Judgement in Moscow (contents)


3.14   The Letter of the Ten

3.15   Living Souls

3.16   Last attempts

3.17   Death throes

3.18   A dirty trick


It is impossible to describe the ecstatic response of the Soviet intelligentsia at the appearance of Gorbachev and his “glasnost “. It was calculated to appeal to them – to them and to those like them in the West for whom glasnost, above all else, justified their collaboration with the regime. “You see?” the Soviet intelligentsia exclaimed triumphantly. “What need did we writers have for all that fuss and bother, for those movements?” “You see?” crowed their Western counterparts. “What was needed was cooperation, not confrontation!”

Overnight, the collaborators and conformists found themselves the greatest of heroes. The country choked with rapture at its own boldness. For decades, Soviet newspapers were filled with lies and people were almost coerced into buying them or taking out a subscription. Now they were sold out each morning. No one had watched Soviet television for years, apart, that is, from the football and the hockey. Now people stared at their TV sets into the early hours, as if mesmerised, hurrying red-eyed to work the next morning. Yet there was nothing in all those newspapers or on the TV screen that people had not known, from Western radio stations or samizdat, since the early 1960s and the time of Khrushchev. If not from those sources, then they had learned such things from their father and mother, from friends and neighbours, and from their grandparents. Of course, there was nothing new – but how bold it all was, how interesting!

Such was the scale of lies and dishonesty under Gorbachev that telling the truth became a form of deceit. Depicting themselves as courageous pioneers, writers, journalists and broadcasters lied to their readers and viewers; meanwhile the audience lied to themselves, pretending it was all new to them. It was not the novelty of the information, but that it was now officially permitted which fascinated them. Without the slightest irony and to general rapture journalists and their audience began to talk about the “blank spots in our history” and the earlier crimes of the Soviet regime. Everyone knew, of course, about political repression, the destruction of the peasantry and the collectivisation of agriculture; they knew about the Great Terror of the 1930s, the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, and the expulsion of entire nations from their homes during and after the war. There was not a family in the Soviet Union, after all, in which someone had not suffered or, at least, participated in these events. Before, however, it had been taboo; now one could openly refer to such things. Holding their breath, they asked one another in wonder, “Whatever are they going to say tomorrow?!”

Meanwhile, the decades from Khrushchev to Gorbachev as they touched their own lives continued to gape, as one vast “blank spot” in recent history. Somehow it did not bother anyone. During the perestroika years, a great deal was written and said – too much, in fact – about the period from the Sixties to the Eighties. Journalists and specialists talked and wrote about the stagnation of the economy and ecological catastrophe; they began to discuss Hungary and Czechoslovakia and, in time, Afghanistan. Yet somehow it was not about them and their audience; it had happened to people who might as well have been living on Mars. It was as if they were in no way linked to what happened then. They had suffered, but only like the ever-adaptable TV commentator Vladimir Pozner. They had been victims, but no more than the poet and official “rebel” Yevgeny Yevtushenko. And if they had struggled, then their struggle most resembled that of Yury Andropov, the head of the KGB from 1967 to 1982. No, they “did not know”, or they “were afraid”, or they just “believed” what they were told at the time.

Our terminology and our definitions of “stagnation” and the “law-governed State” came into use, and sometimes entire passages were lifted from samizdat works. Typically, not one of those who borrowed our concepts or quoted from what we had written ever hinted at the source. None said where that strange word “glasnost” had suddenly come from. Our trials, our books, our deportation from the country and exchange for Soviet spies – it was as if they had never happened. (We could not visit Moscow. Until 1991 we remained on the KGB blacklist.) Two decades somehow vanished from recent Soviet history and life was beginning again from scratch. There was not so much a ban on certain subjects as an unwillingness to open a discussion. Everyone knew the inevitable question which would follow: “But what were you doing then?”

Consciously or not, the tribunes of perestroika and, incidentally, the “democrats” of the 1990s who rose from their ranks, nurtured a deep resentment towards us. They could never forgive us for being “clean-handed”; for not having guzzled with them at the Party trough; for not seeking those compromises with their conscience that made up their lives. The fact of our existence destroyed their legend: if we existed, that meant there had been a choice, and it had been possible to live different lives.

3.14   The Letter of the Ten

Incensed by this fantastic dishonesty and, especially, by the Western euphoria about perestroika, ten writers, scientists, artists and dissidents from the USSR now living in the West wrote and co-signed a letter in spring 1987 at the peak of “glasnost”. It was our attempt to bring public opinion in the West to its senses.

Subsequently known as the Letter of the Ten[1], it appeared in newspapers in most Western countries: in the London Times (17 March 1987) it was titled, “Still waiting for real reform”; The New York Times (22 March 1987) turned it into a question: “Is Glasnost a game of mirrors?” Quite unexpectedly for us, it was also translated into Russian and published in Moscow News (29 March 1987), then the “progressive” flagship of perestroika.

In a restrained tone, we suggested it was too early to enthuse over the “reforms” of Gorbachev. As yet they were no more than promises and, moreover, expressed in a very opaque form, since the Soviet Union was still in thrall to Marxism-Leninism. Our letter was addressed to readers in the West, not in the USSR, but, Lord, how the Soviet “liberals” cursed us! In the old days, Pravda had never been so full of references to “renegades”, “outright anti-Sovietists” and, of course, “CIA agents”. Moscow News printed our letter to demonstrate the authenticity of “glasnost “. Then the Soviet newspapers took fright and one after another, resorting to worn-out KGB clichés, they began to denounce us. We had dared to challenge their “glasnost”. We were renegades and traitors who had deserted (!) the Motherland in search of an easy life, while they remained behind to suffer and struggle. We were enemies of the Motherland, they were fighting to make it a better place. Then, unbelievably, they began explaining to us the meaning of human rights …

Yet the more they berated us (they had no answer of substance), the more our letter spread across the Soviet Union, rewritten by thousands of hands, copied down from the stand outside the Moscow News offices on Pushkin Square. It was the first time material had entered samizdat from an official publication. The Party had to put up a serious defence. Moscow News was published mainly in foreign languages, and its small Russian print-run was for a narrow circle of reliable supporters of perestroika [2]. The Politburo allowed all the other “progressive” newspapers and magazines to run a little ahead of the changes, thereby demonstrating their boldness. Now they were forced to join in, organising “letters from workers” and printing round-table discussions in their pages. Ogonyok and other Soviet publications took up the discussion, in the best traditions of Alexander Yakovlev’s propaganda from the trials of the 1960s [3]. The row carried on for months, but increasingly our floundering critics resembled insects trapped on fly-paper. It was a portent of where their game of “glasnost” might lead.

As the supporters of perestroika were angrily denouncing us in their “liberal” publications, in private we received quite different reproaches through common acquaintances: “Why did you put us on the spot like that? You provoked us into publishing your letter and now we’re in trouble. They threatened to close Moscow News. Why did you do it? We aren’t doing any harm, and we’re only misleading the West. You know and we know just what’s going on.” What could you say if they considered it normal to “mislead the West” (and inform on foreigners)? We were guilty, it seemed, of provoking them and getting them into trouble. One of my classmates, many years later, said something similar about my expulsion from university:

“You can’t imagine the trouble you got us into!”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious! We started getting interested in samizdat, some of us were caught and they barely allowed us to graduate from university or defend our theses …”

“Sorry to hear that …”

was all I could tell her. What was I supposed to say? If they had not remembered my example they would indeed have lived a much happier life.


When Gorbachev and Yakovlev began their cunning game of glasnost they knew that they could depend on their own Soviet intelligentsia. If there was something that worried them at that moment it was the possibility of our influence. That was why their greatest concern was to isolate and obstruct the dissidents. These concerns were there long before the Letter of the Ten, of course, and the official announcement of “glasnost” in mid-1986. KGB head Chebrikov then sent the following note to the Central Committee (1 June 1986*, 1135‑Ch):

Materials reaching the KGB shows that the Adversary is engaged in targeted subversive actions aimed at discrediting the Party’s policy of accelerating the socio-economic development of the country and the further improvement of social progress, and he is paying particular attention to representatives of the creative intelligentsia, first and foremost to figures in literature and the arts. Taking into account the universal increase in the political and work activity in the life of our country, Western special services and centres of ideological sabotage are modernising the forms and methods of their subversive activities. These are aimed at the “ideological deformation of socialist society”, the incitement of revisionist and oppositionist feelings and they are trying to push Soviet writers onto the path of a departure from socialist realism and Party-mindedness in literature. To achieve his hostile intrigues the Adversary is striving to lodge in the thinking of the creative intelligentsia a nihilistic assessment of the entire practice of the building of socialism in the USSR.

The first source of concern were “political degenerates” among writers who had emigrated (Solzhenitsyn, Kopelev, Maximov, Aksyonov, and Vladimov were named). They were, Chebrikov said, being “resuscitated” and encouraged by the special services of the Adversary to seek out like-minded individuals in the Soviet Union. The Party’s policy of further “democratisation” made certain writers a particular target:

those writers who have earlier been ideologically unstable, and not always come through the test of their civic maturity and class conviction: writers who, directly or in a veiled form, have cast doubt on the correctness of Party policy as concerns collectivisation, dekulakisation, the struggle against Trotskyism, and CPSU policy towards ethnic groups; writers who declared that there is a lack of social justice and creative freedom in our country, demanding the “removal of censorship” and the release of literature and art from the supervision of Party bodies.

These very issues, it may be noted, were those presented by Solzhenitsyn in 1967 in a provocative letter to the 4th Congress of Soviet Writers that then gained the support of 80 members of the USSR Union of Writers. Among them were Rybakov, Svetov, Soloukhin, Okudzhava, Iskander, Mozhayev, Roshchin and Kornilov.

The information to hand shows that throughout the subsequent period these writers were under the constant attention of the special services and centres for ideological sabotage of the Adversary. At present their ideological operations has been significantly activated, both by the embassies of capitalist countries in Moscow and by periodic visits abroad as part of international cultural exchanges …

Finally, “the Adversary” was trying to depict this as a new epoch far less dependent on the ideological policies of the Party

… They are promoting their idea that on the basis of “common spiritual goals” there can be a fusion of the creative process of the artistic intelligentsia in our country with former representatives who are actively engaged in anti-Soviet activities in the West and numbered among the “geniuses of Russian literature in exile “.

According to our information, certain Soviet writers have spoken, in public statements and private conversations, in favour of a re-examination of attitudes towards the personalities and creative output of certain renegades and are insisting on the relevance of considering their works as an inseparable part of a “single Russian culture”. In particular, M. Roshchin and [A.] Pristavkin have expressed an opinion about the possibility of Solzhenitsyn’s return to the USSR and the expediency of publishing his “works” in our country in the near future. In April this year at a gathering of the association of Moscow poets, V. Leonovich publicly called for a reconsideration of attitudes towards the renegades Voinovich and Brodsky, who are living in the West. In March 1986 during an evening event at the Mayakovsky Museum he voiced a high opinion of the work of the anti-Sovietist Galich, and expressed dissatisfaction that his courageous works are not published here. Speaking at the All-Union seminar of Slavists in Narva [Estonian SSR], Okudzhava called Galich “the first in importance among Russia’s bards”.

Recently statements and letters in defence of particular individuals convicted of unlawful activities have been sent to various authorities and these are being used by the West for purposes hostile to the USSR, while their lampoons are currently declared in the West to be “an inseparable part of Russian literature” …. The USSR Committee for State Security is taking the necessary measures to counteract the subversive efforts of the Adversary among the creative intelligentsia.”

This worried the Central Committee. Gorbachev added a resolution to the report: “1. Send to members and candidate members of the Politburo and to secretaries of the Central Committee. 2. Comrades Ligachev and Yakovlev, please have a word with me.”

The tens of thousands of Soviet scribblers (left and right, progressive or reactionary) with their endless infighting and phoney rebelliousness suited the leadership very well. The Politburo’s discussion of the forthcoming Congress of the USSR Writers’ Union showed that the Party could manipulate any combination to suit its needs (26 June 1986*, Pb):

GORBACHEV. Let’s listen to what Comrade Yakovlev has to say about the way the USSR Congress of Writers is proceeding.

YAKOVLEV. On the whole, the Congress of Writers is keeping within the course set by Party decisions but not without controversy…. A periodic change in the membership of the board of the Writers’ Union is being raised in the speeches. It is suggested that they be elected for no more than two terms of office. The present leaders of the Writers’ Union are called the “children of their time”, and it is proposed that they depart with that time. The audience has met such declarations with ovations.

… About the possible composition of the new leadership of the Writers’ Union. Markov is presently in hospital. Perhaps we could envisage such a variant: Markov becomes board chairman and Bondarev, the first secretary. At the same time, however, a working bureau could be created made up of Comrades Bykov, Zalygin, Rasputin, Aitmatov and certain other writers. Comrades Yevtushenko, Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky should not be discounted. We must be aware that the general feeling is such that the old leadership could be voted out.

GORBACHEV. I think we should not restrict ourselves to a single individual and should not struggle to draw the line when candidates are put forward for the board.

GROMYKO. Which alternative do the writers themselves favour?

YAKOVLEV. As concerns the first variant, the election of Comrade Markov as board chairman, we must bear in mind that he has already been part of the leadership of the Writers’ Union for a long while and is at this moment being criticised.

GORBACHEV. Of course, the election of Comrade Markov would be the best alternative. How is the candidacy of Comrade Bondarev regarded?

GROMYKO. He’s a major writer.

SOLOMENTSEV. He adheres to the correct course.

VOROTNIKOV. Comrade Bykov and certain others could be included in the proposal.

MEDVEDEV. But will Comrade Bondarev be voted out?

YAKOVLEV. That shouldn’t happen.

GORBACHEV. If Comrade Markov doesn’t get the votes, then Comrade Zalygin could be chosen. However, he’s getting on and not very strong. Probably we should rely on Comrade Bondarev.

ZIMYANIN. What about the secretariat of the Writers’ Union?

GORBACHEV. Let them remain.

YAKOVLEV. If we are relying on Comrade Bondarev as first secretary, then we should discuss this with Comrade Markov.

GORBACHEV. We should talk with Comrade Markov about everything. He must be given his due. Even if he is not elected, we must behave properly towards him.

YAKOVLEV. Should we talk to Comrade Bondarev?

LIGACHEV. After the board of the Writers’ Union has been elected.

GORBACHEV. Agreed. We shall still have to choose among those who are elected to the board. Philip Denisovich, what’s your opinion?

BOBKOV (KGB deputy director). If it gets out that Comrade Bondarev is favoured, he may not be elected. So, this fact should not be made public prematurely. As concerns Comrade Bondarev, he’s a good candidate.

GORBACHEV. Yes, we should not expose Comrade Bondarev to attack.

LIGACHEV. A change in the leadership of the Writers’ Union, speaking generally, is overdue.

GROMYKO. We must not feel alarmed by a change in the leadership of the Writers’ Union. It is important that the new leadership is creative and authoritative. There was a time, after all, when the Writers’ Union did not exist and there were authoritative figures in literature all the same.

GORBACHEV. Of course, we must take the general mood in favour of a renewal of the leadership into account. There’s no need to dramatize things. Yegor Kuzmich [Ligachev] is right when he says that a freshening up of the leadership of the Writers’ Union is overdue. Let’s agree that our first choice is for Comrade Markov to be elected chairman and Comrade Bondarev, secretary. To that end, we must use our ability to influence things. There will be a meeting of the Party group at the Congress, won’t there?


GORBACHEV. Let’s leave it at that and let Comrade Yakovlev attend the Congress.

As a result, Comrade Markov became board chairman of the Union and the new Secretary, the “reserve option”, was Comrade Karpov, a retired major-general and patriot who was reputed to be a great liberal. What raptures these revolutionary changes evoked in both East and West! That was how the new era, the period of “their” glasnost, began.


Glasnost and Perestroika. The Soviet intelligentsia was not only taken in, it was constantly ready to sell itself for glasnost and perestroika. So was the whole world, however.

How could they resist a “young and energetic” General Secretary, especially one talking of reform, after the succession of despondent, unsmiling old men and their endless State funerals? Gorbachev had appeared after the sudden return of the Cold War in the early 1980s, with its crises, its arms race and the “struggle for peace”. How people longed to believe it was now all behind them! However much I explained that the Soviet system was not a monarchy and the General Secretary was not a king, who in the world did not then wish success to the new reforming monarch? Of the hundreds and thousands of politicians, journalists and academics in the world, only a handful remained sufficiently sober and did not succumb to temptation. Those who decided to voice their doubts were yet fewer in number. No one wanted to listen. Yet all it took was one good look at Gorbachev, to listen once to his ungrammatical, clumsy and senseless chatter – translation greatly enhanced his words – to dispel any illusions. A superficial knowledge of the Soviet system was all it took to dispel such illusions: a liberal reformer could not be promoted within the Party. There are no such miracles.

And still everyone longed for a miracle. Sceptics were furiously silenced as if they were threatening the future of humanity: “Quiet! Don’t alarm people …” It was as if we were all accomplices in a worldwide conspiracy, and if anyone mentioned it aloud he would betray the conspirators and wake the drowsing enemy. That is how the Soviet press, and the Soviet intelligentsia, regarded the Letter of the Ten: it was a “denunciation of our nation” (Pravda), and “An attempt to kill perestroika” (Moscow News). What was this perestroika, one could not help but wonder, if an insignificant word of doubt might kill it? And who was the denunciation addressed to? Where was this unseen enemy: in the West, or in the East? Who were we obliged to deceive for love of our native land? Not the Politburo, that was certain – they were the ones who had come up with the policy. That was the brilliance of this invention. No logical arguments had any effect. It was a kind of mass psychosis, comparable to the hysteria of the “peace movement” in the early 1980s, and it was inspired by the same Kremlin manipulators.

Gorbachev himself, of course, was not responsible. A provincial Party official, he was capable at best of a petty swindle, no more. With a professional eye for character, the theatre director Yury Lyubimov (who signed the Letter of the Ten) noted the amazing similarity between the new General Secretary and the portrait in Gogol’s Dead Souls of Russia’s most famous confidence trickster: “He’s the spitting image of Tchitchikoff! A gentleman pleasant in all respects. Just re-read, for amusement’s sake, Gogol’s description of his immortal hero: “In the carriage sat a gentleman, not handsome but not of an unpleasant appearance; not too fat and not too thin; you could not say he was old or that he was too young.”

Gorbachev indeed. Everything but the birthmark on his forehead. The leadership had made him General Secretary for his rounded, pleasant features, as the man most suitable to carry out the grandiose “KGB operation” conceived and developed at the end of Brezhnev’s rule by Yury Andropov, the master of such schemes. “Hold on. Don’t be in a hurry,” KGB officers would then tell some of their most trusted contacts among the “liberal” intelligentsia. “Let us finish with the dissidents, and when Brezhnev dies great changes will begin.” Gorbachev himself acknowledged as much when the failure of perestroika became obvious and he had to explain why the whole plan had been so badly thought out. “Not thought out?” he responded, indignantly. It had been very well thought out. One hundred and ten studies and proposals had been presented to the Central Committee by various think-tanks. “They all date back to a period when the April Plenum was still far in the future,” Gorbachev told figures from the world of “culture and science” assembled at the Central Committee in January 1988. (The text was printed a year later for all to read on the front page of Literaturnaya gazeta, 11 January 1989.)

Could a plan so well attuned to the psychology of the Western establishment have been the work of someone in charge of a run-down Regional Party Committee who joined the Central Committee only in 1978 (and with responsibility for agriculture, at that)? Gorbachev’s first visit to the West took place only in 1984, just before active preparations began to make him General Secretary. The hand of a master of disinformation can be felt behind glasnost and perestroika, someone with 15 years as chairman of the KGB and a belief in conspiracy as the motive force in history. Who else would have thought of staging a hybrid of the Prague Spring and Lenin’s New Economic Policy in Moscow? Only Andropov would have thought of creating the semblance of political pluralism by using the methods of the KGB.

The word perestroika was itself a masterpiece of propaganda. What on earth did it mean? Western libraries are full of books and studies about the period when the whole world, like so many parrots, started repeating this strange word, “pe-re-stroi-ka”. Yet there is hardly any secret. In construction perestroika is the equivalent of turning a shirt collar: material is re-used, with the clean, undamaged side facing outwards. It was still the same socialism, in other words, with a face-lift. After this KGB operation failed we learned exactly how the fictitious political parties and popular fronts, and the ultra-nationalist scarecrows like Pamyat, came into being. Alexander Yakovlev admitted that Zhirinovsky, leader of Russia’s “Liberal Democratic Party”, was a KGB project approved by the Kremlin in 1989. The master stroke, however, remained the earlier legend of a struggle within the Politburo between “reformers” and “conservatives”. For seven years, this kept the entire world fretting over how to “save Gorbachev” and enabled him to milk the West, just in credits and loans, i.e. the money of Western tax-payers, to the tune of 45 billion dollars – not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize for himself. Not a cent has since been found. God knows in which Swiss banks the money ended up.

Recalling those years, I cannot shake off a feeling of nausea. The world was ready to justify or tolerate anything: the conflict Moscow encouraged between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Karabakh enclave; the bloody suppression of demonstrations in Tbilisi in April 1989; and the slaughter in Baku in late 1990. The world went so far as to justify the provocative acts of Soviet special forces in the Baltic States in January 1991, although by then everyone could watch what was happening on their TV sets. Not one of these events could have taken place against the will of the General Secretary, as anyone familiar with the Soviet system knew. The only concern in the West, however, was that the golden dream of perestroika not be dispelled and that the conservatives did not overwhelm the reformers in the Politburo. Thousands died, but the world was concerned only that this should not “harm Gorbachev “. The subject was practically inexhaustible. The media talked about “the struggle for the succession” or the “struggle for power”; some of the Politburo were labelled “enemies of perestroika”, while others were dutifully praised as reformers by countless journalists, observers and sundry “experts”. Whether those in the Western media or academic circles understood that they were being used as channels of disinformation, it should remain forever on their conscience. When it became obvious a decade later, not one of them repented. On the contrary, they continued to occupy elevated posts. Strobe Talbott who in January 1990 made Gorbachev Time’s “Man of the Decade”, became President Clinton’s chief adviser on relations with Russia.

Before me lay the minutes of the Politburo meeting at which Gorbachev was elected General Secretary (11 March 1985, Pb). Elected unanimously, please note. Where was the struggle in this document? It was a long and boring text, made up of panegyrics to the new leader, delivered one after another by Grishin, Romanov, Chebrikov, Demichev, Ligachev …. Speeches by those who were most frequently named his rivals, and listed as Politburo conservatives and reactionaries, the enemies of his policies, by Western experts and journalists. All the members of the Politburo, and all the secretaries of the Central Committee (bar one) were present. There is not a single hint of any “struggle for the succession” or shadow of a doubt about the choice. Where did the rumours (assertions) start that Gorbachev was elected with a bare majority of the vote? Perhaps the idea of perestroika came as a surprise to the Politburo and, perhaps, it subsequently prompted “a struggle for power”? On the contrary, the Soviet leadership knew very well what plan the new General Secretary was going to implement – that was why they stressed the energy and innovative approach of their candidate and the problems facing the USSR. The question of the succession had been resolved long before, under Andropov perhaps, and the meeting on 11 March 1985 was an empty formality.

After examining the minutes of dozens of Politburo meetings during Gorbachev’s time as General Secretary, I did not find the slightest trace of a struggle. The members of the Politburo disagreed, of course, they expressed doubts, and there were arguments about specific problems, as there had been under Brezhnev. overall, however, there were fewer disagreements and they were certainly less sharp than those in previous years between Andropov and the “ideologues”. If anyone among them was a conservative, it was Gorbachev, who always adopted a cautious position. Unpleasant problems, on the other hand, were quite deliberately given to those being designated “conservatives”, while pleasant problems were reserved for the “reformers”. Some examples have their humorous moments (20 March 1986*, Pb):

GORBACHEV. There is one matter I have left until last. On my instructions it was included by Comrade Dolgikh. This is his note [reads aloud]. It concerns returning to the ice-breaker “L. Brezhnev” its former name, “Arctic”. A new ice-breaker can be called “L. Brezhnev”.

ZAIKOV. It already bears the nameplate “L. Brezhnev “.

ALIEV. We can launch it as “L. Brezhnev” but make no announcement.

RYZHKOV. It should be done without television and in one day.

GORBACHEV. Let us instruct Comrades Ligachev and Zaikov to think over the matter and put forward suggestions.

And there is one other item. [Reads letter from Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, out loud.] Of course, there is no rush to decide whether she may come. My first inclination – let her visit the USSR. But perhaps we should not be in a hurry and talk it over first.

CHEBRIKOV. Her first letters were fine, they showed gratitude. In this one, half of it is about problems she never mentioned before. She was taken to hospital this evening with a heart attack.

GORBACHEV. We must find out what her daughter thinks and hold a high-level meeting. My view is that we need to assess Stalin, Stalingrad, and so on. I’m from that kind of family myself. My uncle’s health was ruined. We were five children born to a mother from a very poor family. I received a medal for an essay “Stalin is our military glory, / the soaring inspiration of our youth!” [4] Perhaps it would therefore be expedient to entrust this meeting to Comrade Solomentsev?

GROMYKO. Or to Comrade Ligachev, perhaps?…

GORBACHEV. Let us instruct Comrade Ligachev to meet her.

As we can see, until the end Gorbachev could not himself decide what family he came from. From a family that had suffered under Stalin or from one that was forever recalling the ardour of its Stalinist youth. It is not so very amusing, however. Their games cost us all too much.

3.15  Living Souls

In staging such an extravagant simulation of democracy, the main task of the Soviet authorities was not to lose the initiative and let a real opposition consolidate. The example of Solidarity in Poland must have hovered constantly before their eyes like a grim reminder.

Before setting up their own fictitious fronts and parties, the Soviet leadership had to put an end to opposition groups that had emerged during the previous twenty years of struggle against the regime. Above all, the stubborn zeks must be broken and deprived of their moral authority by forcing them to “disarm ideologically”. There could be no certainty of success with the West, if the issue of political prisoners was not dealt with first: it was too obvious to be overlooked.

The future winner of the Nobel Peace Prize set about this problem as soon as he came to power. 1985 gave no indication that Gorbachev was inclined to be merciful: on the contrary, the persecution and arrests increased. The Soviet Union must first be cleansed of potential oppositionists. In a Top Secret (Special File) report “Of Particular Importance” delivered personally to the new General Secretary by the head of the KGB, Chebrikov noted the following (19 February 1986*, 321/Ch-ov):

During the past year, State Security has intensified its struggle against acts of ideological sabotage by the class Adversary…. In Moscow, Leningrad and the capital cities of the Union Republics the subversive ideological operations of several hundred emissaries and functionaries of foreign anti-Soviet nationalist, Zionist and clerical organisations were prevented or halted. Three hundred such people were expelled from the country and 322 were banned from entering the USSR….

Twenty-five illegal nationalist groups were uncovered and liquidated at the stage of formation in the Ukraine, the Baltic republics and certain other places. Attempts by pro-Zionist elements to create a number of illegal groups were halted. 28 of those most actively involved in hostile activities were charged with criminal offences. Timely intervention prevented the formation of 93 youth groups on an ideologically harmful basis.

Eleven leaders of illegal sects were charged with criminal offences for their hostile activities and other legal violations. The unlawful activities of many religious extremists were halted and several printing presses, temporary stores and warehouses of literature were destroyed. As a result, about 170 underground “schools” for teaching religion to children have ceased to operate in Central Asia and the North Caucasus, and several congregations of such sects have sought legalisation.

We have identified 1,275 authors and distributors of anonymous anti-Soviet and defamatory materials and criminal charges have been brought against 97 of them…. The KGB has taken an active part in the activities of the Party and the State to nurture a high political vigilance among Soviet people and a respect for the law, and has carried out major work to prevent criminal, anti-State deeds, politically harmful processes and behaviour. Preventive and prophylactic measures have been taken with respect to 15,271 individuals.

A humane attitude to errant Soviet citizens has been combined with a decisive suppression of the criminal actions of hostile elements. Criminal charges have been brought against 57 persons for particularly dangerous State crimes, against 417 for other State crimes, and for other crimes, 61. The investigation of these cases has been conducted in strict accordance with criminal-procedural norms, under the oversight of the Procuracy.

At the same time, however, pressure increased on those already imprisoned to make them recant their views. This pressure continued to grow in 1985 and throughout the following year, reaching a peak at the end of 1986. Gorbachev was clearly in a hurry. The problem required urgent solution before “glasnost” could be launched. At a Politburo meeting he asked Chebrikov to say something about the “kind of people who are serving sentences for crimes that Western propaganda classifies as political” (25 September 1986*, Pb):

CHEBRIKOV. According to our legislation these are especially serious State crimes. A total of 240 individuals have been prosecuted and are now serving sentences for committing these types of crime. These are people convicted of espionage, crossing the State frontier, distributing hostile leaflets, dealing in hard currency, and so on. Many of them have declared that they will no longer pursue their hostile activities. They link their declarations to the political changes following the April [1985] Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee and the 27th Party Congress [25 February-6 March 1986].

We could first release a third and then a half of these people. In that case only those who continue to adopt hostile positions towards our State would continue to remain imprisoned.

GORBACHEV. It seems this suggestion could be supported.

CHEBRIKOV. We shall proceed in a sensible fashion. To be sure that these individuals do not continue to engage in hostile activities, they will be kept under surveillance.

SHCHERBITSKY. How can it be explained that comparatively few people are being prosecuted for especially grave State crimes? Is it due to perestroika?

CHEBRIKOV. It is explained by the stress that the KGB lays on its prophylactic work. Many individuals have been exposed, if one can put it this way, on the brink of committing a criminal act. The means at the disposal of the KGB and the public are used to influence them.

GROMYKO. Which crimes are the most dangerous and what is the punishment for them?

CHEBRIKOV. Espionage. It is punished by execution or 15 years’ imprisonment. Polishchuk was executed for espionage. Yesterday Tolkachev was executed [for the same crime].

GORBACHEV. American intelligence paid him very generously. He was found in possession of two million roubles.

CHEBRIKOV. That agent provided the Adversary with very important military secrets.

GORBACHEV. Let us agree that we approve, in principle, the suggestions made by Comrade Chebrikov. Let the KGB put forward proposals in the established manner.

POLITBURO members. Agreed.

Currency speculators, spies and political opponents were deliberately mixed together, as if they did not understand the difference. That was clearly not the case. Who should “refuse to continue their hostile activities as a consequence of the April Plenum”? Not the currency speculators and spies, that’s for certain. Evidently, it was easier not to call things by their proper names.

Accordingly, towards the end of 1986 “proposals” were put forward in a joint report by the KGB, the Procurator-General, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of Justice in the “accustomed manner” (26 December 1986*, 2521‑Ch):

In recent years, we have successfully paralysed the illegal activities of the organisers, mentors and active participants of illegal groups: the Helsinki groups, the Free Trade Unions, the Russian section of Amnesty International, the Political Prisoners’ Fund and other groups that the Adversary regarded as “forces capable of leading to a change in the existing State and social system of the USSR”. Over the period from 1982 to 1986 more than 100 people agreed to discontinue their unlawful activities and took the path to reformation. Some of them… spoke on television and issued public statements in newspapers, exposing the Western special services and their former fellow conspirators.

In 1986, after submissions from the KGB, the Procuracy and the courts, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet and the Presidia of the Supreme Soviets of the Union Republics freed 24 persons from serving their sentence, and 4 others had sentences of imprisonment commuted to exile. The overwhelming majority of them understood the decisions taken towards them, except for Ratushinskaya, who, after leaving for the West on private business, continues to make hostile statements.

At present 301 individuals are serving sentences for committing crimes under the above Articles and 23 are under investigation.

Our information shows that the changes in our society after the April [1985] Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee and the 27th Party Congress [1986] have influenced the thoughts and behaviour of some of those who were at one time under the influence of bourgeois propaganda and hostile elements, committed unlawful actions and were punished. Some of them have recognised the harm they did to the interests of society. Others are playing a waiting game. Several individuals have not changed their anti-Soviet views….

In these conditions, the authors suggested, certain people who had been charged or convicted of the above offences could be offered a pardon and released if they agreed to meet certain conditions.

It could be suggested to persons in the above category that they should make a declaration to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet that they would not henceforth engage in hostile or other unlawful activities. On receiving that declaration, such individuals could be individually freed from imprisonment or prosecution by a pardon issued by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet after submissions by the USSR Procuracy, the USSR Supreme Court, the USSR Ministry of Justice and the USSR KGB … Not for release would be especially dangerous recidivists and individuals who continued to maintain clearly hostile positions and refuse to give written assurances that they would end their anti-social activities.

Such measures would permit those who have agreed not to continue their unlawful activities to take their place in society and, on the other hand, to identify those who earlier concealed the anti-Soviet nature of their efforts under the slogan of a struggle for “democratisation” and “human rights “.

Adoption of a positive decision on this matter would be politically advantageous and once again emphasise the humanism of the Soviet regime. In implementing the said measures, we may encounter backsliding and anti-social behaviour. That should not lead, in our view, to serious negative consequences.”

Gorbachev’s “democratisation” thus began by twisting the arms of political prisoners to the accompaniment of rapturous songs of praise in the West. Of course, it was difficult for such an audience to grasp what it meant to spend three winter months in an unheated punishment block: a daily ration of 400 grams of bread, hot food every other day and, once or twice a week, a visit from a KGB officer with his unchanging demand: “Well, now have you grasped the meaning of the April Plenum?” That was not all. They also put pressure on relatives and threatened the zeks with a new term of imprisonment. There were times when people were beaten up. There was no limit to the imagination of the KGB. Some dressed their charges in civilian clothing and took them home to show them how good it was to be free. At the end, the same question once again: “Well, are you ready to sign the statement now?”

This cruel game so infuriated Anatoly Marchenko that he announced he was beginning a limitless hunger strike, demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners. In December 1986, after three months’ starvation, he died (4 February 1987*, 206-B). Yet that extreme protest did not bring the West to its senses. An exceptionally shameless period was just beginning.

Marchenko’s death alarmed the Politburo. It was no part of their current plan to kill anyone, and there was some reaction, however feeble, from the West. The release of the prisoners had to be accelerated, and the pressure and demands on them reduced. The authorities began releasing any prisoner who submitted a request, whether he or she promised “to refrain from anti-social activities” or merely asked for a pardon. Chebrikov and Procurator-General Rekunkov personally reported to Gorbachev early the next year (1 February 1987*, 183-Ch):

As of 15 January 1987, the number of individuals serving sentences for crimes covered by Articles 70 and 190 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and the corresponding articles of the criminal codes of the Union Republics was 288. Those imprisoned in corrective labour institutions for Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda (Article 70) number 114, for Spreading knowingly false fabrications denigrating the Soviet State and social system (Article 190) number 119, and there are 55 individuals convicted under these articles who are now in exile.

In carrying out CPSU Central Committee Resolution No 47/54 SF (31 December 1986) the Procuracy and the USSR Committee for State Security organised the necessary work among this category of individuals.

As a result, 51 individuals submitted written declarations that they would henceforth refrain from unlawful activities. The Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet has taken a decision to pardon them.

Thirteen new declarations have been submitted for examination. Work will continue with the remaining convicted prisoners and be completed in February.

Twenty-one investigations (four under Article 70, and 17 under Article 190) were being closed, reported Chebrikov and Rekunkov. There were three more categories of prisoner:

In the corrective-labour institutions and in exile there are 25 especially dangerous recidivists convicted under these articles to whom this procedure for liberation from punishment is not being extended. It would be possible to carry out educational work with them on a strictly individual basis. Those who are firmly on the road to correction, having condemned their past criminal activities and declared that they will not resume them henceforth, can be put forward for a pardon on general conditions….

As concerns those sentenced (10 people) under Article 142 of the RSFSR Criminal Code[5] and corresponding articles in the criminal codes of other Union Republics, who organised illegal underground printing works, inspired anti-social behaviour among believers and unlawfully introduced children to religion, it seems expedient in the present case to put forward materials for their pardon on general grounds, if a statement is received from them that they will no longer engage in unlawful activities.

A special category is made up of individuals (96 persons) who committed offences envisaged in the above articles of the criminal code when they were insane and were sent for compulsory medical treatment. Following the established twice-yearly medical assessment to determine which of them no longer presents a danger to society, they could be moved to psychiatric hospital s of an ordinary kind or be transferred to the care of relatives. At present, several individuals (Gershuni, Pervushin, Klebanov and others) are being freed after medical examination from compulsory treatment.

Like battlefield despatches, such reports continued to reach Gorbachev’s desk almost every month until mid-1987. The latest of which I had sight was from May. It announced, incidentally, the following figures [6]:

In March and April of this year, as a result of a decision by the appropriate authorities, 108 persons convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, and 64 persons serving a sentence for committing crimes envisaged by Article 190 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (and corresponding articles in the criminal codes of other Union Republics) were released through a process of individual pardons.

As of 1 May 1987, 98 persons of this category of convictions continued to serve their sentences, 78 in places of confinement and 20 in exile. Among them are 24 who have previously been convicted and 74 who so far have refused to give assurances that they will end their criminal activities.

Towards the end what we had most feared took place. Only those who were known in the West and were the subject of Western appeals were released, whether they themselves had made such a request or not. Most were then deported to the West and expelled from the USSR after being deprived of their citizenship. Yet this no longer aroused anyone’s interest or indignation. On the contrary, the West was ecstatic about Gorbachev’s liberalism and his tireless battles with the “conservatives”. History has recorded that the reformer Gorbachev released the Soviet Union’s political prisoners, gradually, not all at once, because “the conservatives were putting up resistance” in the Politburo. Nevertheless, the story goes, he did release them. In fact, the last Soviet political prisoners were released by Yeltsin in February 1992 after the USSR had ceased to exist.


Without deciding what to do about Sakharov, then exiled to Gorky, Gorbachev could not fool even the gullible West for long. He took up this problem soon after he came to power and almost a year before the proclamation of his “glasnost” (29 August 1985*, Pb):

GORBACHEV. At the end of July this year I received a letter from the notorious Sakharov. He requested permission for his wife Bonner to travel abroad for medical treatment and to see relations.

CHEBRIKOV. This is an old story, it’s been going on for twenty years now. During that period, various situations have arisen. The necessary measures were taken with regard to Sakharov and Bonner. Through all these years, however, actions that would violate legality were not permitted. That’s very important and should be emphasised.

Now Sakharov is 65 and Bonner is 63. Sakharov’s health is not brilliant. At present, he is being tested for cancer since he has begun to lose weight.

As a political figure, Sakharov has virtually lost his standing and has said nothing new recently. Perhaps it would make sense to let Bonner go abroad for three months. According to our present law people can interrupt their exile for a specific period (Bonner, as you know, is in exile). Of course, once she gets to the West she could make a declaration there, receive some prize or other, and so on. It also can’t be excluded that she might make a trip to the USA from Italy, where she is going for treatment. Permission for Bonner to travel abroad would look like a humane step.

She may behave in one of two ways after that. One, she returns to Gorky. Two, she remains abroad and begins to raise the question of re-uniting the family, i.e. that Sakharov should be given permission to leave. In this case, there might be an appeal by official figures in Western countries, and by certain representatives of Communist Parties. But we cannot let Sakharov out of the country. The Ministry for Medium Engineering objects, since Sakharov knows in detail the entire way that our nuclear weapons developed.

Specialists believe that if Sakharov is given a laboratory he can continue to work in the field of military research. Sakharov’s behaviour is shaped by the influence of Bonner.

GORBACHEV. That’s Zionism for you.

CHEBRIKOV. Bonner has total influence over him, 100 per cent. We expect that without her his behaviour could change. He has two daughters and one son from his first marriage. They behave well and could exercise a certain influence on their father.

GORBACHEV. Could we not do as follows, and ensure that Sakharov states in his letter that he realises that he cannot go abroad? Could we not get such a declaration from him?

CHEBRIKOV. This matter, it seems, should be resolved now. If we take a decision just before your meetings with Mitterrand and Reagan it would be interpreted as a concession on our part, and that’s undesirable.

GORBACHEV. Yes, we must take a decision.

ZIMYANIN. We should have no doubt that Bonner will be used against us in the West. However, her attempts to refer to the re-uniting with the family can be rebutted by our scientists, who could issue a statement with the necessary declarations. Comrade Slavsky [Minister for Medium Engineering] is right: we cannot let Sakharov leave the country. We cannot expect decent behaviour from Bonner, however. She’s a wild beast in a skirt, a protégée of imperialism.

GORBACHEV. Which will cause more damage: letting Bonner go abroad or not?

SHEVARDNADZE. Of course, there are serious doubts about permitting Bonner to go abroad. However, we shall, at the same time, make political gains from doing so. We must take a decision now.

DOLGIKH. Can Sakharov not be influenced?

RYZHKOV. I am in favour of letting Bonner go abroad. It’s a humane step. If she stays there, of course, there’ll be a commotion. However, we shall then have an opportunity to influence Sakharov. Now he’s running off to hide in the hospital to feel a little freer.

SOKOLOV (Minister of Defence). It seems to me we must do it, we can’t be the worse for doing so.

KUZNETSOV. It’s a difficult case. If we do not allow Bonner to go for treatment this could be used in propaganda against us.

ALIEV. It’s hard to give a clear-cut answer to this question. At present Bonner is under control. She has grown more spiteful over recent years and once she is in the West she will let it all out. Bourgeois propaganda will have a specific person for holding various kinds of press conferences and other anti-Soviet operations. The situation will become more complicated if Sakharov asks to join his wife. So, there is an element of risk here. However, we must take that risk.

KAPITONOV. If we let Bonner go, this business will go on for a long time. She will have grounds for referring to the re-unification of the family.

GORBACHEV. Perhaps we should behave as follows. We shall confirm that we have received the letter, let us say, and paid it due attention and issued the necessary instructions. We must let it be understood that we could meet the request for Bonner to travel abroad but it all depends on what she will do there. For the time being it’s expedient to restrict ourselves to that.

Sakharov promised not to ask for invitations from abroad, as we know, and Bonner gave her word not to make political statements. Her trip passed off without incident.


This is merely one episode in the game that the Politburo played with Sakharov. Throughout 1985 and 1986 Gorbachev kept a close watch on everything that concerned the exiled scientist. The KGB sent him recordings of conversations in the couple’s Moscow apartment with American scientists Jeremy Stone and Frank von Hippel (1 January 1987), just as they had earlier passed on a stolen fragment of the “Memoirs” that Sakharov was then trying to write (31 December 1985, 1776-B). In June 1986, the Politburo again returned to the subject of Sakharov because of his letter to Gorbachev criticising the entire practice of political persecution. Giving his own account of such matters, Chebrikov told his colleagues the following (7 June 1986*, 1163-Ch):

It should be noted that the number of people prosecuted for such crimes is insignificant and is showing a tendency to decline. At present the number serving sentences in corrective-labour institutions or in exile are 172 for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, 179 for spreading knowingly false fabrications denigrating the Soviet system, and 4 for breaking the laws separating church and State and schools from the church. The twelve people mentioned in Sakharov’s letter (Marchenko, Osipova, [Ivan] Kovalyov, Nekipelov, Shikhanovich and others) were convicted for committing specific criminal acts that are covered by the norms of criminal legislation, and in strict accordance with the law…. As a result of systematic educational work certain individuals among those serving sentences (including Kovalyov, Osipova and Shikhanovich mentioned in the letter) have condemned their own actions, declared that they repent, and will refrain from engaging in unlawful activities in the future….

The issues raised by Sakharov, evidently, are delusions that have been strengthened by the constant negative influence of his wife Bonner.

In view of the above, it would not seem expedient to give a written answer to Sakharov. A senior official of the USSR Procuracy could be instructed to have a comprehensive discussion with him, in which substantiated replies are given to the issues raised in his letter.

The problem of Sakharov and the issue of political prisoners were inextricably linked. One could not be resolved without the other, and a solution to the former presupposed a solution to the latter. The main principle behind the decision to free only those who had “disarmed ideologically” was, therefore, retained here as well. Presenting the Central Committee with his “proposals about Sakharov” KGB head Chebrikov, Politburo member Ligachev, and Marchuk, the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences wrote (9 December 1986*, 2407-Ch):

The decision that it was necessary to halt Sakharov’s hostile activities was prompted by the subversive work he had conducted against the Soviet State over an extended period. He incited aggressive circles in capitalist States to intervene in the internal affairs of socialist countries, to engage in military confrontation with the Soviet Union; he inspired protests against the Soviet State’s policy of a relaxation in international tension and peaceful coexistence. At the same time, Sakharov took measures to bring together anti-Soviet elements within the country, inciting them to engage in extremist actions. He tried to establish contacts with anti-socialist groups in the Czechoslovak SSR, expressed solidarity with the Czechoslovak “Chartists” [Charter 77] and representatives of the Polish so-called “Committee for Public Self-Defence”, calling on them to unite as an organisation in order to carry out anti-socialist activities.

Thanks to the measures taken to influence Sakharov by the wise KGB, the dissident physicist had quietened down in Gorky and (most important of all) in the absence of his wife had come to his senses: once again he began to take an interest in science, he “criticised the US Star Wars (SDI) programme, made positive comments about the peace initiatives of the Soviet leadership and gave an objective assessment of the events at the Chernobyl nuclear power station”.

Chebrikov continued

As before, Bonner insistently opposes the said changes in Sakharov’s behaviour and way of life. In essence, she is encouraging her husband not to engage in scientific activities but directs him towards the preparation of provocative documents and forces him to keep a diary with the prospect of its publication abroad. Despite this, however, it would seem expedient to maintain efforts to draw Sakharov into scientific work which would be useful in itself and could help to restrain him from active participation in anti-social activities.

It seems possible for these purposes to resolve at present the issue of Sakharov’s return to Moscow, since his further stay in Gorky could again prompt him to revive his anti-Soviet activities, if we also bear in mind the negative influence on him of his wife and the continuing interest in the West in the so-called “Sakharov problem”.

We would like to believe Sakharov’s declaration that he was ready, on his return to Moscow, to give up his public activities.

There could be certain negative aspects to Sakharov’s return to Moscow if we consider the anti-Soviet views of Bonner, her clear striving to provoke Sakharov into conflict with us, and her unconcealed wish to work with circles in the West opposed to our policies. Their apartment might again become a location for all kinds of press conferences involving foreign journalists, a place for anti-social elements to meet, draw up declarations and demands of a negative character. Sakharov himself will hardly refrain from taking part in cases concerning the so-called “defence of human rights “. Despite all that has been said, however, the return of Sakharov will have fewer political costs now than his continued isolation in Gorky. Furthermore, it is intended that the Committee for State Security will take measures to neutralise this possible negative behaviour.

As a result, both Sakharov and the “pardoned” political prisoners returned not as victors or innocent victims, but as persons who had been “neutralised” and graciously forgiven. There was no suggestion that they might be rehabilitated, as happened to many of Stalin’s victims under Khrushchev. Once again, the decision was guided by what was most expedient for the Party and the necessity to minimise the cost. What kind of “victory for democracy” was this? It was the Politburo and its “glasnost” which triumphed.

Those who had accepted pardons themselves knew it was a defeat. Having sent off a request for a pardon, they were thereby accepting the expedient approach of the KGB, no matter what reasons led them to take this step. Those who agreed “to refrain from their past activities” might as well have not gone to prison in the first place. It was all the Soviet regime ever wanted from us. Those who took this step were rewarded: they were elected to local, regional and national Soviets and became “political figures”. Those who stood firm remained “anti-social elements”. Could anyone fail to understand what kind of activity was unacceptable when this deal opened the way for involvement in what was happening to the Soviet Union under glasnost? Did Gorbachev remind Sakharov of his promise “to withdraw from public activities” when he invited him, with a sweep of his hand, to open the Congress of People’s Deputies, Gorbachev’s pre-parliament, in the spring of 1989?

So ended our movement, in a split between those who undertook to “support Gorbachev” and those who refused to serve as a smokescreen behind which the General Secretary could ply his wiles. Those of us who had been deported to the West were quickly divided by the regime into good and bad dissidents: those who “recognised perestroika” and those who did not (like the Russian émigrés of the 1920s who were split between those who did and did not recognise the revolution). Moscow began letting the supporters of perestroika back into the country; articles were printed in the newspapers about their heroic past. Nothing was said about those who would not accept perestroika, as if we had never existed. Only Soviet diplomats began to give us a welcome smile when we happened to meet and were genuinely disappointed when they saw our outdated mistrust.

One of the first to go on a visit, of course, was Andrei Sinyavsky, the Writer personified. Grandly he explained to his audience, “I only ever had stylistic disagreements with the Soviet regime,” (Russkaya mysl, 27 January 1989). What an affected, snobbish and loathsome statement. He was talking about the monsters who had tormented millions and wrecked the country, as we now could sadly see. Would his differences with Hitler be no more than stylistic? And what did it mean: how would the Writer have preferred to kill people, in what other style? With Gorbachev, whom Sinyavsky declared “Dissident No 1”, the Writer evidently had no differences of syntax or grammar either.

“Why don’t you go back?” the journalists of perestroika asked me with surprise.

Were they being stupid or dishonest?

3.16   Last attempts

It was not enough to break the old opposition, however. A new opposition must not be allowed to form. As Yakovlev, Shevardnadze, Zaikov and Chebrikov reported (4 December 1987*, St 45-09):

“A group of individuals is attempting to hold a gathering from 10 to 14 December this year in Moscow, a so-called seminar of independent non-governmental organisations in the USSR that participate in the Helsinki process for humanitarian issues.

… Those who intend to head the sections are Grigoryants, Kovalyov, Bogoraz-Bruchman, Chornovol, Airikyan and others who were convicted of anti-Soviet activities in the past and were pardoned this year by an edict of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. Timofeyev has announced that he will head the preparatory committee.

An appeal is being circulated in which the organisers of the “seminar” make demagogic statements about the necessity of creating international guarantees to ensure that member-States (of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe) meet their obligations in the field of human rights, and to “devise methods of international monitoring of the implementation of decisions on the humanitarian aspects of the CSCE “.

… Issues surrounding the organisation of this “seminar” are constantly being raised at gatherings of the said persons in Moscow with the participation of foreign correspondents. Together with them, members of the Glasnost press-club do not hide their striving to unite the anti-social elements in our country and their claims to play a leading role in this.

This was happening not in 1968 or 1977 but in 1987 at the height of perestroika, so rapturously then greeted by the West. The measures to prevent this gathering, however, would be directed by the same inventor of Party “glasnost”, Alexander Yakovlev:

Overall it is clear that a provocative event is being prepared which, according to the organisers’ intentions and those inciting them from abroad, will in any case bring dividends: if the “seminar” take place, this will give added weight to “Glasnost” and create a precedent of a kind; if it is prevented then this will be a pretext for raising an anti-Soviet commotion, especially since this enterprise is scheduled to take place on 10 December, on Human Rights Day, and has been timed to coincide with the Soviet-American summit meeting.

In these circumstances, it is proposed that we operate in the following way.

The executive committee of Mossoviet should give a negative answer to the request of the “seminar” organisers about renting premises, explaining that until the necessary legislation has been drawn up, the 11 August 1967 regulation of the Mossoviet executive committee remains in force. This was taken in the interests of maintaining State security and public order and, in particular, envisages the obligation to observe the USSR Constitution and other legislative acts. Furthermore, the “Glasnost press club” is not officially registered and it is not clear by what right it claims to be organising international events. We may suppose that when the request for renting premises is turned down the “seminar” will take place in private apartments. In that case, however, the propaganda effect will be considerably reduced.

A similar argument should be applied when refusing to grant visas to those foreign citizens who want to attend the “seminar”. It cannot be excluded that a certain number of foreigners will arrive as tourists and that certain Western journalists, accredited in Moscow, will take part in this gathering.

Bearing in mind that one of the main goals of the “seminar” organisers is to provoke a scandal, we should refrain at this moment from taking measures of restraint towards them.

If the organisers do not pay attention to the Mossoviet decision, the Procuracy should issue them with a warning about the unlawful nature of the event under preparation.

At the same time, there is the question not only of administrative but also political methods for neutralising the activities of such anti-social elements. As the first experience of projects under conditions of democratisation shows, the most promising work results from the painstaking individual efforts of Soviet, Party and non-governmental organisations, including those where people live, adopting where necessary a differentiated approach, while exposing in the mass media the true nature of these “rights activists”.

Nothing had changed. The same disregard for the law, the same measures, the same KGB – and the same Alexander Yakovlev. This time, however, the world’s sympathies were not on our side: it was not our glasnost that was winning now. It was not democracy but “democratisation”, not the market but “market socialism” that was triumphantly being introduced – but no one, not even Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, wanted to see that.

The Western press wrote enthusiastically about all those KGB “popular fronts” and other “NGOs”; their counterparts in the West hastened to establish working ties with them, while Western foundations provided them with equipment and funds. It was pointless to argue or explain. They thought you were an impostor and swindler who was trying for his own selfish reasons to take money away from deserving people, while they were battling for democracy against conservatives at home. Who were you anyway? And what were you doing here, in the West?

But what difference would it make? If you told them that glasnost and perestroika was an enormous spectacle organised by the KGB, and that all these “fronts” were set up by state security, they would look at you as if you were mad. Reagan and Thatcher themselves did not make such suggestions. Sakharov himself supported Gorbachev … Tell them that the whole show was intended to prevent the formation of truly independent social forces and the Western establishment would be quite content. They feared “independent” actors more than anyone else. That was why the dissidents never received real support from the West, either before, during or after perestroika. “You’re unpredictable,” I was told quite frankly by those who controlled such support. The agreement between the Western establishment and the Politburo was touching to behold: since both wanted a “controlled revolution”, they created their own puppet “revolutionaries”.

The Gorbachev Politburo was well aware of this. That was why they created their “non-governmental organisations” to “neutralise” us. In response to the threatened “human rights seminar” the Politburo resolved, among other measures that (p. 5):

The Moscow City Committee of the CPSU (Comrade Karabasov), together with the Commission for International Cooperation on Humanitarian Problems and Human Rights at the Soviet Committee for European Security and Cooperation (Comrade Burlatsky) are to draw Party, Komsomol, Soviet and other organisations into systematic work to neutralise the activities of anti-social groups such as the “Glasnost press club”, including the exposure in the mass media of the real face of these “rights activists”.

That was why those commissions headed by the Party “liberal” Fyodor Burlatsky were created, so that no Helsinki activities could escape their control. Yakovlev, Shevardnadze, Dobrynin and others proudly informed the Central Committee of their successes (19 December 1987, 2594-Ch) [7]:

… For the purposes of localising this political provocation, the following were not allowed into Moscow: representatives of several foreign anti-Soviet bodies, renegades from among the former Soviet citizens living abroad; members of Polish Solidarity; the Peace and Human Rights Group (GDR); and those who inspire nationalist and anti-social events – Airikyan (Armenia), Chornovol,… Goryn, Gel (Ukraine), Sadunaite (Lithuania) and certain others.

The measures taken enabled us to reduce, to a certain extent, the range of participants in the so-called “seminar”. We prevented these hostile individuals from joining an organisation with anti-socialist elements from other socialist countries and wrecked an attempt to set up a permanently functioning centre within the Soviet Union. Having not received permission to use State premises for the seminar the provocateurs dispersed to private apartments…. Overall, they were able to attract to their provocative operation around 150 Soviet citizens (including more than 40 individuals from other cities and towns in the USSR). As has been established, most these individuals formerly participated in unlawful activities for which they were prosecuted, and they maintained and continue to maintain contacts with subversive organisations abroad.

What was it that these criminal figures, these enemies of progress, were saying? Even in the conditions of Gorbachev’s glasnost they could not be allowed to hold their seminar. Perhaps they supported the Party “conservatives”? Perhaps they were speaking out against democratisation?

These gatherings in private apartments were anti-Soviet in tendency. For example, in his speech Timofeyev (Glasnost press club) stressed: “The seminar should show the world that there are a great number of people in the USSR who are dissatisfied with the socialist system …” Krochik (the Trust group) call for the creation of “free trade unions” in the country. Ogorodnikov (The Bulletin of the Christian Community) asserted that “The USSR is a totalitarian State” and said it was necessary to struggle for a widening of the role of the church in the country’s political and social life. Novodvorskaya (Democracy and Humanism) declared: “There must be a non-violent political struggle against the Soviet government. The basic aim of our movement is constant opposition to the government. A demand for a multi-party system in the country”. Myasnikov (Glasnost bulletin) said that half the population in the USSR was impoverished, that there were many millions of unemployed people and slave labour in the country, while a quarter of the population did not have a home. Supposedly not one constitutional right is respected in the USSR.

The contributions of certain participants included calls to fight for an unlimited right to enter and leave the country, to refuse to do military service, and to freely transmit any information abroad. Opposition to the Soviet authorities and the policies of the CPSU was also discussed, as was the creation of a means for influencing the development of the government’s domestic and foreign policy decisions.

There was little new, in other words, compared to what the perestroika press was already saying, but the people saying such things were unacceptable – they could not be kept under control. Although the authors admitted that this “provocative operation overall did not attract the attention of Soviet citizens”, it should have been prevented since “there can be no doubt that its organisers are continuing their provocative activities”.

It is envisaged that the Propaganda and International Departments of the Central Committee, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the KGB, will work on additional measures to expose the hostile and provocative character of the activities of the organisers and participants of the said operation, and to prevent similar events in the future.

That event was, I would say, the only serious attempt to bring together an independent opposition within the Soviet Union. Yet what could this handful of people do when gripped in the suffocating embrace of the State – without funds and faced by the total indifference and, sometimes, hostility of the West and their own society? Who needed these journals and newspapers with their tiny print-runs when any of perestroika’s media outlets had millions of readers or viewers? The time when a single word of truth proved stronger than a nuclear superpower had passed. Now all spoke the “truth”, a great many varieties of the “truth”, and all at the same time, moreover. The Soviet propaganda of the perestroika years taught people to lie inconsistently, thereby creating the discordant chorus of “socialism pluralism”. However much you might try to outshout them, your truth was only one among many.

Moreover, there was no longer any need to seek justification for collaborating with the authorities. Why ask for trouble and risk the batons of the new riot police for telling the whole truth when by telling no more than 75% you could become a statesman with your own personal motor vehicle? What was the hurry if today there was a ban but tomorrow it would be possible? It was a distinctive feature of Gorbachev’s “democratisation” that those who were under control were allowed a great deal more than the uncontrolled protestors who were dispersed with such brutality [8]:

The USSR Committee for State Security has received information that the extremist-minded participants of the so-called “Democracy and Humanism” seminar… are planning to hold a provocative demonstration on 30 October this year.

They intend to carry out this protest under the slogan “We demand the release of all political prisoners”, “We demand a political amnesty”, “Rehabilitate the prisoners of conscience”, “Stop stifling free thought”, and “Revoke Articles 70, 72 and 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code”.

To give this provocation a mass character they intend to circulate an “appeal” and a “declaration by participants in the demonstration for the release of political prisoners in the USSR”. Its organisers are counting on the participation of individuals who were formerly imprisoned for anti-Soviet activities and sent for compulsory treatment by the magistrates’ courts. They have informed foreign correspondents about the time and place of the protest. It is expected that tourists from Western countries will turn up there.

The Committee for State Security together with the Ministry for Internal Affairs are taking measures to prevent the intended provocation.

This was taking place at a time when political prisoners, supposedly, were being released and the Criminal Code itself was about to be re-examined. A demonstration on the subject, however, was a “provocation by extremists” which was banned by the Moscow City Soviet and dispersed by the police. The émigré newspaper Russkaya mysl in Paris reported on 6 November 1987 that 25 people had been detained before the demonstration began and taken to various police stations around the city and kept there for three hours. Why battle with the police in the square, the man in the street wondered, over something that could be written about in the official press? The intelligentsia took fright: “This could harm Gorbachev, you know.” The West spread its arms in disbelief, attributing everything to the intrigues of the “conservatives” in the Politburo.

In such conditions, it was not possible to organise a united and coordinated opposition. The few who attempted to do so, realising that they could do nothing in isolation from each other, withdrew to their own republics and looked inwards. In that effectively harmless state, however, the Soviet regime still could not tolerate them. Throughout the chaos of the perestroika years and Gorbachev’s crafty zigzags, only one policy remained unchanged and constant: no genuinely independent social structures must be allowed to come into existence, no real opposition must be permitted to consolidate. Four years before the end, the head of the KGB Kryuchkov made the following comments to Gorbachev when recommending that a KGB directorate be set up “to defend the constitutional order” (11 August 1987, Pb 164/87):

… the special services and subversive centres of the Adversary are shifting their activities against the USSR to a new strategic and tactical platform…. By reviving nationalism, chauvinism and clericalism… they are trying to incite centres of social tension, anti-social behaviour and mass disturbances, inciting hostile elements to actions aimed at the violent overthrow of the Soviet regime. With particular insistence, they are trying to create legal and illegal groups of an unconstitutional tendency, to gain direct control over them, providing them with material and ideological support, urging them to commit extremist acts…. Anti-socialist elements are carrying out their unlawful activities in a similar direction. Using some of the amateur organisations called into existence by the political activity of citizens, and hiding behind slogans of democratisation and the renewal of Soviet society, they are working to create structures opposed to the CPSU [my emphasis, VB] and other organised groups.

The abolition in March 1990 of Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution meant that such attempts were no longer “anti-constitutional”, but the general course of Gorbachev’s reforms did not change. Until the very end any independent groups were kept under constant pressure by the KGB, including those that were quite ready for some form of cooperation with the perestroika regime. If you think this was an oversight and that Gorbachev, deceived by the conservatives, was not aware of it, you would be mistaken, as his response to the following KGB report shows (27 July 1988*, 1541-K):

According to information received, anti-social elements from among the so-called “rights activists” and Jewish nationalists, incited from abroad, are planning to hold an international seminar in Moscow during the first ten days in December about “The KGB and perestroika”.

Hiding behind the process of glasnost and perestroika, the organisers of the seminar have the goal of “discrediting the USSR Committee for State Security” by drawing the attention of wide circles among Soviet and world public opinion to its “activities and crimes”. In particular, it is proposed to hold a public discussion of such reports as “The function of the KGB in the epoch of New Thinking”, “The role of the KGB in crisis situations”, “The monopoly on information”, “Overcoming mystery and fear when faced by the KGB”, “The KGB and the national-democratic movement in the USSR”, and “The KGB and anti-Semitism”. Such organisations as Amnesty International and the International Helsinki Federation, which have demonstrated their abilities as “defenders of human rights in the socialist countries”, are being considered as possible sponsors.

It is intended to invite famous Western political figures and Sovietologists, including Z. Brzezinski and R. Pipes, and former citizens of our country Alexeyeva, Bukovsky, Ginzburg, Orlov, Plyushch and others who are engaged in anti-Soviet activities abroad. It is proposed that the following will take part: well-known “rights activists” such as Grigoryants and Timofeyev, representatives of the “national-democratic” movements of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldavia, the Baltic republics and Ukraine, and “authorities” from among the Crimean Tatars and religious figures.

The organisers of the seminar intend to send invitations to Chebrikov, Kryuchkov, [Procurator-General] Sukharev, and the head of the Visa and Registration Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs; and to USSR People’s Deputies Adamovich, Afanasyev, Vlasov, Gdlyan, Ivanov, Korotich, the writer Semenov, the poet Dementyev, former KGB chairmen Semichastny and Shelepin,… and to the chief editor of “Moscow News”, and to the TV programmes Vzglyad and Fifth Wheel”.

A resolution has been added to this report: “This event must be prevented at all costs. M. Gorbachev “.

3.17   Death throes

What subversive centres, what intrigues were there? The bigger and more elaborate the lies of the Soviet leadership, the more the West lapped them up. Yesterday’s executioners advertised their former crimes and the world was touched: What frankness, how things have changed! They went on killing people, suppressing the opposition, mistreating prisoners for the whole world to see – and the world only worried whether the Lord High Executioner himself might take harm. Like the writer Fonvizin as a small boy, they felt awfully sorry for Mama: she got so tired beating Papa.

“Why won’t you accept the obvious? Things are better now!” I was asked when I gave lectures.

“Sometimes a mortally sick person gets better before he dies,” I jokingly replied, for the first time not knowing what to say.

If they had not understood the Communist system by now, you would never make them understand. As for myself, those were the toughest, bitterest years of my life. I have always found it most difficult of all to cope with betrayal, even when it was only one person. Now almost the entire world had betrayed us, flattered by lies and the promise of a miraculous cure for a universal affliction – the promise, moreover, of a petty trickster. One after another, our allies disappeared. They were people whom I had considered friends and on whom I had depended in difficult moments: now I expected that they should place a similar, unconditional trust in me. We had been through so much together. As if smitten by some viral form of madness, they preferred to believe in someone they had never met and whom they had never looked in the eye. “O, you dissidents! You have a preconceived view of Gorbachev,” they would say.

“What is going on?” I thought painfully to myself. “Have I done anything underhand in my life, anything dishonest? Did I ever betray anyone or let them down?”

Justly or not, I took this as a personal insult: “Whom do you believe – me or Gorbachev?” It was not me they believed.

I began, against my will, to compare biographies. I was sent to prison at the age of 20 in 1963; Gorbachev, then 31, was Komsomol secretary for the Stavropol Region. Three years later I was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for organising the demonstration on Pushkin Square; in 1966 Gorbachev became secretary of the Stavropol Party committee. From 1967 to 1971 I was hardly out of prison before they picked me up again; meanwhile Gorbachev was advancing, step by step, up the Party ladder and, when they sentenced me to my last term of imprisonment at the beginning of the 1970s, he became first secretary of the Regional Party Committee and a member of the Central Committee. Finally, Gorbachev became a secretary of the Central Committee in 1978 when, already forced to live abroad, I was torn between my studies in Cambridge and the need to campaign on behalf of my friends who were political prisoners in the Soviet Union. It was then I published To Build a Castle (1978), my first book. Gorbachev joined the Politburo in 1979, in time to approve the invasion of Afghanistan and the exiling of Sakharov to Gorky.

The contrast was astonishing. Our lives overlapped (only 11 years separated us) and we had taken part in one and the same events. He could not help knowing what I knew, thinking about the same problems and seeking answers to the same questions. Quite consciously, however, Gorbachev chose to serve a lie, advancing through all the stages of submission to the Party while, quite as deliberately, I chose a life of incarceration in prison, labour camp and lunatic asylum because I refused to lie. Yet now the world believed him and not me. What should a man do, I ask you, when people will not believe him?

“You have suffered too much at the hands of that regime,” newspaper editors told me, “It’s hard for you to be objective.” They refused to publish any more of my articles. “Where have I suddenly acquired the reputation of an idiot, incapable of objectivity?” I tormented myself. They could see everything I had said and written. While they might not agree with my views, I had never written anything foolish or dishonest in my life.

They were very difficult years, years of crisis and an acute feeling that my life had been totally wasted. I understood the fate of the world, the future of my country, was being decided. Yet what could I do? How could I help a handful of people who had tried to oppose this epidemic of mendacity? In the whole wide world, there remained only two to three periodicals where I could still voice my opinions.

We were regarded as so many “leftovers from the Cold War” who were now obstructing the process of democratisation. A world gone mad saved the policies of the Soviet Communist Party from us. Moscow did not fail to make use of this. Their disinformation was now believed as eagerly as their propaganda, as this report by Chebrikov to Gorbachev shows (31 July 1986*, 1503-Ch):

According to our information, a new period of activity has been noted in the USA in the anti-Soviet campaign about human rights, driven first of all by reactionary political and Zionist circles in the United States with the participation of certain renegades who left the USSR and were deprived of their Soviet citizenship. For the purposes of countering these hostile propaganda operations it would be expedient to prepare and implement certain measures to disrupt them. In particular, it should be conveyed to certain political, business and public circles in the USA which are interested in expanding ties with the USSR that the new anti-Soviet campaign… will significantly complicate the general political climate in Soviet-American relations and do substantial political and a certain economic harm to the United States.

Propaganda measures will be taken to expose the unlawful actions of several US embassy staff in the USSR and of foreign journalists accredited in our country, and of the emissaries of subversive centres abroad who have been sent to the Soviet Union and are using their stay in the country to gather and distribute anti-Soviet materials and to incite individual Soviet citizens to commit State crimes and other anti-social acts.

Conditions will be created for journalists accredited with the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs to obtain documentary materials that expose the fabrications of bourgeois propaganda about the supposed violations of human rights in the USSR, and factual material that compromises the renegades whose names are actively used by Western mass media in conducting this anti-Soviet campaign.

Among its six points the Resolution adopted on this matter by Gorbachev’s Central Committee contained the following instructions:

  • TASS, APN, Gosteleradio and the KGB are to prepare and transfer abroad materials that compromise the renegades whose names are being actively used by bourgeois propaganda for anti-Soviet purposes, and expose the role of the US embassy, foreign journalists accredited to work in the USSR…
  • The USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, APN and the KGB are to prepare and implement certain measures to convey to foreign correspondents accredited with the Ministry of Foreign affairs documentary material that exposes the fabrications of bourgeois propaganda about supposed “cases of human rights violations” in the USSR. In particular, a press conference should be held for Western journalists at which the nature of our policy concerning Jews leaving the USSR should be explained. In cooperation with the USSR Council of Ministers’ Council for Religious Affairs, interviews should be organised between Walker (Great Britain), Dederiks (FRG), Eaton (USA), An-Nauman (Kuwait) and others among the most objective foreign correspondents writing about Soviet realities and Metropolitans Juvenaly and Alexy, the Chairman of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Baptists Logvinenko, and Council general secretary Bychkov, the religious figures Kharksy and Kulakov, the Mufti Babakhanov, during which the assertions of Western mass media about “violations of the rights of believers in the USSR” are shown to be groundless.
  • The USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gosteleradio and the KGB are to aid those Western television journalists who are more objective in their coverage of Soviet policies by organising television broadcasts to West Europe and countries that have an anti-American bent, and with the involvement of leading Soviet political commentators, concerning the practical contribution of the USSR and other States in the revival of the process of detente in Europe.

I did not bother to check whether the journalists conducted those interviews with the Metropolitans of Orthodoxy and the Muftis of Islam. It changes nothing. In those years, the overwhelming majority of newspaper scribblers “wrote objectively about Soviet realities”. Those who tried to be less constrained found themselves censored by their own editors. It was then expected that journalists would write such ecstatic nonsense about the USSR that, it seemed, the paper itself should blush with shame.

I remember the title of one article in a Western (conservative!) newspaper: “Is there life after Gorbachev?” Own up. Who wrote those words? No one will come forward and admit it. If you rubbed the journalist’s nose in it he would deny it. It would be no bad thing to make them eat all those wasted pages that they managed to fill during perestroika.

3.18   A dirty trick

As concerns measures to “compromise the renegades”, they followed as inevitably as rain follows the frogs’ chorus and, of course, helped to force us into the isolation to which we had been doomed by Western Gorbomania. An item in a newspaper, a rumour there, and fewer and fewer doors remained open to us. In the end, they took away those modest subsidies on which independent publications in the USSR depended. This was achieved through a classic sequence of KGB measures.

The National Endowment for Democracy was set up under President Reagan by a decision of Congress as an independent public organisation intended to enable the spread of democracy throughout the world. To avoid any partisan sniping the board of directors was made up of representatives from both the Democrats and the Republicans, from the trade unions and the Chamber of Commerce, and the financial aid was openly distributed and in a deliberately “balanced” fashion. It gave money to black trade unions in South Africa and to Solidarity in Poland, to human rights organisations in Salvador and Argentina and to rights activists in the USSR.

It was all completely open and above board: the list of recipients, a description of their project and the sums they were receiving were published in the foundation’s annual statement. This was sent to the media, to NGOs and to Congressmen. The sums at their disposal were not large. The foundation had an annual total of about 3.5 million dollars to spend on the world, and of this the USSR received about 200,000 dollars a year – while Gorbachev was being given billions. The money was barely enough to help the remaining independent newspapers and magazines to keep going, like the Glasnost bulletin and the weekly Express Chronicle, and to pay for translation and distribution of their materials in the USA. That also was too much for Gorbachev’s “glasnost”.

In 1988, a rankly KGB-style exposé suddenly appeared in the 19 March issue of a little-known, left-wing US magazine called The Nation. It was entitled “US funds for Soviet dissidents, an International Story”. The authors Kevin Coogan and Kathrina van den Heuvel were not against the dissidents, they assured us, but felt concerned that they might be damaged by accepting “funds from the USA”. Soviet conservatives, well known for their paranoia, might use this as an excuse to harm glasnost. Worst of all, it disturbed the authors that we émigrés living in the West and obtaining the money from the US government were putting it to such a use that it “more resembled intelligence gathering than human rights activities”. Having planted this insinuation, the authors were at pains to stress that it was not they who had fabricated this accusation but as two sincerely concerned American journalists they worried that conservatives in Moscow might interpret the relationship in that way and make bad use of it. We Russian émigrés, by our thoughtlessness or self-interest, were not at all concerned about this. In the middle of the article, however, the conservatives and the conditional tense disappeared; a public foundation became the US government; and we were portrayed as merciless exploiters of unsuspecting Soviet dissidents who were concerned only about how to “use the Soviet human rights movement to gather political and military information about the USSR”.

This was exactly what the KGB wanted and had been trying, assiduously, to pin on us for the past 25 years. And, as is the custom with dirty tricks by the KGB, the article was instantly reprinted, in record time, by the Soviet press and left-wing publications around the world. In Denmark, the article appeared in the leftist Information periodical on 12-13 March, an entire week earlier than the US original, and without any ambiguity called itself, “Soviet dissidents are working as US spies “. It also carried a large photo of me in the centre of the piece, although I had not figured strongly in the original. This Danish version was summarised by Sovetskaya Rossiya (24 March 1988) though without the authors’ “concern” about the fate of the dissidents, of course, under the striking title, “Export the information, it’s been paid for”; Za rubezhom (No. 13, 1988), meanwhile, rapidly produced a Russian translation of the original Nation article with a no less sensational title “Espionage under the guise of defending human rights” and sub-headings like “Today’s NTS”, “All is revealed”, etc. And so it continued, in the best traditions of KGB glasnost, from paper to paper, each citing the other, each more outspoken than the last. The campaign went on for six months as the KGB crushed the independent newspapers in the USSR, beating up their staff and destroying their equipment.

Earlier than all the other Soviet publications, however, Literaturnaya gazeta (23 March 1988) in the person of its New York “correspondent” Iona Andronov had bustled into action with a long article entitled “International Life. Pawns in Someone Else’s Game”. I put the word correspondent in inverted commas because it was already well known at the time that Andronov worked for the KGB. Subsequently I found documents in the archives that confirmed his allegiance to that body since at least 1972 when he became the New York correspondent of the KGB magazine New Times (27 January 1972*, St 28/11). Whether he was in too much of a rush to publish his article or too eager to boast of his scoop, it followed from what he wrote that he had been behind the entire operation, perhaps editing the article of those concerned American journalists:

“A local journalist Kevin Coogan told me in greater detail the secrets of the New York publishers behind the pseudo “Glasnost” magazine. He took an interest earlier than I in the grubby background of the new anti-Soviet periodical and discovered semi-conspiratorial information about it. He was aided in this by a staffer at the liberal Nation weekly Katrina van den Heuvel. Their jointly-authored article is ready for next week’s edition of The Nation. In the meantime, Coogan agreed to share his information with Literaturnaya gazeta …”

There ensued an entire saga in which van den Heuvel and Coogan denied this account and protested against the use of their article “to harm dissidents”, while not denying their contacts with Andronov or that he had seen their article before publication, in an early draft. The New York Times took up our case [9], not to speak of more friendly publications that published the indignant reactions of dissidents [10]. But it was in vain, we lost the money nevertheless.

In that sense, the USA is an amazing country. On the one hand, the right to print defamatory material is acknowledged to be a sacred right of the press, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. On the other hand, it is a land of extreme conformists where any criticism of an individual in the press, be it knowingly defamatory, renders him unacceptable, especially when it comes to the provision of public funds – “too controversial” is how they put it in such cases. It is not, you will note, the libeller who becomes controversial but the person he or she has libelled. Naturally, this is widely used by all kinds of leftist good-for-nothings to stop you getting any money. Before this story blew up, when we were dangling by a thread, our pitiful support for the dissidents already irritated the Leftist establishment. Now a welcome excuse had appeared for declaring us “too controversial”.

What should I do? Chastened by my experience, three years earlier, of being accused by New Times (!) of the “murder” of Jessica Savitch (see 3.12: The Party’s most poweful weapon), I did not try to do anything through the American courts. Instead, using the fact that a tiny part of The Nation’s print-run (no more than one hundred copies) was distributed in Britain, I attempted to take them to court there. What unbelievable pretexts they dreamed up to delay and defer the case and keep it out of the courts! I shall not try the reader’s patience in listing these excuses. It is enough to say that the case dragged on for more than five years, passing from one court to another. Finally, it was quietly shelved by the House of Lords, the highest court in the land: the accused had petitioned the upper chamber of the Houses of Parliament to close the case since it had been going on for too long.

I had the pleasure of reading their petitions, masterpieces of cynical and brazen falsehood. We are suffering from nervous exhaustion, they wrote, after waiting to go to court for the past five years. We no longer remember the details of the case, and it would be unjust today to question us under oath. Anyway, everything has changed now and neither the USSR nor the KGB exists, they concluded. What is at dispute? Why stir up the past? I was never able to make them answerable before the law or, at least, to apologise. There was no chance to look the scum straight in the eye. If any of you have the occasion to do so, please do it for me if you meet either of them by chance.


At the end of this long chapter – and, at the same time, of my life – what else remains for me to do but curse those unclean, two-faced creatures in East and West who have deprived my life of meaning and the world of a recovery from such a serious affliction. May they admire their handiwork and rejoice how deftly they fooled everyone. Everyone, I say, and themselves too. For they will hardly feel at ease in a disintegrating world, wallowing in lies. A thief feels safest among honest people, as the liar does among the just: otherwise we would forever be cheating each other and stealing each other’s belongings. And there’s no future in that.

Yet everything could have turned out differently, if only people had displayed an ounce of conscience – no, I dare not put my confidence in that but, at the very least, just a little farsightedness, keeping their minds and eyes on something a little further ahead than the triumph of that moment. Those are the qualities, supposedly, that distinguish us from our nearest relatives among the primates: go back far enough and it is the foundation of our civilisation. Is this not the way it ends, with no desire to think for one minute about the future? Forget the apes with their little brains. Mikhail Gorbachev is no fool. Did he feel content in the 1990s with his Nobel Prize? The cunning he showed and the intrigues he wove – and for what? To cling to power just one more day. He outplayed almost everyone and at the last was surrounded by the sycophants who were his downfall. There was no one to blame but himself. Gorbachev selected and promoted the most despicable of them, squeezing out anyone remotely honest and, finally, he played such a crafty hand that he doomed himself.

But what about our renowned intelligentsia! They also are not stupid; you can find some very bright people in Russia. For centuries, we nurtured our gifted scientists and writers, but it proved all in vain. They all pushed and shoved, trying to get nearer the trough; they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. That was all they had left in their heads, and now there was no feeding trough or anything to fill it with. They retreated to their chilly dachas and sat, throwing volumes of Lenin into the stove, as the mournful wind in the chimney wailed, “It’s all so unfair …!”


One hundred and thirty years before Gogol wrote: Whichever way you look, there’s nothing but swinish faces all around. What could I do if the ecological situation in Russia had not changed for the better in the meantime? Truth to tell, if they gave me a second or a third life I would have achieved no more. I was not seeking victory but had understood too soon [11]:

“Unhappy the country where simple honesty is perceived at best as heroism and at worst as a form of insanity, for in such a country the earth will yield no bread. Unhappy the nation whose sense of dignity has deserted it, for its children will be monsters. And if a handful of people are not to be found in that country, that nation – at least one person who will take their common sin upon himself – then the wind will never return full circle …”

Part Two …



[1] Apart from Bukovsky the Letter of the Ten was signed by writers Vasily Aksyonov, Vladimir Maximov, sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, journalist Eduard Kuznetsov, physicist Yury Orlov, professor of philosophy Alexander Zinoviev and his wife Olga, stage director Yury Lyubimov and mathematician Leonid Plyushch.

[2] See Moscow News Nos 14 and 15 (5, 21 April 1987) for the subsequent discussion of the Letter of the Ten. Its chief editor was Yegor Yakovlev (see 2.1: In the Belly of the Beast).

[3] See Ogonyok (No 13, March 1987), New Times (3 April 1987), Pravda (25 March 1987), Sovetskaya Kultura (1 April 1987) and Leninskaya smena, (April 1987).

[4] “Tempered in battle and labour / on the expanses of our wonderful Motherland / we wrote a joyful song / about our great Friend and Leader.” (1938).

[5] Violation of the laws governing the separation of Church from State, and school from Church.

[6] 11 May 1987 (6/2140)^.

[7] 4 December 1987* (2451-Ch), pp. 6-9.

[8] 11 May 1987 (6/2140)^.

[9] Richard Bernstein, “Exiled Soviet dissidents’ group in dispute over threat to dissenters”, New York Times, 12 April 1988.

[10] Joshua Muravchik, “Glasnost, the KGB and The Nation”, Commentary, November 1988. Includes ten letters of protest from Sergei Grigoryants, Irina Ratushinskaya, Eduard Kuznetsov, Vladlen Pavlenkov, Nadezhda Svetlichnaya, Leonid Plyushch, Mykola Rudenko, Ivan Kovalyov and Tatiana Osipova, Fyodor Finkel, and Irina Grivnina, pp. 16-21.

[11] In Russian Bukovsky’s 1978 memoirs are entitled And the Wind Returns … . See Ecclesiastes, v. 6 (“The emptiness of all endeavour”).