedly (to the Americans) open-ended discussion.
Indeed, "openness"—the Russian word glasnost—was the new era code for changes in the Soviet Union. But what did it mean, not just in English translation, but in terms of structural reform inside the USSR, and fundamental policy changes vis-A-vis the rest of the world, particularly the other superpower?
Glasnost also translates as "publicity," which suggests a far more cosmetic change than structural alteration that may lead some day to democratization.
To discuss the short- and long-term possibilities and implications, Freedom House held two seminars, one for specialists on the Soviet Union and another for experts on Eastern Europe. Nine prominent Soviet emigres spent a day in an open-ended conversation. Because events seem to move rapidly these days, it is useful to record the dates of the seminars. The first was held on 7 March 1987. The participants, described below, have been living in the West for different lengths of time. The latest arrival in the West appeared just two months before the discussion. The group represented science, history, journalism, the arts, literature, academia, and several national backgrounds. Ludmilla Thome, herself a Russian emigre, and Freedom House’s Soviet specialist, arranged the event and introduced the participants.
on Eastern Europe—five Poles, three Hungarians, and two Czechs—engaged on 11 April in a similar discussion. This group included political scientists, a former Czech diplomat, an economist, a former Solidarity leader, and a dissident still living in Poland. The East European seminar was organized by Jiri Pehe who conducts East European studies for Freedom House.
Leonard R. Sussman, executive director of Freedom House, served as moderator of both seminars.
The participants' views, are, of course, their own. Freedom House is grateful that they shared this analysis with us. We believe they have made an important contribution to the understanding of the complex societies they have left, and the implications of glasnost, however defined, for all the world’s citizens.
John W. Riehm
President, Freedom House
Soviet Seminar, March 7
What has motivated Mr. Gorbachev to embark on these various reforms in Soviet society? Is it the realization that the USSR's extreme lag in technological development can be better overcome with greater intellectual freedom? Does he believe that he can get more support from the West in the form of credits, loans, technological know-how, etc., if he will project the image of democratization. taking place in his country? fa what degree have the Soviet Union’s difficulties in the economic arena prompted these reforms?
Does the glasnost campaign represent a personal crusade for Mr. Gorbachev or is it simply a mechanism for him to consolidate power within the Party structure?
VLADIMIR BUKOVSKY: What we are observing is not the result only of difficulties with technology and the economy. We all understand that reason very well. What we have is exhaustion of the Soviet Union in many fields.
Glasnost itself, although it’s interpreted in a new way right now, I would rather call a campaign of official criticism. It's not just the necessity to attract more attention---or a ruse to attract Western attention and to deceive Westerners into believing that great changes are coming. It is such a ruse, but it is not only that. It’s a fact that the propaganda machine for the last 20,25,30 years became so discredited by the Soviets' lies that some elements of truth has to be introduced into it, otherwise it becomes some kind of completely wasteful exercise. The actual facts, sooner or later, penetrate into the Soviet Union through Western broadcasts or books or samizdat and thoroughly discredit the Soviet propaganda. So it serves their interests much better to tell a half truth instead of a complete lie. Make the usual propaganda thing more palatable. And it's the same in many other fields. It's exhaustion.
It’s exhaustion in terms of the economy, in terms of natural resources, in terms of political potential, in terms of trust. They are just at the end of the rope in the way they are used to operating, and now they have to find some new ways and new approaches to the system.
VASSILY AKSYONOV: I would say there is also the matter of ambitions. I knew personally some of those people who are now active participants in the glasnost process. I remember 1968, the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and those people 'were awfully irked by the action taken by Brezhnev's leadership. They felt insulted, actually insulted. Some of them even worried that ‘* Voroshilov's marksmen"* were going to skip their generation. They are Dubceks, actually* They are fascinated with the idea of socialism with a human face. The great difference is that now it has sprung up in the center of the empire.
I do agree with Bukovsky, what he says about the exhaustion of the system. It's true. And they are preoccupied with the idea of saving the system, socialism, the essence of society. They see quite clearly that they are speeding toward the abyss, toward catastrophe. (I don’t agree with Shcharansky, by the way, when he says that glasnost originated mostly with the idea of creating public relations campaign in the West.)
I cannot rule it out, that some of them are sick of lying. Some of them are willing at least to try something new, although I am. sure that they are not certain that they will succeed.
For instance, the guy who is now editing the Moscow News, which is coming out in both versions, English and Russian, and is considered the most popular newspaper in Moscow now. He is Yegor Yakovlev. I know him very well. And I know his frame of mind. He is really a rather broadminded person—and there are many other people like him. They really want to do something. Because this system, which was supposed to be the most advanced in the world, all of a sudden found itself among the exhausted, among the backward. Facing the information age, this great technological revolution found itself among the counterrevolutionaries.
ERNST NEIZVESTNY: I would like to say that the answer to such questions cannot be relegated just to one point alone, or one reason. It is quite clear that these changes have taken place in connection with general global events. And with the lagging economy of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union's fear to lose its position. But the most amazing thing to note is that the changes began with the use of words, not deeds. "In the beginning was the word.” One would think that for a materialistic society such as the Soviet Union, the fact that it all begins with words may seem strange. But for me, it's not so strange. I would like to present to You not an overall picture, but one from the artistic point of view, as if it were coming from within Soviet society, from the point of view of a man who still lives in the Soviet Union and who had the fortune or the misfortune to have had some contacts with the upper echelon of the regime. Consequently, these will not be thoughts, but stories.
I once had the opportunity to speak with the general who was the head of the Ideological Department of the KGB. His name was Philip. Phil. He told me that Wiener, the inventor of cybernetics, was completely correct when he said in his book Cybernetics and Society, that without feedback, society cannot survive. "But Wiener was wrong in thinking our society has no feedback," the general said. "We do have feedback," he continued, "because the KGB is a kind of feedback. In the USSR, the KGB realistically to the upper echelon the actual situation in the country.”
And I conveyed this conversation to Comrade Anatoly Chenyayev, a man who now has a very high and close position to Gorbachev, and Chenyayev said that's absurd. Hogwash. Absolute hogwash.
We need feedback, and sometimes literature and art create this feedback for us much better than any official sources. That's the first point I wanted to make. Why was it that glasnost began with the process of rehabilitating certain participants or personalities in culture? Because in Soviet society, there is a very strange attitude to art itself- Perhaps it is the only society that still sustains the idea that art is a kind of magic, witchcraft.
This is a unique, ancient view, this idea that in art there is an element of invocation or incantation. This is precisely why the authorities have always struggled severely against art. They firmly believe that if you create the image of heroes, everybody is going to turn into a hero. But when they became disenchanted with the information which official art was transmitting to them, they decided that they needed glasnost, openness. They now want magic from others.
I want to start by suggesting a number of provocative premises. In a certain milieu, for quite some time now, there was indeed a certain degree of dissatisfaction with the sort of information which was coming out of art. And in principle, the generation of young Leninists have harbored all along a secret love for other kinds of heroes. Their father sang a song "Katyusha,” and they, in secret, at the same time were studying the poetry of Gumilev and Pasternak.
Hedrick Smith in his book on the Soviets indicated that quite a. number of persons who were a part of this elite had some of my art work in their homes. Brezhnev's assistants considered it to be an honor to stand at the door of the Lyubimov theater, and to serve as ushers.
Consequently glasnost began, first of all, as Vladimir Bukovsky correctly stated, with samizdat, with art. This is a psychological factor. But there is a more profound factor as well. Now they realize that the destruction process in the country has gone so far that it is now not a matter of industrialization but the human material that is involved. What they have finally realized, is that the average person in the Soviet Union has now reached the end of his rope, from the moral point of view. This is why they are now giving us all these moral incantations: Don't drink, don't steal, teach yourselves to be disciplined human beings, and so on. And when you learn how to do that we will all start anew to reconstruct industry, the economy of the country, and defense.
And besides, the external factor is as follows: It is practically impossible to change anything, because there is no accurate information as to what is really going on, what is happening. In other words, they don’t really know how many useful minerals there are in the country, how much gold, how much wealth they have. At least in the beginning, what they want is to acquire correct information, knowledge. And I believe that this they sincerely want, simply because they are afraid to continue to lag behind as they have been.
ALEKSANDR NEKRICH: Well, as to the word, glasnost. It is an old, old word, used in old Russia. I believe that in the middle of the nineteenth century this word was used very often. After the legal reforms in Russia in the 1860s, one of the writers of that time, Kurochkin, wrote a satire on glasnost. So there is nothing new in the origins.
The real development toward present-day glasnost began after Brezhnev, not from the day Gorbachev came to power, but from the day Andropov started to rule. Gorbachev was really one of his people. I think so. I remember the first inaugural speech of Andropov in November 1982. He said to the members of the Central Committee that he did not intend to take responsibility for everything, that he would like to share responsibility with the other members of the Central Committee of the Party. That was a real beginning.
One of the laws that was introduced during Andropov’s rule in June 1983, was about the so-called Rabochiy Kollektiv (the workers’ collective at enterprises). Now Gorbachev tried to further develop this project and in February 1987 offered a draft of anew law concerning state enterprises which also included a paragraph on the creation of the Council of Workers. These Councils are elected at general meetings of workers at a given enterprise and their function is to take an active part in the work of the enterprise and to help solve all sorts of problems. But one must look deeply into this draft, ask what its real purpose is, and whether it can make real change in the framework of the system. I think this is the main point. What can be done and what can't.
In the new draft on the Council of Workers, there are two main points. The first concerns personnel and the second raises the question as to who is responsible for formulating and carrying out plans for the enterprises. The enterprise administration and the local Party organization have the primary responsibility for carrying out all of these things, and only then do the Councils of Workers and all other organizations, such as trade unions, the Komsomol, etc., have any input. The second point is that the Council of Workers should be elected by open ballot, contrary to Gorbachev's call for a secret balloting during the Party elections for Party secretaries. It is clear enough that Party leaders don't want to give the workers a right to elect representatives by secret ballot, because the results could be unpredictable.
I decided to check this innovation in the election system of the Party secretaries in the Party organizations. I took a look at the Party charter published in the first volume of the stenographic report of most recent Party congress, the 27th. One of the articles in the charter, number 24, makes it absolutely clear that during all Party organization elections, secret ballotting should be used.
The second point is that each Party organization that numbers less than fifteen people has a right to use an open ballot. It has this right, but it is an exception, and in most cases secret balloting is the rule. But why should the citizenry be bothered at all about Party elections?
The problem is that the Soviet state, despite all declarations of democracy since Lenin’s time, still is and remains a totalitarian state. The problem is that the special role of the Party, and the way thinking on the part of the Party leaders and the Soviet £lite imposes limitations on the possibility of real democratic development in the Soviet Union. I remind you that Gorbachev, in his recent speech at the Congress of Trade Unions said, please, don't worry. Don't be afraid of democracy, because we need democracy the strengthening of discipline.
Andropov began his activity with this word, discipline, Gorbachev continues the same magic word. First of all, discipline. Would it be helpful, this development of democracy under the specific Soviet conditions? Maybe. But it depends on people. How do people, not the Party, operate on different levels? And Gorbachev, of course, understands this. That is why he travels across the country, talking with workers. He has decided to push them to do something, do something real. He asks them to develop democracy. But real democracy cannot be developed in a state, in a society, where the Communist party enjoys a special role guaranteed by Article 6 of the Soviet institution.
VALENTIN TURCHIN: I am far from being euphoric about Gorbachev. Still, I think what he is doing is of extreme importance. And J want to give what may be called an anti-Marxist interpretation. Marxism, as you know, distinguishes the basis in society from the superstructure. The basis is the productive forces, and the superstructure is what people think, ideology, culture. According to Marxism, the dynamic element is the basis, and from time to time there is a sort of mismatch between the basis and the superstructure. Then the revolution comes, and puts them into correspondence.
I think that the opposite is more true. I believe that the superstructure is the more dynamic part and not the basis. What people think is the most important thing. And from time to time it becomes necessary to bring into correspondence with what people think the actual basis of those industrial and agricultural productive systems and laws and practices and so on.
So what is Gorbachev doing now? It is exactly this. He is bringing the superstructure into correspondence with what people think, because people think differently now than they did twenty years ago.
Take for example, this word glasnost. Yes, it's true, of course, that it’s an old Russian word. It was very important in the second half of the nineteenth century, but after the Communist revolution it was thoroughly forgotten. It was the dissidents who reintroduced this word. And to see Gorbachev using this word—it was fascinating for me. So I agree completely with Yury Yarym-Agayev about that. I do think that he and I and Bukovsky and everybody here, together with writers and many people who are not dissidents, made their contribution to this change in how people think. We have certainly contributed to what is going on now.
I believe that Gorbachev himself probably thinks that what he is doing is eliminating obvious absurdities. Of course, it's absurd to keep Sakharov in Gorky. It's absurd to put people in jail just for writing letters to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and so on. It is absurd to cut informational channels and to prevent people from exchanging ideas in our society. That's true. And now they realize it’s absurd.
But prior to this time people didn't think of these things as absurdities. Now it has changed, and for Gorbachev and for his associates it’s quite natural to do what they are doing. They do think about it as just eliminating obvious absurdities.
How far they will be able to go is a different question. But what he is doing now, I believe, is bringing the basis into correspondence with the superstructure.
THOMAS VENCLOVA: There was a Russian critic in the middle of the nineteenth century whose name was Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky. I am not a great fan of Mr. Chernyshevsky but he gave a famous and probably right definition of glasnost. He said something of the kind: glasnost is an invention of bureaucrats for abrogating the ideal of freedom of speech. But of course glasnost can be used, and must be used, for expanding the ideal of freedom of speech.
And I would like to make one more point. There are two tendencies in evaluating the present situation in the Soviet Union. Either euphoria, or a tendency to maintain that the Soviet system cannot change, that all the changes are just sort of devilish cunning. I disagree with that. We see real retreat, real concessions, brought on at least in part by the dissidents.
And now I will make a sort of provocative statement and probably some of my friends would just lynch me for this. Because I suspect that at least some of us dissidents have an unconscious vested interest in preserving the Soviet system as it is. Because if it really changes, all of us become irrelevant. We are not too relevant to begin with, but in this case, we become totally irrelevant. And moreover, we must change our mental habits, which is a very difficult thing to do. But nevertheless, I believe that change is taking place. It is real. It is serious.
There are two possibilities for the further development of the Soviet Union. Either it changes radically and becomes a more normal, or almost normal country, or it ceases to be a superpower. Both possibilities are welcome. The second one, unfortunately is much more probable, I believe, and this possibility is quite welcome for the West, because the Soviet Union would become, so to speak, an Ottoman Empire, irrelevant to global developments. But that possibility would be much less welcome for the Soviet people.
NEKRICH: I'm sorry, i disagree with one point, and I think this is important. 1 don’t believe that the West would welcome the possibility that the Soviet Union would become a second-rate power. Quite the opposite. I think that the West really wants to keep the existing status quo and not to upset the balance of power. Yes, that's paradoxical, but the West prefers the Soviet Union as it is. And one cannot do anything about this, because it is strong concept. Almost all political leaders of the United States of America, Democrats, Republicans, or Liberals, they are all against change of balance of power,
Are there any international aspects to the Soviet glasnost policy? For example, do the changes in Eastern Europe or China enter into this?
BUKOVSKY: At his first major speech in the Plenary Session, right after he came to power, Gorbachev described the essence of the crisis very clearly. He said, Comrades, unless we change radically and dramatically, the position of world socialism will be in danger. If you translate this into plain language and ask what’s in danger, the answer is, the empire as such is in danger, “the correlation of forces," as it is called. Many people in the West believe that this change of heart—or whatever it is—comes from a sudden urge of the Soviet leadership to improve the well-being of the Soviet people, which is ridiculous. It's the least plausible explanation of the motive of their action. They couldn't care less about the well-being of their people.
But what is really dangerous for them is a challenge to the correlation of forces. And if you look at what they are doing, You understand why- It's not only that it is expensive to pay six million or now ten million dollars a day to Cuba, or two-and-a-half billion dollars to Angola and what not. But the expense is growing, because the nature of an empire is that unless it expands, it declines. We know this from history and Nekrich would confirm that. And therefore it grows more and more expensive. That's one thing. The same thing with competition. East-West competition in the military field becomes more and more expensive. One of the major contributing forces to the talk about change is the Strategic Defense Initiative, I believe. Because that prompted the Soviet Union to to rework the trend and to tie up everything. Suddenly, they saw they were faced with tremendous competition in the field in which they are least able to produce—that’s high tech— demanding huge investments, and from which they will have the least possible spinoff for their civilian industry. That is very in my view.
And probably the beginning of all this—-and a question with which Gorbachev and others could actually persuade the Party bureaucracy that they need real change—was the very simple question: What are we going to do, comrades, if tomorrow Cuba goes down the drain? That will immediately affect Angola, and Nicaragua, and then Ethiopia and other countries. And it will become the question of Poles and the Czechs and the Germans who would probably follow the example. And if they go down the drain, then we have Balts, Ukrainians, Caucasians, and Central Asians, all of them crying out loud, demanding for themselves the same status.
That, I am sure, was a major factor—the major argument which they had discussed somewhere in the Politburo, or in the Central Committee, wherever they argue.
But how do you then account for the fact that the Cubans, for example, are not happy with this? That some of the other Central Europeans are not happy with it?
BUKOVSKY: Oh, the Cubans might not like it. Some Cubans, and others, know they would not be helped as much as they were previously, because in a restructuring period the Soviet system would have to review the amount of their investment in these countries. But of course the Cubans know that without that investment they will go down the drain, probably, within fifteen years. So they are unhappy primarily because they are also required to re adjust. When the so-called readjustment started in Moscow, the Soviet leadership traveled very extensively into their satellite countries. Vietnam, for example, was reprimanded to the point of changing their entire leadership. Cuba got the same kind of warning.
VLADIMIR MOROZOV: When I defected in October of last year, 1986, I first lived in Munich. The very first Westerners that I asked me many times about these changes in the Soviet Union. And I answered them, guys, I first heard about these changes from you.
I lived inside this system. I was an investigative reporter. I traveled all over the country and followed up on the letters of readers that were sent to my magazine. I discussed the complaints, and I spoke with workers, engineers, directors, with trade union Party leaders, from top to bottom. And I can tell you that nothing has changed. Nothing changes. Maybe texts, words. The only real change in Soviet life are the set of new laws prohibiting alcoholism. These are real laws, because they inflict strict punishment and make vodka expensive. One bottle of vodka now costs ten rubles and twenty kopeks. That’s more than the average for a day's work.
Everybody now is repeating the term glasnost, but nobody knows what it means. In Munich, and here, some Americans have been asking me whether they are going to let up on censorship now that they are discussing openly many things, such as narcotics and drug addiction. And the areas of criticism have been somewhat expanded. I tried to explain that this term does not mean “open.” There is not an open gate. The gates are just slightly ajar. And there are very interesting tricks in this glasnost, in this openness. For example, they begin to speak about these drug addicts. They usually tell about some local events, about some persons, but there is no information as a whole about drug addiction, for example, in the army, among students or in some groups of the population.
Then in Pravda, Aleksandr Vlasov, the Soviet Minister of the Interior, for the first time in the Soviet press, estimated the number of registered drug addicts in the Soviet Union—46,000. It was very interesting. It was an event. Why did he give this figure? Two lines later it became clear why. He estimated the number in United States as 30 million. So the aim of this openness was very clear.
Yes, they told us, we have some problems, we have drug addicts and so on. Yes. And we try to solve these problems. But. you see, life under capitalism, in that damned America, it's awful. 46,000 versus 30 million.
And then, this trade union congress showed very interesting things. They spoke about democratization, about the rights of workers’ collectives, but in real life, for example, the new law made life harder for the workers. This law was only for propaganda, not to create real change, but to project the image of change.
This trade union congress approved a new law that decreed three and four shifts daily for workers instead of just one. They did it to have the equipment work all day. But for common people, it means a hardening of their life. Why? Because the transport system is very bad and there is a lack of food for workers. Also, the quality is terrible. In other words, there is a food problem. The change means workers will spend many hours going to their plants and again returning to their homes. It will be very bad for them, this new law.
I think that the motivation for the Soviet moves and for Gorbachev’s suggestions—and all this so-called glasnost—is to gain American technology and Western money to sustain communism, and not really communism, but the military power of the Soviet Union.
Whether the Soviet Union uses American or other Western technology or not, is it possible to modernize the economy without giving up some of the centralization, without giving up the central role of the Communist party?
NEIZVESTNY: In the eyes of the Soviet person the United States look like a kind of anarchy. There is such an undersea plantanimal called coral—this creature that has a very powerful genetic structure. But no single coral totally resembles another single coral. Why? Because the coral reacts to everything that happens in the ocean. It reacts to all movement. It is constantly in motion, but within the structure of the coral itself, the coral always remains as very powerful structure with its own internal laws that hold it together, which the coral itself does not comprehend. This is how America, can be viewed, as a mobile country with a permanent revolution. If you look at the word "revolution" to mean change.
How does this compare with the Soviet Union? Just envision a moment a metal sphere. Inside this sphere you have human beings, and all of them are dissatisfied, starting with the top echeIon of the Party, to the Lumpenmensch on the bottom. The Jews aren't happy. The Uzbeks aren't satisfied. The workers are dissatisfied. The president isn’t satisfied. Everybody wants a change.
And everybody is sawing away in different directions, in the same metal sphere, hoping that some change will ensue in his area. But even if they will saw through this sphere, diagonally or vertically, still the initial shape will continue to hold, if it will be moved somewhat, because genetically nothing has hanged.
In this respect, I agree with Mr. Morozov. But if this is truly so, then we have nothing to discuss here. We decided to find something out. Consequently, I would like to say a few words about those people who have now come to power. I would like to suggest direction in which, in my opinion, they are sawing away.
During the era of Kennedy, Khrushchev created a kind of consultative council, or think tank. And young intellectuals were included in this. Dr. Nekrich says that then they were still young! I would like to give the names of some of those who made up the group: Chemyayev, Arbatov, Shylin, Zaglyadin, Rumyantsev, Pyshkov, Bovin, Burlatsky and many others. In Czarist Russia, people of this stature were called official state advisers. Many of the people whose names I mentioned were molded by the magazine Problems of Peace and Socialism. They spent their training period in Prague, and essentially these people are internationalists. The group was guided primarily by Rumyantsev, who was in charge of this particular journal. At the same time, Rumyantsev was a close friend of Andropov, a like-minded individual. Essentially, this group represented what is known in Russian history as police socialism. This school of thought has always been traditionally more liberal than regular ideologists of the Czarist regime, because it always considered that some change should occur in order to prevent a revolution from taking place. When Andropov had not as yet come to power, but was in charge of the KGB, he engaged in a kind of very wise, Byzantine foreign policy. Namely, he purposefully did not take with him into the KGB this entire group. He left them within the Central Committee and then tried to promote these various individuals into other posts. These people were, in part, assistants of Brezhnev. But Andropov, nonethelesss, was always in telephone contact with these people, who formally had no power but who could always get in direct touch with him.
This particular group of individuals has had and still has a kind |of elitist mentality- At least, during private conversations, they have always believed that there are socially important individuals or elements within society, and at the same time there are socially unimportant elements. And in this respect, they exhibit a kind of phobia against the lower layers in society. And this spilled over, even into international politics.
In some respects, they were Fabians. They believed that policies directed at the masses, both inside and outside the Soviet Union, are destined for failure, because this simply does not adhere to the rhythm of the twentieth century, to the technological rhythm of the twentieth century- For example, I heard a private conversation of the Military Attache in Egypt, a general, whose job it was to supply arms to Arab countries. You should only have heard his low description of the Arabs and what grandiose respect he showed the Israelis, because military technology were his favorite toys. Which the Arabs simply couldn't use.
Why am I citing this example? This is a psychological factor put perhaps these kind of factors may have certain kinds of consequences. I don't know. But I can say that during the course of private conversations they avoided Marxist discussions. They preferred to use the old Russian governmental phraseology.
BUKOVSKY: Let's analyze the Party factor, because the question, as I understand it, is how much the Party can go along with these changes. How much is money a hindrance to these changes which they pretend they are going to introduce? That’s a very interesting question. You quite rightly indicated that there is an independent development within the economy, whether the Party manages to control it or not. What does it produce in terms of, let’s say, the attempt at social control within the country?
The ideal of communism—and when we speak about the Party, we have to think about ideology, that's their trade, that's their commodity, so to speak—the ideal was complete distribution by the state, right? They always try to return to it. Now that implies a complete control through the redistribution of goods and services in the country. This can't be done just with money. Money, ideally should be eliminated, as you know. So that made people completely dependent. In order to be promoted in that system, people were not required to be very good performers, or very efficient workers. They were required to have very good relations with the state, with Party. That would advance them on the social ladder.
Now with alternatives appearing, with the goods available for cash, a certain degree of the Party’s control over the population is eroding. You don't need to have good relations with your management or the local Party authorities if you can buy whatever you want—from an apartment to tomatoes. The trend in the Soviet Union is actually a shift from the ideal of socialist distribution of to a market economy. It is happening. It already erodes Party control. And it will continue to do so. In order to produce more, they need to introduce even bigger differentials, even bigger incentives for the people. Now the question is how far can they go with it? Because that automatically means the loss of control over the population. Gorbachev speaks about the so-called family-based productive link in agriculture. Marvelous idea. In 1960 it was tried, and showed spectacular results, but it was shot down for very good reasons, because it threatened to destroy socialism. You can operate either by promoting people according to their merits, performance, and talents, or by promoting them according to their loyalty to the Communist party. There is nothing in between.
Gorbachev is now trying to buy improvement for the sake of relaxing Party control. I believe that in order to get a satisfactory performance from the economy, he must go much further in losing Party control than he can afford politically. And therefore the whole thing, in my calculations, cannot continue for much longer than about five years. I would not be surprised if the current leadership, in the desperate situation that they are now facing, the possible collapse of the empire and their superpower status, were to give him five years, and say, "Well, go ahead, publish Solzhenitsyn, do anything, destroy the Berlin Wall," as was implied in an article in Washington, "to hell with it, but you perform.”
The natural reaction of the Soviet machinery, which by acT large lives by impulses of five years, is to give him about five years. But if at the end of this five year period he does not deliver, well, then Comrade Gorbachev will just follow Comrade Khrushchev.
NEKRICH: That reveals one of Gorbachev's problems. He must figure out how to deal with this three-belt empire: the internal empire, the Socialist community, and the countries outside of the Socialist bloc, countries like Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. So that's many different problems.
But we should take into account that the Soviet system faced many problems of this kind in the past and the system survived. Now what is the real situation? What are the limitations of the Soviet system? How can this system absorb all these shocks and blows, inside and outside of the Soviet empire? These are real questions for Gorbachev. But still I think that in some way Gorbachev may have exaggerated the weakness of the Soviet system and what is going on, in order to push people to work and also to impress his own public and the Party apparat.
I also think that some exaggeration is intended for Western consumption. I remind you of Academician Sakharov's words. Sakharov, in my opinion, is now voluntarily or involuntarily allied with Gorbachev, if one can judge on the basis of the statements he himself has made during the last two months. Dr. Sakharov said it would be much better for the West to have a "stronger man,” a “healthy man"—by that he means the Soviet Union itself—than a “sick man" from whom one can expect unpredictable actions. This is Sakharov's viewpoint, and it corresponded very much with the viewpoint expressed by Gorbachev himself. He said that the West should not be afraid of the Soviet Union’s development, that he didn’t want to conceal his aim of improving the internal state of affairs of the Soviet Union.
And his last proposal, to eliminate medium-range arms from Europe, was a very important and very essential step. The West, I think, will buy it. And should buy it.
NADIA SVITLYCHNA: In connection with the relationship of various forces, I believe it is very interesting to compare the central press in the Soviet Union with the press of the various national republics and to see what appears on both of these levels.
At the present time, central newspapers like Literaturnaya (the Literary Gazette) and Sovetskoya Rossiya (Soviet Russia) have become interesting. In comparison, corresponding Ukrainian Soviet newspapers like Literaturna Ukraine (Literary Ukraine) or Radyanska Ukraina (Soviet Ukraine) which are central Ukrainian newspapers (not to speak of more local papers, like Selska Zhitya), have changed very little, at least as of today.
NEKRICH: Don't worry, sooner or later, Gorbachev will get to you!
SVITLYCHNA; It almost appears as if in the Ukraine there i-s no one there to raise these sharp, poignant problems. But it is interesting to note that some Ukrainians do raise these controversial questions. But only in the Russian Soviet press, like Literaturnaya Gazeta, not in their own Urkainian literary newspapers.
What is very paradoxical is that even such a national tragedy as the Chernobyl disaster—and it is a national tragedy for the Ukrainians—got wide treatment in the central Russian Soviet press, but not in the Ukrainian local press. For example. Gubarev’s play Sarcophagus appeared in the magazine Znomya (the Banner), but in the Ukraine not a single significant literary work on Chernobyl was published.
In the 1960s such questions, for example, as destroying the environment received a greater degree of coverage in the Ukraine than now in the '80s. I will not try to explain why this is happening, but would like to cite one example. Ivan Dratch, a leading Ukrainian poet who was very active in the 1960s and is less so now, suffered a very personal tragedy in connection with Chernobyl. His only son almost died in the Chernobyl aftermath. In spite of this fact, I have never yet heard Dratch speak or discuss Chernobyl disaster.
AKSYONOV: What happened to the son?
SVITLYCHNA: What happened to Dratch's son is that he was sent as a student to help in the clean-up process in the Chernobyl area, and he got a very high level of radiation. He wound up as one of the extremely serious cases who were treated by the American physician Dr. Gale, but he was examined by him in Kiev, and not in Moscow. One can conclude that the concept of glasnost has very limited spheres and boundaries.
This is also generally evident in the Soviet central press. For example, legal subjects are treated very, very differently, say in Literaturnaya Gazeta than in local papers. What is and is not allowed is carefully worked out and delineated.
For example, the articles by Arkady Vaksberg about the December Plenum of the Supreme Court, which appeared in Literaturnaya Gazeta, and the ensuing discussions of these articles were interesting because they indicated not only which areas can now be discussed, but which subjects are still taboo.
I can cite an example of such a taboo. About one hundred writers, together with a group of leading Soviet lawyers, discussed problems of law, but during this discussion they limited themselves to everyday criminal cases, as if there are no political cases. They pretend that the entire problem of political prisoners does not exist in the country: there are no writers sitting in prison, there are no laws which limit individual freedoms, and so on. They behave as if these problems do not exist.
And it seems to me that the use of terms like glasnost or democratization are injected into the vocabulary so that people will get used to these unusual words, but they are not invoked so people will really understand what is behind them, the reality of these terms, their meanings.
It seems as if these calls for glasnost and democratization are imposed on the people. And this is almost absurd, namely, that democracy is imposed. But that is what it looks like, concepts of democracy and glasnost are forcibly imposed. And of course there is the obvious aim at the Western audience. Even the experiment Sakharov was calculated essentially for the West. His return to Moscow received a great deal of attention in the West, but remember that Sakharov still has had no access to his own Soviet press.
AKSYONOV: Don't expect everything at once!
NEIZVESTNY: One time Khrushchev personally told me “Even when Zloumyshlenik [a character in one of Chekhov’s stories] was unscrewing the screws, he unscrewed only every other one.
SVITLYCHNA: The unscrewing of screws, as it relates to political prisoners, is being conducted in a strange way. It is evident that it is being done one by one, but along which principles is difficult to ascertain. So they are being released in the same manner in which they were imprisoned.
VENCLOVA: There was some talk already about the Baltic states, but I would like to give some additional information.
First of all, the demographical composition. I can give you the percentages of the different nationalities in these states. In Latvia approximately 40 percent of the population is Russian. In Estonia, 26 percent. In Lithuania, 8 to 9 percent, and 7 to 8 percent of the population is Polish. So that the non-Lithuanian population consists of about 17 percent Probably the most important cause for the higher percentage of Lithuanians in their country is Catholicism, because we have larger families and higher birthrates.
Another reason is the tradition of the guerrilla movement, which was stronger in Lithuania than in either Latvia or Estonia. So there are certain reasons why Russians avoid settling in Lithuania. Among the Ukrainians, as well as among the Latvians and the Estonians, there is a very strong belief that demographic changes are absolutely irreversible. I consider that wrong. They are not necessarily irreversible. And there's a good example, that of Kazakhstan.
The Kazakhs, in Stalin's time, became a minority in their own republic. Now, however, their percentage in the population is rising. There is quite a possibility that in the near future they will become a majority in their own republic and, as everybody knows, they are already giving some trouble to Soviet authorities, which was rather unpredictable ten years ago. This is a very new development.
The same development could take place in Latvia or Estonia. So, in this sense I am rather optimistic that the ethnic groups in Soviet Union will survive for a considerable period of time. And there is quite a possibility that they will live longer than the Soviet system.
I would like to add that the nomenklatura elite in those republics— I can speak about Lithuania and partly about Estonia—is fiercely nationalistic. They are much more nationalistic than I, for example. I consider myself a liberal, a cosmopolitan, a Russophile, a Polonophile. And quite a lot of those people in Lithuania, not only in the so-to-speak underground, but in the nomenklatura as well. consider this attitude as a sort of treason. Yes, national treason. I know for sure that some of my writings are considered controversial at best in Lithuania. So given a chance, the nomenklatura in the republics would vote for secession immediately. There is, however, the danger that those seceding republics could—at least some of them—become sort of Albanias.
In any case, the nationality problem is a very serious one. In a sense, probably it is an even more serious obstacle for the Soviet empire than the economic situation. And if the process of reform goes out of control, which is quite possible, then this possibility of secession becomes quite real.
Now to return to the discussion where Nadia left it, regarding the difference between the central press and the republican press. If we make a map of freedom in the Soviet Union, like that map of freedom we have on the wall here at Freedom House, I would say that Lithuania or Estonia are probably freer than Moscow, freer than the Ukraine, without any doubt.
From time to time, American people ask me how one could explain the differences between the republics and between the cities in the Soviet Union. And I answer that it is comparable, to a degree, to American differences. Moscow is a sort of New York. is an enormous city where all sorts of things can happen.
Soviet Georgia is like California, in a sense. And Lithuania and Estonia are comparable to New England. And Kazakhstan is comparable to...
VENCLOVA: The wild West, yes, the Wild West And Leningrad is comparable to Alabama.
VENCLOVA: And so there are these differences. Of course the press in Lithuania is much freer than in the Ukraine, but at the same time people are frightened enough, and of course they are practicing all sorts of self-censorship.
As one of the Soviet journalists recently unofficially put it, if put a cat through a wringer, he develops wringer-phobia for This applies to Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians who were put through a wringer during the 40s and '50s. So people are extremely careful. People are, so to speak, sitting on the fence, and not too eager to join this campaign, although really nobody likes Big Brother over there, and most people just hate him.
But there are some developments. There are some articles in the Lithuanian press, in the Estonian press, and even in the Latvian press concerning, for example, language rights and different work ethics in Russia, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
There is a very interesting development in Lithuania concerning relations with the emigre community. They publish a newspaper in Vilnius which is available in any bookshop there, describing the situation in the Lithuanian emigre community. The paper was extremely bad. But recently they changed the editorial board and I happen to know the editor. He was, of course, a KGB man. He spent half of his life in Cuba and Portugal, and tried very hard to change Portugal into Cuba. He did not succeed, and he came back to Vilnius, and he is now editing this newspaper about the emigre situation.
They are reprinting now, literally, without any cuts, some emigre articles, including from an emigre magazine to which I myself contribute. And when one of the members of our editorial board was in Lithuania recently, as a tourist, he met this person. And this person told him, "We are going to publish as much of your stuff as possible, because it is very, very interesting. The only person we cannot publish yet is Tomas Venclova. But that is a temporary phenomenon. We think we will publish him as well.” So this campaign of glasnost in the republics has its own nuances sometimes rather important ones.
Is the USSR under Gorbachev more dangerous, less dangerous, or about the same? Do 'you regard the glasnost changes as having an impact on international affairs? if so, is it purely a temporary thing? Is it something that you think will work its way into continuing relationships?
BUKOVSKY: Well. I think they become more dangerous and will be more dangerous. Let's define this danger emanating from the Soviet Union. Clearly it is not the danger of nuclear war, because that they use as a bugaboo for children in the West. They are not going to incinerate themselves and others. That's not the danger. As long as we have protection and defenses and nerves enough to protect ourselves.
What is the real danger of the Soviet Union? It is precisely that either the West becomes too soft, and then the Soviets will begin to push it, which might generate actually a situation of confrontation. Or the Soviets are too skillful and they get the information and techniques they need and the West, so to speak, sells its soul to the Soviet Union. In clear terms, that might degenerate to a situation when the West will be sort of financing the building of communism across the world and in the Soviet Union. And that is exactly what the Soviets want. That's how they define detente, by the way Detente in the Soviet definition is something which has no alternative, as they say. So that's exactly what they want to do.
In this sense, yes, of course, under Gorbachev the Soviet Union becomes much more dangerous. Because they become much more successful.
Yes, they might disarm the West, both morally and physically Yes, they might present a new image, palatable enough form many people to stomach and to buy. You already hear a lot of theories by many Sovietologists saying, ’’Well, it's a moment when we have to help them. They are changing. Let's help and have joint ventures and more investments”—and so on. This would tie the West more and more to them, with probably very little chance of extrication.
So the answer to your first question, yes, there is more danger. As far as the question of irreversibility is concerned, I can offer my view. First alternative structures. If decentralization in the economy goes down to the level of individual enterprises, as Gorbachev has promised, if he really does that and makes enterprises self sufficient, that will be very difficult to reverse. Incredibly difficult. put I don't think that is really happening at the moment
I think we should come up with criteria of what would constitute irreversibility. First is duration; the change must last some time. Second is alternative structures, which I just mentioned. And a third is when the Soviets become more and more subject to external relations.
For example, when we speak about trade, the obvious question, the most dangerous question right now is at what stage should the West remove so-called barriers (as the Soviets call them), in international trade, and go with credit and with trade and joint ventures. In my view, if we want to deal with them really as a business partner, they must become a business partner. They must respect international liabilities, they should acknowledge their liability in international courts like the court in the Hague, or the court in Strasbourg, where an injure* party can sue them. It’s natural. lf You have your deal, and the deal isn’t followed by the other side, it must be responsible in a material sense. Would you with anybody whom you cannot force to pay? You wouldn’t.
If you have another Chernobyl, and another destruction, where the hell are you going to sue them for that? Suppose it happened right now? That's one condition.
A second condition, I believe, is that they must make their currency convertible. And unless they do that, there is no sense at in dealing with them in the economic sense.
AKSYONOV: That would be the most decisive point.
BUKOVSKY: That's the decisive point if they do that, it will be extremely difficult for them to pull back. We must also consider important issue of the Soviet state's monopoly of foreign trade. This is an important point if you think about history, because that's exactly what was discussed in 1922 under Lenin regarding the New Economic Plan. And Lenin was adamantly against what I'm now proposing. Saying no, no, the monopoly of foreign trade should be preserved, and even Stalin wasn't sure of that. But Lenin, the only one who had brains among them, said that shouldn’t be done. We cannot allow that.
So if they are ready to destroy the state monopoly of trade, convert their currency, and acknowedge external liabilities, then we trade with them.
NEIZVESTNY: I would like to discuss a number of diverse points which are dialectically opposed to one another. Every time some changes go into effect in the Soviet Union, like the ones were instituted during the course of Khrushchev’s reign, they are essentially irreversible. Of course they do not destroy the- basic structure, but some things they do manage to destroy
For example, even if Gorbachev should be removed from office, to bring the system back to the point where it was before Gorbachev would take some years. Even if the glasnost program. Was started just as a PR campaign to placate the West, we know that experienced Soviet politicians could have done this with smaller measures. Just the release of Sakharov back to Moscow could have sufficed for several months, as far as the West concerned.
It would have been possible to release just one political dissident every few months and to continue the campaign only in the press. It seems to me that the regime is now in a great hurry to use the entire deck of cards that is in their hands. But I would like to alert you, especially Freedom House, to a very frightful detail. Namely, they have announced a definite number of Political prisoners, 140 or whatever it may be. It doesn't matter what the figure may be. It doesn't matter what the figure may be,1000, 500, or 700. That is very frightening because all of us know that a huge number of common people are imprisoned also for political reasons but from the point of view of the law it looks as if they are not politicals because they are in prison under criminal charges, and we don't even know who they are. Consequently, a large number of political prisoners will not be subject to release because they simply don't exist in Soviet statistics,
In other words, there are many prisoners who are sentence forever, eternally.
NEKRICH: It seems to me that sometimes we are discussing the situation as if there were only two forces in the world, the Soviet Union and the West. But that is not enough. It’s not the Soviet Union versus the West and that's all. There is a large world, and we have different countries with their own different politics. For instance, during our discussion we eliminated China, we eliminated all of these relationships in Asia, all these problems between the United States and its European allies and so on. If we want to understand the Soviet Union’s policy in the long run, I don't think that we should separate ourselves from other factors. It would not be a real world, because everything is changing now, and it will continue to change. There are Japan, China, and many other factors. We have arms control problems, we have Cambodia and many other issues.
What Gorbachev is really trying to do, as Vladimir Bukovsky emphasized, is to receive from the West everything that is possible at this moment, and that's why he is using all of his cards now. He is playing them one after another.
You want democracy? please be my guest. You want something else? Please. You want this agreement on medium range arms? Okay, you have it, because Gorbachev needs to receive a response very quickly in terms of technology, trade and so on. And of course he wants to destroy what in his opinion are prejudices in the Western world about the Soviet Union.
At the same time he is also calculating the future relationship of the Soviet Union with other countries. Since Brezhnev's death, the Soviet Union tried to reconcile with China several times. And Soviet leaders are very serious about this, not only because China is on the border of the Soviet Union, but also because China is now an area of rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. I think to play the so-called China card is a miscalculation both sides, because China is the third superpower, and the Chinese are playing their own politics.
What Gorbachev has now proposed is a new approach in the Pacific. Do you remember that during his visit to the Far East and in some of his speeches that he made in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok he offered a general Pacific pact, which would include all of the countries in the Pacific? This was not a new idea. I say it is an old idea but forgotten. In 1937 the Soviet Union such an offer to the United States of America for discussion, because of the developing of events—it was just two years the Second World War—it didn’t develop.
Now Gorbachev plans to go to Japan and then to South America. So his targets are very, very clear: to establish Soviet influence in different comers of the world, and from this position to continue his policy towards the United States as the main adversary of the Soviet Union. And of course the United States will remain the main adversary of the Soviet Union not only be* cause of military rivalry, but also because of economic competition, because of the influence that both countries have in under developed countries, with their different philosophical and ethical concepts.
What is most important for Gorbachev, and I think that some have already said this, is not to permit the Soviet Union to slip into the rank of a second-rate country. This is his main problem now. And to avoid this possibility, he will do everything, just to stop this process. He will promise everything. As they say in Russian, he will promise "mountains of gold."
This desire that you speak of—playing all cards at once—must have an internal political dimension. He must satisfy various institutions. What, in fact, do these promises mean internally?
NEKRICH: This is a very good question, because if you promise the people too many things at once, they just won’t be able to deal with it. It's promising too much, from the viewpoint of internal consumption. If all society must be restructured, some people will begin to be afraid, not only because they are enemies of Gorbachev politically, but also because they can't suddenly change their style of life, their way of life. And it is not very easy to explain to people that it would be a change for the better.
That brings us back to a provocative question posed earlier. What does the new climate mean for human rights activism in the Soviet Union. Does that mean that in a certain sense it ends the necessity for it?
NEKRICH: That depends on the human rights activists, also, not only on Gorbachev. But how they evaluate his moves, this is very important. I was really a little upset when I read in the newspaper about the telegram signed by some prominent emigre dissidents that was sent to Gorbachev very soon after he declared his program. They sent this telegram supporting the three-day forum on nuclear disarmament held in Moscow. They did it too quickly, you know, without practical consideration. Of course there are some people who want to be first on every occasion and get on the bandwagon. But that is not a position for people who pretend to be politicians, not a position for people who pretend to represent a political movement. That is why I said that it depends not only on Gorbachev, but on his opponents also.
NEKRICH: What will be their policy? It is not so easy ' to make a clear statement now, when everything is moving rather fast But what is clear is that Gorbachev tried to corrupt the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia in the Soviet Union is his main base now. Not workers.
BUKOVSKY: Target, not base.
NEKRICH: No, base. He wants to have them, and he tried to corrupt them. I can cite the last decision of the Central Committee of the Party, regarding the improvement of conditions in the creative unions. Karpov, the newly elected chairman of the Union of Soviet Writers, made the following statement at the Supreme Soviet "Well,” he said, "you know that we writers are not satisfied with our material situation. We want the payments that we receive for our works to be reconsidered, and they should be more satisfactory to us writers.” I think that was the first time that I have ever read such a statement. A frank invitation: "Buy us. Buy us! And pay well!"
And there's another thing. They are planning some measures to activate the work of these unions and to strengthen their material situation and to build Houses of Creativity.
TURCHIN: Throughout the entire country they have these Houses of Creativity.
NEKRICH: Authors should be paid not only their usual honoraria, but they should also be paid for using their works in television, in the movies, in public concerts and so on. That’s what they really said. That was the real response of the Central Committee to the demands which Karpov made at the meeting of the Supreme Soviet. But the question remains whether they can succeed in this attempt, and whether the Soviet intelligentsia is to be bought.
TURCHIN: Perhaps they can be bought, because if part of the price is more freedom, maybe that's exactly what they ‘want.
NEKRICH: That is another question, whether all of these peopie want real freedom. I am not so sure. I think this is very questionable. With censorship, some people were safe because no one else could publish really good work, because censorship serves like a wall for talented artists and as a green light for mediocre people.
AKSYONOV: First of all, let's ask whether Socialist Realism will be removed or not. That's the problem, because Socialist Realism is the most sophisticated form of censorship.
NEKRICH; I think that the most sophisticated example of censorship is self-censorship.
VENCLOVA: About Socialist Realism. In Poland, for example, or in Hungary, after '56, officially they never repealed the doctrine of Socialist Realism, but they just ceased to mention it. They never mention it and, of course, today Polish or Hungarian literature published officially has nothing in common with Socialist Realism. I think the same sort of development could take place in the Soviet Union as well.
TURCHIN: It is not necessary to say officially that the era of Socialist Realism ended in order to effectively end it. It is not necessary to declare that they are not social realists anymore in order to permit authors to publish books which don't actually fit this scheme.
BUKOVSKY: But you know, I disagree. I'm sorry—just one remark. We just discussed the conditions that will make reversibility much more difficult. But if we are talking about genuine change, I can tell you what it would be for me. It would be a Party congress which would announce that the doctrine of Marxism is obsolete, that there is no class struggle in this world anymore, and there is no world revolution.- If they do that, they will dismantle the very hard core of the system. But as long as you have this ideology, everything is in its own place. You cannot have culture—you must have socialist culture. You cannot have democracy unless it is socialist democracy.
BUKOVSKY: I agree that the Soviet negotiating techniques show us that they always try to sell you something they don't need. That's one of the things they usually do.
TURCHIN: Necessity is beside the point, because every party, in every negotiation behaves exactly like this.
BUKOVSKY: No. Americans don’t behave like that They always give something which they really need. The Soviets tell the West that if they get rid of SDI the Soviets will reduce nuclear forces right now. They suggest exchanging these two things, but they need it, not the West. Yet, they suggest it as a swap, as a deal. Isn't it amazing? And we still discuss this as a viable proposition. I mean, that’s marvelous, isn’t it?
NEKRICH: They want an agreement with the United States. They want to relax, just as Americans want to relax.
BUKOVSKY: No, they want Americans to relax. The'y don’t relax want to relax themselves.
NEKRICH: Well, you know, there are also some psychological factors involved.
What should be the Western stance or the American stance toward the whole policy of glasnost? How should the West deal with it? Actively engage in it?
NEKRICH: There are some times in history when the best way is not to do anything at all. Just wait. This is also a form of diplomacy and politics . Don't be in a rush. Just relax and consider the situation. Don't aim for a cheap and quick success. I believe this could be the best choice for the West. Not to be in a rush. Be wise. Proceed slowly. Let the Soviets show their policy to the world and then judge it on the results. Don't respond immediately. Respond in a few months or years. There's no fire in the ‘White House. Keep the contacts. Let Dr. Lown send another congratulatory telegram to Gorbachev.
BUKOVSKY: Unfortunately we are not talking about Dr. Lown and whatever he said, but we are talking about real loans and credits and a lot of guys are just very eager to deal.
NEKRICH: I know, but that is yet very unclear, because the Soviets have a new law and it is very tricky as to who in the USSR will have the right to conduct direct trade with the outside world.
BUKOVSKY: I try to formulate at least three principles which are based on pure economic considerations and I come up with three conclusions. One is the convertibility of currency. Another is the external liability and the possibility of claiming damages. The third is the level of enterprises that can bust because of the monopoly of foreign trade. These are just immediate economic considerations, without which I wouldn’t even consider any trade, because in my memory none of these hasty businessmen ever made a single cent out of trade with the Soviet Union except Armand Hammer. The rest of them didn't Why? Because they never thought about the necessary business conditions. These three conditions in the business and economic field are just prerequisites. The rest of course is up to the people who will require a certain degree of freedom before they deal with the Soviets. Trade unions in this country I have always thought to be very wise in foreign policy—probably the wisest bodies in American foreign policy. They say that they won't consider anything in the Soviet Union unless and until free trade unions appear. Very wise, I would say.
NEKRICH: But do you know that now Soviet trade unions will have, at least in theory, the right to stop the implementation of the present labor law in the USSR, if it isn't going to be responsive to the needs of workers, in such areas as housing programs, social programs, and so on? That was in Gorbachev’s last speech.
BUKOVSKY: I wouldn’t base any policy On Gorbachev’s speeches, to begin with. You said quite rightly that we should be wise, we shouldn't rush into things. But if we sit back, all of us in this room, and do nothing, and many other people who understand the problem sit back and do nothing, then those who are crazy about indiscriminate contacts with the USSR will proceed. That’s why I suggest that we come up with clear conditions for change.
NEKRICH: When I said that, I meant on the level of state policy, not on the level of certain institutions, or public relations, but the highest levels.
What should be the West’s response to the various changes? Should we—as Dr- Sakharov suggests—be careful not to “drive the USSR into a corner" by being overly cynical and unsupportive? Or should we be especially wary during negotiations with the USSR? What about arms control?
BUKOVSKY: It seems to me that the United States government, and the Europeans to some extent, are quite ready to rush into arms control. It is a tremendous blunder, in my view. A tremendous blunder. It's the worst time for them to do it right now. That shows that they are already not sufficiently skeptical, and it will open doors to so many other similar suggestions. It will give way to a huge euphoria. Why do we need it right now? We don’t need it. It's a very wrong thing.
Let's wait. Let's wait three or four years. Nobody is going to war. I don't believe these missiles are going to explode tomorrow. It’s all propaganda. Let's wait .That’s an important point.
AKSYONOV: Would the reduction of arms improve their economic situation?
BUKOVSKY: No, it wouldn't It would reduce the drive for changes. Now why are they so eager and so desperate to have those changes? Why? Because they cannot easily maintain their superpower status. If it's endangered, they will have to go further, spend more on their military. If we just relax and give them local detentes and get off their backs, so to speak, then of course the whole thing will become cheaper for them to maintain and they will have little drive for reforms. Why should we do that? I think wee should increase the pressure. I think it's a time for pressing them rather than for relaxing.
AKSYONOV: But don't you consider that there is inner resistance, the struggle between the factions in the Kremlin leadership, and that it would be wise, for a while, for a moment, to give Gorbachev some advantage? It's actually better to have Gorbachev than Karpov as the General Secretary.
BUKOVSKY: Simply because he wanted to shoot you down right?
AKSYONOV: Simply because Gorbachev releases rather than arrests.
BUKOVSKY: Well, first of all Gorbachev arrests also. That’s one-sided view.
AKSYONOV: He arrests less. He could tighten the screws. You know that He could choose a Slavophile trend in this confrontation. In other words, he could choose the path of national Bolshevism.
BUKOVSKY: He makes these changes just because he’s Mr. Nice Guy? Or because he has no other way? That's very important.
AKSYONOV: I don't really know, but I remember your article in Obozreniye, which came out a couple of years ago, when Gorbachev took power. You said, and I agreed with you, that Gorbachev was none other than a new Stalinist in power.
BUKOVSKY: He is.
AKSYONOV: I agreed at the time. But all of a sudden he changed and started doing some unexpected things.
BUKOVSKY: Do you see any contradiction in this? I don’t.
AKSYONOV: Well, in a way it's a contradiction, because I know that there are some other people who don't like what he is doing, who hate it. They hate his guts. I was recently told that the Moscow publishing houses were preparing new plans in accordance with the glasnost campaign, under the guidelines of the ideological division of the Central Committee. Then all of a sudden there was a rumor in Moscow that Yakovlev, head of Agitprop—who some consider to be the mastermind behind all this—is terminally ill. He disappeared for a while, and all of the plans that were already prepared also disappeared right away. And they re-appeared with the same speed when he again appeared in public. The situations is very fragile, and it seems to me that Western leaders must be very flexible.
How useful are the various human rights agreements, like the Helsinki Accords and CSCE talks? How useful are they at this time to exert pressure for greater liberalization, or to reinforce any type of liberal trend in the Soviet Union?
AKSYONOV: As we say in Russian, this is a stick with two ends, because it's useful and harmful at the same time. And again it requires flexibility in attitude towards these agreements as well as the telebridges that were mentioned.
The Soviets use these human-rights forums for their own purposes, for their ideological hoaxes. On the other hand, after seventy years of oppression and silence, people in the Soviet Union have for the first time a chance to listen to absolutely different questions from people they've not even heard of before.
When the American participants started asking the Soviet people ”Do you have the right to express your opinion against your government?” it sounded like blasphemy to millions of Soviets. The human factor is the most important thing in the Soviet Union now. Gorbachev's group doesn't have any feedback from below.
As for the Soviet leadership, now their greatest pain in the neck is the youth, of course, which for a long time felt awfully neglected, but now the young people have started expressing their absolutely different tastes. And let me remind you of Plato’s saying, that when the fashion for music will change, the city's walls will tremble-'Or something like that. Rock music, by the way, plays a great role in Soviet events. Maybe it sounds preposterous, but it does.
SVITLYCHNA: I want to backtrack a little bit. Many people, including us, have been speaking about reforms, but essentially there have not been any reforms. There have only been announcements about forthcoming reforms. New laws have been announced for example, about emigration; there is a new emigration law. But in what way has it improved the situation for those who want to emigrate—that is difficult to say. There have been so-called concessions to the private sector regarding certain jobs and some people have already compared this with NEP. But so far private initiative has not really been given a chance. So we don't know what it really means.
Until very recently words like "glasnost" and "democratization" were the prerogative of only certain people, and officially they were considered to be almost indecent, But now the attitude of the Soviet government to these terms has changed so drastically, that now the regime is actually imposing the use of these words on the people. But has the situation that stands behind these words truly changed? Given the nature of man, different people have always given different values and meanings to the same words.
In the diplomatic world this is particularly noticeable. For example, when Western delegates meet with their Soviet counterparts they often give different meanings to the words with which they are operating. It is my impression that the Soviet authorities are now trying to tame and make their own certain words which formerly were too disagreeable, such as human democratization, glasnost and others.
In the Ukraine, society is probably more polarized, it is more divided than in other republics, at least that is my impression. If people fall, they often fall to very low depths and those who rise, also often rise higher than the average person.
VENCLOVA: You mean in the moral sense?
SVITLYCHNA: Yes, in the moral sense. In the Ukraine it wouldn’t be at all difficult to find another Shcherbitsky, for example, or another Kunayev. Korotych is now the head of the Ogonyok and this magazine has suddenly become popular, it is being read,and Korotych has become a progressive person. Very extreme events can take place in the Ukraine. For example, the Ukrainian journalist Valery Marchenko was tried in 1983. He was very ill at the time and he had already completed a prison term. Then he was threatened with the maximum sentence of fifteen years, which he got. And when Marchenko was given this second fifteen-year term, he said to his judge that he had just pronounced his death sentence: "If I die, you will be responsible for my death.” And after uttering these words, he did die, in less than one year's time. But what is really curious about this is that the very judge who sentenced Valery Marchenko, to whom he addressed these words, is today writing articles about human rights.
Is it better or worse during the reign of Gorbachev? Of course it's better, because it's possible to speak more honestly about more subjects. But far from everyone has the right to speak and not everything can be discussed. For example, it was now, during Gorbachev's time, that Anatoly Marchenko was allowed to die in such a cynical way, in front of our very eyes and that of the entire world. This happened under Gorbachev. Even before Gorbachev people's lives weren't decided this way.
Also, if you only knew the anguish and the desperate struggles the families of those political prisoners who have died in prison in 1984 and 1985 are waging. The families of Vasyl Stus and Yury Lytwyn, who died in the special Perm labor camp No. 36, are fighting for the right to bring home the bodies of their men, and so far all of their efforts have been in vain. And this is happening during the rule of Gorbachev.
The official statements sound very good. They convey good intentions, such as promises of a better life, with greater freedoms, liberalization, reforms and so forth. But, so far, all of this has only been words.
For example, even if they were to announce that the concept of Socialist Realism, which has been the guiding force in art, should be done away with, this does not automatically mean that people will be writing freely. Or if it is announced that censorship itself is to be abolished, again, this does not mean that freedom will ensue because there are other pressures like self-censorship.
For example, foreign ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov issued several statements saying that 140 political prisoners have been released and, unfortunately, the Western press has picked this up. But essentially, this is not true: at least, as of today the number is much smaller. Even if we accept conservative figures, like 60 or 70 political prisoners released, we must remember how many of these people who have come home have come home as broken human beings, physically or morally. And in the West, these are looked upon as normal releases. They are not described amnesty or as a pardon, but simply as another gesture.
But as far as internal consumption is concerned, within the Soviet Union, so far only one tiny article has appeared, saying that a group of prisoners has asked the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet for pardon and has promised not to do harm to the Soviet Union upon release.
And, of course, public knowledge is always focused around particular names, the names of well-known dissidents. And some of them have returned with clear consciences, not having signed anything, people like Koryagin, Begun and others. But some other prisoners who have been released have come out either as broken men or as in the case of one prisoner, Ploskonis, a former Communist who was released or, as we say, sent into the so-called "big zone," [the entire Soviet Union] was quickly put under stringent administrative control. His internal passport has been taken away, and he's been forbidden to move about, even to travel beyond his designated area in order to lodge a complaint
The Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Shevchenko who was also released from prison has not received his propiska (living permit) and he has not been allowed to accept any other job except that of a loader, i.e., a physical job, but he is a journalist. We speak about glasnost, but, for example, there are rumors that Iosif Terelya, who was also released, is on hunger strike. He is obviously protesting something, some sort of repression, but in spite of all this "openness," we can't check whether this is true, whether he is indeed on hunger strike, and why.
When the Ukrainian Union of Writers met, it was very difficult, judging from the Soviet Ukrainian press, to ascertain what kind of atmosphere was prevalent during that meeting, what really was going on. The boldest demand that we could find was that there should be greater freedom for the development of the Ukrainian language, as if there were no other problems in the Ukraine. And the slave-like speech of Oles Gonchar was considered to be almost heroic. He suggested that he was not ashamed of his Ukrainian language, and that was accepted as a heroic statement!
So what it all comes down to is which pronouncement is more vicious and vile, and which is less vile.
NEIZVESTNY: That’s the way it has been, and always will be.
NEKRICH: That's right
SVITLYCHNA: And I believe that the soil for national boilshevism is very fertile at the moment For example, the viewpoints promoted by people like Astafyev have a very good chance of making headway and finding an audience. What we see here is a kind of spiritual vacuum, an emasculation of spiritual and moral values. And as far as specific problems that pertain to the Ukraine, there are many of them, but they are not even being raised, because those who were bold enough in the past to raise their voices lost their heads.
k Ukrainian writer by the name of Yury Badzyo, whose onBy demand was that there be equality between the various union republics, that is, equal conditions for their development, has beer sitting in prison for twelve years, just for writing this in his own manuscript. He did not even make it put public.
I heard through informal channels that during a break at theUkrainian Union of Writers' meeting, one of the Ukrainian writers came up to Shcherbitsky, the first secretary of the Communist party in the Ukraine, and started talking to him about some cultural matters, and Shcherbitsky said very loudly so that everybody present could hear, "Remember, a third Ukranization of the Ukraine isn't going to take place," and repeated the sentence so that everybody could hear. And I want to remind you that the term “Ukranization" was not an excessive demand. It was used in the 1930s and in the 1960s in reference to the development of culture. but later the very inception of such ideas was destroyed.
And as sad as it is, I must say that Ukrainians are often used as Russifiers in other areas, such as Central Asia, in the Baltic states and in other republics.
NEKRICH: I would like to return to the consideration of an agreement on a reduction of armaments. I think it would be wise to come to such an agreement just to change the psychological climate in the world, and to give people some hope that there will be no nuclear holocaust. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I am for giving to the Soviet Union advanced technology, which they can use to develop a new kind of weapon. Sakharov said that the Soviets could produce an SDI type of system ten times cheaper than the United States, and in a very short period. Gorbachev has said the same thing. So we should really make a distinction between these two different things: the reduction of armaments, and the supply of strategic technology and materials.
It's okay if the Soviets change their mind about reduction of armaments. Why not? Why not sign this agreement? But it doesn’t mean that America should then sell to the Soviet Union new technology which can be used for a new armaments race. Sakharov’s views on these matters are most interesting. I base my observations on what he said in different interviews given lo the press from December 15th to February 11th. Sakharov's overall idea is very simple. If there can be some improvement in Soviet society, any improvement, whether it is the release of political prisoners, or some democratization, he will support these efforts. He said many times that he supported Gorbachev’s policy of democratization. That is not my opinion, but Sakharov’s own words, and thus he is a supporter of Gorbachev's policy. He is.
At the same time Sakharov stated many times that he disagrees on some points with Soviet foreign policy, especially in the field of armaments. Sakharov is against SDI, and he explained why. He thinks that this system cannot guarantee an effective defense. At the same time he was against having a direct link between SDI and agreement on middle range weapons, which was also the American position. He is against that. And what is really striking is that Gorbachev is following this position. I don't know whether this is because of Sakharov or whether this is a simple coincidence. We don't know.
AKSYONOV: Yes, this is not common sense.
NEKRICH: Well, maybe. But that is why I found that today Sakharov is, as I said, voluntarily or involuntarily, allied with Gorbachev. I don’t know what will be his position tomorrow. Maybe he will change his mind.
Earlier this group said that Mr. Gorbachev wants to appeal to intellectuals. One result could be that dissidents could be out of a job, I mean, that there wouldn’t be anything to complain against. Is Mr. Sakharov an example of this?
NEKRICH: He is an example, yes. Now. I would like to emphasize the word now. Because we don't know what will happen with Gorbachev’s policy tomorrow. And it’s possible that if Sakharov will see some changes in the current trend, he will change his mind also.
Sakharov has already said some new things about the release of political prisoners. At first his estimate was that there are 600 political prisoners in the Soviet Union, but now he has changed this figure. In a recent interview he said that maybe there are 900, or maybe twice that many or three times.
After Sakharov returned to Moscow he began to receive new information. People came to him from prisons and camps, and they talked to him and told him how many people they they had met in these prisons, or just what they had heard. So now Sakharov is a little confused about this particular problem of political prisoners and how to manage it. All of this is not so simple, you know. You cannot judge straight and simply. There are always some new developments, and you have to be sure to follow them and to make right conclusions.
Recently I gave a lecture in Washington. A person in the audience asked me whether it is possible that among the Soviet leaders there is a man who is a real Russian patriot, someone who really cares about the future of the country. And that is a real question which we cannot avoid, because at least theoretically it is possible.
VENCLOVA: Well. I would like to say in God I trust, but if I trust any human being, it is Sakharov. And I think that he proved during his entire life that there is nothing in the world which can force him to act against his will or his conscience. So when we say that he is, voluntarily or involuntarily, allied with Gorbachev's policies the word involuntary is probably out of place.
NEKRICH: Well, I think that it is not so simple to use this word, because involuntary can mean that maybe he didn't want to be Gorbachev's ally, but the conditions today are such that he became his ally. What I said is not an accusation but merely an opinion based on factual statements.
AKSYONOV: Regarding Gorbachev, I would say that maybe he wants to create a kind of Sakharov club, a sort of official, legal opposition.
NEKRICH: That's possible. In 1903, Lenin wrote an article entitled “To the Rural Poor," in
which he formulated the program of the Social Democrats regarding freedom. And you know that Gorbachev has repeated many times that he is the real heir of Lenin. So I would like to remind you of Lenin's words, which now sound like the program of the Soviet human-rights movement This is what he in 1903, when the Socialist party was still very small:
Just as peasants were the slaves of the landlords, so the Russian people are still the slaves of the officials. Just as the peasants lacked civil freedom under the serf-owning system, so the Russian people still lack political liberty. Political liberty means the freedom of the people to arrange their public, state affairs. Political liberty means the right of the people to elect their representatives (deputies) to a State Duma (parliament). All laws should be discussed and passed, all taxes should be fixed only by such a State Duma elected by the people themselves. Political liberty means the right of the people themselves to choose all their officials, arrange all kinds of meetings for the discussion of all state affairs, and publish whatever papers and books they please, without having to ask for permission.*
We have heard that there has been an invitation to some emigre dissidents to return. Would any of you return? Under what conditions would you return?
VENCLOVA: Let me say something, because I think this would be a rather interesting digression. I will read a poem in English, a short poem by the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, which, at the present stage, I think answers this question. It is very good. It's called "The Return of the Proconsul.”
I have decided to return to the Emperor’s Court
Once more I shall see if it is possible to live there
I could stay here in this remote province
Under the full sweet leaves of sycamores
Under the rule of sickly nepotists
when I return I don’t intend to commend myself
I shall applaud in measured portions
Smile in ounces frown discreetly
for that they will not give me a golden chain
This iron one will suffice
I've decided to return tomorrow or the next day
I cannot live among vineyards nothing here is mine
Trees have no roots houses no foundations the rain is glassy flowers
Smell of wax
Dry cloud rattles against the empty sky
so I shall return tomorrow the next day in any case I shall return
I must come to terms with my face again
with my lower lip so it knows how to check scorn
With my eyes so they remain ideally empty
and with that miserable chin the hare of my face
which trembles when the chief of guards walks in
Of one thing I am sure I will not drink wine with him
when he brings his goblet nearer I will lower my eyes
and pretend I'm picking bits of food from between my teeth
besides the emperor likes courage of convictions
to a certain extent to a certain reasonable extent
He is after all a man like everyone
and already tired by all those tricks with poison
he cannot drink his fill incessant chess
this left cup is for Drusus from the right one pretend to sip
then drink only water never lose sight of Tacitus
take a walk in the garden and return when the corpse has been
I’ve decided to return to the emperor’s court
I really hope that things will work out somehow
VENCLOVA: So I think that at the present, this is our answer.
YARYM-AGAYEV: Well, everybody decides for himself. In the beginning, Venclova said that there are some dissidents who are afraid that the situation in the Soviet Union will become so good that they will become irrelevant.
VENCLOVA: Yes, unconsciously afraid.
NEKRICH: I would like to answer this question regarding going back home. First of all, the question is put as if somebody had invited us to go back. No one has invited us. There are only some rumors that have spread in the emigre community and among certain echelons in the United States and Europe, just to create the impression that the Gorbachev government is going to embrace the emigres. This is not the case.
So I think that in this sense the question is not real. Tm sorry. The second point is that first there must be the precondition that the article about the special role of the Communist party in Soviet society be removed from the constitution. The constitution guarantees this as a legal right, that is, that the Party should be the leading force in society. I think that the most important precondition for real democratization is the removal of this legal guarantee.
The Soviet Union should also decide on the problem of emigration, in principle. Any democratic country has only one rule, namely, if you want to leave your country, please do, and if you want to come back, please come back. There should be no question.
So if Soviet society is ever to transform itself into a real democracy, there are preconditions which must be met, such the removal of censorship, and the dissolution of the KGB for internal use.
SVITLVCHNA: In answer to the question would I consider the possibility of returning home, for the purpose of perhaps continuing to contribute to the human rights process, I can only say that when I was in the Soviet Union I never considered my role in the human-rights movement as very significant. And I believe that the punitive organs made a mistake when they put me in prison. When I first arrived in the United States eight years ago, I was much more active in continuing my human-rights activities than I am now. But for some reason the Soviet government has again given a different evaluation of my activities because now, in the eighth year of my emigration, I have been deprived of my Soviet citizenship. And this happened recently, during the so-called more democratic period of the Soviet Union, and after Chernobyl. I of my Soviet citizenship either on the 29th or the 30th of April of last year.
Now, I would of course like to go home, but only if I didn’t feel this burden of having to choose, if there weren't this narrow gate through which I had to pass. I wish that I could go and come back and return again, as with any normal country.
At the present time there is no reason to think that the gate will disappear, and thus, I am not too optimistic about going back. And I agree with Professor Nekrich that we shouldn't try to do too much or expect too much. Just sit back and wait and see. But, unfortunately, life is so short.
Glasnost -- How Open? Freedom House, 1987.