We were a handful of unarmed people facing a mighty state in possession of the most horrendous oppression machinery in the entire world.
- Vladimir Bukovsky.
What was achieved by the human rights movement in the USSR?
I am fully aware that we did not destroy this regime, that the regime decayed because of its own innate defects, because of its own innate stupidity. But undoubtedly our intervention quickened the process. And, most importantly, we contributed to it without bloodshed. We managed to give our country an example of how resistance is possible without bloodshed, without resorting to violence.
The result of our intervention, especially at a high government level, was certainly devastating. Leaders of the Gorbachev period -- Yakovlev, for example, -- used to tell me this. The regime at that moment in time -- also with our help -- became so discredited that no one could have defended it, not even the KGB. And, perhaps, another result that was obtained thanks to our help is that during the era of Reagan and Thatcher, the Western world somehow found the strength to resist the Soviet regime. Both Reagan and Thatcher told me this personally.
For example, they both told me rather bluntly that they came to realize that the West had a chance to win in the confrontation with the Eastern bloc without resorting to war. The dilemma that arose in the West during the Cold War, the dilemma highlighted by leftist propaganda, among others, was that in order to be able to confront the Soviet Union in any way, one had to either actively resist it or co-exist with it peacefully. Peaceful coexistence meant moral surrender. And, according to them, the lesson they learned from our example was precisely this: that you can defeat the Soviet Union without resorting to war.
Now, thinking back to those years, I, of course, see that the current situation is not what we have hoped for from a strategic point of view at the time. It's just that our actions as young people aged eighteen or twenty, regardless of any strategic projection, were a spontaneous and immediate impulse. It was a refusal to bow our heads to the regime, an affirmation of our freedom: "I will not bend to this regime, no matter what happens to me, because I want to be free."
All that we have succeeded in doing in a quarter of a century of desperate efforts is to show that, under Soviet conditions, it is possible to win morally, and still remain a human being. Above all, naturally, what is involved is a victory over one’s own self because -- I am deeply convinced -- we always have a freedom of choice, even in prison, and no one can find a justification if he does not wish to use this freedom of choice.
In some unexpected way we have managed to inspire a number of Western politicians to a peaceful confrontation with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan told me this at one time, and Thatcher said this to me many times. They explained this to me as follows: "We were always sandwiched between these two extremes and did not see a solution; and you -- your movement -- you have proven to us that the Soviet Union could be defeated without a single shot. And we, becoming convinced of this, increased our pressure on the Soviet Union." The arms race contributed to this, which the Soviets could not finance at the time; as well as lobbying for a drop in oil prices ultimately bankrupted the Soviet regime. This was our contribution to the collapse of communism.
Vladimir Bukovsky and President Carter, 1977.
Vladimir Bukovsky and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 1983.
Why did Russian democracy fail after the collapse of the USSR?
Everything that happened is the result of the choices you have made, and there is no one else to blame. This was your own conscious choice, which resulted in the same people coming forward to the positions of power in the post-communist period who had led the country into this situation in the first place. The very people who only yesterday served the evil empire, who ruined things and who persecuted their own people for 75 years -- they have suddenly turned and declared themselves democrats, despite the fact that everyone knows perfectly well who they are.
Our society has never plucked up the courage to stand up against the totalitarian regime, and turned out to be unable to squeeze out its inner slave -- neither drop by drop, nor in trickles -- and so, instead of resisting evil, everyone rushed to adapt to it, to arrange their own career and to somehow to continue living comfortably.
When the opportunity came for the country to free itself, no one knew what it meant anymore, and no one wanted to take risks. All people wanted was to proclaim one or some other former Party functionary the next savior of mankind, savior the fatherland: be it Gorbachev or Gaidar, Yeltsin or Yavlinsky. And at the very moment when the people's revolution knocked on their doors in April of 1991, our society discovered that the old regime feels more comfortable than something new and unknown, and that it is less afraid of the Party than it is afraid of its own people.
Democracy has never been tried out in Russia yet. There were attempts, but very timid and inconsistent attempts. And democrats have not yet been in power. Almost all of those who were called "democrats" in the early 1990s were ex-communists. True, they were disillusioned with communism, and I believe that this disillusionment was quite sincere on their part, but this has not yet made them democrats. Moreover, they did not understand anything about the market economy. How, for example, Yegor Gaidar, who had spent his entire career working at "The Kommunist" magazine, and later in the economic department of "Pravda" newspaper, suddenly turned out to be a market economist and a democrat? I readily believe that he had read some books about the market economy (keeping them secret from his Party bosses), but he had never lived in a country with a market economy and has no idea how it all works. Hence his ugly "market reforms," his voucher "privatization," which degenerated into a simple scam. As a result, in just two years, such "democrats" have managed to discredit what we have been fighting for for 30 years.
None of us who started the human rights movement in the 1960s, integrated into the political life of modern Russia. First of all, because in order to join the builders of the "new democracy," it is necessary to have gone through a definite career path: Party membership, career progression, to have held a position of -- at least -- a dean of a department of economics at some university, and then, -- sometime around 1991 -- to have quit the Party and become known as a prominent democrat. I am sure that the current "democrats" will do anything in their power to prevent people like me from entering the Russian political life.
When ostensibly the West proclaimed the end of the Cold War, and accordingly treated the countries emerging from the Soviet bloc as being "democracies," there was no democracy there. The system remained, nomenklatura remained in power. Their connections became criminal connections. They turned into big mafia. They continued to operate and slowly make their way up to the utmost power. By the year 2000 they emerged -- in the face of a little-known colonel of KGB. And instead of suspecting at least something, the West welcomed him as the genuine face of democracy. I wonder if they would have done the same, if in 1955 a former SS man would become a Chancellor of Germany. But in this case the new president Bush told us that he looked into his eyes and could see his soul. That -- I remember -- puzzled me. How did he manage to do that? In all my numerous encounters with the KGB officers, soul is the one thing I could never find there. And yet, it took another 10 years for the West to realize how they are mistaken, and that this ostensible "new democrat" in Moscow is just a continuation of the Soviet teaching. Nothing changed. Everything ran backwards.
A society emerging from a totalitarian nightmare usually has no political or social structures capable of stabilizing it in transition except those created by and tainted by the totalitarian system. And they are most likely to oppose the changes, thus contributing to political instability typical for all post-totalitarian countries. The new institutions, although numerous and noisy, are usually tiny and weak to the point of merely symbolic existence. They are no match for the well-entrenched, all-pervasive, mafia-like structures evolving from the old regime. They are even too small to replace the governing apparatus and, therefore, the old nomenklatura remains in control of all executive functions of a presumably new “democratic” state.
It should be remembered that what we call “nomenklatura” is not just an ordinary bureaucracy, but a whole stratum of the society (18 million strong according to some estimates) with its own vested interests, its own connections with the West, its own accumulated wealth, and its own complicity in past crimes to unite its members. Its mere existence poses real threat to fragile democracy, to say nothing of its control over the executive branch of the government. Add endless ethnic conflicts, fantastic corruption, skyrocketing crime rate, general apathy of the demoralized population, and the task of transition becomes all but impossible.
Also, let us not forget the less than friendly attitude of the West to attempts at establishing democracy in the former Soviet Union. While those who, like Gorbachev and his lot, strived to rescue the moribund communist system and equally doomed Union were given every assistance (including financial support to the tune of $45 billion!), their opponents were vilified right from the start as “unpredictable”, “unbalanced”, and “dangerous”.
Still, I am convinced that, all these odds notwithstanding, the post-August 1991 democracy, or whatever one may call it, has had a chance of survival (and even of a reasonable success) if not for the colossal blunders made by Yeltsin and his team.
I went to Russia in 1991 before communism collapsed. And I tried to talk to the people around Yeltsin knowing full well that it will collapse. And I've tried to persuade everyone that what we needed to do was to put this regime on trial. The regime, not the people. You don't need to imprison 18 million apparatchiks, this is not the idea. The idea was to rethink the past, to give people the chance of re-assesnging their own place in history, and what they did, and how they contributed to this regime. Without that I did not believe it would ever be progressing forward. Also it would include some kind of lustration measures -- removing the nomenclatura from the positions of power. None of it was done. Although I've persuaded almost everyone around Yeltsin.
Vladimir Bukosky speaking at the Mayakvsky Square rally on September 1, 1991.
Vladimir Bukovsky speaking at the Moscow City Council, 1992.
In the Soviet Union the real possibilities open only after this—after everything is impossible from an ordinary standpoint, you know. When you’re breaking through the impossibility, there opens a single way to do something. Of course, so many persons knew quite well that after their doings, after their activities, they will be punished, and imprisoned, and other things. But they have no other way now, as a single way to attract attention, to make our problems public.
Let's not rejoice too much over the achievement of those who were lucky enough to become heroes, because the peaks they represent for us are surrounded by mounds of the un-sung dead.
In a time of ultimate crisis a nation needs a symbol to survive. A sense of enormous responsibility for your nation becomes much stronger than a craving for your personal life. Those who have never lived through such an experience may see the struggle as senseless fanaticism, as a death wish, or as simple masochism. What is the point of token resistance by a couple of hundred when millions have already accepted their fate? What is the point in being starved and beaten just for the refusal to be dressed in a blue uniform instead of a green? But dictators and conquerors do see the point. As long as there is a symbol, the nation is not conquered. A shot in the back is not a solution, for symbols are immortal.
On how totalitarian regimes view democracies
If they are afraid of you, it is because they are afraid of your freedom and your prosperity. They cannot tolerate a democratic state close to their borders (and then, dose to the borders of their buffer-slates), because a bad example of thriving democracy so close at hand might prove to be too provocative.
On modern Russian ideology
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.
The role and purpose of KGB / FSB
The secret police and their political advisors lie: they did not serve the country, they served the Party. And they were created, as Lenin put it, to serve as "an armed squadron of the Party." The task that was set for them was to protect the Party from the people, to support its reign over the people. It was them who tortured and massacred millions of our compatriots on the Party's orders. It was them who dispossessed the peasants and who hoarded them into collective farms and GULAGs.
Throughout the 1990s, the KGB corporation has been preparing to seize power, promoting its people to the administration, to the Parliament, to big business, and even to organized crime. Were they not the ones who organized the first gangs which racketeered businessmen so that they would turn to them for "protection"? Was it not them who sabotaged democratic reforms in the Supreme Soviet and later in the Parliament? Were it not their proteges who became the very "oligarchs" whom they later wiped out? Was it not they who provoked both wars in Chechnya in order to become much-in-demand?
It is necessary to investigate all the crimes of the Soviet regime and its successors -- first of all, the leadership of the communist party and the KGB / FSB -- on the basis of the Nuremberg Statutes. All crimes of the regime must be revealed and made public.
The tragedy is that the Russian people have not understood what terrible role in their country’s destiny was played by the Cheka, the KGB, the Joint State Political Directorate, the NKVD (Soviet secret police organizations - translator) and so on. And that they elected -- and the first time around they did elect -- this paltry KGB lieutenant-colonel.
Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.
Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.
Why did the Soviet Union collapse?
The Soviet Union collapsed on its own, under the weight of its own stupidity. It was doomed from the start, having been originally created not as a normal state, but as a springboard for the forthcoming world revolution. Add to this the "costs of running an empire" -- that is, the maintenance of equally unviable "socialist countries" which the Soviet Union had spawned throughout the world, and it becomes clear that the collapse was inevitable. Simply put, the USSR went bankrupt, broke down, because its economic base was too small for its global ambitions.
All Gorbachev wanted was to improve Soviet economy by giving the people slightly more initiative and a broader participation in the task of building socialism. A steady decline of Soviet economy has finally brought the country to bankruptcy, making it impossible for the Soviet Union to maintain its superpower status, to maintain tis empire and to continue military competition with the West. He simply had no choice. But he also hoped that when the people have slightly more freedom, they, to paraphrase Mark Twain's famous saying, would have enough common sense not to use it. He hoped that fear generated by 70 years of repressions would prevent the people from demanding real democracy. And he was wrong.
Socialism cannot be reformed, it cannot evolve into a democracy and a market economy, no matter how cautious the reformers and how gradual the reforms. It is the very principle upon which this system was built that must be changed, and for this reason the old political structures cannot withstand the pressure. Either they crack down or they break down.
By August 1991, however, Gorbachev and his comrades were running out of tricks, and the people were running out of patience. The economic summit in London was a disaster for Gorbachev: no new credits were offered, all the usual scares notwithstanding. At home, the prospects of getting the republics to sign the new Union Treaty were slimmer every day, particularly as the Ukraine, the biggest and by far the most important republic, openly refused. Clearly, the bugaboo of a hardliners' coup was loosing its power to motivate. Stronger medicine, an even more credible warning of disaster, was necessary.
In sum: "the August coup" was, in all probability, not a coup at all, but rather the introduction of martial law disguised as a coup. Gorbachev, of course, could not afford to be seen as its leader, and preferred to stay in the shadow. Had it succeeded, he would certainly have re-emerged from his Crimean retreat as a force for moderation, with his power at least partially restored; and should this strangest coup in history have failed, as of course it did, he would appear to the world as a victim who must be saved from the clutches of the "hard-liners" for another six years. Whatever the case, whether he encouraged the plot or not, Gorbachev could not possibly have been uninformed about the preparations for such a giant operation, particularly since many of his closest aides were involved.
What was the impulse behind the dissident movement in the USSR?
A tremendous impetus had been given to our movement in the post-Stalin era by movements in the Eastern European countries. We can regard these movements in the Eastern European countries as the beginning and source of our movement. As our movement grew, it also had an influence on the movements in the Eastern European countries.
We were being propelled by an inner feeling of necessity. Certain challenges had to be met, certain lies had to be nailed, certain absurdities had to be unmasked. This was something we knew in our bones. We had to do it for self-respect, for sanity, for human dignity. We were in the grip of an elementary revolt of the mind — but we had, as I say, no pragmatic model to guide us. We didn't want to "change" anything. We rebelled because we had been driven to rebellion. It was a question of self-preservation. We rebelled because Authority told us, "You are going to be different", and we said "We are not!" We didn't just react to specific acts of arbitrary rule. We acted from a deep-seated conviction that our inner sovereignty was under attack and that we had to stand up for it. The mental pollution had to stop.
The power is not created from the barrel of a gun, as Marxists put it; it is created by the people who are ready to comply with the demand. And if the people withdraw their compliance, authorities suddenly have no power. That was the main idea of the dissident movement.
The civil rights movement in the Soviet Union has no fixed political model. All we want to achieve is to educate the public about political events and give people the opportunity to express their opinions freely. We are not, and I hope we will not in the future be, bound by particularly close relations with any political camp. We do not belong to the conservative camp, we do not belong to the socialist camp, we belong to the concentration camp. That is why we agree to cooperate with all open, honest political organisations in the West which are trying to support us in our struggle and have the same goals as we do.
Man’s simple desire to be innocent of guilt, direct or indirect, in the eye of both his descendants and his contemporaries has given birth to what is now well-known as the human rights movement in the USSR. It proved to be invincible in front of the most oppressive system in the world. It proved to be more powerful than any plots or political intrigues.
Now, when I hear from all sides so many high-sounding words and assurances of sympathy and support, when I hear condemnation of dishonest Soviet psychiatrists, when I see amazement in people’s eyes—“How could doctors be so venal?” — I involuntarily find myself wondering: who among if you, if you suddenly lived in the Soviet Union, would choose the freedom to be different? Would many of you be so eccentric as want to be persecuted for the sake of an abstract honesty before your conscience?
Vladimir Bukovsky's foreword to "Russia's Political Hospitals: The Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union" by Sydney Bloch and Peter Reddaway, Hutchinson of Australia in conjunction with Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1977.
People always have the tendency to fall asleep and our task is to try to wake them up. We function a bit like alarm clocks.
For one person, his personality, his integrity, his instinct of self-defense, self-preservation consists of feeling, of an animal. You know, just to be alive, not to lose the strength. For me, the integrity of the personality and the self-preserving instinct is consistent, an attempt to be oneself—not to lose self-respect, dignity, and all the traits and all his inclinations and beliefs a person has. That is a problem of inner freedom about which you asked me, you know. A person who once arrived to this notion of inner freedom cannot change it. It is impossible as if, as if self-destruction. It’s more easy to commit suicide than to change his beliefs.
Everything you will give to this regime will be used against humanity, will be used to harm it, which means it will never benefit you either. I could never understand how one could bring up children in this country which would turn them either into murderers or into victims, either into executioners, or into their victims. This horrendous system was unable to produce anything else.
If you remember the footage that was broadcast during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, you probably remember a photograph that -- most certainly -- no one could forget: the famous and symbolic photograph in which a boy, a young Chinese student, comes in the path of a convoy of tanks and refuses to move, and effectively stops the entire convoy with his small body.
When I saw this on TV, my intuition worked instantly: this boy is one of us, because symbolically, this is what we were doing. What we had to say to regime was the same as this photograph. The meaning of our message was precisely the following: "We are now standing in front of you, and the only way to stop us is to kill us."
We live in an era of ideological wars, with mass ideologies, mass propaganda, and mass movements as their indispensable instruments. Sovereignty and national borders, war and diplomacy, peace and stability—all these notions of the nineteenth century have become obsolete. The nuclear weapon is not a weapon in the strictly military sense of the word, but a huge psychological factor in the ongoing ideological war. War is no longer simply military confrontation between nations, but anything from popular unrest to terrorism and guerrilla movements. And the battlefield of modem war does not confine itself to the borders of nations, but it exists in people’s minds, whether in Indiana or Siberia. It takes only about 15 minutes for a missile to reach the opposite side of the globe. It takes only a fraction of a second for news to reach the same destination. Strictly speaking, there is no longer any such thing as purely internal affairs.
The ineptitude of the Americans in this area is especially surprising. It is they who invented advertising, both crude and subliminal, and yet their understanding of the Soviet attitude to propaganda is infantile and their inclination to play that particular intellectual game to good effect is small. What the Americans don't realise is that, at the turn of the 21st, century, communication in the international field is one of the weapons (and, I would say, one of the vital and indispensable weapons) in the West's continuing engagement with the Soviet system. Anyone who has studied Lenin and has learned the first three lessons about the Soviet system knows the immense importance Communism attaches to "agitation and propaganda", both in keeping the system on a steady keel and in subverting its supposed critics and adversaries abroad. It takes a missile fifteen minutes to cross the globe, and propaganda covers the world in a fraction of a second.
Soviet system has at its disposal much more instruments of political influence in any crisis, much more dimensions of fighting, to which the Western society has no response whatsoever. It simply has no means for it, no instruments at all. We could use the public opinion in the West freely, we could appeal to the left-wing spectrum of these countries using it as a very powerful tool during the developing crisis. We could use guerrillas very easily, we could do a lot of things. And the Western side could generate only one out of five responses to our moves. They simply had no means.
That's one of the frightening things that underlies the unpreparedness of the West to a real crisis with the Soviet system as it is right now, which has been developing these tools for the last 50-60 years. And unless we give attention to this ideological warfare, and some other aspects for the Soviet Union, unless we have some capability of meeting this challenge, our future seems to be very dire.
The Soviet population, too, has been subjected, day after day for sixty-five years, to an intense propaganda campaign about this putative “hostile encirclement.” The Communist rulers unscrupulously exploit the tragedy of the Soviet people in World War II for the purpose of justifying both their oppressive regime and their monstrous military spending. They try their best to instill into the people a pathological fear of the “capitalist world.” Fortunately, the people are sane enough to laugh at the very idea. Thus, contrary to this theory, there is no paranoid population demanding to be protected in the Soviet Union, despite the best efforts of a perfectly sober and cruel government.
On opposition in today's Russia
They concentrate on the capital. They have this pyramidal idea -- which is imperial -- and they can't get it out of their heads. I have spent a lot of time explaining to them that Russia's future will see the country disintegrating and that large regions will split off. And therefore there is no point in concentrating on the capital. Instead one needs to develop horizontal ties, ties with regions that already have separatist tendencies, such as the Far East, Eastern Siberia, the Urals, the south, and the north.
This is what one should focus on, and not on how many demonstrators one can gather in Bolotnaya Square. This is completely pointless. Well, you can bring out one hundred thousand demonstrators. And then again one hundred thousand. But what's next? This will not produce any movement or change. But when the regions will start to move and begin to defend their sovereignty, their autonomy -- no matter what it is called -- then the authorities will find themselves in a dead end.
On national character
It took hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and mutation for man to escape the animal condition. To return man to the animal condition, not a single mutation is needed, all it takes is a whack on the head. The matter is even simpler when it comes to our civilisation, for it leaves no traces in the genes. Perfectly civilised English schoolchildren, abandoned by fate on a desert island, easily turn into savages; children separated from their parents by a barrier of hate and from all past traditions by propaganda easily become Maoist Red Guards, SS soldiers or the likes of Pavlik Morozov. Lord of the Flies lies dormant in every one of us, biding its time. You think you are better, mister Professor? Scratch yourself and, under the Harvard varnish, you will be sure to find your very own Russian.
Is it not striking that in the 20th century, after Camus and Ionesco, Brecht and Bulgakov, Orwell and Zamyatin, we still believe lullabies and fairy tales about good and bad nations?
Human nature is exactly the same in the West as it is in the East.
We are all somewhat in the same family, if only by the similarity of our destinies, of our characters. Independent of our nationality and our age, we are all born in Budapest, went to school in Prague, reached adulthood in the Soviet concentration camps, and maturity in the Gdansk shipyards. Our experience is uninterrupted and the process in which we participate is irreversible, as the process of development of a common organization is irreversible.
Because we have approximately 100 different nationalities in our country, most of them subjugated and captured by force, the development of national feelings and movements for national independence is very strong now. lam speaking about the Baltic states, the Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. These areas are particularly troubled with national problems. I am speaking about minorities like the Crimean Tartars, who were deported from their homeland to Central Asia, or the Volga Germans, who were expelled from their own territory and scattered. These people are of course a potential threat for the regime.
Well, each of us knows perfectly, in the depths of his soul, that communism is, above all, a self-occupation, and cannot exist without our complicity even if it is only a formal complicity.
In this regard, the Russians are neither better nor worse than the others. We were just the first to be struck, and, I think, the first to receive the hardest blow of which few people at the time could predict the consequences. Our fathers did not yet have under their eyes the examples of Kolyma and Cambodia. It took dozens of years of terror, tens of millions of individuals swallowed up by the Gulag, before we, their children, understood that great crimes begin with little compromises.
Now that I have lived in various countries in the free world, I have noticed that there is no lack of fuzzy thinkers there, that there are louses everywhere, and that every man has in himself a slave part and a master part, more slave than master generally.
On how totalitarian regimes keep citizens silent
One of the most fervently pursued aims of Soviet educational and psychological conditioning is to render the citizen helpless. You put a man in a cell and tell him that there is no escape from it—that is the prototypical situation.
Sloth and indifference are powerful ingredients of our nature. It's so much easier not to notice things than to notice them. The first doesn't require you to take action. The second does, and that can be uncomfortable for your conscience and take away from your prime TV time. It is, therefore, tempting to fall in with Sovietisation. It appeals to your sense of inertia and your instinct to go for the easy way out.
Perhaps the most difficult part of running against Sovietisation is the sense of ridicule to which rejecting it exposes you. You don't become, in average Soviet eyes, an heroic dissident, but a figure of fun. This can be more lethal to your morale than the fear of the KGB or Siberia.
Another factor that keeps many people obedient and Sovietised is the pursuit of their talent—real or imagined. How do you exercise your talent in a totalitarian system? Only by going along with the system, because it alone can provide you with a stage, a platform, a publishing house, a microphone.
Of course, the devil never asks for too much. You are, in the beginning, asked to make only very small concessions, but those are enough to align you with the system.
The system makes for silence. It proffers compliance as the lesser evil. To stand up and say: "Yes, we have known all about the executioners, the deportations. . . . Yes, we closed our eyes so that we wouldn't feel responsible", this takes an heroic person and an abnormally heightened type of consciousness. And then to be derided, to boot, for "tilting at windmills" by the very people whose rights you are trying to protect at great risk to yourself is a little too much even for a courageous man to bear. When a policeman threatens you under investigation, "Don't be a fool, toe the line", he may very well steel your resistance, but when the same is said to you by ordinary people you have known and liked all your life, your inclination is to give up in disgust.
There is practically no free human being inside the entire country. The state—the only employer — will not allow anyone to be financially independent—as indeed no independence of any kind will be tolerated. Everybody must be carrying out a useful task, performing a needed function, Several nationwide networks of security and secret police spy first on each other and then together on everybody else. Such a system has created a new type of a man, who thinks one thing, publicly expresses another, and does a third.
Back in Soviet times, I thought -- it was already post-Stalin time, Brezhnev's time, which we used to call "vegetarian times." Well, what if the people refused to at least participate in those May Day parades or in those "socialist competitions" -- that would be a small step. They wouldn't have been punished for that. But they didn't! They were afraid. And they are afraid of the most phenomenal things: for example, a person is in line to receive an apartment from the state, and his turn to receive an apartment will come in five years; and if he does something untoward, he will be thrown out of this line, and he will then have to wait for another ten years. That was enough. In Stalin's time the punishment was the firing squad. In the times of the civil war, in Stalin's time, they were afraid of execution. And in our time they were afraid to lose their spot in the queue for an apartment. And that was enough to control huge masses of people.
No, we are either free or we are not, it is an inner quality that cannot be measured. What I wanted to highlight is that within this very measure it demands a tension or a choice, irrespective of external conditions. And our tendency is to trade it, at least partially, for a more peaceful life. This leads to voluntary slavery and to this rigid form that is socialism, as we know it in the USSR, which takes charge of this desire for peacefulness and walls you in at the same time. That’s what explains this society better than any ideology. And since this exchange of freedom against comfort has reached its peak point in the USSR, a person realises that the measurement is complete and wants to pull himself together. Thus, he makes a concrete choice, which, often, means prison, but which allows him to feel that he has attained his freedom.
If different political theories are inductively generated in the West as a generalisation of existing experience, in the Soviet Union it is the other way round — there is a doctrine, and in accordance with this doctrine, facts of life are created. If any fact of life does not correspond to the existing theory, it is simply destroyed. According to the official doctrine, consciousness is shaped by being. According to this doctrine, socialism has been built in the Soviet Union. And the society there is supposedly in the process of building communism. So the people, the people who live in the socialist and communist society cannot have any other consciousness other than socialist consciousness. And really, where are those who believe in God in the Soviet Union, when anti-religious propaganda has been flourishing for 60 years, and religious propaganda is forbidden? Where are the opponents of communism when all aspects of life are organised according to the principles of communism?
According to the official doctrine there are two explanations of this phenomenon. According to this doctrine, thinking differently can either be the result of being bribed by Western imperialism, and then the dissenters are paid agents of imperialism. And the other explanation is that dissent is a pathological process. There is no other logical explanation, according to the prevailing doctrine. If for any reason it is not advisable to put a dissident in the first category as an agent of imperialism, he automatically falls into the second category as a mentally ill person. The psychiatrists have no choice but to make the diagnosis which best suits the psychological make-up of the person concerned. If the patient is a stubborn patient, then he is paranoid. If he gives in, he is schizophrenic.
On education in the USSR
I finished my school in 1959, after ten years of going to school And then, I spent nearly twelve years in prison and mental hospitals; and now, when I can compare the first ten years and then the next nearly twelve years, it is not easy for me to say where it was harder.
Оn Soviet economy
An integral part of the Soviet economy is the unpaid forced slave labor of three million prisoners. These prisoners are used in the most varied enterprises, the products of their labor are often included in the general flow of Soviet exports. The Baikal-Amur line, a railroad of strategic importance, is being built on Japanese money and on the slave labor of prisoners. In our concentration camp in the Urals, in the factory to which we were driven to work, there was an old "Cincinnati" milling machine. At this ancient machine tool, patched up with plaster, with broken handles, whole generations of prisoners had worked since the 1930s. This was a symbol of "convergence" of American technology and Soviet slavery.
It would seem that we are a long way from the days of slave-holding societies, but even international conventions directed against slave labor accept the possibility of its employment with reservations. It is up to nobody else but workers and free organizations of workers to achieve a review of these conventions.
The question here is not just one of solidarity, but of mutual interests. Thus, Western capital investments in the USSR, calculated on the exploitation of cheap labor, do direct damage to the interests of the workers in the West. I am certain that American labor unions -- at the very least -- have the right to examine all cases of investment of American capital in the USSR, the working conditions and pay in places where American capital is applied, to prevent money being made on the lack of rights of Soviet workers.
The more they go into intensive production and intensive economy, the less party control is possible. And the less party control you have over the economy, the less of the party control you have over the country as such.
In 1970, the question also arose of modernizing separate industries. Two points of view developed. One was that industry should be decentralized and liberalized — liberalization in that context meaning greater material incentives for the workers, greater opportunities for management to trade and sell their goods and perhaps to hire and fire people. But this point of view obviously did not suit the political leadership; the men who controlled the party machine, for it would mean loss of power.
So there developed an alternative solution to the problem. Instead of modernizing and liberalizing Soviet industry, why not buy all the necessary machinery and equipment from the West? And the West was very willing. The result? They agreed to a formula which turned out to represent the crudest possible interference in our internal affairs.
There is a myth perpetuated by many of your businessmen here in the West, that trade without preconditions is strictly a neutral instrument in the relationship between two countries. But this simply not so. Such trade with a totalitarian country, in fact, may prove the most cruelly partisan of all. Ultimately, the question boils down to this: Do you interfere on the side of the government of the Soviet Union, or do you interfere on the side of the Soviet people? When I was being taken out of the Soviet Union, I had on handcuffs, and on those handcuffs was written, MADE IN USA. To a great extent this trade that is not conditional means precisely that — it means selling to our state handcuffs for our people.
On trade with authoritarian regimes
Those American computers which have recently converted the antiquated machinery of the Romanian police-state into one of efficient oppression, and those West German steel-rolling mills which now augment Soviet military production (for example, the automated works in Lipetsk), are sophisticated bribes the West is paying to keep the Communists at bay—in addition to being lucrative business for short-sighted bankers and industrialists.
If in the 1960’s it could be said that a certain parity between East and West had been achieved, by now the Soviets have reached a point of clear advantage over the West. We also now know that the benefits to the Soviet Union of trade with the West were invariably put to military use. For example, the Kama River truck factory built by Americans in the 1970’s has recently begun manufacturing the military trucks that were observed in action during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
We may shake with indignation whenever we hear about the Soviet invasion of yet another country. We hate these little obedient soldiers, ever ready to do whatever they are told. Are they robots? But what do we propose that they should do? Do we honestly expect them to rebel and face a firing squad, while the entire world continues to provide their executioners with goods, credits, and modern technology? Don‘t we demand of them much more than we demand of ourselves? Somewhere, somehow, this vicious circle must be broken, if we are to survive as human beings, why not start where it is easier?
To tell the truth, I do not believe that any of it has been forgotten. Neither do I believe that the Western banks, industrialists, and governments are so “stupid” as to tie themselves to the Eastern chariot wheels by mistake. It is their deliberate policy, overtly articulated in the time of detente, and covertly now. Moreover, it is their philosophy. They love stability, these bankers and businessmen. And they are much against any resistance movement in the Communist countries, very much against any prospect of liberation for the enslaved nations of the East. They are the greatest peace lovers of all, far more powerful than all those crowds on the streets of the European capitals. Thanks to them, we descend slowly into the Age of Darkness.
We often wonder why has the UN never condemned human rights violations in the USSR, or why has the World Council of Churches never condemned the massacres of believers? We wonder why the entire world so readily supplies the USSR with technology, loans, tools and machines, bread and butter? We wonder what the Soviets are doing in Angola and Ethiopia, South Yemen and Afghanistan?
And why is it that, as soon as the Soviets, having gone too far, fall into a mess, the whole world readily rushes to help them "save their face," as if the Free World has no other concern? Korchnoi's book provides a surprisingly simple answer to these questions. Like the notorious chess tournament jury, the world is ready to do anything for things to calm down. The world is ready to concede in everything, if only this means that this worldwide renowned gangster is finally satiated and quietens down.
Just at the moment when millions of Russians and Ukrainians, Armenians and Lithuanians are prepared to fight for democracy, overcoming their 70 year-old fears, the West is paying to our common enemies.
People here in the United States do not understand that trade relations with the Soviet Union are not the symbol of peace. I have heard so many times from business people and others advocating good trade relations, that trade is a mighty weapon in establishing good relations with the Soviet Union, and possibly a way of softening the Soviet leaders. I would say that is nonsense, because trade with the Soviet Union is just exploited by the Soviet rulers for military purposes, the people never receive whatever the United States has sold them. It is just used for the whole apparatus in the Soviet Union. The only real consumers of Western goods are the party bureaucrats, who have special distributors, so-called closed party distributors of goods—places where they can be supplied with all the better Western imported goods.
But at the same time, the influence of trade relations is not limited just to the exchange of goods. It is much deeper and more important. One of the things that must be kept in mind about trade is that it is an interference in internal affairs. We have to face it. The most important thing to remember is, on what side are we going to interfere, on the side of the people or on the side of the rulers? It is best to keep that in mind during negotiations for trade treaties with the Soviets.
I would like to give one small example. I remember that in the mid-1960s—and I really describe it at greater length in the book—there was a split in the leadership of the Soviet Union over the economy, because, as we often do, we had an economic crisis. After Stalin’s death, there was a desperate situation. When Khrushchev took power, many influential people around him suggested that he make economic reforms, which meant a return to the era of NEP (New Economic Policy), a return to a small degree of capitalistic development more decentralization, more incentive for the people, and more freedom for management, which could help the situation.
This suggestion created a split between the so-called party bureaucracy and the state bureaucracy, because the party bureaucracy understood too well that this new development would eventually create a situation where the party would have no control over the economy, and that would result in a loss of political power.
The party bureaucrats opposed this development as far as they could. These things were discussed in the Soviet paper in a very muffled way, but they could be followed. Certain experiments were started. Some collective farms were permitted to be governed freely, without control, just to see what would happen, and the people were
permitted to be paid for their real work. Remarkably, the production of these farms rose, say, sevenfold immediately. It was amazing that it was published in the Soviet press. Many changes were expected after that.
But of course the party leadership was not interested in this reform at all, and so they suggested another way out—economic treaties. They suggested launching a so-called peaceful policy line, extending trade relations with the other countries of the world. In this way they could obtain all the needed goods from the West by means of trade, rather than by reforms, dangerous reforms.
And the West was stupid enough to accept the Soviet initiative and to broaden trade relations, which killed the whole experiment in the Soviet Union. Eventually , all of the so-called economists (as opposed to ideologists) were either arrested or dismissed from their jobs. All the experiments were closed, and there is now no hope for these economic reforms.
That is a good illustration of how trade with the West killed an important development in the Soviet Union.
For me, the fact is symbolic that I was brought out of the Soviet Union in handcuffs of American manufacture, inscribed with the words "Made in USA." Such handcuffs are broadly used in the prisons and camps of the USSR. KGB agents install audio-surveillance devices of western manufacture in the apartments of Soviet defenders of human rights. In Moscow, exhibitions of western police technology are organized.
There are only examples, not more than symbols: In the last analysis any economic aid to the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, which is not conditioned on definite and strictly fulfilled demands, serves only to strengthen that prison of people which goes by the eloquent label "the socialist camp."
About the Russian people
I kind of found my family, found my nation and began to feel a part of it. I discovered that there was an entire world that did not accept this government and this morality -- the same way as I wasn't accepting it. I suddenly became "normal," like that ugly duckling who found his flock. And this was not the "criminal world," not the caste of professional criminals, it was the PEOPLE, our people, about whom no one had given a thought for seventy years, except when they were being mentioned in the Party slogans. And throughout all those terrible decades the people continued to live according to their own moral canons, like the Old Believers in a remote skete.
I think it is human nature, more than any peculiar character of the Russian people, that makes any totalitarian power possible, and it rests on the docility of the people. You would understand it better if you took into consideration how many millions have been executed in previous years. Within sixty years, according to our estimation, at least 66 million people have been killed. The reign of terror was so strong that you could not blame the people, even the Russians, for being passive and frightened. Even now they cannot believe in any possible good development in their country. They are pretty sure any kind of activity on their part would be punished immediately, and there are not so many people in our country, or in any other, I am afraid, who would risk their life just for the sake of saying something openly. When I was in Norway, I remember an older person asking me how many of the dissidents speaking openly. I said there were not so many, really, in a country of 260 million population. And he said that was the case there as well. He was a member of the resistance during the Quisling period in Norway, and now everybody says that they were members of this resistance, but at that time they had just a handful of people.
That is quite understandable because nobody wants to die just for the sake of saying something. It is more in human nature to find a way to accommodate to a situation and to live with it. There are always some possibilities for improvement in one's personal life, and if it is still possible to live quietly and to live, more or less, happily. I would not blame anybody for accommodating. It is quite natural for human beings to behave in this way.
I slept on the same bed boards with them, under the same pea jackets, shared crusts of bread with them, and languished in the same punishment cells. I crawled under the fence on my belly, pulled the barbed wire apart with my hands, tore my skin, awaited a bullet in my back at any minute, all in order to push them a packet of tobacco through the bars. And they did the same for me. I don’t in the least regret it. But what do you know of your people? What is your attitude to them? What right do you have to speak in their name?
We are talking about a nation that was beheaded. That went through a genocide. And, after that, judging a nation is unfair.
On public opinion polls in authoritarian countries
In a country where people are persecuted for expressing their opinion relying on any opinion polls is stupid. People don't say what they think -- they are scared. they will say what you want them to say. If you remember, Stalin had 99.9 per cent of approval rating. Brezhnev had more or less the same. It means nothing in a situation where the country is not free.
On mistakes the West makes regarding Russia
No one in the vast U.S. foreign policy apparatus knows what the U.S. wants from the Soviets. Nor has anybody ever tried to formulate this question. Once I raised this matter with several friends working within different branches of the American government, and all of them came up with different answers. Some said it would be just fine if the Soviets left us alone, others said they’d like to see the Soviets lose their grip on Eastern Europe, or show some respect for the human rights of their people. But no one ever tried to establish how any of this might be remotely possible.
Americans believe that talking to the Soviets will dispel the threat of war. Thus, even if the Soviets manage to get themselves into a truly tough corner, when they make a really serious mistake and the moment comes to force them to retreat, to make them give back whatever they have previously grabbed, American “professionals" cry out, all as one: “Leave them a Golden Bridge,” “Let them save face.” And everyone rushes to save face for the Soviets more eagerly than the Soviets have ever tried to, Can anyone recall a single case where the Soviets actually took advantage of such a ready-made “Golden Bridge" or showed any interest in “saving face” and retreating? Why should they? The U.S. will always come up with a good excuse for their behavior, and it will never try to exploit their most obvious mistakes. With enemies like this who needs friends?
In your country, as in any free country, you are brought up with the idea that compromise is a good thing, because it helps to live and to survive—it is one of the cornerstones of your society. In the Soviet psychology, it is quite a different thing. We are brought up with the idea that compromise is just a manifestation of weakness. Whenever we are confronted with a conflict—when I say, “we,” I mean those of us brought up in the Soviet Union—we know for sure that we must press as far as the other side is ready to retreat.
And so we see two different types of behavior, the Western side is constantly losing because it retreats, it makes a compromise, and it expects the Soviet side to do the same. On the Soviet side, the contrary obtains; the manifestation of weakness of the free societies is just an incentive to press forward and forward.
On totalitarian leadership mindset
There is no such notion as "fair play" in the USSR, and there cannot be, as everything there is politics -- be it science, art, or sports. Any achievement is viewed as a proof of the superiority of socialism. Any defeat is a blow to its prestige. And a person who tries to defend their independence in any sphere, on any issue, is inevitably declared an enemy of the entire state. All the might of the Soviet Union, of its entire apparatus, is immediately mobilized to fight such a desperate daredevil.
The truth of the matter is that in a totalitarian state a man is a property of the state. And a cheap property to boot. He is just a pawn in a dangerous game played by the rulers. A walking function. It is only naive people of the West who believe that they live in a time of peace. From the day of its creation the Soviet Union has been at war with the West, and the people are forced to be soldiers of this war. In this context, a manifestation of simple human feeling is perceived by the state as a mutiny.
All tyrant who try to introduce reforms make the same mistake: they overestimate the might of their power and underestimate the hatred of the populace toward them.
As a standalone figure, the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee can be kind or unkind, be in good mental health or be insane, hate his people or secretly care for their welfare, his name can be used to sign thick volumes of essays or harmful decrees, but he is not a real person in this capacity -- he is a function.
On USSR's territorial aggression
The order imposed by the communists was nothing more than a permanent state of civil war both inside the country and around the world. Or as Lenin put it, “As an ultimate objective peace simply means Communist world control.”
There is a very precise distinction to be made between "just wars” and "unjust wars. “Just wars” are those fought “in the interests of the proletariat.” It is perfectly simple and perfectly clear: just wars are absolutely justifiable because they lead to the creation of a world in which there will be no wars, forevermore. Proletarians are all brothers, are they not? So, once the world is rid of capitalists, imperialists, and various other class enemies, why should those who are left fight one another?
As soon as we have pinned down this formula and deciphered its terminology, the course of history becomes absolutely clear. For instance, Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and Bessarabia, or the war with Finland in 1939-40, were of course perfectly just, as was the partition of Poland, achieved in cooperation with Nazi Germany in 1939. On the other hand, the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 was blatantly unjust.
Any failure of the Soviet international adventure may thus trigger a chain reaction leading to the ultimate collapse of the Soviet rulers. This is why they cannot allow a popular uprising in Hungary, a "Prague Spring" in Czechoslovakia, an anti-Communist “Holy War’’ in Afghanistan, or an independent alternative center of power in Poland. Immediate repercussions would be felt in all the other countries of the Socialist camp as well as in the Ukraine, the Baltic states, Central Asia, and other occupied territories. The scenario of aggression is depressingly uniform. First, the Soviets undermine a democratic state, helping the friendly “progressive forces” come to power. Next, they have to save their bankrupt “progressive” friends, when the resistance of the population threatens to overthrow them.
Are they frightened to the point of aggressiveness? Yes, but not by your piles of hardware, not by your clumsy attempts at defense. They are frightened by their own people, because they know the end is inevitable. That is why they must score victory after victory over the “hostile encirclement.” Behind every victory is a very simple message addressed to their own enslaved population: “Look, we are still very strong and nobody dares to challenge our might.”
On liberalization of authoritarian regimes
Once you are riding a tiger, it is difficult to jump off. Any attempt at internal liberalization might prove fatal. If the central power were to weaken, the sheer amount of hatred accumulated within the population for these sixty-five years of the socialist experiment would be so dangerous, the results of any reform so unpredictable—and, above all, the power, the fabulous privileges, the very physical survival of the ruling clique would become so tenuous—that one would be mad to expect the Soviet leaders to play with liberal ideas. Only the imminent threat of total collapse might forth them to introduce internal reforms.
The logic of Marxism does require that the economic-social factor be recognised as the determining factor in understanding society. It was that factor (whether correctly interpreted or not) that gave the Bolshevik Revolution its legitimacy and the entire Soviet system its raison d'etre. I believed that there was something at the core of every human being that was not shaped by economics or the environment—that man was autonomous. At the time I didn't realise that I was questioning the very basis of the Marxist system. That came to me a little later, but I was glad to have done so so early in life.
Once the goal is reached, the utopian movement, if it has imposed its ideas to the majority, will modify itself; it is no longer the work of extremists, but of conformists. It is the latter who are in charge of leading the initial idea all the way to illogical absurdity.
The harder it is to achieve an end, the greater the number of sacrifices which have to be made and the more terrible are the means justified. Can we not then justify the annihilation of exploiters and imperialists in order to rid humanity once and for all of all this suffering? However, the successful accomplishment of this unbelievably difficult task demands the the individual I be subordinated to the general WE of the like-minded. The vileness and cruelty of class enemies can be overcome by people who are themselves even more vile and more cruel. Their victory will justify them.
What is surprising is that since then the very same thing has been happening in scores of countries all over the world, in places which have the most varied history, culture and religion. But this fact still does not seem to be sufficiently instructive. Marxism remains a fashionable pastime for rich idlers and university professors in all developed countries. For their pupils in Vietnam and Cambodia it has turned into a blood-stained tragedy.
I have been surprised that in my two and a half years outside the Soviet Union I have met far more Marxists and Communists than in my thirty-five years in the Soviet Union. There are no genuine Communists in the Soviet Union. Those who join the party in our country are just trying to find the best opportunity for promotion, because anyone who is not a member of the Communist party cannot be so much as the head of a laboratory in research institute or the editor of a paper. Any good job is impossible unless you are a member of the party. A popular joke in the Soviet Union has it that no person can have all of three qualities: honesty, intelligence, and party membership. If you are honest and a member of the party, you are definitely stupid. If you are honest and intelligent, you cannot be a member of the party. You are intelligent and a member of the party, you cannot be honest.
On political violence
Imagine that I had a device, right now, to explode the Kremlin with the whole party congress inside it. If I did that, how would it change the country? In no way. Nothing would change. The system would go on. The only way of stopping it is to develop throughout the country different public forces that would grow and grow and would exert more and more pressure on the system. In this case, there would be no need for violence, because, with the pressure from inside, the system would change and break down.
After so many years of terror in the Soviet Union and of attempts to oppose and resist this terror, we realized, as a practical matter, that any violent or armed resistance would never help us. Many attempts had been made in Soviet history, and they never helped; they just bred more and more violence and terror in the country. It was quite obvious to us that violence was not the answer for us. In a mighty state where everything is subjugated and controlled by the state, there Is really no way to create an underground framework of organizations or armed groups to overthrow the regime. The population is too frightened and terrorized—their spirits have been broken down. Our system, our authorities, evolved as a result of violence.
Unfortunately, the fact that humanity has proved unable to develop and reach the intellectual level necessary to understand the issue of communism is extremely painful and must be taken into account. This is doubly sad for me, as a representative of a country where tens of millions of people have perished because of this regime. Their death would have some meaning if, after all these sacrifices and all these torments that have plagued my country, humanity became more unanimous on the issue than before. And the fact that this did not happen is a crime against the memory of all those millions of people.
Their deaths are no different from those of victims of an earthquake. If after the collapse of Nazism, people have discovered the need and ability to take responsibility, then this was a positive factor. But this did not happen when communism collapsed. And the point is not that it all sounds like an insult to the memory of the victims. This still means that every mistake made in the twentieth century will be repeated, and are being repeated as we are sitting here chatting in this room, and instead of one utopia, there will be many other utopias that will take the vacant space.
If I may make a comparison, I would say that socialists actually provide the food that feeds communists. Communism is like a parasite that develops on the socialist body. One should resist communism with personal responsibility of each human being.
Communist regimes are the same in every country, because this system creates the most favourable conditions for the ascension of crooks.
When we talk, for example, about the collapse of Nazism, this was a real collapse: the regime was completely exhausted, completely destroyed, its structures were dismantled, publicly condemned. However, no one has done anything similar with regard to communism. The approach to communism from the very beginning was completely different from the approach to Nazism. Despite the fact that the actions of both regimes were similar: crimes on both sides, genocide on both sides, there is so little difference between them. However, if the crimes were committed by the Nazis, they were identified as such. The same actions taken by the communists were simply assessed as mistakes caused by confusion.
The communist system -- like any totalitarian system -- tends to collapse mainly for internal reasons. External reasons also can add a lot -- they can speed up, they can slow down the collapse of these systems. But, as a rule, they are doomed. They have fundamental, conceptual flaws -- in the structure itself, in the very foundation. The fundamental mistake of all communists, socialists and other "-ists" is that they do not recognize the sovereignty of a human being. They believe that they can change a person by changing the external conditions.
For example, to make people perfect under perfect social conditions. And this is complete nonsense, it is completely unscientific. They do not understand that a person's individuality is primary, and everything comes from that. All these ideas of collectivity, class -- we have tried all this. For seventy-three years, they have been conducting this experiment. And all this led to was the complete ruin of one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
About Russian orthodox church
Let's not forget that the Orthodox Church was completely destroyed in the thirties. And it was recreated by Stalin in 1943 in his own image and likeness, not God's. All the hierarchs worked for him in the KGB, and it remains that way as we speak. This is not a church. This is a kind of support structure for the Soviet state, and the only one that has not undergone any changes. The Soviet regime collapsed, some of its ministries were reformed, the KGB now seems to call itself FSB, but the church has not changed at all.
This is how it was, and how it remains. And the church did not repent. This is strange to me, because religious people -- if they really believe in God -- must repent for their sins. And even more so it should be done by the church hierarchs. But none of them repented. No one. Despite the fact that they were committing crimes. Things like passing on to the KGB what people told them in confessions. It is a crime. For this they should at least repent. No -- they prayed for Stalin, for Khrushchev, for Brezhnev. Pushkin wrote in Boris Godunov: "You cannot pray for Tsar Herod -- the Mother of God does not allow this." They forgot this. And for me this is not a church. For me, this is an appendage of the Soviet apparatus. And nothing more.
On legality in the USSR
Don't forget that in 1917 the Bolsheviks abolished legality and independent jurisdiction, ushering in that profound sense of official lawlessness and indeed barbarism that paraded for a long time under the name of "revolutionary justice". They assaulted the people's sense of religion and subverted all existing norms of morality. That was the barren land we had to sow on. We have induced the authorities at least to talk the language of Law, and that is the first step to making them respect the Law. In an ideological system that is the only way in which an essentially lawless society can be slowly transformed into something resembling a normal society.
The main things we stressed when our dissident movement started was that the means could not be justified by the goal, even if the goal was great, and that any kind of underground or violent resistance would inevitably put us in precisely the position as are the communists.
The main concern of the movement was what kind of tactics what kind of strategy, we could use in opposing the state without aggravating the situation. We concluded that the only possible strategy was the role of a citizen, which is difficult to explain briefly. It sounds a little ridiculous — how is it possible to be a citizen in such a state? By reading the law of our country carefully, we discovered that, for propagandistic purposes, our authorities and our ideologists created legislation that seemed to be very democratic. Possibly because they would not like to make a bad impression on the stupid people in the West, they made the law as democratic as that of any other country. There is no point in our legislation forbidding political activity against the Communist party. There is no question about it, anyone who started such activity or even said something about it would be put in prison, but that is the practice, not the theory.
Strictly speaking, we are on the legal side, and our authorities are violating the law. We exploited this point as far as we could, appealing constantly to the law and opposing those who violate it. This kind of a positive stand helped us to create a broad movement in the country.
On who helped the Soviet dissident movement in the West
The best representatives of the English intelligentsia. There was Tom Stoppard, there was Iris Murdock, there was Vanessa Redgrave, there was Yehudi Menuhin. That is, people of all professions within the intelligentsia -- outstanding people -- have understood that they had to participate in this.
At that time the world was ideologically divided. And the leftist establishment helped only the Soviet Union, it refused to help us. This attitude was very difficult to break through. But it has changed a lot today. Today the division into the left and the right is completely confused. Today the left in the West does not perceive Russia as a socialist state. It is believed that there is "wild capitalism" in Russia now. Therefore, for example, the left in the West campaigned very strongly for the Chechens during the Chechen war, which they would not have done before.
It's okay to be doing this now. Russia is not perceived to be a left-wing state, so you can campaign against it. Therefore, it is much easier for Russian opposition groups to gain public support in the West. They just haven't given it too much thought yet. They are concentrating their efforts inside Russia and think less about the West. But when they ask the West to help, they succeed. Look -- they succeeded pushing through the Magnitsky Act. This is a wonderful thing, a huge achievement. They pushed it through very easily. Or look what happened with this wacky Pussy Riot story. This is absolutely incredible. This was a non-story. If not for the idiots in the Kremlin, there would have been no history at all. But the entire pop culture rose in their defense!
If earlier an attempt to tell the truth about the Soviet Union met with resistance from half of the establishment -- and the other half remained indifferent -- now things have changed. This powerful resistance has gone. After all, there used to be all sorts of things - censoring, blocking. We were not allowed to say in the West what was happening in the Soviet Union. This is the left wing for you.
Here is a well-known fact: when the Kravchenko trial took place in Paris, and for the first time it was proven that GULAG did exist, and so on, Sartre reacted as follows: "Even if this is true, there is no need to talk about it, because it will disappoint the workers of Lyon." Here they were concerned about how not to disappoint the workers of Lyon. Do you understand? And now this attitude is no more.
The difference between professionals and amateurs is usually defined in terms of payment. Professionals, it is said, are those who are paid for their work, while amateurs do it for fun. In my view this definition is misleading. People in the State Department or in the CIA are also paid, but are they professionals? Let me give you a better definition: professionals hate their job, but they do it well; amateurs enjoy what they are doing, but they do it badly.
Gorbachev is, after all, a great man, a giant of a statesman whose services to humanity are invaluable. For he has a magic touch: whatever he puts his hand on disappears.
As some might still remember, he used to be general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR. And where, I ask you, is the Party now? Only two years ago he made himself the president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that omnipotent nuclear superpower that kept the whole world in trepidation. And where is the Union? And where the Socialist Republics? And where the trepidation?
His miraculous power knows no boundaries. It was enough for him to make a quick trip to Eastern Europe, three times to kiss Honecker, Jakes, Husak, Ceausescu, and the rest of the gang, and they all collapsed, vanishing into thin air along with the Warsaw Pact. If this is not magic, what is? And he did not stop there. He went to China and nearly caused a popular revolution. A few years ago he visited Yugoslavia, praising the "Yugoslav model of socialism" to the heavens, and look what happened to Yugoslavia! Just recently he praised the "Swedish model of socialism," and, lo and behold, only days later the Socialists lost the elections in Sweden. A man of such talents should be encouraged to move around.
I’ve become acquainted with the guidelines which apply to Radio Liberty, and the situation there is much graver than I suspected. Those guidelines remind me of instructions I’ve come to know, laid down by the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union. Take the guideline, for instance, under which all employees are forbidden to convey any information which could be remotely construed as an encouragement to escape from the Soviet Union. How can you interpret such a guideline? Take, for example, the case of Vladimir Maximov, who now lives very successfully in Paris, where he publishes Kontinent. If you describe his life in Paris, then you cannot help but break the guideline, for just by describing it you are in effect encouraging other authors to defect from the Soviet Union.
I have been surprised that in my two and a half years outside the Soviet Union I have met far more Marxists and Communists than in my thirty-five years in the Soviet Union.
It took hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and mutation for man to escape the animal condition. To return man to the animal condition, not a single mutation is needed, all it takes is a whack on the head.