SOVIET HISTORY LESSONS
Vladimir Bukovsky at Sighet
translated from Romanian by Teodor Nicula-Golovei
Introduction by Romulus Rusan
It is difficult to define Vladimir Bukovsky. Akin to elementary natural phenomena, he manifests himself in spontaneous ways, but a casual explanation remains difficult to find. His behaviour is contrasting. Forceful but sensitive, blunt but also nuanced, undiplomatic but also sentimental, serious and at the same time spiritual, overflowing with energy, but also with unexpected adolescent ingenuity, Vladimir Bukovsky, the man who lived for twelve years in the GULAG of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, and then, halfway through his life, found a chance to begin a new life in the West, is today the most competent specialist on the problems of communism.
He is the most knowledgeable because he experienced communism in its most critical stage, as a human who stubbornly insisted on remaining normal in an abnormal world; a human who preferred to be free in spirit, regardless of the prison –- the larger or the smaller one — in which he was born and raised.
Bukovsky was born on December 30, 1942, during the war, in Belebey, in the Soviet Republic of Bashkortostan, the son of a writer. In 1956 he experienced the shock of the Hungarian uprising and Khrushchev’s admission that the Bolsheviks had killed forty million people. Together with several teenage friends, he organized protests, defying the communist authorities who were used to being obeyed by their abused citizens. His first sentence, received at the age of 21, followed by a second one, for showing solidarity with writers Daniel and Siniavsky, forced him to interrupt his university studies barely after starting university. After this, an endless carousel of arrests and hospitalizations in psychiatric asylums followed.
In an autobiographical book, which we will publish as a separate volume, Bukovsky describes, in a tragicomic tone, the ritualistic cycle of his detentions. After a short period of freedom, during which he failed to conform to the world around him, he was arrested and taken "to be treated" in an asylum. Then, after doctors gave him a certificate of normality, he was tried, sent to prison, then to a labour camp, and finally sent to exile. Confessing his inability to "behave himself," he knew that he would very soon return to captivity and that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
In 1976, considering him less dangerous abroad than taking part in the perpetual protest activities, the Moscow authorities agreed, at Andrei Sakharov’s proposal, to exchange him for Luis Corvalan, the secretary of the Chilean Communist Party, a political prisoner of General Pinochet. But – two years after the expulsion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and as in the case of Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Bukovsky’s removal from the country had a boomerang effect. With his English learned in prison, he completed his neurophysiology studies at Cambridge and received his doctorate from Stanford, California. Sought after by historians and journalists, Bukovsky embarked on a truly missionary journey, educating them about the inhuman and criminal character of the communist system. He wrote eight books, published hundreds of articles, and gave thousands of lectures on the topic of resisting "the mark of evil."
The fall of the communist system happened when his activities were in full swing. In 1991-1992 he returned to Russia, trying to help Yeltsin to outlaw the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But, to his regret and that of the millions of democrats in the former USSR and in the ex-communist countries, an unexpected thing happened: the trial of communism did not take place (as it had taken place after the war in the case of Nazism) and, in the absence of this act of moral and social purification, the communist structures remained largely unmoved.
Bukovsky, the man who sacrificed his youth for the fight against the system, now found that the people of the system had regrouped and, untied from the straps of the system, began thriving as politicians, businessmen, and media people. There could be nothing more disappointing, but for Bukovsky a third stage of his life began as a result: that of the theorist of the recent history. Akin to a meteorologist who had felt the storms on his own skin, Bukovsky formulates diagnoses and predictions about the social evolution of our times, which he believes have fallen into an irreparable decline. His instinct of a free man tells him that the moment has been lost, and a new world, preoccupied with survival, no longer wants to find out. He is disappointed, but he does not give up speaking, explaining, accusing communism, as well as those who did not have the courage to destroy it when it became “a beast wounded” by the changes of 1989 and 1991. His severity is directed with equal force against those who, in his country, lost the moment of victory, as well as those who, abroad, preferred to protect the remnants of communism as an ally of their own cowardice.
So the answer to the question “how can Vladimir Bukovsky be defined, who is he?" remains as unclear as it was in the beginning of this piece of writing. An opponent, a resistance fighter, a dissident, a heretic, a nonconformist, a human rights activist, a researcher, an analyst, a political scientist, a prophet, or simply a man who thinks with his own head, rejecting trends, models, and compromises.
He is a little of each and more than all of these things at the same time. A free citizen of the universe, who defeated, at least morally, the most unfree society of the modern world.
At the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and Resistance in Sighet, Vladimir Bukovsky felt at home. To our pride and delight, the meeting with the historians who came to the 10th Symposium made him feel good, but the one with the students of the Summer School simply charmed him. Between July 4 and 15, 2002, he was surrounded by affection and had theoretical discussions and friendly conversations day and night with tens and hundreds of people. He gave lectures, answered questions, gave interviews. With his permission, I recorded some of these discussions in English and Russian, and now I publish them in a book, which we would like to be a gift to our great contemporary on his sixtieth birthday, a modest beginning of immortality.
THE EVENTS THAT SHAPED US
Speech by Vladimir Bukovsky held at the Sighet Memorial Symposium
on July 6, 2002
How was resistance reawakened in Russia? Being events of the past, many things from that period have become confusing today. When I hear the word “dissident,” I prefer to remain silent because, nowadays, even when one talks about Bin Laden, he is being referred to as a dissident. Which upsets me.
In fact, the term dissident was invented by the foreign media in the 1970s, probably in collaboration with some of the Russian authorities, but it only shows how alien the Westerners were to the Soviet world. The Germans found a better term, they called us participants in the human rights movement in Russia. It is a more appropriate term because it highlights the clearly non-violent nature of our movement.
To understand how this phenomenon began, one must consider the events that took place at that time.
I do not know what would have happened to me, had I been born ten years earlier or ten years later. I think I was born at the right time. I was a child when Stalin died. We were told that Comrade Stalin was God. This was a mistake of the Soviets because the image created did not permit the idea of a disease, the idea that Stalin’s kidneys were not working properly. God has no kidneys and, of course, God cannot die.
Thus, Stalin’s death was an important moment in my life. I remember seeing a huge mass of people (some even died crushed in the crowd) attending the funeral. We, the kids, were smart enough not to mix with the crowd. I was sitting with my comrades on the roof of the ”National” Hotel, a very imposing building at the time, watching the crowd.
I remember three very clear feelings, but which I was obviously not perfectly conscious of. The first was that this was an important historical moment. And it was not so obvious at the time, for a ten-year-old. The second feeling was that there was no longer a supreme authority in the world. God was dead, so every person was now responsible for their actions. And I hated to be responsible. A third strong feeling was that those below, rushing to see the lifeless body of a dead god, must be mad. So, the crowd can also be wrong. The majority can be wrong. This was a feeling which probably guided me my entire life to such an extent that what I think is always the complete opposite of the tendencies of the majority. Subsequent events also helped me form this type of thinking.
I was 14 years old when the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union took place, where Khrushchev revealed the crimes committed by Stalin. At the age of 14, I was shocked to find out that in the Soviet Union 40 million innocent people had died without any specific reason. And what is more, everyone else had participated in the crime, in one way or another.
This coincided with a severe crisis of the system: strikes, riots, the events in Poland in 1956, immediately followed by the Hungarian revolution (a very important event, because in Hungary young people like us took to the streets and fought against the Soviet system. We were on their side).
These were the events that shaped us and somehow later determined our way of thinking. On a moral level, this was probably what Germans have felt about Germans, knowing that their parents had killed millions of people. But we were ignored, and a strong wall raised between generations.
Instead of riots and strikes, the so-called waiting period settled in Russia. Seeing the collapse of the Hungarian system, people began to hope and to expect the same kind of events in the USSR. Unlike previous generations, who had accepted the system, we refused to believe in it from the beginning. At the age of 16, I was as anti-communist as I am today. I spent the rest of my life gathering more and more details, learning some history, but the basic concept remained the same. And this concept was – it is very strange for me to say this, because I am not a religious person – a sin. This type of mentality was seen as evil. You were on one side and the rest of the world on the other. And when you realise this, you cannot keep quiet, especially when you are young. The first thing I tried to do was find people who thought like I did. There may have been thousands who thought the same way, but how were you supposed to find them? No one dared to express their opinion openly.
My friends and I talked about banned poets from the Stalin period who were executed in the GULAG. Firstly, this was not forbidden in Khrushchev’s time; secondly, it was a criterion for admitting only the people who thought like we did. We managed to contact people from all over the country, we started to organize meetings to exchange opinions and then written materials. In the beginning they were mostly manuscripts of forbidden poets, of young poets.
It was around 1960. The Soviets, of course, did not like this type of activity, but they could not officially criminalise it either, as we were finding ourselves under Khrushchev’s rule, amidst a period of de-Stalinisation. In the end, however, they resorted to beatings, to expulsions from universities, and finally, in 1961, I was arrested for a short time accused of subversive activity.
Then I went to Siberia with a team of geologists for six months. As I was young, it was a great experience. From the point of view of the Soviet officials, I had disappeared and, as long as I wasn’t causing them any problems, I could have stayed in Siberia forever. What I was doing, however, was more of a moral opposition than political action. On our part this was refusal to accept measures imposed on us, a total refusal to be part of that system. It was more of a defensive attitude. But, of course, the authorities could not tolerate such a hostile attitude in their own country.
Meanwhile, the regime changed, Brezhnev came to power and, in his early years, tried to slightly re-Stalinise the country. Some of the writers were arrested then. It was a turning point again. Society had a choice: it could protest, not allowing the revival of the repressive system, or it could return to the slavery of Stalin’s time.
Our movement had brought together people of different professions, many of them mathematicians (I do not know why, maybe in mathematics there is something that makes people more honest) and physicists. They were people of different nationalities, of different ages. The purpose of the movement was to not accept the Soviet reality, to protest against it, and to make this protest public. Because if you ask those who lived during Stalin’s time, including our parents, how they could allow the regime to commit crimes, they will answer that they did not know anything. Which is impossible. Forty million people cannot die without their deaths being noticed. So, they approved of this in a way, even by not wanting to know.
Our mission was to make these things public (this is why we became very popular), to fight against fear, because fear was akin to ice that covered the entire society, ice that individuals did not dare to break. We had to lead by example.
In 1965 we organized the first political demonstration in the centre of Moscow. Although I did not claim to be the organiser, everyone knew who it was organised by. It was the first event of this kind since 1927. And thousands of people gathered to watch. Bureaucrats, police — all kinds of people — were wondering what would happen: would they kill us right away or later?
It was more of a demonstrative act on our part. I wanted to show that the regime had changed, that they are not going not kill anyone. They made several arrests here and there, dispensed six-months sentences in order to silence people. We had succeeded in what we set out to do: to prove that it was possible! That was the beginning. The movement grew stronger: we organized camps to gather people from different parts of the country, maintained important ties, helping various national movements in different republics, such as Ukraine, Lithuania, defending the punished nations. (During Stalin’s rule there were a number of punished nations, including the Chechens). So we became an important movement.
It became predictable that the system would collapse. Andrei Amalrik even risked a prophecy: the year 1984. It was remarkably accurate: he predicted the beginning of the decline. Surely, he did not refer to 1991, but no one can be that accurate in historical predictions.
By the time I left the Soviet Union, no one believed in communism. They tried to maintain a hypocritical facade for a while, but at a certain point not even the KGB believed in communism anymore. Even the communist fanatics I met were against the communism practiced in Russia, because it was not pure enough…
There was a joke in the 1960s (there were many political jokes circulating at the time) which went like this. There are three human qualities that cannot coexist: intelligence, honesty, and membership in a communist party. A person can only have two of these qualities. This is what happened during the crisis of the system: the majority — the least intelligent but obedient members of the Communist Party — continued to take care of their families; and the minority — intelligent and former members of the party — became businessmen, “democrats,” adapting very quickly to the new situation.
The Communist Party reached the point of collapse because the collapse was inevitable, not because we defeated it. We did not end it. What happened next was very sad, because the West betrayed us at the last moment. It decided to side with reformed communism, and not us, those who fought for democracy. Westerners congratulated Gorbachev on introducing perestroika, and their imagination could not go beyond that threshold. Imagine that in 1945, the victorious allies, instead of demanding the unconditional surrender of Germany, would have accepted a kind of perestroika. What would have happened? There would have certainly been no democracy in Europe for the next thirty years. In a few years, the Nazis would probably have returned to power under another name. This happened, in fact, in Russia. And not only in Russia or Belarus, or Ukraine, or Moldova, but also in Hungary, Poland, Romania, and even Germany: the communists made spectacular returns. And no one in the West felt threatened, or alarmed, or disturbed by this. For the West (and believe me, I have lived in the West for 25 years) did not in fact fight at all in the Cold War. Only for a short period after the second world war, and then during President Reagan, was there a struggle on the part of the West. Otherwise, they adopted a policy of “peace.”
The tragedy is, therefore, that we did not manage to end communism, we are still facing the same people, both in Russia and in Poland or Berlin.
Why did we not succeed? First of all, because we were not allowed to. The nation was not ready to end it. I remember that in 1991, when I was first allowed to return to Moscow, I spoke to all those who were part of Yeltsin’s entourage, trying to convince them that if we did not start a trial in Moscow like the one in Nürnberg, if we did not open all the archives, if we did not reveal all the crimes of communism and did not condemn them immediately, it would never end. I convinced almost everyone except for Yeltsin. On the other hand, Yeltsin was under enormous pressure from the West. The pressure was exercised openly: the US State Department, the British Foreign Office, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs were all against this process. It was not until much later that I found out why.
In 1992, the Russian Communists returned and accused Yeltsin of wanting to obstruct them politically by filing a complaint against him in Russia’s Constitutional Court. It was only then that the Yeltsin government got frightened, and Yeltsin’s deputy called me in Cambridge to ask me for help with the trial. I agreed to return, provided that the archives were to be opened. I came to Moscow and became an official expert at the Constitutional Court of Russia, and the archives were opened. That is when I discovered in the archives that most of the Western political forces collaborated with Moscow. Some of them secretly, through the KGB, others more directly. They did not want those “stains” to become public knowledge.
Because of the selfish attitude of the West, we are still facing a kind of monster that is not really communist, and yet retains many of the chief characteristics of the former communist monster, and the world will continue dealing with it for another 30 years.
Because they were not extinguished in Moscow in 1991 in one fell swoop, we will be forced to deal with them in most countries for many long years to come. We will no longer know who is a communist and who is not, we will face the spread of communism through organized crime (which is actually the KGB). What is Russian mafia other than the KGB and the GRU (the military espionage)? And this complicated situation emerged simply because the West did not have the courage to admit that it was complicit in the Soviet system.
However, I think we cannot blame others for what happened to us. It was about our country and we could have opposed it. We are ashamed that we did not do it. Yes, 75 years of communism destroyed nations. Three generations were born and raised under this monstrous system.
Ultimately, it was everyone’s personal decision: to fight the system or to obey. And I must say, with regret, that most people in most countries chose to obey.
UNLIKE NAZISM, COMMUNISM WAS NOT DISMANTLED, LEADERS WERE NOT TRIED, AND THE ARCHIVES REMAINED SECRET
Speech by Vladimir Bukovsky during the debate on the "Black Book of Communism" at the Sighet Summer School on July 8, 2002
Question raised in the room: I am curious to find out Mr. Bukovsky’s opinion on the lustration law. In Romania, as well as in other former communist countries, this is still an issue for the democrats. It concerns the past of former or current state dignitaries. How do Western circles deal with this issue?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I think what we need to explain to you from the beginning is that, unlike the situation after the Second world war (when the victory of the West over Nazi Germany was complete, Nazism was destroyed and the system was dismantled and Nazi leaders tried), at the end of the Cold War nothing was destroyed in the communist regime. There was no final victory over communism; the system was not dismantled, the leaders were not tried, and the archives remained secret.
This happened due to a significant resistance from the elite, in the West and in the East. As a result, we still live with the remnants of the communist system in Russia, and in many other Eastern European countries the communists are returning to power, as they were never completely defeated. We did everything that was in our power to bring them before the court of law in Russia.
I myself remember how I came to Moscow in 1991, right after the collapse of the communist government, and how I sat and talked with the Russian leaders – I should say that they all knew me very well, because I was a political prisoner for many years, and then I was expelled from the Soviet Union, so, everyone knew me – and I tried to convince them that the only definitive way to end the communist system was to take Soviet communist leaders to court, as this was done with the Nazis in Nuremberg.
I almost convinced everyone except Yeltsin; Yeltsin refused to do so and said there was a lot of pressure on him from the Western countries (the United States, Germany, Britain and so on) not to open the archives. And since the communists were not destroyed in 1991, they recuperated until 1992 and then went on the offensive. They even brought President Yeltsin in front of Russia’s Constitutional Court, accusing him of illegally banning the Communist Party. So, there was a court hearing; at this point, Yeltsin’s government got frightened. They knew they could lose the trial, which would have been a disaster: they would have had to return all the party property, their money, a lot of things... half of the country, to the communists. And that would have meant the end. And then Yeltsin’s advisor called me and asked me to come and help him with this trial, and I said, “I will come to help you, but on one condition: you have to open the archives, because unless you open the archives, you are going to have no arguments for the trial.”
And so they agreed; they opened the archives of the Central Committee only during and for the purpose of these court hearings at the Constitutional Court of Russia. And I had access to these documents. Now, I knew in advance that they would not let me copy anything; they allowed me to see them, in preparation for the trial, but they would not allow me to copy anything. So, what did I do? I bought a computer and a scanner.
At that time the scanner was a novelty; scanners existed in the West, but no one in Russia had heard of such a thing. So, I started scanning all the secret materials. In the middle of the courtroom with the judges. There were former members of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee seated on one side, and new ministers appointed by Yeltsin seated on the other side, and I was sat in the middle, and I was scanning 48 volumes of documents. None of these people understood what I was doing. During breaks most of them would come behind me to look at the wonderful machine and the only question they asked was, “It must be a very expensive device,” to which I would reply, “Yes, very expensive, indeed, yes.”
Of course, the trick was that, according to the rules of the archives, I was not allowed to “xerox” the materials. But they did not say that I was not allowed to “copy them by any means,” because they had never heard of scanners. So from a legal point of view, I did not break any laws, but I did copy the materials. It was not until the end of the trial that one of the participants understood what I was doing, and suddenly shouted, “But he is copying everything!” There was deathly silence. I pretended it had nothing to do with me and kept copying. And after a pause, he shouted again, “But he will publish everything over there!” (Meaning abroad).
I finished copying, packed up my computer, and headed for the door, realizing that in such a situation, the most important thing was not to run, because if I started to run, they would have run after me too. But if I walked slowly and with dignity, they would sit there completely paralyzed, and it would not even cross their minds to come after me. As soon as the court hearings were over, all the documents I saw – all the documents I copied – became secret again, they became classified for the next 30 years.
So, I returned to Cambridge with about 7,000 documents copied, all secret, because they became classified again on the same day. What was so secret about most of these documents? Why was the Occident so much against putting communism on trail? I can tell you: because these documents show very clearly that certain powers of certain Western institutions had collaborated a lot with Moscow, very often in secret, and sometimes openly; very often with the KGB. I can tell you for example, that the West-German Social Democrat Party collaborated with Moscow via the KGB channels.
Of course, most Western powers did not want this to come to light, as a deep political crisis would break out. The most amazing thing is that, having these documents, when I discovered that this or that gentleman was an agent of Moscow, and yet he was still prime minister of a certain country, or the president of a country, I thought I had to do something.
At that time, the presidential elections were taking place in Finland, and the main candidate for the presidency, someone named Sorsa, had secretly collaborated with Moscow according to my documents. Through my friends in Finland, I tried to give the documents to the newspapers in Finland; not a single Finnish newspaper published them. They did not want a scandal; they said, "Eh, if only we knew everyone who collaborated with Moscow …”. So, what did I do? I published them in Sweden, and then all the Finnish newspapers copied them from the Swedish newspapers. It was a big scandal, Sorsa resigned, admitting to having been a secret agent, and that was it. And so on from one country to another.
In Germany I tried to publish documents about the Social Democrats: Their no. 2, Egon Bahr, was a Soviet agent. Not a single newspaper or magazine in Germany would publish it. Finally, when my book Judgment in Moscow came out, the really intelligent people, very smart, tried to block it through silence. They did not object, they did not get upset, they did not want to go to court, no, they pretended not to have read it. For example, a German politician, very well-known and very influential, was approached by a friend of mine, a German journalist, with the book in his hand. He showed him a document from the 60s, written by Andropov, which shows that he collaborated with Moscow, and asked him to comment. “Would you like to explain to tell us what this is about?” And he replied, “Which documents, what book? I haven't seen it.” And left the room.
They more or less did the same in France. None of them objected to what I was saying, because they knew they had no basis to object. It was not me who was saying those things. Those things were found in documents bearing the signatures of Brezhnev, Andropov, Suslov. So, they kept quiet. When the book came out in France –- two years before the Black Book of Communism — there were reviews in all the newspapers that said “yes, it's an interesting book, yes.” But for people to be interested in a book, the book has be controversial. If it is not controversial, no one is going to read it. And so, they did not have the courage to attack me, so they decided to keep quiet.
Two years later, Stéphane Courtois and his colleagues made a summary of the crimes of communism in the Black Book of Communism. Then the Western left decided to attack them; they saw that they had a less solid documentary base than my book had, and they considered it easy to attack. They virulently attacked the editors for publishing this book. And this made the book incredibly popular – it suddenly became a bestseller, it sold like hot cakes, it was incredibly popular. So, their calculation was wrong.
In Poland, my book became extraordinarily well known, it became the no. 2 bestseller, after the atlas of road maps. Practically every family in Poland bought my book. Why? Because in it there is a big chapter about Poland, about the Martial Law and Solidarity, and about how the Soviets were preparing to destroy Solidarity. It would not have created so much of a sensation if it were not for General Jaruzelski. General Jaruselski got frightened when he saw the book, he knew he could go to jail because he had been lying the entire time, saying that the Russians had threatened him with military invasion, and he had to choose the lesser evil and introduce Martial Law. And according to the documents, including the minutes of the meetings of the Political Bureau, this had not even been discussed. The Soviets had not even planned to send their troops to Poland, and Jaruzelksi knew it. Moreover, repeatedly before the introduction of martial law, he had called Moscow and asked if they could help him with their army, because he was not too sure of his own army.
Attacking my book and saying that nothing in it is true (and much more), Jaruzelski implicitly gave me a bona fide report. If he had been smart enough to keep quiet and not say anything, my book would not have had too much success, but the way in which it happened (he even tried to have a debate with me on TV, and of course he lost), he managed to make it very popular.
What does this reveal? It says two very important things, which we must remember: people want to know. When we are told “these are old issues, no one is interested, it is history,” this is nonsense. People want to know. If they have the opportunity, they immediately become interested. But the system (leaders, either from the East or from the West) is not interested in such debates; they block them, they block them as many times as they can.
Another book that managed to thrive is the Black Book of Communism. That is why it is also so strongly supported. It does not say more than I have said or other writers have said, but it managed to break through, it forced the system to admit to some things, or at least to debate them. This is necessary now, be it in Romania, in Poland, in Russia, or even in the West. Our old enemies are still in power and they are in control of everything.
The System of Double Structures, Double Language,
Conference chaired by Vladimir Bukovski at the Sighet Summer School on July 11, 2002
Today I will be very technical, presenting many details and concrete facts, and I would like you to pay close attention. I would like us to firstly agree about the procedure (because of the language difficulties and the importance of the documents that will be presented); if there is something you do not understand, raise your hand, but please formulate very precise questions, not declarations.
When I talked to you on Monday (as part of the debate about the “Black Book of Communism”, Ed.) I explained to you in detail how, in 1992, in the Russian Constitutional Court, when the trial between president Yeltsin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was under way, I suddenly gained access to the Secret Archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I explained to you, and I hope you remember, that I was able to scan most of the materials, although copying them was officially illegal. Immediately after the trial ended, these documents again became classified for another 30 years. As a result, the things I will show you today and that we are going to discuss are still a state secret in Moscow… I will show you some copies which I uploaded on the Internet, together with 7000 other documents, after I published them in my book Judgment in Moscow. So, you can find these documents in Russian on the Internet, accessible with just one click. Officially, if you go to Moscow and ask for these documents at the Central Archives, they will tell you that it is impossible, as they are secret.
Let’s talk about what you saw in some of these documents. Because the Soviet system lasted for so long, 75 years – 76 to be precise – the documents are so numerous (there are billions of them), that no one, not even a group of people, could view them all. We thus split into different groups, and each group chose a historical period more familiar to them, that they were going to study. I chose the period from the late 60s to the late 80s, especially because I wanted to study the final crisis of the communist system in the Soviet Union and to make a post-mortem of this crisis (an autopsy) to see why it happened and how it happened. I also found this period interesting because I had my own ideas and experiences in relation to the inevitability of this crisis and I wanted to verify them, to check my own reasoning. Despite the fact that I focused so much on the end of the Soviet system, I also made some copies of documents from the Stalin period, because it is almost impossible to judge the final part of the Soviet system without taking a look at the previous periods. Without this retrospective glance, it would have been harder to understand why and how people reacted to different events, why they did not do more, etc.
I brought you some documents from the beginning of Stalin’s rule, which talk about the big terror: for example, a note by Stalin, written on a little piece of paper, sentencing 6,600 people to death… This is just a trivial episode from Stalin’s time. He used to sign such papers multiple times a day. What is being said in this document? The killing of an additional 6,600 persons from “category I” is permitted in the Krasnoyarsk region (a region in Siberia). Very enigmatic! What did in mean in reality?
The victory of communism was in many countries correlated with mass destruction of the population. The communists wanted to change society in its entirety. They first destroyed the elites, the army, the police forces. Then, the communist regime, like the Nazi regime – and in fact like any other totalitarian regime – went so far as to change the structure of society by mass destruction of certain strata of the population. These did not necessarily present an immediate danger to the communists, but they constituted what was called a “class potentially hostile to the regime,” including anyone who would be able to show any kind of resistance at a later stage.
This was happening regularly in the Soviet Union and sometimes in Eastern Europe, meaning destruction of the “potentially hostile” class, which represented the most active part of the population. Bearing in mind that the main goal of the Soviet regime finally proved to be the creation of a “new human being,” a new social creature, it was necessary for it to destroy any part of the population that would later prove to be difficult to handle. What could they do? For every district, they put together a plan, including a number of persons who were named “enemies of the people”; this number was usually in the tens of thousands. For example, in Ukraine, 300,000, in Armenia, 30,000, in Belarus, 20,000, etc. After the secret police transmitted the plan to the local party organisation, the latter would respond to Stalin that it had carried out the given plan, and, like the good communists that they were, submit more “enemies of the people.” They made additional lists which they sent to Stalin for approval. And Stalin approved them. This was the procedure. I have a document here in which 1,000 additional people are approved in Armenia, 1,500 in Belarus, etc.
In 1937 and 1938, the so-called “terror years,” this was happening again and again. After destroying an initial number indicated in these orders, local authorities reported back that it was not enough, that there were more to destroy, and the Central Committee authorised the destruction of thousands upon thousands of people. It was nothing personal, as for them the “enemies of the people” were just numbers. They did not care if those people were indeed “enemies of the regime” or not. They destroyed social classes, not individuals. They destroyed the best peasants, the best workers, the best intellectuals, the elite of any class, which could have had a greater degree of independence. From the start, the main purpose was to destroy any form of resistance within society. Because we have here participants from the Republic of Moldova, I have brought a document which illustrates this process in Moldova. As you know, the Soviet Republic of Moldova was created very late, after the second world war, but this phase of exterminations was eventually implemented. And who was in charge of Moldova in this period? Comrade Brezhnev, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldova. And immediately after he became secretary, he wrote to Moscow saying that all the other republics had enemies, but they did not, and asked for a permission to kill some people, asking for a list of 11,000 families from a certain category to be approved, then 2,600 persons, then another 11,000 persons from another category, etc. Of course, Moscow approved.
Exporting the ‘glorious revolutions’, cloning the system
This having been accomplished, a new phase of socialism began: the creation of governmental structures, of public structures. However, as can be observed in the documents, they weirdly created double structures everywhere. For example: there was the Ministry of Culture, the purpose of which was to organise theatres and exhibitions, to structure creative centres, but simultaneously, the Cultural Department existed within the Communist Party, which oversaw that any cultural activity be subordinated to the socialist mentality. The same happened with every other structure in society. The structures were doubled so that the party could take decisions regarding every field.
Usually, things would happen the following way: all types of government organisations would sent all types of projects to be approved by the Central Committee, and the Central Committee would issue either its approval or its rejection.
The very fact that in the communist system all decisions were being taken by the Party, and not by the official public government structures, was regarded as a secret. But, funnily enough, everyone knew it anyway. Officially, however, it was all a secret. Therefore, any document of the Political Bureau or the Central Committee, however innocent, was marked as secret.
A secret was also the fact that the country was secretly led by a single party. The very idea of the double structure suited the communists’ goal, which was itself of a double nature: on the one hand, the Soviet state should have been a normal state, establishing good relations with its neighbours, promoting its culture, etc. On the other hand, it was far more important for the communist state to promote the socialist revolution at any cost. For this reason, in foreign policy, there was on the one hand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was involved in promoting collaboration with neighbours, and on the other hand there was the International Department of the Central Committee, which decided on any move in foreign politics and whose purpose was to promote the revolution, to support friendly communist forces in any country around the world.
This was the double function of the Soviet state: one would officially speak of peace, of promoting peace among nations, while unofficially the conditions for a revolution were being created in almost every country. Discovering the scope of this, even I was impressed, because there was no country in the world (except, perhaps, Antarctica) without their own party organs, their supporters (be they called ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’, that is less important), who were being incited, equipped, and prepared for a revolution and eventually convinced to start a revolution.
Regarding foreign policy, they promoted subversive activities in every country in the world, firstly by creating clone parties, revolutionary parties, which they trained, supplied, and led for a few years, until circumstances became suitable, following which they would encourage the local comrades to start a revolution. If you looked at post-war history, you would discover that, in some places in the world, all this was the result of subversive activities, not natural movements.
Here is a document which illustrates this situation: it is about Central America, about El Salvador, more exactly. In 1980, El Salvador had a ‘glorious revolution’… which happened out of nowhere, as if it a result of local circumstances. The present document proves that, before this revolution broke out, the Soviet Union had been engaging in intensive training of terrorists, of subversive groups, and had been supplying them with guns. These activities were so secret, that the Central Committee decided that the most important part of the information had to be written by hand. They could trust no one, not even people to type these documents.
Today we hear talk by President Bush or Prime Minister Blair about the world war against terrorism, about Muslim terrorism, or any other kind of terrorism. But we are not being told where this terrorism has appeared from. During his Moscow visit last year (2001, ed.), Prime Minister Blair welcomed Russia to the antiterrorist coalition. He was then expressing his contentment that Russia was on the same side as the West this time, in this war against terrorism, because, and I quote, “Russia has vast experience in solving such problems.”
I never believed that I would live long enough to hear a Western politician say something so naïve. It is like saying that Germany had vast experience in solving problems with Jews.
In fact, the Soviet Union invented modern political terrorism and then put it into practice: first toward its own population, as I have exemplified through documents, by controlling their own society and population, and then outwards, by spreading the “glorious revolution.”
And this is precisely what happened, because, in whichever way they may have started their activities, we can observe many terrorist groups everywhere around the world, and most of them were created by the Soviet Union to attain its goals. For example, I have compiled documents which show that, in 1974, immediately after the war (the so-called “Yom Kippur” war between Israel and its neighbours), Yasser Arafat’s vice-chairman, Wadia Haddad, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (who, in fact, according to documents written by comrade Andropov, was a Soviet agent) reported to Moscow that the detailed plans for the beginning of a terrorist campaign in the Middle East had Israel as a starting point, and then the US and its allies around the world, by blowing up oil refineries, oil tankers, oil pipelines, as well as conducting other attacks. This is the 1974 report handed in by Andropov to the Central Committee which eventually became approved by the latter.
Another example is that of 1984, when a Palestinian organisation stole an impressive art collection from the Middle East, offering it to the Soviet Union in return for guns. Despite knowing very well that it was stolen, the Soviets accepted and shipped the Palestinians various guns and ammunition worth 25 million dollars. It is an interesting story and it is yet to be established to whom that collection belonged (as no one has ever claimed ownership). This is about as much as I can tell you about terrorism in the Middle East.
Afghanistan, Poland, the beginning of the end
Finally, to illustrate the same reality of the spread of terrorism and the creation of what we now call Muslim terrorism, I have got another document: the decision to invade Afghanistan. It took us a few months to find it in Soviet archives. It is unbelievable! We had been told that no such decision existed. “But that is ridiculous!" we said. The Central Committee had a decision for anything, including, for example, the KGB raid of my apartment. These were decisions made by the Politburo or the Central Committee on a case-by-case basis. And in what regards the invasion of a neighbouring country they said that no such decision existed! I did not believe it and I filed a complaint, which I handed in to Yeltsin, who contacted the director of the Archives, invited him to dinner and, as a result, I received this document the following day. It is a remarkable document, which shows how these things worked. For a start, it must be said that it is handwritten by Chernenko, who would later, in 1984, become First secretary of the General Secretariat of the Communist Party of the USSR, meaning the first man in the party hierarchy. At that time, he was only one of the secretaries of the Central Committee, responsible for keeping these documents secret. Secondly, the word “Afghanistan” is not at all mentioned in the four pages of the document. It is only said that it refers to the “situation in A.”
Additionally, due to its strictly secret character, there is no talk of direct actions, only the following is mentioned: “for the approval of measures proposed by comrade Andropov, Ponomarev…”, but the document is in the end signed by all members of the Politburo, including those who were not present at the moment when the decision was being made. They were later told to sign and put down the date. Why? Because this is how the Politburo worked: like a mafia gang, they all had to be part of the same blood-stained circle, they all had to be involved, as they used to say, so that no one could later say that they did not know or did not participate.
This is how a neighbouring country, which was neutral at the time, was pushed into civil war for the following 12 to 15 years. This war resulted in the creation of the Taliban regime (which, by the way, was supported by the Americans). The rise of the Taliban was the direct effect of what the Russians had done in 1979 to destabilise the country. And that action had taken place with the goal of promoting the revolution, of imposing socialism.
I have got very many documents about Afghanistan; a full chapter from my book is dedicated to this topic. What is interesting regarding the problem of the invasion of Afghanistan is that initially all Soviet leaders understood that they did not have to invade Afghanistan. They all understood that military involvement in Afghanistan would bring about their end. The regime was too frail, it was no longer as powerful as it used to be and, if the army had been defeated in Afghanistan, they would have been destroyed themselves. What is remarkable about this situation is that those who wanted to promote the socialist revolution in Afghanistan knew very little about that country. Amidst the crisis, Kosygin, the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union in that period, contacted the head of the communists in Afghanistan. Their conversation is notable because it is as if they were speaking different languages. Kosygin asked Taraki (this was the name of the representative of the communists from Afghanistan) how come he had not mobilised the workers, why he had not given them guns and why he had not determined them to start the revolution. Taraki answered, “But, comrade Kosygin, we do not have workers in Afghanistan!” “Why don’t you mobilise students?” Taraki answered, “But we do not have students either, only pupils!” So, this important man from the Politburo, who authorised a communist revolution in Afghanistan, did not even know that there was no proletariat in Afghanistan, and thus no basis for such a revolution. At one point, it was suggested to the Soviets to send Russian troops dressed in Afghan army uniforms. Kosygin then told Taraki, who had suggested this, that this kind of action would not go unnoticed.
The crisis continued and was discussed in the Politburo. What was remarkable was the fact that some of the members went so far with the opposition that they said that “if we invade Afghanistan, we will fight against the Afghan people and not against the counter-revolution!” So even some Soviet leaders understood this! But in the end, they did not know how to control the situation. The situation developed contrary to their intentions. They knew that if they had not gone to Afghanistan, this country would have become a Muslim anti-communist, anti-Soviet republic right at the Asian border of the USSR, thus becoming a base for anti-communist activities in Central Asia, and so it would have become a threat to the security of the Soviet republics in the region. The Russians thus intervened in Afghanistan not because they were hoping to save the glorious socialist revolution, but because they were forced by the situation that was created there.
What is worth noting is that the Soviets were directly involved in most of the terrorist activities. In the period that we are talking about, the 1970s, they were already involved in actions in multiple states from virtually all the continents, such as Angola or Mozambique, or the North-African countries, like Libya and Algeria. Also, South Africa was another country in which the Soviets were involved. The same happened in multiple countries in Central Asia. And in South and Central America the Soviets supported dictatorial movements or communist revolutionary groups, and Cuba is the best example, being a kind of surrogate, a country commanded by the Soviet Union.
There came a moment when they discovered that, because they were involved in these movements everywhere in the world, the costs had become unsustainable. This became clear during the Polish crisis.
In 1980-1981, Polish workers went on strike and, instead of being sporadic (as had been hoped), the movement became popular and the participants demanded the creation of an independent organisation. And, because the Soviets did not have anything to lose (all countries were practically under control), they tolerated it. For the first time in the history of a communist country, an alternative political pole appeared. Practically all workers joined the independent syndicate Solidarnosc.
What was to be done? Ever since the beginning, the Soviets realised that they could not invade Poland. They were already militarily involved in Afghanistan and it would have been too much to be involved on two fronts at the same time. On the other hand, Poland was quite a large country, with antecedents in terms of rebellions, having fought against the Russians and the Germans multiple times throughout history, being a fierce nation. The Russians knew that if they were to send troops to fight against the Solidarnosc movement, they would in fact fight against the entire Polish nation (including the Polish army which consisted of half a million troops at the time). Thus, right from the start of the Polish crisis, their plan was to destroy the Solidarnosc movement using internal forces, by conditioning the communists in power in Poland to destroy the Solidarnosc movement themselves and eventually introduce martial law.
Polish communists promised that they would do this, but they asked for material aid in return (numerous goods would be shipped to Poland after they had introduced martial law). The Russians had two goals: to suppress the popular Polish movement on the one hand, and to blame the Poles for having an internal problem on the other hand. The Poles asked, among other things, for 40,000 tons of meat. The Soviets were willing to ship it, but they were unable to do so. Thus, for a very long time, the meetings of the Politburo started with Brezhnev’s question: “What about the meat for Poland?” Then Gorbachev, who was then there Secretary of the Central Committee responsible for agriculture, would stand up and say, “Comrade Brezhnev, we ordered the shipment of meat and everyone received your order with enthusiasm…” Brezhnev’s answer would be, “Very well, but did you give them the meat?” - “No, we do not have the meat.”
As a result, the immense Soviet empire made huge efforts to collect this quantity of meat (at the market price of meat at that time, 40,000 tons of meat were worth less than 40 million dollars, and they still did not make it). Week after week, Brezhnev would ask the same question in the Politburo, and would receive the same answer: “We do not have the meat.” The mighty empire, which could have destroyed any country in the world by generating revolutions, was unable to gather up 40,000 tons of meat. They failed, eventually only being able to come up with 16,000 tons. But this was not enough.
The inevitable crisis of the system.
From Bolshevism to Menshevism.
Perestroika and Glasnost proved that the system was unreformable.
During the Polish crisis, Soviet leaders thus realised that they were facing a profound crisis of the system. It was not just the Polish crisis, but a crisis of the entire Soviet system. They started to experience deficiencies in every field. The military competition with the West was becoming increasingly overwhelming. They could not match the progress the West was making because of the money and because of the far superior equipment of the Western countries. The costs of running the empire, the costs of foreign involvement of the Soviets had become too big.
If you asked yourselves what these costs were, as a friend of mine from California did, you would find out that they were immense. Only in Cuba, 10 billion dollars a year was necessary. And Cuba is a small country. Considering the Soviet terrorist involvement in the entire world (Cambodia, Angola), we realise that these costs had become astronomical. And the Soviet Union itself did not produce much. The highest income, in the late 1970s, did not exceed 40 billion dollars. Forty billion. By comparison, a U.S. company, General Electrics for example, had a profit larger than the entire Soviet Union. The Soviets thus realised that their economic capabilities were too small for their global ambitions. Consequently, they had to do something about it.
If we try to analyse Russian communism from the beginning, we discover that for a long time in its history there existed a radical side and a less radical side of the party. In our history, they have been called the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks maintained that socialism had to be introduced rapidly, by revolution and force. Mensheviks did not agree with this tactic, maintaining that the same result could be achieved by different means, such as: reforms, gradual education of the population, etc. The two wings split at the beginning of the 20th century and soon became rivals. In Russia, the Bolsheviks physically eliminated the Mensheviks as fast as they could. But history made the Mensheviks expand their influence in the West while the Bolsheviks developed in the East. Countries of Western Europe slowly but surely adopted the Menshevik programme. Labour law was expanded, numerous measures of social security were taken, and the influence of the social democrats in Western Europe grew increasingly stronger. The Mensheviks, the social-democrats, always believed that the Bolsheviks would come to realise their own mistakes and return to the idea of social democracy, that they would become more human, less oppressive, less violent. At the same time, they hoped that through the evolution of social democracy in the West, these two tendencies would become interweaved, the West and the East finally converging on a social-democrat basis. This idea first appeared in the 1950s and became very popular in the 1960s and the 1970s.
The Bolsheviks often used and abused these hopes of the Mensheviks throughout the history of their relationship. Every time they faced difficulty, especially in economic terms, the Bolsheviks pretended to be social democrats. They would start to speak the language of social democrats, promising reform in Russia and receiving aid from the social democrats in the West. Every time, the Mensheviks believed the Bolsheviks (truth be told, only symbolically). The same happened in the middle of the 1980s when Russia found itself in a serious crisis of the system. It started, as a result, to claim once again that it was now leaning toward social democracy and immediately received total support of the social democrats in the West. Because they were very close in terms of ideology (only the methods being different, the final goal of both camps being the establishment of socialism), it was very easy for Moscow to obtain the ideological and sometimes political support of social democrats.
Different phases of this relationship existed. At best, distance was kept, at worst, the relationship would cool completely. I have presented a document from 1969, Andropov’s report about the secret ties of the Soviet Union with the social democrats in West Germany. (An important German social democrat figure, Egon Bahr, was practically an agent of the Soviet Union). This document shows how close the collaboration between the two ideological currents was: at one point one could no longer differentiate between the German social democrats and the KGB agents. No one could have pinpointed where one ended and the other began. Of course, the Soviets also had relations with socialist parties in other countries. I have documents which attest to the ties with the Japanese socialist party, this collaboration going so deep that the Soviets financed its campaign. The Finnish socialist party was in the same situation, as one of the Prime Ministers of the country was a secret collaborator of Moscow. Very many countries of the Western social democratic block thus secretly collaborated with Moscow through the KGB.
Thus, in order to save itself from the crisis which it had entered in 1985, Moscow re-established links with the social democratic West, promised that it would change, that it would go back to the basis of social democracy, obtaining in return the much-needed support. This was the beginning of the so-called “Perestroika” policy. This collaboration went so far that in 1991, some months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union reported to Moscow that Western socialist and social-democratic parties were “worried” — because of the crisis in the Soviet Union — that the collapse of socialism in the East would lead to a crisis and a collapse of socialist ideas in the West. And this did not only come from the German socialist party, but also from the French socialist party; the French Prime Minister even proposed to come to Moscow and help the Russians overcome their crisis and maintain the system, to help them prevent the final crisis. Even personalities like Gonzales in Spain, seen as moderate socialist personalities, were ready to support Russia in order to avert its collapse.
“Perestroika” was not the introduction of a more democratic regime in Russia, as Russian propaganda tried to show. It was an ample operation for saving socialism in Europe. It was an interesting operation which involved most of the political forces in the West and the entire Soviet structure.
I have a series of amusing documents from the period immediately following the Polish crisis. The Soviets thought that the Polish example could be followed in the Soviet Union too. Then, after a detailed analysis made by the Central Committee, they discovered that many strikes were happening across the Soviet Union, and that there was even a bread crisis in Russia. Even though they were importing huge quantities from Canada and the United States, they were still facing bread shortage. Following some studies that were made, the results turned out to be astonishing, even paradoxical: they found out, for example, that there was no salt in the Soviet Union. However, at the time, the Soviet Union was producing huge quantities of salt, entire lakes of salt. Studies continued to be made for a year and a half, and Chernenko himself analysed these problems within the Central Committee. They studied these problems and managed to establish what was happening, but could not understand how it was possible.
Behold how the remarkable system that could create a revolution in Chile could not solve the problem of salt. It could suppress an important movement (such as that of Solidarnosc) in Poland, but was unable to provide enough bread for its own country. So it proved to be an absurd and — eventually — unreformable system. It proved to be unreformable because the basic principle could not be changed. As Russian economists of that period would say, “You can’t be slightly pregnant.” Either you are, or you are not. The same happened with socialism. You cannot have normal economy and the socialist ideology at the same time. You cannot save the economy without making radical decisions, as Gorbachev tried to do.
The reality is that the party, which controlled every aspect of production and consumption, could not lead to a rise in productivity. People are either paid and promoted for their economic merits and performance, and then there is no need for the communist party, or they are rewarded for their loyalty to the party, and then there is no productivity. So the double structure of the Russian communist party led to an inevitable blockage. It had to get rid of the double structure, production had to be subordinated to rules of industry, to an industrial leadership, and to some political figures; the prime minister had to be a prime minister and not an important figure of the communist party. This shift, which was so necessary, proved to be impossible to bring about. Even Gorbachev himself understood in 1989 that socialism was unreformable.
"The Common European Home" – an attempt to destabilise integration
What was done in terms of political and economic reform was too little to cause an increase of productivity or to democratise the system, but it has simultaneously gone too far to be reversed, and therefore the situation became uncontrollable. Trying to reinvigorate the country and to make the system more efficient, they lost control on the political level. Some national movements from the Soviet republics plainly asked for more autonomy and more decision-making power. And therefore, a final point was reached, which was totally incompatible with the initial purpose of the reform. This is how they realised that the West represented a real competition, that the Soviet empire was not strong enough economically to compete with the United States in terms of armament and military equipment. In every aspect, the United States were superior to the Soviet Union. When the so-called “star wars” began, the Americans set out to place nuclear materials in space, so that any move of the Soviet Union would become inefficient. But the Russians knew at that point that they could not compete technologically, at least in the field of computers and electronics, and that they could not catch up with the Americans. As the result, what they did was a very intelligent move. They declared the beginning of a new era of friendship, of convergence (this was the general policy of the Soviet Union). At that moment, Gorbachev proclaimed the so-called “Common European Home.” The European left fought for a project of the European Union which would transform it from an economic union into a political structure, which perfectly suited Soviet structures. This is how the idea of the European integration was introduced. But this is another story.
The arrangements from Eastern Europe supported this idea. In 1989, when the Soviets decided to change the regimes in Eastern Europe, their goal was to destabilise European integration, in hopes that this would help them keep those countries under control.
I can tell you, and I am sure that some of you know, that most of the so-called revolutions that happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 were organised by the Soviets, that they were indeed Soviet operations. If the slightest chance had been given to the people to say exactly what they wanted, what they needed, perhaps the operation might have been successful. In Czechoslovakia, for example, the Russians did not want Václav Havel, but someone completely different. But that someone else was totally outmoded and talked about the socialism as it was understood in 1969. That is why the Soviets were unable to impose him and people sent him packing. And so, the entire operation was turned on its head. The same happened in Germany as well. The Soviets had not planned the unification of Germany, but, because of a minor fault (an information leak) and because of pressure from the population, the fall of the Berlin wall happened before the planned timeframe. This did not lend the socialists very much credibility.
The changes in Eastern Europe became uncontrollable. The Soviets were thus losing other nations. However, only by 1990 they finally realised that they had lost Germany. They were still hoping that they would impose their own system, creating a neutral social democratic Germany. The elections in Eastern Germany jeopardised their plans. The other countries, the United States included, agreed that the unification of Germany was to happen gradually, in view of European integration. The unification would have taken place 10 years later than it did, and the reunified Germany would have been under the clear control of the social democrats and the socialists. But East Germans understood what was happening and voted for the unification with West Germany in 1990, leveraging one of the articles of the FRG Constitution which referred to the unification. The entire plan fell through, and the Soviets lost the most important European ally. All the Eastern European arrangements have thus gone to seed. Moscow could not stop this process and could not maintain control over those countries.
The collapse of the Soviet Union followed. As the documents of the Central Committee also show that this was inevitable, it was the logical consequence of a system which was absurd right from the start, based, among other things, on the wish to create a new kind of human being. It was so unscientific, that it could not function anyway. And 50 years were necessary – 70 in the case of Russia – for the system to collapse, and this only because Russia is a large country, rich in natural resources, oil and gas. If the same thing had absurdly happened in Denmark, for example, the collapse of the system would have happened the following year. But in Russia, thanks to the fabulous resources that it had at its disposal, the phenomenon lasted 70 years. But they finally depleted those resources. Of course, Russia still has resources, but those remain unexploited. And so, as they realised that they lacked both the money and the workforce, they were suddenly left unable to utilise their resources. But, as I also said on Monday (during the debate which began with the “Black Book of Communism”, Ed.) no one made use of this crisis. No one used it to annihilate communism completely. The social democrats from the West did not want this because, without the socialists from the East, they would not have had so much power. And in the 1990s the social democrats and socialists had the power in many Western countries.
I have two more, should I say personal, documents, to illustrate what the mechanisms of repression were like in Russia. One of them contains the discussion between Andropov and the Politburo about my arrest in 1971, which is a document that was signed by all members of the Politburo, and about my trial from January 1972 (signed by Andropov and the Prosecutor General from that period). The other document is about what happened to me in 1976, when I was exchanged for the Chilean communist leader.
Ciprian Dumitrașcu, pupil, Bacău: What is your opinion on the fact that the 14th Army of Russia is now situated in Transnistria? Do you think that the Republic of Moldova is a country that is independent from Russia, from an economic and political point of view?
Vladimir Bukovsky: During the final years of the Soviet Union, the preservation of the system was attempted by various kinds of tricks, which were not necessarily new. In essence, the Soviets adopted the policy of a large empire: divide et impera. Thus, they created conflicts between ethnicities, with or without the help of the KGB, and then they presented themselves as being the only power which could reinstate peace in the region. They made themselves useful. They did the same with every republic. For example, in the Baltic countries, they used the Russian minority in those countries. In fact, in Latvia you could not even say that it was a minority; the Russians had become 60% of the population. This also happened in the case of the Republic of Moldova, where the Republic of Transnistria was created artificially to serve the political purposes of the Soviet Union. This is the typical way in which the Soviets acted. Even in Central Asia they proceeded the same way, wherever they were given the possibility to impose their own rules. If you analyse the politics of the formation of the Soviet Union under Lenin, Stalin, and later, by other leaders of the Soviet Union, you will discover that they always gave part of a country to another country in order to create confusion regarding those territories so that, in case of a conflict, they would be the ones in control of the situation. In the case of Moldova, it was very easy. It was occupied by Stalin in 1940, following which a part of this territory was called the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tension created by these redistributions was enormous. It is to this policy that I attribute the maintenance of the 14th Army on a territory that did not belong to Russia anymore.
Initially, these republics, formed as a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, were, at least economically speaking, not at all independent. Let’s think about the energy demand of each one of these countries, for example. They were incapable to generate the energy they needed, which is why, for objective reasons, they remained to some extent, at least economically, dependent on Russia. The same happened with the countries from Eastern Europe, dependent on Gazprom, for example. Estonia, which became very attached to Finland and was thus independent in some respects, also depended on the transit of some Russian goods through Estonian territory, namely on the taxes that the Russians paid to Estonia for this transit. The independence from Russia is, thus, a relative notion. None of the ex-Soviet countries is totally independent on Russia. Neither is Moldova.
Horațiu Ferchiu, pupil, Ploiești: Do you think that this period, from 1990 until today, is just another step in the evolution of the Russian Communist Party and the Russian administration, which created the recoil necessary for the international democratic financial system to put Russia back on its feet, later intending to come back to the leadership of a powerful Russian federation?
Vladimir Bukovsky: No, I do not think so. After I presented the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, I do not think I have much to add that would support this view. In 1988, Soviet leaders understood that they had to be prepared in the event of a major crisis. That is why Gorbachev gave special directives to the activists of the Communist Party, to young Komsomol activists and young KGB agents to specialise in finance, to build businesses, most often with foreign partners, belonging to other communist parties; in other words, to prepare to simulate capitalism. These young agents, well-prepared, started to develop the most profitable businesses in the Soviet bloc. The so-called process of privatisation of the party lasted between 1988 and 1990. In 1990, it became chaotic, because it became increasingly obvious that the system would soon collapse, and investors interested in property and financial assets started to retreat from the party. The mentality was: we have our own property, we have our own businesses, we no longer need the party. Thus, there was no party control over the entire process any longer. This is how the disintegration of what Gorbachev tried to do began. The same thing happened in many Eastern European countries.
In the same period, 1988-1990, the Central Committee in Moscow secretly trained the KGB and GRU to act “underground,” creating mafia-like organisations which would infiltrate the economic entities through which the party would regain control over the economy. In view of creating stability, they encouraged organised crime within the security services and, at the same time, within the party. However, the system they created was uncontrollable. It was a process of self-affirmation. The current KGB could control the financial system in Russia, but it would not pay any kinds of taxes. So, the KGB had become a crime syndicate, like in James Bond films. To conclude, I would say that their intention was the one which you suggested, to regroup and to reform themselves. But the reality was different. They did not exercise enough control over their own agents, over their own structures, so these started to disintegrate.
Tatiana Cernicova, pupil, Timișoara: How would you comment on the policy of Belarus regarding Russia, considering the fact that most ex-Soviet countries are hostile towards Russia? How do you explain the fact that Belarus wants to unite with Russia: as a sign of a desperate situation or as an attempt of Russia to become what it once was?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I would not say that Belarus, meaning the entire population of the country, wishes unification with Russia. It is without doubt that Lukashenko wants it. Why? This is also very clear. Belarus is a very poor country. It does not have electric energy and its industry is weak, because it was artificially created by the Soviet Union. Their income level is very small, so they undoubtedly need the support of a greater power. It is understandable why the leaders of Belarus wish the unification with Russia. As for the population, as I have said, it is not so clear.
A similar situation one can observe in the Ukraine. It is true, there are many there, especially in the East of Ukraine, for example in Donbass (a territory mainly inhabited by Russians) who would wish to reunite with Russia. In the West of Ukraine, however, the less the percentage of ethnic Russian population is, the less reunification with Russia is desired. One cannot speak of a clear tendency towards reunification. In Ukraine, the situation could be presented as this: 40% for, 40% against, 20% abstain.
In the beginning, in 1991, the situation was clearer, because most of the population wanted independence, like in Belarus. But, due to the fact that the so-called post-communist development was disastrous, and the economy either broke down totally or stagnated, the desire to go back to the previous period of economic stability became stronger. Especially the elderly want to go back, without realising that, in fact, they cannot go back to what was, because what was no longer exists. They cannot even go back to the beginning of the 1990s. Most people from ex-Soviet countries, especially in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, do not understand a basic fact: the crisis of the Soviet Union system was inevitable. It was the result of internal contradictions rather than something imposed from the outside.
Unfortunately, most people still cannot understand this. People think, however, that what happened was the result of some subversive activity undertaken either by the Americans, or by the Jews, or by the Europeans. They do not understand that the cause of the crisis is to be found in the communist ideology itself, in the communist system. Just by understanding this, I anticipated the crisis already when I was 16 years old.
This is the reason why we need to put communism on trial, because only by condemning the system and exposing its crimes, the population will have no choice but to analyse its past, to analyse its own attitudes, and to realise that, through its passivity and conformism, it kept this destructive system alive. Only after they understand, as the Germans did after they were defeated at the end of WWII, will they be able to lay the foundation of a new society, of a new economy; only after they understand that they cannot blame anyone else but themselves. Unfortunately, this trial did not take place. That is why some are still saying today: ‘Whatever happened, during communism, we had bread sometimes’.
Mihai Mititelu, pupil, Dărmănești, Bacău: Russia was the “sun” of communism, but now it is a country with socio-economic difficulties. How do you see the future of Russia? Does it possess the capacity to recover?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Personally, I believe that Russia will continue to be confronted with the difficulties it is currently experiencing. Russia’s crisis is not even nearly over. In 1993 I wrote about this topic in several American magazines, trying to paint the picture of the situation in Russia in the coming years.
The most likely scenario regarding Russia’s evolution is the continuation of its division. There is no other way to overcome the crisis it finds itself in. Political observers made several kinds of predictions: the first one referred to return to communism, another opinion envisaged a civil war between nationalities, a third version envisaged the transformation into a system like Pinochet’s in Chile. In my opinion, none of these predictions seemed realistic enough. If there really existed strong nationalist forces within Russia, they would have manifested themselves sooner. In 1993, nationalist forces were unable to establish their own television channel in Moscow. If they were unable to do it then, it was very unlikely that they would have been capable of doing it in the following years.
If we analyse the communist forces, the votes for the Communist Party fell gradually, simply because people wanted to get rid of this system.
Regarding the Pinochet scenario, it was not taken into account that the Soviet army was in the same situation as the rest of society: that of a profound crisis. During the war in Chechnya, the Russians took six weeks to occupy Grozny. Six weeks for the glorious Soviet army? It took Hitler only six weeks to occupy the entire Europe. The Russian army was declining because it had all the faults of the society that formed it. The soldiers wanted to leave the army, the officers wanted special favours (apartments, etc.), the generals wanted to play with the soldiers, but they did not see eye to eye. Every attempt of a general to impose military authority in Russia would have been a total disaster.
Regarding the ‘Balkan’ prediction, meaning different nations fighting each other, it was plausible in 1991, when it could have happened. But most of the population was scarred by the past, it was conscious that the revolution did not bring anything good, and thus did not want a civil war. Despite all provocations from Gorbachov and the KGB, the population proved weary of blood spillage. That is why this kind of scenario was hardly likely to come to pass.
As more economic fiascos were starting to show, the provinces began to look for alternatives, to look for solutions to get out of the impasse. This happened in 1998, when the ruble fell. If you take a look at what the governors were doing at that time, you will see that they froze the prices and even set up customs controls at their borders. It is remarkable that a country belonging to the former Soviet Union now had its own monetary policy, it had customs; this was already an important step toward independence. What they still had to do was to start to print their own rubles and then they would have become de facto independent.
If we look at the example of the ex-Soviet regions in the Far East, it becomes difficult even for me to answer the question ‘Why do they need Moscow?’, because Moscow never gave them anything. It would have been better for them if they had oriented themselves toward Japan, South Korea, or China. Instead of ending up in the situation they are in today, without electric energy, they could have been very close to those countries. With some investments from the West, they could have easily survived without Moscow. They did not need Moscow.
After 1993, the KGB gained the power, controlling mass-media, business, and financial operations. What is happening today is only the result of that crisis. We cannot say with certainty what and when will happen, because no one can predict the course of events with such precision. Of course, the power structures that resisted will try to maintain their power, because they know that once a process of disintegration has started, the crisis will continue until it reaches its peak, and they will be lost. The only state structure in Russia which remained was the KGB. That is why they placed KGB agents in all leading positions, that is why they chose Putin. This is what seems to me to be the last phase before disintegration begins, the total fragmentation, which becomes inevitable.
Question from the crowd: Do you think that the ideas of the socialist system were experienced fully by humanity? Do you think that the future will offer the socialist system a chance to manifest itself again?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I think that socialist ideas are unrealizable to being with. Even the most important socialist ideas start from erroneous premises, these being that humans can be changed by social circumstances. This is the essence of the socialist ideology and I can tell you as neurophysiologist that it is a completely false idea. This presumption goes against science. One can affirm the contrary — that we can change reality, but not that reality can change us. The socialist ideology is unproductive It is an ideology of fair distribution, not of productivity. So, they can distribute the accumulated goods equally, but they cannot create new ones, and will enter a crisis every time accumulated goods will start running out. Let’s look at the example of Sweden. Let’s forget Russia, let’s forget Romania. Let’s look at Sweden. Sweden accumulated for centuries, and then decided to become a moderate social-democrat country (very moderate, without any revolution), excelling in aspects of social security, social and medical benefits. After approximately 18 years, the experiment almost reached bankruptcy. Sweden’s current foreign debt has never been higher in its entire history, and that is because production is insufficient in Sweden (after distributing all they had accumulated). This is the problem of socialism: it is an idea created by intellectuals who speak about justice, not about reality. They invented the entire concept, which may sound great, but which is not applicable anywhere. There was a political joke that circulated once in Russia about socialism: socialism is not a scientific concept because, had it been, it would have first been tested on dogs, which did not happen. Socialism is an intellectual invention, a fantasy. It could never have functioned.
It was tested in various countries (Cuba, China, various countries in Africa and Asia), which had a variety of economic, political, social, historical, and religious backgrounds, in a variety of cultures. But in each situation, it proved that it could not function. Socialists will say, as they are still saying today, that not all socialist models have been tested yet. For example, in France there is talk of new socialism, of testing new socialism. This reminds me of a joke about a poor Jew who goes to a Rabi for advice, because more and more of his chickens were dying. The Rabi asks, ‘How are you feeding them?’. The Jew replies that he puts the food on the ground. The Rabi says, ‘That is not correct. You should draw a rectangle, put the food inside that rectangle, and you will see that they will stop dying’. The Jew goes home, does as the Rabi said, but there is no result. He goes back to the Rabi with the same problem. The Rabi says, ‘You did not proceed correctly. Within that rectangle, you must draw a circle and only place the food inside the circle’. No sooner said than done, but, surprise, the chickens keep dying. Asked again, the Rabi replies, ‘You did not proceed correctly. Within the circle you must draw a triangle, and you must only place the food inside that triangle’. After a few days, the Jew goes saddened to the Rabi to lets him know that all his chickens have now died. The Rabi replies, ‘What a pity, I had so many other great ideas!’
Victor Platon, pupil, Republic of Moldova: Could the communists have transformed ‘homo sapiens’ in ‘homo sovieticus’? (This is because there are many who still want to return to communism).
Vladimir Bukovsky: I do not think they managed to create a ‘new man’ in any of the former communist countries. What they did, by introducing mass killing and genocide, was to exterminate the best people from all fields. They kept the least capable, those with the least amount of initiative, people who were morally destroyed, most of them drowning in alcohol. Was this the creation of a new man? I do not think so. It means the destruction of a human being. Can what the Soviets had created through suppression and annihilation be called evolution? No. They only managed to bring the population close to extinguishment. If you look at the statistics from Russia you will see that the birth rate is very low, the average life expectancy is about 60 years, infant mortality is almost that of the third world, and the criminality as well. What the Soviets succeeded in doing was to transform Russia into a destroyed country, a third world country. It has often been compared to Nigeria. Can one speak, then, of the ‘new man’ in Russia? Yes, perhaps of the ‘newly destroyed man.’ The project of creating ‘homo sovieticus’ failed lamentably.
Rosana Câmpeanu, pupil, Bistrița: 1. What happened after the Russians realised that you were scanning those documents, which, until not long before, had been top secret? 2. Do you think that there is a similarity between the situation in Chechnya and the Vietnam war?
Vladimir Bukovsky: 1. As I said earlier, they did not realise what I was doing until the last moment, and then it was too late. Because I left the country immediately afterwards. Upon my arrival in the West, I printed out all the documents that I had scanned and then uploaded them to the internet. And then I wrote a book where I published some of those documents. As for the Russians, they could not prove that what I did was illegal, because there was no law stipulating that you could not scan the documents that they allowed you to analyse. The law said that you were not allowed to photocopy them. But I haven’t photocopied copied them. From 1996, however, I was not allowed to visit Russia anymore. Another effect was the reclassification of the files I copied, as they again became secret for the next 30 years.
2. Vietnam is a large country. Chechnya is a small nation, so it cannot be compared to Vietnam. If we refer to the political situation, the first war with Chechnya was from the outset unpopular among the Russian population. Over 70% of the population was against this war, which is why Yeltsin was finally forced to sign the peace agreement in 1996. After that, elements of the Russian administration, in close contact with the KGB, saw this war as a good way to gain power, so they provoked the war: they firstly blew up a few buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities, and, blaming the Chechens (it has been recently proven that it was a KGB operation), they ignited hostility of the Russian population toward the Chechens, making this second war more popular. The war against Chechnya brought the KGB to power in Russia. Chechnya is sadly not Vietnam. Why ‘sadly’? Because Vietnam showed that the reaction of the population in opposing a war can surpass political decisions. This did not happen in Russia. Regarding Chechnya, the popular reaction was ‘too little, too late’. The war is ending, and its slow progress determined an apathetic reaction from the population. This war did not generate political movements. The comparison with Vietnam cannot be made in any respect.
Victoria Nedelciuc, pupil, Republic of Moldova: I would like to know your opinion on the Commonwealth of Independent States. Do you think this commonwealth is an unofficial Soviet Union?
Vladimir Bukovsky: The creation of this commonwealth, immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was an attempt to keep the appearance of a union. But it was not a realistic plan, because the interests of the countries that were part of the Soviet Union are so different, that it is impossible to find a political formula to fit all of them. For a time, this kind of grouping was beneficial to some of the member republics, like Belarus, which hoped that redistribution of energy, oil, and gas was a way out of the crisis. Regarding most of the republics from the former Soviet Union, however, there was no interest in keeping this union. As a result, the Commonwealth of Independent States is more of a joke than something serious.
Nina Coadă, pupil, Chișinău: It is well known that, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, many of the ex-Soviet countries remained under the influence of Moscow, especially regarding religion. What can you tell us about the ‘religious USSR’, past and present?
Vladimir Bukovsky: What you are saying is only true for some of the countries of the former union, because there was a variety of religions (for example, in Central Asia, the Christians are not at all the majority). Only some of these countries were of Orthodox religion and not even those were necessarily subordinated to the Patriarchate in Moscow. See, for example, Armenia or Georgia. In essence, we are talking about Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Moldova, and the Russian population of the other republics. It is well known that religion is very important today. In Soviet Russia it was almost formal, because, as is well known, the Russian Church was destroyed by the Soviets and recreated for a while by Stalin during WWII. Everything in Russia was controlled by the KGB. There was no priest in the Soviet Union who was not an agent of the KGB, so trust in the church was severely damaged. Consequently, the Orthodox Church cannot be viewed as setting moral example. Regarding the other republics (for example, the Baltic states), the local Russian population was not too devout. It is true that the Orthodox Church was always an instrument of foreign politics of the Soviet Union.
Dumitru Mișin, pupil, Chișinău: How interested is Russia today, from a political point of view, in Eastern Europe, considering the double game it is playing in Transnistria? How has Russia influenced the transformation of NATO from a military-political formation into a politico-military one, and how big will be the impact of this position in the Republic of Moldova?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Regarding NATO, the more ex-Soviet countries it includes, the more diluted it becomes. What is NATO today? As someone from Romania was telling me the other day, it is a military alliance of Western powers against Afghanistan. The less definition a military alliance has, the less important and useful it is…
NATO will become a political identity which everyone will be welcome to join. I would not be surprised if China expresses its intention to join. Joining NATO — if it does not redefine its objectives well — is like the first step toward joining the European Union. The NATO doctrine has changed. A military organisation with the purpose of defense, NATO has declared itself entitled to intervene in any conflict in the world, as if this had already been decided, and this is not a good policy, it is a recipe for disaster. It is not a good sign when one becomes too arrogant when defining one’s aims. The countries which joined NATO on the one hand, and Russia on the other, created the so-called ‘consultative superstructure’, which permits Russia to participate in taking some decisions regarding Eastern countries. This is, again, a negative development. So the question arises: why do we need NATO? Perhaps it is time to close the circle and not plan the indefinite extension of NATO. Neither Brezhnev, nor Stalin managed to realise what has been realised now: so many communists participating in the North-Atlantic Alliance. If it keeps this line, NATO will no longer be a political instrument, because it is destructing itself.
The first part of your question was about Moldova. NATO will not defend, nor will it occupy Moldova, because NATO is no longer a military organisation, although it sometimes describes itself as such. Regarding Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, this is an interesting question because, when Putin gained power, the KGB gained power. It was a revitalisation of the policy of the empire. This does not mean that the Russians are capable of applying it in practice, but their intentions are clear, to reach all of its objectives, to start using again all the old methods. Let’s observe what is happening within Russia: Putin is consolidating his position, taking control of the mass media, discouraging any form of independence, both in the provinces and in the Second Chamber of the Parliament. This is a typical action of the KGB set to regain total control. Regarding foreign policy, the same goal is essentially being pursued.
We are witnessing growth of a number of Soviet operations, even in Poland, Hungary, and in the Czech Republic. Of course, these operations are not the ones we know from Stalin’s time, these operations mainly happen at the economic level, the so-called ‘businesses’, many of them having to do with gas and oil. Russia’s most important weapon toward Eastern Europe has become Gazprom. Gazprom settles political decisions after a prior consultation with the government and can thus force certain political decisions on Eastern European countries. Another weapon employed by Russia is organized crime. If you ask a leader from Eastern Europe about the problems they are confronted with, they will reply that there is large Russian involvement in organised crime in their country. And this is another important instrument of internal influence, and it is increasingly used by Moscow as an instrument for the re-establishing of the ‘Soviet empire’. So, to the question of whether Russia’s involvement in Eastern Europe is growing, the answer is affirmative. It is debatable how successful this involvement is. As far as I am concerned, I believe that all this control of the KGB on a state cannot be a successful operation. They are trying, but I do not think they will succeed, not only because history is not irreversible, not only because Russia no longer has sufficient resources for this, but also because this kind of governing is destructive. I do not think it will be long before Russia will find itself in another economic crisis, in another financial impasse. It is a misfortune, but it is inevitable. One cannot make a great political power out of a country that is unable to pay its salaries.
Irina Ceachirov, pupil, Chișinău: Regarding those who are feeling nostalgic for the past, do you think it is a question of generations, or an incurable disease of mentality?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I know about conflicts between generations due to change in mentality. In the 1950s and 1960s, when we were very young, we confronted our parents too, those who had lived during the time of Stalin’s terror. They showed the same lack of understanding that many of your parents are probably showing. We did not understand how it was possible for them not to notice, not to see the terror that millions upon millions of people were facing. And if they did notice, what did they do? How did they protest against this system? Why did they not oppose the regime? We could not understand such things. At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev received a note from the crowd, which he read aloud, and which said, ‘Where were you, comrade Khrushchev, when all this was going on?’. Khrushchev asked the person who wrote the note to stand up. No one stood up. To which Khrushchev said, ‘I was exactly where you are right now!’
People do not change much; when we were young, we experienced the same conflicts between generations that you are facing now. One of our questions for the older generation was this: to what extent were they accomplices during Stalin’s time when some of the gravest crimes against humanity were being committed? Many of them initially said, ‘We did not know anything about this’. This is how Germany’s population was saying at the end of the war, when asked about Nazism and the concentration camps. However, in the case of Russia, this declaration was harder to uphold, because, when there is talk of the killing of 40 million people, it was highly unlikely that these disappearances passed unnoticed. Especially when your neighbours would disappear overnight. You would wake up in the morning and half of your neighbours would be gone. So, it was not something that could have passed unnoticed. Moreover, Stalin’s regime, compared to Hitler’s regime, required public approval and involvement. Not only were people arrested and executed, but the people were asked to support the party’s decisions, they were practically forced to get involved in the killings of their compatriots. They were obligated to condemn them, in public gatherings, to call them criminals, agents of the imperialists, and then vote for their execution. So, they could not say that they did not know what was happening. This argument could not be maintained.
Another reaction that was often encountered was this: ‘But we believed!’ Believed in what? In the killing of 40 million people? Believed that this is a step forward for humanity?
In any case, if you kept insisting, the final answer was that they were afraid.
They did not hear anything, they did not see anything, they did not say anything.
They believed because they were afraid to know. They did not know because they were afraid to know, and they believed because they did not know. This self-generated ignorance became a plausible excuse. Unfortunately, this generation is not easily defeated. Your parents, in fact, like all who lived under the Soviet or Nazi regime, must confront themselves, reconsider their past, understand the extent to which they contributed to the disaster. You see, totalitarian regimes, except classic dictatorships, are based on the involvement of a large percentage of the population in its own crimes. They do not exist and cannot function without forcing the involvement of a large part of the population in these crimes. This is the difference between a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime. The recuperation, the recovery is thus impossible before the majority of the population understands that it was used as an instrument of totalitarian repression. As painful as it may be, they must admit that they participated, even if passively, in everything that went on. They must analyse their past starting from this basic premise.
George Onofrei, pupil, Iași: Mister Bukovsky, there are two questions one encounters very often in your book, “Judgement in Moscow”: ‘So what?’ and ‘Who cares?’. These are two cynical questions. Do you think that cynicism made the West so strong? Is cynicism a general feature of the Western system and its political system? (‘Forget the rest, think only about yourself!’).
Vladimir Bukovsky: The political system of the West is as good as the people that inhabit it. You are asking me whether the political system is cynical, I am replying that the people are cynical. So, the subject of this question would rather be human nature. Yes, people are cynical, yes, they are pragmatic, they are shortsighted. They prefer an immediate reward over a long-term benefit after a complicated crisis. Self-justification is, also, typical of the human nature: it represents an efficient instrument for reducing trauma. For many, it is the mechanism for escaping the proof that they made a mistake, that they were weak, that they were used, that they contributed to the disaster that they ended up with.
When we are talking about the reactions that people have to communism and Nazism, we must study human nature. Many of the things discovered are not pleasant, but this does not mean that humanity is bad because the same people can act surprisingly well in crisis situations. There are examples in which people who used to be cynical and shortsighted manage to rise, to confront their enemies. You can only bow to them… And they are the same people! It can only be said that we are complex beings and that the aptitude of an opinion former, of a person with influence, or which is trying to gain influence, must be that of awakening the good side from within the human being and of minimising the negative tendencies which exist within each of us. It is a philosophical question.
Oana Mara Șerban, pupil, Câmpina: What do you think about the secret services and their influence on Russian society? Do they have the chance to be revived?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I have just explained that they are in power in Russia. Perhaps for a short time, but they are in power. President Putin has been appointed not because of his personal worth (as a person he is like any other KGB officer), but as the representative of a corporation. The corporation brought him to power.
Costin Răcilă, pupil, Bacău: In the last 50 years, the Eastern part of Europe and a big part of Asia were under strong Soviet influence. Today, it is extremely clear that the US has interests in the Middle East (see, for example, the speech of President Bush about the removal of Saddam Hussein from power). Is it, thus, the era of a new US dictatorship?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I would not say it is a dictatorship of the United States. Rather a hegemony, considering that it is the only superpower that remains. <...> Iraq, according to the information I have, needs two or three years to develop the nuclear bomb. Whether we like them or not, whether they are a dictatorship or not, we must do something. And if Iraq gets to possess the nuclear bomb, it will destroy Israel right away, it will undoubtedly blackmail its neighbours (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or other countries), it will dictate the price of oil and will eventually control world politics. All this will be decided by Saddam Hussein, who pretends to be Stalin. And this outcome must be prevented. It is hard to believe that there are countries in this world which would agree to such a development. Reality is not only limited to whether Bush is good or bad, stupid or intelligent, the reality is that Saddam and his plans must be destroyed. I agree that the Americans are dominating, but, in this case, that is something positive. There are situations in which the domination of the Americans has negative effects. For example, I find the idea of a world war against terrorism too impractical and even naïve. Firstly, what is a world war? Secondly, how can you go to war with an abstract thing (because terrorism is abstract)? Terrorism has not been defined or, at least, no generally acceptable definition has been found. Yasser Arafat could be, on the one hand, a terrorist, on the other hand, a Nobel prize winner.
On another level, this abstraction can serve some countries to justify their own oppressive actions: Russia to justify its war with Chechnya, China to justify the genocide in Tibet, and so on. <...>
Traian Veliș, pupil, Râmnicu Vâlcea: During communism, how close do you think we were of a Тhird world war?
Vladimir Bukovsky: As Solzhenitsyn said very well: ‘We found ourselves in a Тhird world war.’ The Cold War was in itself the Third world war. It was driven by different purposes, but it was a world war. In the 1960s and 1970s more countries were lost than in the Second world war: Cambodia, countries of Latin America, Vietnam. So the Third world war really did take place. But I think your question refers to the nuclear war: whether we were close to a nuclear war or not… interesting question!
The best-known example is the ‘Missile Crisis’ of 1962 with Khrushchev deploying missiles in Cuba, and the Americans asking him to retreat and ordering a naval blockade. But you know these things. According to the documents from the archive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), despite the fact that the Americans rang the alarm bell regarding a nuclear war, they were prepared to respond to a Russian nuclear attack. The Soviet government did not even consider the possibility of starting a nuclear war. It only wanted a ‘psychological weapon,’ which would scare the population and give a start to peace movements. They did not think about using the nuclear weapons. Why? Because the Soviets acted according to their own doctrine, the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. And according to this ideology, the future is the Soviet revolution — the liberation of countries from the chains of capitalism. If one uses a nuclear weapon and destroys a society, what kind of liberator is that? If they needed anything from the West it was the economic and industrial potential. If the allied forces had gained power in different countries, then yes, the Soviet Army would have come and consolidated this state of affairs. But they did not take into consideration that victory of communism could only occur as a result of an armed intervention. This was not the plan of the Soviets. This was not the purpose of socialism, because they did not want, as I said before, to completely destroy societies, instead they sought to keep them to fulfill their own purposes. They wanted to change, to transform, to “cleanse”, but not to destroy. They wanted to spread their “clones” everywhere in this world.
So the answer to your question would be that we were never very close to a nuclear war, especially because Russia wanted nothing more but to scare through its actions, nothing more.
Emilian Colceru, pupil, Bucharest: Do you think that a trial like the one which took place at Nürnberg is desirable and can be conducted in communist states? If it is indeed desirable and still cannot be done, what would be the solution?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I have always said this: the moment for something like this had passed. The best moment was in 1991, when communism was collapsing everywhere and people’s feelings were very strong. To go back to that moment today would be very complicated. The regimes in Eastern Europe, and especially in Russia, have returned to the old style. In Russia we have the KGB in power again, and we do not expect them to open the archives. In the past, under Yeltsin, we could at least have a symbolic trial. As I explained to the people around Yeltsin, I do not wish to punish of all those responsible. That would be impossible. If we tried to arrest all communist criminals we would have a new GULAG, and I do not want that. We need a symbolic condemnation of the system, a statement that this system was criminal. That is all we need. After that we can release all these people, I do not care. This could have been done in 1991, especially since the leaders of the Political Bureau were all under arrest, and among them were the leaders of the Party, the KGB, the army, and the government. So, it would not have been necessary to arrest anybody, because most of them were already in prison. All they had to do was to put them on trial publicly, and open all the archives, and explain their crimes one by one, year by year, and that would have been enough.
Today… well, today the Russian leaders are really proud of their KGB past. They do not hide it, they are not afraid to say: “Yes, we were in the KGB, which at that time was an important institution.” During a commemoration of the establishment of the KGB, or an anniversary of 75 years of KGB or something of that kind, President Putin made the following assertion in his speech: “The organs of the KGB always defended the interests of the Russian people.”
An unbelievable statement after they have managed to kill 40 million of us. In any case, they are now proud of it, so the chance for us to put them on trial is very small. Personally, I cannot even go back to Russia, as my visa has been revoked, so they are the ones judging us, and not the other way around. If we had a second revolution, the right time for a trial could occur again, but during my lifetime this is very unlikely. However, sooner or later you will grow up and you will do something about it. Sooner or later we will judge these criminals. Perhaps not in the form of a trial. But those like us will write books, will find documents, and will make them public. Sooner or later history will condemn them.
Irina Ceachirov, pupil, Chișinău: It is well known that the former security agents are now in power in Russia (Putin, who was first a security agent at Leningrad and then in Germany; Serghei Ivanov, the current Minister of Defence, and others). Because of this were you forbidden to enter Russia, even if international organisations, radio stations and television channels from Moscow requested that you were granted a visa?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I do not know exactly why they have kept denying me a visa since 1996. They did not give me any explanations, any reason. All I can do is guess. Yes, I assume that their reaction was determined by the gradual increase of KGB’s influence in Russia. This phenomenon began in 1993 and still continues. Today, KGB has total power. But in 1996 they had become strong enough to proceed with this measure.
The question is why? I have not entertained any illusions about my arrival in Russia, such as Napoleon upon his return from the island of Elba, as a representation of salvation itself, because people are too busy in their struggle for survival, they are apathetic and would not have been too concerned about anyone coming to help them. But the Russians, as any other nation, have their own legends. A former KGB agent, who is now living in London, told me that I am a case which is studied in all KGB schools, seen as an enemy which the KGB did not manage to destroy. That is why they have this exaggerated idea of what I could do if I was to return to Russia. In reality, I have to admit, I could not do anything in today’s Russia, absolutely nothing.
Serban Rădulescu-Zoner: Regarding the influence of communism on the social democrats of the West, I would like to ask if there are differences in nuances between the French interwar socialists and the ones immediately after the war. I am only referring to two names: Léon Blum and Jules Moch. When they were in power, they took some important and somehow anti-Soviet decisions regarding the North-Atlantic pact.
Another question that I would like to ask concerns the events in Romania from 1989. A political analyst, currently highly publicized, who was a Bolshevik militant under Gheorgiu-Dej, respectively under Stalin (I am speaking about Silviu Brucan) spoke on TV about certain documents which were published. For example, documents where President Mitterand, through Quai d’Orsay, asked the State Department whether it agreed to an intervention of Soviet troops in Romania. And that, through the United States Embassy in Moscow, Gorbachev's answer was: ‘We do not interfere.’
These declarations confused us because there is another version according to which Ion Iliescu, who was in the middle of the events, and one of the participants in the coup d’état, asked for an intervention of the Soviet troups, and certain Romanian generals, then in office, opposed this. This is my question.
Another question that concerns you: Jean François Revel wrote about a Soviet dissident who was expelled and who had his hands handcuffed while on the plane. And the handcuffs were stamped with“made in USA”…
Vladimir Bukovsky: I will answer the last question because it is the simplest. Yes, it was about me. I had handcuffs on until the moment I crossed the Soviet aerial border. That was funny, because for the entire flight, this was a topic of discussion. On that flight I was accompanied by my family and approximately twelve KGB agents. My mother asked, rightly, why there was a need for handcuffs while on a plane. We were surrounded by armed KGB agents, and I was in an extreme state of exhaustion, I weighed no more than 59 kg. So, there was no need for 12 agents to keep me under control, let alone handcuffs…
The discussion reached a point where I understood the need for handcuffs on Soviet territory; but why could they not be removed after crossing the border? I asked them if they were not afraid that by handcuffing me they violated air traffic rules. This was a bluff, of course, because everybody knows that a flying plane does not belong to any territory. What happened next was remarkable. The person charged with the entire exchange operation, Andropov’s deputy, went to ask. He was connected to Moscow from the cockpit. After a while, he returned and told me that my handcuffs would be removed as soon as the plane crosses the Soviet border, but they asked me not to bother them and to behave in a civilised manner. This was a surprise: What did they think I would do? Get away with the parachute? And indeed they took my handcuffs off, and on them it was written “made in USA.” I cited this fact in my speech, a short time after my release, when I was interviewed in the U.S. Congress. And I raised the issue of stopping all the economic transactions they had with Russia. I told the same things to President Carter and other officials in Washington.
Coming back to the first question, the first phase of the Cold War was much more proper than the rest, precisely because the social democrats and the socialists of that period were anticommunists. You mention Moch. He was old, but I managed to talk to him; he was extraordinary, he told me that social democracy has the right to exist as long as its purpose is the empowerment of anticommunism. Therefore, it becomes conventional, because the social democrats supported bolshevism at first.
The first phase of the Cold War, after WWII (1948, 1949, 1950, 1951) was very good: it was the time of the Marshall plan, of the refusal of the Berlin blockade. All these gestures were good at that time, because social democrats were on the same side with other politicians from the West. But it did not last long. Step by step, the social democrats and socialists became desperate and cynical, and suddenly they understood that they could only gain power in West with the influence of the Soviet Union, which would have allowed them to be meditators between the East and the West. They understood that in order to gain power they needed strong support from the USSR and therefore they came into direct contact with Moscow.
Do you know what Egon Bahr transmitted to Moscow in 1969? How the Soviet policy could become more influential and efficient in the West. He gave ideas to the Soviets about how they could use economic relations for creating their own agenda in the West. Egon Bahr, similar to Brandt, was initially an anticommunist. Brandt was an anticommunist, looked at his activities during the Berlin blockade. They realised, however, that for their well-being, an increase in the influence of the Soviet Union was needed so that they could reach convergence. They practically became traitors, helping the Soviets crush democratic movements.
Your other question was about the revolution in 1989. I have said it before, it was a Soviet intervention, and this fact was not only affirmed by me, but by British journalists, who studied the situation in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the GDR too. From the beginning of the events in 1989, I knew it was a Soviet operation, especially in Romania. There, the so-called National Salvation Front was created by Soviet agents. I could identify them thanks to my reading of Ion Mihai Pacepa’s Red Horizons (“Orizonturi Roșii”). They were Soviet agents in Romania. They were acting against Ceaușescu and were presented in the West as dissidents. What kind of dissident wоuld be an army general recruited by the Soviet secret services? The situation was much more interesting in Czechoslovakia, where a government investigation regarding the events has been held. If you remember the initial scene: it was a suppressed student movement, there was a student who was killed… So these were the facts. Later, after the collapse, after an investigation of the Czech government, it was established that he was not a student, but a young KGB agent. Moreover, it was discovered that he was still alive. When he was interrogated, he answered that he was ordered to die. So it was known from the beginning that it was a Soviet operation. I did not know exactly who it was led by. It was, anyhow, conducted through foreign-intelligence services, not through domestic services. That is why the security in Romania did not know anything. That is why the Czech police did not know anything. The organiser was General Grushko, who was at that time responsible for the operations of the secret services in the Eastern European countries.
In Czechoslovakia, the operation was led by General Alois Lorens, the head of the foreign-intelligence services in Czechoslovakia. But, we also know that things did not go exactly as planned, because when it came to popular voting, they could not maintain control.
In regard to December 1989 in Romania: not just Mitterrand, but also the state secretary of the United States, James Baker, made a public declaration where he said that ‘If the Russians wanted to come to Romania to support the anti-Ceaușescu forces, the United States would understand this.’ So it was an open invitation from the part of several political leaders of that time, just because they did not understand what was actually happening. James Baker was totally out of his depth. I remember that shortly after this declaration, I was at a conference in Washington, and I proposed the introduction of a new unit of measurement for “political stupidity”: one baker. He did not enjoy the joke, but others laughed, because from this declaration he proved that he indeed did not know Eastern Europe at all. He believed in one type of arrangement of all countries, from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Many leaders, George Bush included, did not understand what was going on and did not wish for what happened to happen. You mentioned Mitterrand. He supported Moscow’s conspiracy of August 1991, because – being super-naïve – he did not understand what this event actually meant. As for Bush, he went to Ukraine in October 1991, one month before the country proclaimed its independence and gave a famous speech in Kiev, trying to convince Ukraine not to leave the Soviet Union. Has something more stupid than this ever happened? Imagine Churchill going to India in 1948 and trying to persuade the Indians not to leave the British Empire. Sure, Churchill was smart enough to avoid such an intervention. Bush did not understand. I have recently read a heap of secret documents regarding the negotiations between Gorbachev and the West. In a remarkable way, in Malta, in 1989, as in Yalta in 1945, they divided different spheres of influence: the Russians promised to stay out of Eastern Europe, while the Americans promised to respect Russia’s policy and to support it. To allow the “rearrangement” of Eastern Europe (and Western Europe, as we know), as long as the Soviets did not intervene militarily. What can I say other than that the Westerners were naïve and they did not understand at all the essence of the Soviet communist system.
Stéphane Courtois: I will add something, because François Mitterrand was cited. On the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Roland Dumas, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a speech in which he stated that if we think of reuniting the two Germanies, we have to take into consideration a period of 50 years. And, 24 hours after this statement, the unification began.
Anatol Petrencu: We would like to find out more about the role of the psychiatry as a method of suppressing the dissidents. In the 1970s, when Brezhnev was in power, there were no mass repressions anymore such as those of Stalin’s time. Instead psychiatry was used en masse against dissidents. People who rejected Brezhnev’s regime were considered insane and imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals. I would like to ask Mr. Bukovsky to tell us about the mechanism of using psychiatry against absolutely normal people.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes, this is one of the crimes of the communist regime, of our time, apart from the invasion of Afghanistan and the “socialist revolutions.” I think that in the future this crime could indeed result in a trail like the one which took place in Nürnberg. Solzhenitsyn gave a name to this type of repression: the Soviet version of the gas chamber.
I know in detail what happened in such cases, because I was a prisoner in psychiatric hospitals twice.
Actually, it began even earlier than you think. It starte