TALKING TO BORIS REITSCHUSTER
ON RTVD, 2018.
Boris Reitschuster: At one time, not so long ago, you yourself wanted to run for president of the Russian Federation. You were prevented from doing so. Now we see Ksenia Sobchak running. My opinion is that this is a “Potemkin village” candidate and that she participates in a political circus. ( A “Potemkin village” is any construction — literal or figurative — built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is — A.O.). I am very interested to know how you view this candidate.
Vladimir Bukovsky: The aim of my participation was not to become elected. We understood perfectly well that nobody was going to register me as a candidate. There were more than enough technical legal hitches to prevent me from this, including my dual citizenship. So none of us viewed this seriously. I made use of this opportunity to conduct our campaigns, such as the campaign in support of political prisoners and against political abuse of psychiatry, and so on, as well as to help the democratic wing to unite. These were my goals. And I knew from the very start that they wouldn't let me register as a candidate. I'll tell you more: If there was one chance in a million that they would register me, I wouldn't have agreed to do this.
Boris Reitschuster: This is interesting!
Vladimir Bukovsky: Now regarding Sobchak, today it doesn't matter one bit who is running and who is not running. The mechanism of these so-called elections has been perfected to the degree where you -- like Caligula -- could let a horse run, and the horse would get elected. So this is none of our concern. This is their problem. And Sobchak is doing this out of curiosity. She -- evidently -- is very much interested in politics and wants to play a role in it. So let her do it. Nobody is preventing her from doing this.
Boris Reitschuster: Do you think her running for president is a right thing to do or is this a way to legitimatize these elections, something Alexei Navalny has accused her of. What do you think?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I don't think any of her actions lead to legitimization. It is impossible to legitimize these elections, believe you me. Even if Lenin arose from the dead and ran for president, this wouldn't have legitimized these elections. This is a fact of her biography. She wants to try herself in politics. She finds this interesting. From the outside it looks laughable because she is a daughter of a politician, but she herself is not a politician. She used to be a TV presenter, and that's all she is professionally. That's why no one is going to take this seriously. But why deny her a chance to try? Let her try. Especially knowing that the result has been fixed and we all know that today's president will take 99.9 percent of votes.
Boris Reitschuster: I think they will add a bit less. After all, they try to look more presentable now than before.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Well, yes.
Boris Reitschuster: Maybe they will say 70 percent.
Vladimir Bukovsky: They will now obviously be more careful, but the result will be the same.
Boris Reitschuster: How do you explain this? From 1990 to 1994 I lived in Moscow, and then again from 1999 to 2012. So Putin and I overlapped from the start. It was clear that there was a danger of an authoritarian regime. But I couldn't imagine it going back so forcefully. Did you expect it to go so far back?
Vladimir Bukovsky: You know, in 2001 when I spoke in Washington, D.C. at a Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom award ceremony, I told them what to expect. I detailed everything very precisely: the politics of going back to the USSR. It was all, actually, quite clear. He started with reviving the old Soviet national anthem and reviving the red flag for the army. Which was his signal to the entire country: we are going back to the USSR. And this was clear to me. I described to them what lay ahead: repressions, press bans, censorship, and so on. You can even find it on the Internet. The year is 2001. December. At the same time the then American president George W. Bush, having met Putin, uttered a funny phrase: "I looked into his eyes and saw his soul."
Boris Reitschuster: Oh, yes! It's his famous phrase.
Vladimir Bukovsky: And during my speech at this ceremony in D.C. I said that it had surprised me. How had he managed to do that? I have met a lot of KGB officers in my lifetime, but a soul is something I could never detect in them. So this was Mr. Bush's achievement: He managed to detect the undetectable.
I have met a lot of KGB officers in my lifetime, but a soul is something I could never detect in them. So this was Mr. Bush's achievement: He managed to detect the undetectable.
Boris Reitschuster: But I think Putin prepared well for that meeting. I think he spent a lot of time studying his file and his psychological profile. So it wasn't an accident, I think.
Vladimir Bukovsky: None of these things are ever accidental. They are prepared beforehand. I have enough experience around communications at such level. I know that everything is planned ahead, everything is confirmed beforehand, and all communications are written in advance. [Laughs]. And you just follow the script. It’s like having a prompter. All of this is very formal. So, of course, this phrase was not accidental. But the fact is that an American president shouldn't have said such a phrase about a KGB lieutenant-colonel. It is laughable.
Boris Reitschuster: It is very funny. I fully agree with you. When I speak publicly in Germany, I often use the following metaphor to explain the current situation in Russia. Let me know if you agree with it or no. I say that during Soviet times the KGB used to have functions of a guard dog. The kind of dog that was designed to be vicious, and to incessantly bark, and to search for enemies everywhere, and to be on guard. But still, the communist party was the dog's master. Now, however, this guard dog became the master. It can't repair the roof or tend to the garden. All it does is bark and search for enemies. Do you see this picture as accurate or do you see the situation differently?
Vladimir Bukovsky: This symbolism is rather accurate. This is approximately how it is. There was another metaphor. Vysotsky (a Soviet singer-songwriter — A.O.) had a song about a fighter aircraft.
Boris Reitschuster: Yes, I remember that one.
Vladimir Bukovsky: And that battle aircraft decided that it was in charge, not the pilot.
Boris Reitschuster: That's it!
Vladimir Bukovsky: And as a result it went into a tail spin and crashed. And so approximately the same thing is awaiting the KGB regime.
Boris Reitschuster: I am friends with Vladimir Voinovich (a Russian writer — A.O.). You and him a in many ways similar. You lived through it all and you heroically resisted it all. At one time the system collapsed and Russia experienced freedom. Nowadays, however, there is such a relapse into the past. Psychologically it must be harder for you than to us, the younger generation, who do not have the experience of those old days. How do you bear it all?
Vladimir Bukovsky: You know, I understood right away that this is how things were going to develop. Because no one in the West felt relieved or happy when the Soviet Union collapsed. It was barely noticed over here. There were a few brief reports in newspapers. And I remember how out of frustration I planted a tree in my garden -- to commemorate the great event of the collapse of the USSR. The tree is still growing. And it was clear to me that the West would try to sweep everything under the carpet and to forget everything. To say, "OK, we have moved on, everything is fine, let's forget the past." I understood that this would happen. And, of course, for me it was unpleasant. But I was used to this attitude in the West. This wasn't the first time. They have always tried to sweep the bad things aside and to pretend that everything can be started from a blank page. What they call “a reset.” Every five years they do “a re-set".
Boris Reitschuster: You encountered the KGB system firsthand. And the Soviet Union has always had a criminal component. But in my opinion, what we have today is a merger of the former KGB and mafia. In my view, it is something new. But I am not familiar with the historical background of all this. How do you see this? Does it stem from the Stalin times when they worked together with criminals in order to suppress political prisoners? Or where does it come from?
Vladimir Bukovsky: It's a new development which began in the Nineties — this merging of mafia structures and power structures, such as law enforcement. This didn't exist before, although they used to interact. But there was no merging, there was no fusing of the two, as in how we have suddenly discovered that a crime lord had been one of the directors of Gazprom (a state-controlled gas giant - A.O.). None of this ever existed before. Such openness. Before, code-bound criminals could not go there and the government could not go there. It was a taboo for both sides. And that taboo was broken in the Nineties and it went on from there. Such openness of this union is new. They have always had some kind of interaction. In Stalin's times criminal underworld figures in prisons were deployed against political prisoners, as criminals were considered "ideologically proximate,” viewed as disadvantaged people who suffered from social inequality and were forced to become criminals. But here you have another interesting aspect. The thing is, during the entire Soviet rule, the country had two ideologies: one was official, communist, and the other one was unofficial — the code of criminals. I know this because I observed it in labor camps and from talking to these people. These two ideologies co-existed. The official one did not command respect — it was mocked, but the unofficial code of criminals existed always. So as soon as the outer crust of this shell of the official ideology fell off, the code of criminals immediately replaced it. And it took all positions in society.
As soon as the outer crust of this shell of the official ideology fell off, the code of criminals immediately replaced it. And it took all positions in society.
As a result, even higher police ranks, and the KGB, and members of the government all speak using the criminal jargon.
Boris Reitschuster: The language of the thugs.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Exactly. And the language reflects the shape the society is in. And the fact that gangster language surfaced and became the official language of the Kremlin is absolutely remarkable. It confirms the observation that out of two ideologies one survived and took over. When the country's president tells us that he will "throw terrorists in a boghole," without actually understanding what this expression exactly means in the criminal jargon... Because, in fact, he doesn't know it — he never spent any time inside. He was advised to use this phrase by his image makers in order to appear a tough guy who can "throw" all the enemies. But what he doesn't know is that "throwing in a boghole" was punishment for snitches. Snitches! People like him. He has no clue. It all started in Norilsk, in Kolyma and Vorkuta, during labor camp uprisings. The first thing to do before an uprising was to kill the snitches and to throw their bodies in a toilet. There were huge toilets with holes where they drowned. And nobody would be able to find them until spring, because before spring no one drained those toilets. You couldn't drain them in sub-zero temperatures. This is how they got rid of clues. This is what "throwing in a boghole" is. He doesn't even know what it means. But he announced it to the entire country. So he was told that today the working language of the entire country is the criminal jargon. And so this phrase was conceived for him. And he is always using this tactic — he is always playing a role of a criminal boss. Although from the point of view of the criminal world he is a cop. He is a gumshoe. [Laughs]. A KGB man. And it looks extremely funny.
Boris Reitschuster: It looks funny to you. But why doesn't it look funny to the majority of the Russians? Why does the majority — if not supports him — but tolerates him?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Who supports him and who doesn't is impossible to establish. A country which carries out repressions, and especially repressions which restrict freedom of speech, will never have honest answers in public opinion polls.
A country which carries out repressions, and especially repressions which restrict freedom of speech, will never have honest answers in public opinion polls.
It would be ridiculous to take seriously this country’s public opinion polls.
Boris Reitschuster: But the West believes those polls.
Vladimir Bukovsky: People respond with what is expected of them, and not with what they think. So it's nonsensical to discuss who has how many percent of approval. This is self-deceit. We don't know who supports him and whether anyone supports him at all. But we know that he has enough repressive power to keep the country in fear and in obedience.
Boris Reitschuster: So this gangster jargon does help, doesn't it? As a criminal boss he whips everyone into shape and this becomes one of the foundations of his rule. As I always say, it is founded on fear and lies. The kind of fear that was instilled in people by Stalin. My thesis is that this fear still lives in people. What do you think?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. Stalin, in fact, was a jailbird. He was a professional criminal. And his methods for establishing of his rule and for maintaining it are rather typical of criminal gangs. He was a criminal boss.
Stalin, in fact, was a jailbird. He was a professional criminal. And his methods for establishing of his rule and for maintaining it are rather typical of criminal gangs. He was a criminal boss.
And this model has now resurfaced. But sans the communist ideology, mind you, which is very funny.
Boris Reitschuster: Yes!
Vladimir Bukovsky: Because before it was justified by the so-called “struggle for equality” and “social justice.” Nowadays no one is mentioning it. This part fell off. And what we have left is a pure criminal boss, pure criminality, nothing else.
Boris Reitschuster: Just like in Leningrad under siege, where people were forced to eat corpses, and those other people feasted at banquets. This used to be justified along the lines of "struggle for a better tomorrow." But now, when over 10 million of Russians live below the poverty line (according to official data), the ideological component has completely disappeared. Are they trying to replace it with a pseudo-patriotism and with talk about Motherland? Is this a way to replace communism?
Vladimir Bukovsky: There is an attempt to replace communist ideology with Orthodox Christianity.
Boris Reitschuster: Oh, yes.
Vladimir Bukovsky: This is what I observe. They are trying to give exposure to their holy fathers everywhere. And holy fathers, just like the regional communist party secretaries before them, make the necessary speeches everywhere. This is very funny because Orthodox Christianity is not fit to become state ideology.
Orthodox Christianity is not fit to become state ideology.
No way. It is too permissive, too liberal, too slobby, I would say.
Boris Reitschuster: In a good way?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Well, yes. It is not strict. Catholicism, for example, is much stricter. And Orthodox Christianity is not a strict religion, rather jaunty, shall we say. So it can't be a state ideology in any way. Nothing will come out of it. But they prefer to “have a small fish than an empty dish,” to have at least some kind of ideology. And so they decided to promote their priests everywhere, and this god-awful Kirill Gundayev (the head of the Russian Orthodox Church -- A.O.). He is now their main pontiff.
Boris Reitschuster: Who is a KGB colonel, to my knowledge. Nemtsov used to tell me...
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. Of course. Even in my time they have all been KGB men. And nobody was making a secret of this fact.
Boris Reitschuster: Nemtsov used to tell me interesting things about this. He told me that Alexy II (the previous head of Russian Orthodox Church — translator) was a KGB man, and that the present-day Kirill was a KGB man. But he used to say that Alexy II used to believe in god, but the current one doesn't believe in god, and that is the difference between the two. This is what Nemtsov used to say. I can't verify this. I am just conveying what he said. But it is plausible, isn't it?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. I think none of them believe in god. This is similar to how at the end of the Soviet rule they used to decline communist party membership applications from people who believed in communism. Because they were afraid that such a person would become disillusioned and do something. So the main criterion for recruitment was cynicism.
Boris Reitschuster: Yes!
Vladimir Bukovsky: If an applicant was cynical, then he was fit. And a believer was expected to become disillusioned and to instigate a revolution. So these kind of people were rejected. The same thing is happening with the Russian Orthodox Church, I think. They are now trying to find the most cynical people to become bishops.
Boris Reitschuster: Is this similar to how people are recruited under Putin? As I was able to observe, those who were not corrupt, or those who had any notion of honesty, got fired, because it was more difficult to manage them, they could not be blackmailed. So in my view, there was a strong negative selection in politics.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. The same thing was going on in the KGB. Already in the Seventies they would not recruit people who sincerely believed in communist ideology. They were simply rejected and feared. What if such person becomes disillusioned, runs off, and betrays all the secrets? For this reason such people were excluded. I had an acquaintance, whose name was Lenya Plushch, a very good man. He was rather naive at 18 and applied for a job with the KGB. He was rejected and told, "We do not need people like you. We are the ones who decide who we need." [Laughs]. It's a well-known story. Later he became a dissident, spent a lot of time in confinement in a psychiatric prison, went through other things, immigrated, and died in France, in Paris. His name was Lenya Plushch, a very decent person. But he sincerely believed that he wanted to do good for his country and was going to join a dangerous type of service, where one needs to show courage. He was ready to do those things, but KGB wasn’t ready to allow people like him in.
Boris Reitschuster: What are your predictions, Vladimir Konstantinovich? Your namesake Voinovich very optimistically says that we are going to witness another perestroika. That this system will collapse and there will be a thaw. I do not share his optimism. I think that the system is rotten and that it can collapse at any moment, but equally it can endure, in my view. What is your prognosis regarding future developments?
Vladimir Bukovsky: You know, this is not a crisis of a system. This is a crisis of a state. What people have a difficult time understanding is that we are witnessing a crisis of a state. The system will, obviously, give out and collapse. But the state will collapse as well. What will happen now is the decomposition of the state. Russia itself will break up, and not necessarily along ethnic lines, but perhaps into separate economic regions.
Russia itself will break up, and not necessarily along ethnic lines, but perhaps into separate economic regions.
And this process of decomposition will be unstoppable. The reason for this is that different parts of the county do not share common interests. The Russian Far East doesn't need Moscow. Japan and Korea are their neighbors, and they can live really well trading with these two wealthy and industrially developed countries. All they get from Moscow are orders and tax bills, that's all. And it would be a sane move for them to become either independent or quasi-independent, a sane course to take. As soon as the political center begins to weaken -- and it will start to weaken very soon as the economic crisis is nearing — various regions will start to look further afield. And this acceleration will be great.
Boris Reitschuster: And China will add fuel to this fire, as they will be benefiting from this. I always used to say that disintegration of Russia is not the question of if, but a question of when, how peacefully this is going to happen, and whether the nuclear weapons will remain under control. Would you agree?
Vladimir Bukovsky: In general, I agree with you. The disintegration is inevitable. I wrote about it 30 years ago in my book Judgement in Moscow. This is where I go into great detail to show that this is an inevitable scenario for Russia. I cannot tell when it will happen, as it is impossible to predict timeframes for such situations. But I can confirm with confidence the vector of developments: that a disintegration process of Russia itself will begin. You talk about the safety of the nuclear weapons. The problem is bigger than this. There are nuclear power stations, there are chemical factories, and many parts of the pan-Russian infrastructure which are impossible for one single region to maintain. This disintegration is inevitable, but the danger of it is that these parts of the infrastructure will start to crumble. So potentially we could have about 30 Chernobyls on our hands.
Boris Reitschuster: What a nightmare. So, unfortunately, the prognosis is far from rosy. Sadly, our time today is up. But this conversation was so interesting — plus we didn't manage to talk about the way the West perceives the situation — that I would like to continue our conversation next week. Would you agree, Vladimir Konstantinovich?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes, by all means.
Boris Reitschuster: Thank you very much, Vladimir Konstantinovich.
Boris Reitschuster: Today we continue the interview which we started last week with the famous Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who is now on air from Cambridge. Good evening, Vladimir!
Vladimir Bukovsky: Good evening.
Boris Reitschuster: Vladimir, last week we spoke at length about current Russian events. Today I would like to dedicate the second part of our interview to how the West perceives them. In 2004 I wrote my first book about Putin where I criticized him, and as a result I was declared nearly a madman. In 2006 I wrote my second book where I stated that Putin conducts an aggressive policy, and that he is going to act on the offensive, and that it was dangerous. Again, I was accused of paranoia. What is the root of this inclination in the West to repress warning signs and this desire not to notice obvious realities?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I am not surprised you were accused of paranoia. There was a time when I myself was forcibly treated for paranoia. But it didn't help. [Laughs]. So I remained the way I was.
Boris Reitschuster: I, at least, wasn't forcibly treated. [Laughs]. I was lucky.
Vladimir Bukovsky: You see, the two mindsets are so very different. So different. So different at times that at certain moments there is no common ground. Here is an easy example. A Western politician, by definition, is a person who knows how to reach agreements. How to find compromises. The art of politics in the West is the art of searching for compromises. A search for common ground and common interest. And a Soviet mindset (which has been inherited by today's Russia) sees compromise as a bad thing. A compromise is “kompromat" (blackmail material — translator). [Laughs]. And the less a person is inclined to compromise, the better he is as a politician. Add to this the KGB mindset. The KGB doesn't view anyone as a friend. For the KGB, you are either their enemy or you are their agent. And there can be nothing in between. Nothing.
The KGB doesn't view anyone as a friend. For the KGB, you are either their enemy or you are their agent. And there can be nothing in between.
If you are not a sufficiently clear enemy, then they start imagining that they can pressure you a bit more and make you their agent, you see? So they are engaged in a perpetual recruitment effort. This is their essence. This is their belief system. So agreements between Russia (or the former Soviet Union) and the West were impossible in principle. Agreements could never be reached. The relations between the USSR and the West existed only because of the West's abatement. And the West was always retreating, backing out. Now and then it would come to a certain line where things would became dangerous, and he West would kick up, and go back to the cold war for a while. Today everyone thinks of the Soviet period as an incessant cold war. This is complete nonsense, however. The cold war occurred from time to time. For example, from 1948 to 1950 — this was cold war indeed. Or during Ronald Reagan's presidency. But in between what we had was peace. "Peaceful coexistence" they called it. Or “détente” and other nonsense when the West was trying to pacify the Soviet beast by way of concessions. Just the way Chamberlain and Daladier were appeasing Hitler. This was the same level of politics. This is how it worked.
Boris Reitschuster: I was stunned when I visited Washington, D.C. back in June and was told by experts on Russia that the Russian Embassy — which occupies the highest point in town where they can eavesdrop on everything — how this was a gesture of good will by president Ford who gifted this place to the Soviet Union. And they were saying how naive it was in relation to Russia. Here is another example. A certain high-ranking diplomat, who I cannot name, a German, who has been stationed in Moscow for six years now, once said at a private conference that Putin would like to see more private defense contractors, but the Russian parliament keeps voting against this idea. Following which I understood that there is nothing to be discussed with this person. Because to spend six years in Russia and to believe that the parliament can prevent Putin from doing anything, is astonishing. Are we so deep within this mindset? I find this unbelievable. You came across this more frequently. Where does this come from?
Vladimir Bukovsky: You are right, of course. I wasn't able to find a limit to the West's naivety. I have been living in the West for 40 years. And I observed all cycles: improvements, deteriorations, tensions, relaxations. But as to any understanding of what is happening on the other side, i.e. in the Soviet Union and later in Russia, the West never had it. Believe you me. In 70 years that the Soviet Union existed, they haven't bothered to develop at least some kind of strategy. There was never a long-term policy. It was all temporary — from elections to elections, from one president to another. There was never a strategy or an understanding of the fact that we live alongside an enemy and that this enemy's aim is to destroy us. And if anyone tried to speak about this, that person was looked upon as someone who was paranoid, as you say.
Boris Reitschuster: Or a wrongdoer. After the demolition of the Berlin Wall the prevailing feeling was that this was the end of history, and that everyone was peaceful now, and that we were all beginning to live in one big kindergarten. And when little Vladimir in Moscow starts of occupy parts of a neighboring sandbox, we can simply give him less ice-cream. Which is a kind of social mentoring and a lack of understanding that not everyone is a vegetarian. But you say that this is what has been going on before the fall of the Berlin Wall too? This upsets me, Vladimir Konstantinovich.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course. All the time. There is a perpetual fluctuation in relations between the West and the East: from tension to relaxation. This is how it has always been. In my lifetime I have seen several such ups and downs.
Boris Reitschuster: It is very interesting what you say about fluctuations. There still remain people who say that all of it is nonsense and paranoia, but there are now also people who say that everything is Putin's fault. That Trump's victory in presidential elections is a 100 percent result of Putin's interference. The fact that Angela Merkel lost the elections is a result of Russia's interference. Where does this darting from one extreme into another come from?
Vladimir Bukovsky: This latest stage is very funny. Because the West doesn't understand the essence of that system and that mindset, so it makes mistakes both ways. The fact that they attribute everything to Putin alone looks funny to me. I know that Putin is a trivial individual, a small-time KGB man, who used to idle around the Soviet "Friendship Center" in East Germany. He is no intelligence officer. He never worked for the intelligence. He always worked in the ideology department. He is a paltry individual.
Putin is a trivial individual, a small-time KGB man, who used to idle around the Soviet "Friendship Center" in East Germany. He is no intelligence officer. He never worked for the intelligence. He always worked in the ideology department. He is a paltry individual.
And the crux of the matter is not Putin, but the position and the mindset of the two sides. But he himself constitutes nothing. We shouldn't attribute any achievements to him, any intelligence or cunning. He doesn't have any special qualities. He is empty.
Boris Reitschuster: I always say that he is a fake giant. And the issue is not that he is such a giant, but the fact that Western politicians are such pygmys. You say it's always been like this. Nevertheless, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were of different stature, or am I mistaken?
Vladimir Bukovsky: No, of course they were different, but that was for a very short time. Think of it: the Soviet Union existed for 70 years. And there were only two periods when the issue was being taken seriously and when this problem was addressed in earnest: in Truman's time and Reagan's time. The rest of the time they were trying to make peace with the USSR, to come to peaceful agreements, to find ways to peacefully co-exist: to the extent to dividing territories, dividing spheres of influence — an unbelievable kind of nonsense when one deals with such a predator. They never bothered to understand the communist ideology. I know because I delivered many lectures all across America and in Europe. When I tried to explain to them what the ideology demanded of the Soviet leaders, the audience would become bored. The audience would begin to yawn. It was impossible to explain Marxism to them. Marxism is an extremely boring teaching. But it has certain aspects which one must know about. Namely, the goal of a communist state is to "achieve liberation of the entire humanity from the shackles of capitalism." This is important to understand. Class warfare never stops. It continues during peacetime and during wartime. So this is important. When you read Lenin's work "Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder" he defines very clearly what sort of compromises are possible when dealing with a class enemy. He gives the following example: If you are stopped by armed robbers and they take your car, your wallet, and your gun (he always used to go for a walk armed with a gun), then a compromise would be reasonable, because later you’d be able to get back your possessions. But you will save your skin. However, under all other circumstances a compromise with a class enemy is out of question. Which means that you could come to an agreement with them on anything only if you held a gun to their head. But there was no other option. The moment you remove the gun from their head, your agreement is over. These are Lenin's definitions, not mine. "Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder." You can read this work of his. And the West could never wrap its head around such a severe life stance. It always seemed improbable that someone — a politician or a leader of a large country — could stand on such severe tenets in his decisions. It seemed unbelievable to them. And it was impossible to explain it to them.
Boris Reitschuster: And it remains impossible, I think. It's akin to explaining to a hare what a wolf is. A hare would never believe that there are such animals who eat other animals.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. But let us not forget that there are also crocodiles.
Boris Reitschuster: A small crocodile. There is a new word in the Russian language: “schroederization.” Which stands for export of corruption which infiltrates Western elites. In Germany, in my view, it has gone very far. Gary Kasparov compares this type of corruption with a cancer which spreads its secondary tumors. Sakharov did warn that after the collapse of this system, instead of Russia starting to resemble a democracy, things would go the other way around. Was he right? Are we observing this process now?
Vladimir Bukovsky: What we are observing are not changes in Russia toward democracy (as there are practically no such changes there — everything went backward), but rather sovietization of the West.
What we are observing are not changes in Russia toward democracy (as there are practically no such changes there -- everything went backward), but rather sovietization of the West.
This is what I am observing in horror. Over the last 25 years there has been a rapid sovietization of the West. This is very unpleasant. I have been living in England for 40 years now and I love England, it's a good country, it's my second homeland. And I observe in horror how everything that has been good in England begins to disappear, to become distorted, and to devolve, and how purely Soviet features begin to emerge.
Boris Reitschuster: I am observing similar things in Germany.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. This upsets me greatly. I live here and I feel bad for these people. This process is ongoing. Why? Because the struggle with the East was not finished. The cold war is not over. They should have finished it.
The struggle with the East was not finished. The cold war is not over. They should have finished it.
In 1991 and 1992 I suggested to put the Soviet system on trail. A trial that would be similar to the Nuremberg trail. To put the system on trial, not individuals. By the end of the Soviet rule there were 18 million communist party members in Russia. You are not going to send them all to jail, right? And it is not required. As a rule, none of these people had anything to do with anything, apart from their party membership. So the issue was not finding a culprit, but to go through all the crimes of the regime, the system, the ideology. And to expose them so that people would know. So that all these things would once and for all receive international condemnation. This wasn't done. As a result, the ulcer burst and spread all over the world. Instead of having been carefully removed and neutralized, it was allowed to spread all over the world.
The ulcer burst and spread all over the world. Instead of having been carefully removed and neutralized, it was allowed to spread all over the world.
Boris Reitschuster: You are so right. Today I observe it all in Germany very clearly. Thank god, we now know that fascism is a taboo and that it is evil. But when it comes to communism, it isn't like that at all. There are still a lot of sympathizers. For example, when in Hamburg the left wing imposed its will in such a terrible way during the summit, what followed was sympathy toward them. People would say, "If they used violence, then they cannot be left-wing." Our parliamentarians are rebranded communists. One of the most famous politicians in Germany, Sahra Wagenknecht, praised Stalin and never renounced this view, and we think that we have become brainwashed when it comes to Stalin's crimes, and I think we need get rid of it and make it taboo, the way fascism is a taboo. Communist ideas should also be tabooed. And at the moment we are nowhere near it. Do you see this problem in a similar way?
Vladimir Bukovsky: And doing this is even more important for Russia. They will not progress until they do this. They will continue hovering over the same place. Look, they have a Stalin revival: Stalin's portrait sculptures, full-figure sculptures. They now call him an "effective manager." Well, as a manager he managed to effective annihilate approximately 60 million people. So it's true, he was effective. But to rejoice over it? That is akin to if Germans would rejoice over Hitler's highways that he built. Great highways, still being used. A good manager.
Boris Reitschuster: You are mistaken here, Vladimir Konstantinovich. Because I visited Moscow in October and in a bookstore there was an entire huge shelf with laudatory books about Stalin, and there was indeed a hefty tome about the most effective manager, but it wasn't Stalin. It was Beria (Stalin’s secret police chief — A.O.).
Vladimir Bukovsky: Oh, Beria! There you go. [Laughs].
Boris Reitschuster: My head nearly exploded. Can you imagine seeing a book in Germany which names Himmler the best manager of the 20th century?
Vladimir Bukovsky: I know.
Boris Reitschuster: It's inconceivable. He was one of the most horrendous mass murderers of the 20th century. And he is being praised. This is simply horrifying.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to conduct this kind of trial. Not allowed by Yeltsin. I remember it well — it was the time when I had good communications with the Russian leadership and knew them all personally. And in general, I managed to convince them all, more or less, that such trial was necessary. But Yeltsin pushed back against it. He said, "Let us not rock the boat; we have won and our victory is final; they will not come back anymore," and forbade to conduct such trial. And such half-heartedness of Yeltsin... He was, in fact, a divided man. He came from the communist party nomenclature and this nomenclature remained dear to him, despite his disagreements with it.
Boris Reitschuster: He remained a Soviet-type individual.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Yes. And we weren't allowed to conduct such trail. If we did, then everything would have gone slightly differently. I am not trying to say that everyone would have felt immediately better. No. Such difficult periods of history — it lasted for 70 years after all — do not let people emerge unscathed. Restoration to health becomes a difficult path. But we could have at least began walking along that path. But what happened as a result was us moving backwards — briskly and cheerfully.
Boris Reitschuster: If Russia condemned communists publicly and convincingly, then in the West communists would now have a much harder time.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Not only communists but the Soviet network of agents. Don't forget that Germany was flooded with Soviet agents. Flooded. I remember how I found a document about a very well-know social democrat politician Egon Bahr. We has number two immediately under Brandt, and so on. So I published a document about his contacts with the KGB and how he helped Moscow, etc. But those guys are cunning. When my book came out in Germany, my acquaintance, a German journalist, put it in front of Egon Bahr at a conference and said, "How would you comment on this document?" And Bahr took a look at it, and said, "Which book? What document? I haven't seen any of this," and walked off. So they would behave very smartly, very professionally. They would not comment on such things. If he began to argue with me, a debate would ensue, and things would have gone on record. But the way things are, nobody noticed what happened or what didn't happen. This was the way they would behave.
Boris Reitschuster: And, by the way, nobody knows and people think — the way I used to think previously — that all Stasi agents have been exposed, but they have been exposed only in East Germany. But when it comes to the West German intelligence agents, all this information was forwarded to Moscow. And one can imagine how Moscow uses this information and how come retired NATO generals speak the way Putin's political advisors speak. One can make conclusions from this and express suspicions.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Well, yes. Given that intelligence agents weren't simply Moscow's agents, there was also Stasi (an East German repressive intelligence and secret police agency — A.O.). There was a Markus Wolf who was a very capable recruiter. In West Germany they used to joke that he recruited all elderly female office assistants in all government departments. Maybe this is how it was, I don't know.
Boris Reitschuster: "Romeo agents" was the nick name for men who romanced them.
Vladimir Bukovsky: So he was a very, very effective manager, to be frank. And nobody exposed the full extent of it. Nobody even tried to investigate this properly. Markus Wolf died his own death. Nobody put him in prison.
Boris Reitschuster: No. So how the West should deal with this? I think we lost this and the issue is with us, not with Putin.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Well, again, that's because we have not investigated the reasons for the 70-year standoff between the East and the West and all the peripeteia connected with it. If we were to investigate it, we would inevitably have to analyze the West's weaknesses and to ascertain why it was possible, and what the reasons were. A network of agents is one thing, but there are always psychological weaknesses, which have nothing to do with agents — simply a different kind of upbringing, different sets of life experiences, and a lot of things that people in the West do not understand and cannot understand because they have never had these kind of experiences and never lived under such circumstances. In Germany people, thank god, remember nazism which very strongly resembles the Soviet system. And this gives them an idea about it. But I live in England, and Germans never occupied England during the Second World War. So there was no nazism here, and so they have no clue what we are talking about, they have no idea.
Boris Reitschuster: Vladimir Konstantinovich, in Germany — especially in the leftwing circles — one of the firmest beliefs which is constantly being expressed is that one can't compare Hitler to Stalin, and that Hitler was the worst, and that Stalin wasn't like Hitler. I always argue that they are using Hitler's crimes to justify — or to mitigate — Stalin's crimes. What is your authoritative opinion? Can one compare the two?
Vladimir Bukovsky: Both of them are very similar, surprisingly so. People forget that what we call nazism had a full name, which was "The National Socialist Workers’ Party". Which brings it together with the Social Labour Party of Russia. These two things stem from the same premises. People lost understanding of this a long time ago. But those are very similar things. The only difference is that Hitler ruled for 13 years and Stalin ruled for 30 years. Can you imagine what the result would have been like, if Hitler ruled for 30 years? What would Germany look like now?
Hitler ruled for 13 years and Stalin ruled for 30 years. Can you imagine what the result would have been like, if Hitler ruled for 30 years? What would Germany look like now?
How would you go about changing people's minds and how would you go about waking them up? It would have been a very difficult task. Thirty years! You see?
Boris Reitschuster: I think what Stalin did was the genocide of people's awareness.
Vladimir Bukovsky: Of course.
Boris Reitschuster: Vladimir Konstantinovich, sadly, our time is up. I would have loved to talk to you for hours. This was very interesting. Thank you very much for being with us. Good bye!
Vladimir Bukovsky: Good bye.
Translated from Russian by Alissa Ordabai.