Monday, May 17, 2010

A look inside the Soviet archives and no one seems to care

This is amazing stuff: Claire Berlinski reports on documents smuggled out of Russia about the last years of the Cold War. These are documents from Gorbachev's own files and are an amazing treasure trove of notes from his meetings with foreign dignitaries and from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Simply fascinating stuff. But no western publisher seems to be interested in publishing any of this.

Why wouldn't western researchers and publishers be interested in documents containing such tidbits as Gorbachev's response to the Chinese killing dissidents in Tiananmen Square? Maybe they don't like the real story of how he just shrugged it off. Or his laughter at the news of the Soviets shooting down a Korean jetliner.
For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:
Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?
And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.
And then Berlinski reports on some contacts that western politicians had with the Soviets that don't display those politicians in a great light. And some of them are still involved in foreign affairs today.
There are other ways in which the story that Stroilov’s and Bukovsky’s papers tell isn’t over. They suggest, for example, that the architects of the European integration project, as well as many of today’s senior leaders in the European Union, were far too close to the USSR for comfort. This raises important questions about the nature of contemporary Europe—questions that might be asked when Americans consider Europe as a model for social policy, or when they seek European diplomatic cooperation on key issues of national security.

According to Zagladin’s reports, for example, Kenneth Coates, who from 1989 to 1998 was a British member of the European Parliament, approached Zagladin on January 9, 1990, to discuss what amounted to a gradual merger of the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. Coates, says Zagladin, explained that “creating an infrastructure of cooperation between the two parliament[s] would help . . . to isolate the rightists in the European Parliament (and in Europe), those who are interested in the USSR’s collapse.” Coates served as chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights from 1992 to 1994. How did it come to pass that Europe was taking advice about human rights from a man who had apparently wished to “isolate” those interested in the USSR’s collapse and sought to extend Soviet influence in Europe?

Or consider a report on Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, who led Spain’s integration into the European Community as its foreign minister. On March 3, 1989, according to these documents, he explained to Gorbachev that “the success of perestroika means only one thing—the success of the socialist revolution in contemporary conditions. And that is exactly what the reactionaries don’t accept.” Eighteen months later, Ordóñez told Gorbachev: “I feel intellectual disgust when I have to read, for example, passages in the documents of ‘G7’ where the problems of democracy, freedom of human personality and ideology of market economy are set on the same level. As a socialist, I cannot accept such an equation.” Perhaps most shockingly, the Eastern European press has reported that Stroilov’s documents suggest that François Mitterrand was maneuvering with Gorbachev to ensure that Germany would unite as a neutral, socialist entity under a Franco-Soviet condominium.

Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev—unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition—through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program....

Kinnock was vice president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, and his wife, Glenys, is now Britain’s minister for Europe. Gerard Batten, a member of the UK Independence Party, has noted the significance of the episode. “If the report given to Mr. Gorbachev is true, it means that Lord Kinnock approached one of Britain’s enemies in order to seek approval regarding his party’s defense policy and, had he been elected, Britain’s defense policy,” Batten said to the European Parliament in 2009. “If this report is true, then Lord Kinnock would be guilty of treason.”

Similarly, Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is now the European Union’s foreign minister, was treasurer of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 1980 to 1982. The papers offer evidence that this organization received “unidentified income” from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Stroilov’s papers suggest as well that the government of the current Spanish EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Joaquín Almunia, enthusiastically supported the Soviet project of gradually unifying Germany and Europe into a socialist “common European home” and strongly opposed the independence of the Baltic states and then of Ukraine.
These are the same sorts of European politicians whose approval leftists in the United States worry about maintaining. But they were willing to travel to the Soviet Union and negotiate about spreading socialism under the Soviet model to the rest of Europe.

As Berlinski points out, we wouldn't feel such a lackadaisical attitude if there were now reports coming out that such politicians had held similar talks with Nazi or South African officials or members of the KKK, but there seems to be a big yawn about these documents.

And it wasn't just European politicians. Here is a chilling report about two politicians still prominent today, Senator Richard Lugar and our present Vice President, then Senator Joe Biden.
And what of Zagladin’s description of his dealings with our own current vice president in 1979?
Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for “human rights.” . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.
Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.
There's a question for a persistent reporter to ask either Lugar or Biden if they were giving the Soviets in 1979 the wink-wink, nudge-nudge about dissidents being held in the Soviet Union.

And surely there are some ambitious history professors and their graduate students who would like to delve into these files and write up what they find there. Are there so many treasure troves of unexamined secret documents out there that historians would be uninterested in these materials?

1 comment:

davod said...

Paging John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr!