Original interview in Russian

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.  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.  The person who would talk about this was branded a wrongdoer.  I am always told that I am a warmonger.  Every time I talk about Putin's aggressive policy, I become accused of being a "cold warrior" and a warmonger.  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.  When I was writing my book about Putin’s hybrid war and about the way he intervenes, my opponents used to say I was delirious and none of it could be possible.  Now, however, I observe a very interesting phenomena:  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.  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.  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.  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.  

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 — translator).  

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 — translator).  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 always say that what we see now is not so much Putin's doing, but it's a result of our own weakness, and the fact that we have departed from our ideas and our ideals and that we have become complacent.  That we have lost a notion of life being capable of being tragic, and that things can change, and that everything we know can come under threat.  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?  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-Hatton.


Bukovsky at AFT/AFL

Vladimir Bukovsky talks about freedom and captivity with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Labor in February 1977.

    Bukovsky at AEI

Vladimir Bukovsky heads discussion at an American Enterprise Institute dinner in his honor in June 1979.


Bukovsky FT Interview

Vladimir Bukovsky predicts Russia's disintegration in  a 1993 Financial Times interview. 


Zbigniew Bujak

Vladimir Bukovsky in correspondence with Polish Solidarity leader Zbigniew Bujak.

Armando Valladares

Review of Armando Valladares' prison memoires Against All Hope by Vladimir Bukovsky.


Yeltsin's First 100 Days

Vladimir Bukovsky explains why Russian democracy failed following the 1991 August coup.


Lord Bethell

Vladimir Bukovsky remembered by Lord Nicholas Bethell in his memoires titled Spies and Other Secrets

Boris Pankin

Boris Pankin, a former Russian Ambassador to Great Britain, recalls his days in London and his encounters with dissidents.

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Gershovich tells a story of Nabokov's contribution to saving Bukovsky from a Soviet prison.


Dina Kaminskaya

Vladimir Bukovsky's lawyer Dina Kaminskaya remembers his 1967 trial in her memoires.

Albert Jolis

Albert Jolis -- a diamond miner and a friend of George Orwell -- recounts his day as the Resistance International treasurer and fundraiser.

The Bell Ringer

Vladimir Bukovsky's short story published in Grani magazine in 1967.


Vladimir Bukovsky seminal 1984 essay on Russian government's propaganda and subversion strategies.

Peace as a Political Weapon

Ludmilla Thorne reports from Vladimir Bukovsky's first post-exchange residence in Switzerland.

Mother Courage


Vadim Delaunay writes in verse to his friend Vladimir Bukovsky following their 1967 trial.

Vadim Delaunay


Anatoly Krasnov-Levitin writes about Vladimir Bukovsky in a heartfelt essay following Bukovsky's 1971 trial. 

Anatoly Krasnov-Levitin

Vladimir Bukovsky warns against censorship in his 1976 letter to Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe.

Radio Liberty and Censorship

Vladimir Bukovsky's foreword to Andrei and Lois Frolovs' book Against the Odds: A True American-Soviet Love Story.

The Frolovs


Vladimir Bukovsky's 1982 essay on the USSR-inspired peace movement sweeping over the West.

Pacifists Against Peace

Vladimir Bukovsky's obituary written by Alissa Ordabai.

Alissa Ordabai on Vladimir Bukovsky

Grigory Svirsky remembers Vladimir Bukovsky and Victor Feinberg.

Grigory Svirksy