Instead of Introduction to the collection of documents "Soviet Archvives"
THE NIGHT AFTER THE BATTLE BELONGS TO THE MARAUDERS
1. Back to the Lubyanka.
As fate would have it, this whole treasure came into my hands quite unexpectedly when I, after many months of fruitless endeavor, had given up hope of ever seeing anything. The euphoria of 1991 had evaporated and hopes of rapid changes had faded, not only for the rebirth of the country, but even for something moderately reasonable or merely decent. The restoration of the nomenklatura's power was in full swing, and I had almost made up my mind not to come to Moscow again - not to agonize needlessly over its hopeless squalor.
But there was no peace for me back home in Cambridge, either. The old, familiar world was changing with every moment. As though shaken by the mighty forces of entropy engendered by the collapse of immense structures in the East, it, too, began to disintegrate for no obvious reason. It was as though a mighty hand had plucked out some invisible pivot of our lives, robbing them of meaning and support: an agony of the idea, which had ruled the world for two centuries, broke loose. Instinctively, everyone knows that its death is as inevitable as it is desirable, but it is hard to let go for fear of the unknown, so we continue to mill around on one spot at a total loss. Only the "intellectual elite", with limpet like determination, continues to cling to the shards of a Utopia which has long ago degenerated into an absurdity. Like a centipede with a broken back, it continues to wriggle and jerk, but out of time and synchronization. On the one hand some mythical "new world order", "the global village", "federal Europe": on the other "ecologists", "feminists", defenders of animal and plant rights. And, inevitably, shameless justification of their behaviour during the Cold War. Total chaos. And what I feared most, came to pass: the former cowardly refusal to fight has turned into an inability to recover. The inhuman Utopia fell, but neither spiritual freedom nor honorable thought has risen from the ruins. There is nothing but an absurd, pathetic farce. The unnumbered millions of victims died in vain: humanity did not become better, wiser, more mature...
For Russia, the result was a shoddy tragi comedy, in which former second rate party bosses and KGB generals play the part of leading democrats and saviours of the country from communism. All that was most ugly, rotten and base, which had lurked in the darkest corners of the communist dungeon and survived due to a total absence of conscience, now struts in the center of the stage. They are those whom prison jargon labels "jackals": while there are real gangsters in the cell, they are neither seen nor heard, huddling on the floor under the lowest bunk. But when the ranking thieves are marched off to the camps, the "jackals" emerge and begin to throw their weight around until another real gangster appears, and they dive back to the floor. Looking at this "jackals' democracy" one cannot help recalling Vysotsky's prophetic words:
I live. But I'm surrounded
And in any case, what else could I do? It is incredibly hard to come to terms with the thought that your whole life was lived in vain, and that all efforts and sacrifices were meaningless. So that is why, clenching my teeth and overcoming revulsion, I continued to shuttle to Moscow, meet the new "democratic" leaders and try to persuade them to open up the party archives. And the longer this went on, the harder it became to abandon my idea, although its chances of success lessened with every visit.
The so called "putsch" of August 1991 was hardly over, when I was already in Moscow, trying to prove to the new masters of Russia's fate that to do so was in their own interests. A wounded animal should be killed before it gets its second wind. The main thing was not to allow them a respite for recovery. It is imperative, I said again and again, to create a commission to investigate all the crimes of communism, preferably an international commission, so there could be no accusations of political bias and coverups. The case against the "putschists" could be expanded into a trial of the CPSU. And it should be investigated openly, that is now, without any loss of time, in the full glare of publicity and television cameras, just like the Congressional hearings in the USA...
It was a unique moment, everything seemed possible. The nomenklatura was in disarray and agreeable to anything, fearing only kangaroo courts and public lynchings. Seeing the statue of "Iron Felix" hanging in a noose above its pedestal made their blood run cold. By virtue of this circumstance, it would have been quite possible to convene if not a Nuremberg tribunal, then at least something similar, and, by force of its moral influence on our confused world, even more significant.
The most surprising thing is that this almost happened. Intoxicated by its unexpected victory, the Russian leadership did not look too far ahead, and knew nothing of the external world. But the prospect of finishing off its closest rival seemed both logical and attractive.
"You know," I was told, "it's not a bad idea at all. The only thing is, it shouldn't proceed from us, the government. You should set the ball rolling."
Agreed. The Director of Central Television, Yegor Yakovlev, was summoned hastily and even thought up how to get things off the ground as sensationally as possible: a televised dialogue with the newly appointed head of the KGB, Vadim Bakatin.
It was the beginning of September, Moscow had not yet rallied after the "putsch", there were still barricades around the "White House" and flowers on the Sadovaya Ring marking the spot where three young men had been killed, when we a television crew, Yakovlev and I drove to the notorious building on the Lubyanka. Everything here was just as it had been in my youth: the "Detsky Mir" (Children's World) shop on the corner and the grim KGB building in the center, opposite the "Dzerzhinsky Square" metro station; only "Iron Felix's" empty pedestal bore witness to recent events. It was unbelievably strange to see that pedestal daubed with graffiti such as "Down with the CPSU!" or the communist hammer and sickle with an equal sign joining it to a Nazi swastika. These were removed every night by someone's caring hands, but reappeared inevitably the next day. So it went on for several weeks, until people tired of the game. And then, a carefully inscribed words in white paint appeared on the clean pedestal: "Forgive us Felix for failing to save you". The chekists got the last word, after all.
The guards at the entrance presented arms, either because we were accompanied by Bakatin's assistant, or because this is the standard greeting for "VIP visitors". I could not help recalling how I was brought here 28 years ago, without honors and via the back entrance, where the sergeant on duty was interested only in the contents of my pockets. A whole lifetime had passed between these two visits, if not a whole epoch. However, I felt neither triumph nor pleasure at this memory. On the contrary, a feeling of impotence and the comprehension of a life sacrificed for nothing took on a concrete form:
"I spent my whole life fighting this organization," I thought, "and yet it still stands. And who can say, who shall outlive whom?"
Naturally, Bakatin's choice as interlocutor for me was not a random one. It was known that he was very decisive, and even though his career under Gorbachev had been an unremarkable passage from the post of a regional party secretary to Minister of Internal Affairs, he loathed the department whose head he was now. When Gorbachev offered him the post of KGB head immediately after the "putsch" at the Council of the Presidents of the Union republics, he first refused, saying that "this organization should be dissolved."
"Well, we are charging you to do just that," said Yeltsin. At the time of our meeting, Bakatin had been in his new position for just over a week, but had already removed a whole number of services from the KGB and allocated them to other ministries. As for the nefarious Directorate "Z", the successor of the 5th Chief Directorate which dealt in political repression, this he had closed altogether. He had not had time to become accustomed to his huge new office, and seemed somewhat ill at ease. In any case, when I asked him who had occupied this office before him, he spent a long time, with the air of a schoolboy figuring out a new electronic toy, looking for the right button on his intercom to summon his assistant.
As becomes a real chekist, the assistant appeared noiselessly, like a mushroom from the ground after rain.
"Tell us the history of this office."
No, it had never been occupied by Andropov. His office was in another building. This office had housed Chebrikov, then Kryuchkov...
Bakatin was clearly somewhat embarrassed by his new position, by my visit, and especially by our forthcoming discussion. Obviously, he knew the theme in advance and had no need to fear that I would resort to any dirty tricks. But the television camera, now what would get into the picture?
"What, full view? Even my socks?"
For some reason, the prospect of showing his socks on television was what confused him most.
Preparing for the discussion, I had mentally divided it into three parts, three subjects, which would make it possible to advance the idea of an international commission, moreover in a way which would reduce its likely opponents to a minimum. I already knew that at an earlier press conference Bakatin had spoken against the public exposure of former "stoolies", that is, the KGB's secret informers. I had no real objections to this, because in a country where if not every tenth person was an informer like in the GDR, then every twentieth assuredly was, it would be impossible and senseless to begin with their exposure. Just as senseless, incidentally, as putting each and every member of the CPSU on trial. Firstly, because there was no clearly defined line of demarcation between members and non members of the party, an informer and an ordinary Soviet conformist. With the exception of a handful of "renegades" like us, this was a demoralized country. So what was one supposed to do now? Institute a new GULag?
Bearing in mind the purely legal difficulties, the scope of the problem, the resistance of these very informers and their "bosses", now ensconced at all levels of the present government, it would have been simply impossible to start the process with them. Even in the Czech republic, the only former communist country to have the courage to begin the process of "lustration", the public reaction was sharply negative, and the process became bogged down hopelessly because of the question of informers.
In any case, this would have been useless, if not downright harmful. The aim was not to winnow the more guilty from the less guilty and punish the latter, but to attain a moral cleansing of society. Not mass hysteria, reprisals, denounciations and suicides, which such an investigation would invariably provoke, but repentance. And in order to achieve this, the entire system and the crimes it perpetrated should have been put on trial, while it would have been quite sufficient to pronounce judgment on its leaders, who were already in prison for organizing the "putsch."
On this matter Bakatin and I were in complete agreement, and I deliberately started the discussion with this, in order to demonstrate my total support for his position, and set the right tone for the rest of the encounter. I considered it vital to show the millions of people who would see the program that we, former political prisoners and dissidents, have no desire to seek revenge, that vengeance is not the foundation for my proposals, but interests which are much more far reaching and not at all personal. Moreover, in doing so, I was not being two faced: I honestly do not live in hatred and have no wish to be avenged because I was never anybody's victim: all that happened to me, happened by my own free choice and with a full realization of the consequences.
As for seeking vengeance by prosecuting informers, that would be a total nonsense: unlike most of my fellow citizens (including Bakatin) I knew these people well by those who were deliberately planted into our prison cells, and by the infiltrators who were sent to penetrate our circles. I was fully aware that the majority of them were people who had been broken, or who were blackmailed or threatened into becoming agents for the KGB. Nobody can really know how he will act under extreme pressure, so nobody who has not experienced this on his own skin has the right to judge others. And those who have passed through such an ordeal themselves are usually loath to sit in judgment.
However, if I was prepared to be as lenient as necessary in this matter, two other issues called for total implacability. First and foremost our duty before history to reveal all the secrets hidden in the archives, for which purpose it was proposed to convene an international commission consisting of prominent domestic and foreign historians. In discussing this subject I deliberately lumped together the killing of Kirov, the assassination of J.F. Kennedy and the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in order to make a bridge to the last, main theme the international crimes of the CPSU and the KGB. This subject was still taboo in the USSR. The average Soviet citizen was still supposed to believe that even though the communists were guilty of crimes against their own people, of repressions and destruction of the economy, in external matters they were "just like everyone else", neither better nor worse. A la guerre, comme `a la guerre. The Americans were no angels, either. As for Intelligence well, doesn't every state, even the most democratic one, have an Intelligence Service?
This dangerous delusion, assiduously cultivated at the time by the press and the powers that be had to be exploded, together with the mythical image of a valorous Soviet "intelligence officer", a hero and a patriot. It had to be made perfectly clear that the Soviet Union had no "normal" foreign policy, and that, which it was purported to be, was nothing less than decades of criminal activity against humanity. For this reason, I kept this subject for the end, when our discussion already sounded like a meeting between two old buddies who are in perfect harmony. Then I began to talk about things not known to the average viewer: about Soviet sponsorship of international terrorism, involvement in the narcotics business, the bribing and blackmailing of foreign politicians, businessmen, cultural figures, about the colossal system of disinformation built up by the KGB abroad.
"After all," I insisted, "we have an Intelligence Service apart from the KGB the GRU, military intelligence, which really does deal with military matters. This is a separate case altogether. But the KGB is a political body. It enmeshed an enormous number of foreigners, whom the KGB either bought or blackmailed. This is not a question that can be ignored. I quite understand all the complexities of dismantling such a system, but it cannot be allowed to stand. If we do not get rid of it, our country cannot win trust...We can hardly have a normal state if this body continues to exist...
Furthermore, we have a certain obligation before the international community, and other countries, to help them rid themselves of the evil which this system engendered."
"Of course," I cautioned in closing, "there is also the issue of the security of our own state. For instance, Western experts estimate that the KGB, through its activities abroad, managed to amass such resources, having their own banks, front organizations and enterprises, that it can easily continue to exist and function for at least another decade even if it is closed down in Moscow. Such views exist in the West, and, of course, you cannot simply let the matter slide, for it could turn around and threaten you."
To give Bakatin his due, he did not argue or remonstrate, and when he did answer, he mainly pleaded ignorance. And he could hardly do otherwise, being so new to the job.
"Espionage is the most difficult matter for me at the moment," he mumbled. He has a rather strange manner of speech, a sort of uninflected muttering, with no clear beginning or end. "In this instance, even in my plans of action, in my calendar, my personal calendar, I have transferred intelligence matters to a rather different plane.
I do not think they have any documentation concerning the criminal activities of which you speak. Even if there are some facts about which I know absolutely nothing, that some of them, I don't know, it could be that some of them did engage in this concretely...If this is so, then everything needs to be examined, dismantled...And this is very serious. We don't know much at all about what they do abroad..."
It seemed that if he was not frightened, then he was at least perturbed, especially by what I said about KGB resources abroad, kept repeating that he could not let this pass unnoticed, that all this must be determined and most importantly was prepared to support my idea fully:
"Generally speaking, I agree with you in principle that the truth must be re established. It must at least be determined. But right now, at this moment, I cannot set out the conditions for the convocation of an international commission, I cannot do so," said he at the end of our discussion. "There are also some legal aspects which must be taken into account...It was in our department's interests to keep all this secret, so many did not know. So such a proposal must be accepted in principle. In principle. We must consider, how to go about it."
"Well, Vadim Viktorovich," I said, extending my hand, "I would like to wish you success, express my sympathy, and to shake the hand of the first head of the KGB I have ever met..."
And mea culpa for a moment I actually believed that this could happen: that we would meet again, without any television cameras, discuss the legal aspects of the situation, work out our aims and get down to business... And why not? Yeltsin would sign a decree, I would call up my historian friends from the Hoover Institution, people like Robert Conquest, specialists from the "Memorial" organization in Russia, whistle up some students from the Archives Institute and dig into the documentary cellars. In those days everything seemed possible, days when the hand of the people equalized the hammer and sickle with the swastika on the empty pedestal in the middle of Dzerzhinsky Square.
For a fleeting moment I imagined how this simple equation would become that in our world, which it should have been always a self evident truth, like Orwell's "2+2=4." Such a small, simple thing, yet how much cleaner and more honest our life would become...
But the next moment the vision fled, to be replaced by reality.
"How can this nice mumbler, who is so touchingly embarrassed by the prospect of showing his socks on television, deal with this monster? He will not even have an inkling of what is going on behind his back."
The friend who was waiting for me outside dealt the final blow, hammered the last nail into the coffin by a laconic observation:
"It's people like you who are needed here, not people like him."
2. The Immortal KGB.
Our discussion with Bakatin was shown on television on 9 September, immediately after the news at 9 p.m., and almost in its entirety, with just a few minor unexceptional editorial cuts. The program lasted some 20 minutes, but provoked a turbulent reaction. The response of the press was, overall, favorable, the stress being placed on the "extraordinary" fact of such a dialogue: how the times have changed, how the country has changed! The most popular publications of that time the newspaper Izvestiya and the journal Ogonyok published articles about our meeting with my commentary, in which I tried to develop the subject further Ogonyok, #39, September 21 - 28, 1991, pp. 28-29, an interview by I. Milshtein.. Naturally, there were those who reproached me for being too soft on informers, and especially, for shaking hands with the head of the KGB. I was neither surprised nor upset: in times like these, loud mouths and fools are always hyperactive, and earning political capital with cheap demagogy is their favorite pastime.
It was much more important that my amiable purring did not lull those, whom it concerned most closely the "professionals." They understood all too well what I was driving at, and my calm and friendly tone probably alarmed them much more than threatening tirades or furious demands for retribution would have done. Only a few days later, the head of the First Directorate of the KGB at that time, general Shebarshin, appeared on television and, without mentioning my discussion with Bakatin, assured the viewers in passing, as it were that there could be no sensational exposures about the activities of the KGB abroad. Clearly, this was a signal to "their" people and their numerous "partners" that there was no cause for concern.
Then came a flood of articles by former intelligence officers with "democratic" reputations, aimed at showing that my impression of the scope of their activities was vastly exaggerated.
"...even veteran dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, whose knowledge of the KGB is not merely theoretical, mentioned in passing in his epochal interview with Bakatin that it would be better for our country to limit itself to military intelligence, and put an end to the political one," wrote retired intelligence officer Mikhail Lyubimov in Ogonyok "This is a wise and progressive suggestion, but one wonders how much support it would gain from Western governments, which, apart from military intelligence organizations, have the CIA, the SIS, the BND and Mossad. Bukovsky also advanced a thesis that the external intelligence of the KGB engages in the massive dissemination of disinformation abroad."
This was followed by a detailed denial claiming that there was no enormous disinformation system. Just a few pathetic efforts, a handful of forged documents which fooled nobody but only "provoked anger with their creators".
"I have had enough experience in the sphere of 'active measures' to assert that forgeries are a tiny fraction of intelligence work, the lion's share is devoted to reworking our propaganda in order to give it a 'Western' gloss...Most of this so called work consists of mere pin pricks which go unnoticed in the enormous stream of Western information, they contributed nothing to the Soviet foreign policy interests of the time the vapid and murky policies were headed toward their doom, and could not be saved by either the propaganda or the agitation issuing from 'Western sources'."
In short, there were no such things as a system of disinformation, agents of influence or "forces of peace, progress and socialism." And, like an illustration to this thesis, the Los Angeles Times published an article by a prominent American political scientist (which was reprinted immediately in the Russian journal Kultura), full of the standard KGB disinformation about "dissidents": that they are all crazy extremists, and Bukovsky, to compound the felony, "enters into discourse with the new head of the KGB, as though someone authorized him to do so, and proposes the destruction of the KGB archives so that the names of informers will never become known."
It was hard to say immediately whether this highly respected American gentleman is an agent of influence, or whether he was briefed by one, but Kultura is not likely to be a subscriber of the Los Angeles Times. Much later, when I tried to find the original publication, it transpired that the L.A.Times has never published such an article. It is still a puzzle where did it come from?
Finally, the First Directorate of intelligence was speedily transferred out of the KGB into the newly formed Foreign Intelligence Service, answerable directly to Gorbachev and headed by his friend Primakov. Naturally, there were much more serious reasons for this than our discussion with Bakatin, in the first instance the danger of the breakdown of all Union structures in the process of the Soviet Union's disintegration. But it is clear that there was another reason, specifically to protect intelligence from any investigations and reforms, or, to use the words of the cloak and dagger brigade who strove to this end, to "get rid of the KGB tail." So they dived for shelter behind the broad back of the President, taking their secrets with them.
Bakatin, who, as mentioned earlier, kept deferring this problem to the back of his "personal calendar", was probably only too glad to be rid of it. Admittedly, he made honest efforts later to follow up the crimes committed by his organization that I had spoken about. But wonder of wonders! he was unable to come up with anything substantial. Even with very old matters, offering only historical interest, such as the Kennedy assassination and the attempt on the Pope, it somehow turned out that the poor, maligned KGB had nothing to do with them at all. It even proved impossible to "find" anything new about the persecution of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov only after lengthy wrangling and denials of the existence of any documents, was it suddenly "discovered" that hundreds of files concerning KGB operations had been, allegedly, burnt in 1990.
Bakatin was unable to remove the seal of secrecy from even that small amount which came to light. For instance, the quite innocuous file on the surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald during his stay in the USSR 35 years ago first got stuck in the hands of innumerable committees, then suddenly surfaced in Byelorussia, within the fief of the KGB of the now independent Republic of Belarus. And there it stayed until Bakatin was removed from his post. The KGB apparatus openly acted the fool, not caring whether anyone believed it or not.
I do not know whether Bakatin realized that he was being played for a sucker, but his memoirs "Getting Rid of the KGB", sound rather naive. They certainly got rid of him fast enough, but the KGB remained. Splitting up the KGB into separate directorates and services, which is what Bakatin tried to do during his hundred days as head of the KGB, was as pointless as chopping off a lizard's tail or dividing amoeba. The result was that every unit regenerated itself and even expanded, just like the fairy tale in which every dragon tooth grows into a new dragon. Those archives were the essence of the KGB, the heart of the dragon, hidden behind seven seals. The only way to vanquish the beast was to pierce its heart, but the hero of the story, who was supposed to accomplish this magnificent feat, went on a drunken spree instead. Yeltsin, who had signed a decree straight after the "putsch" transferring the KGB archives to the Russian archive administration, seemed to lose all interest in this matter (as in all other matters of importance to the country). An interdepartmental committee was appointed to handle the transfer of the archives, in which KGB personnel gravely discussed "problems of transfer", and, not surprisingly, could find no solutions to them. It's a complex matter, isn't it? Another Supreme Soviet committee was formed, headed by a stalinist general, the "historian" Volkogonov there must be a "legal basis" when all is said and done, how can anything be done "lawlessly"? It was no trifling matter to decide whether to set the seal of secrecy at 30 or 70 years period. So the merry go round began to spin, and is spinning still. As for the documents not a single one has been transferred to this day. Meanwhile, mysterious "commercial structures" began to appear around the archives and a brisk trade in documents ensued, but only those which profit the KGB, and only through the reliable hands of those who suit the KGB. And again, double dyed disinformation was turned loose upon the world, this time under the guise of historical truth...
3. In the Belly of the Beast.
I was neither discouraged nor caught at a disadvantage. Even before the meeting with Bakatin, I had placed no great hopes on the KGB archives, but concentrated my attention on the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which were sealed immediately after the "putsch" with the Central Committee building on the Old Square (Staraya Ploschad). Firstly, they were already in the hands of the Russian leadership, with which I had at least some contact. Secondly, I knew that these archives would contain everything, including reports by the KGB which, as was always maintained, was merely "the cutting edge of the party", its "armed brigade." In the post Stalin era, at least, the KGB was under the iron control of the Central Committee, and could undertake nothing significant without Central Committee approval.
So a few days after arriving in Moscow in August 1991, thanks to contacts within the Russian leadership, I met the head of the goverrnment's Committee on Archives, Rudolf Germanovich Pikhoya, to establish out the principles of the work of the future international commission. And a few days later, with a certain degree of elation and trepidation, I entered the huge complex of buildings of the Central Committee on Kuybyshev street No.12 (nowadays Ilyinka), where both the archives and the archive administration were housed. The buildings, which are linked by endless corridors and elevated walkways, seemed dead. The archive administration occupied only one floor of No.12, the rest was like the labyrinth of the Minotaur, the entrance and exit of which could not be found without Ariadne's thread. The superb parquet flooring of the corridors seemed to stretch into infinity past sealed office doors which still bore the name plates of their former occupants, erstwhile omnipotent apparatchiks. Here and there, mounds of files and papers marked "top secret" lay right on the floor. I picked up one at random and glanced at the contents: it was a report by some regional party committee about youth work. For a second, I felt a pinch of apprehension: what if there is nothing here other than such endless accounts of fulfilled plans and propagandist activity? Moscow had been full of rumors about the mass destruction of documents, about mysterious trucks which had removed bales of papers several nights in a row after the "putsch"...
Pikhoya reassured me. Yes, some papers really were destroyed, but they were, seemingly, operative documents concerning the "putsch." The archives themselves, as far as it was possible to judge, had not suffered. The decree ordering the seizure of the party archives was signed by Yeltsin on 24 August, and the commission with the new guards entered the Central Committee buildings that same night. At first, the electricity supply was cut off to prevent any use of shredding machines, but then it had to be turned on again, because it was impossible to find anything in the dark. The shredding machines were already jammed with hurriedly destroyed documents and not in working order.
"The first step was to seal the doors to all the offices," said Pikhoya, "and now we are bringing all the papers from the offices into one large room, where we sort and number them. Nobody can remove anything from here, and, in fact, it is impossible for the old personnel to enter the building, even to collect personal belogings. The guards were all re aced by cadets from the militia academy in either Vologda or Volgograd."
It was a fact that all the entrances and exits were manned by sturdy young men with submachine guns. We literally stumbled into one of them, a strapping young fellow with a childish, bewildered face, as we turned a corner:
"Can you tell me where the canteen is?" he asked pleadingly. "I've been wandering around for half an hour, and still can't find it..."
As it turned out, the former CC buffet in the basement had survived, but it was empty of any tempting, hard to come by delicacies. Whatever else the staff of the CC might have overlooked at the last moment, it wasn't a stick or two of smoked sausage.
Experience showed that it was well nigh impossible to destroy any archive material selectively, or, for that matter, to forge it. In the first place, because to date it had been established that there were at least 162 archives, totally unconnected to each other by cross referencing in card indexes or by computer: the communist regime trusted nobody, even its own apparatus. It would take months of searching just to establish whether there were any copies of a document from one archive in another, or a reference to a document the original of which was housed elsewhere. And even if it were established that a copy existed, it would be extremely difficult to change anything: every archive had its own "inventory", the documents were numbered consecutively, had reference numbers and a register of all incoming and outgoing papers. The bureaucratic state did not stint on paper, probably that is why it was always in short supply. Just the archive containing a listing of all party members, the so called "united party ticket", consisted of 40 million items. As for party archives throughout the whole country they numbered billions of documents.
I went into one of these archives consisting of the personal dossiers on CC nomenklatura out of sheer curiosity, together with a group of journalists invited by Pikhoya. An immense room with high, figured ceilings before the revolution this had been either a bank or an insurance company was filled with metal stacks on sliding rails. The central control panel, located on a dais at the entrance to the room, had dozens of buttons, pressing which would cause the needed stack to shift slowly, exposing shelves covered with personal dossiers. There were up to a million files, concerning the living and the dead, Politburo members and ordinary CC staff.
This particular archive soon became a showpiece: it was here that foreigners, journalists and high ranking visitors were brought to demonstrate the daring and democracy of the new custodians of party secrets. Journalists were usually shown the files on Voroshilov, Mikoyan and, occasionally, Sholokhov, drawn as if at random from the shelves. This was effective and safe. In reality, the administrators of the archive were in no hurry to lay bare its mysteries, let alone to fight for their publication. They were no fighters just typical Soviet bureaucrats who had built their careers under the old regime, cowardly and cunning, like all slaves. Their attitude toward the authorities, their overlords, was a slave's mixture of fear and hatred, and the more they hated, the more they wanted to cheat their masters in some way. So they regarded the unexpected bounty that fell into their hands as their personal windfall, to be guarded jealously from all "outsiders."
Even the standard bureaucratic types were represented in their midst, just like in any Soviet department. One acted out the part of the honest party faithful, waging relentless war against "corruption", but was finally caught selling documents to journalists. Another appeared as a man of the intelligentsia civilized, fond of discussing abstract values, talking about our duty to history, even though it was common knowledge that he was not above "allowing" foreign colleagues access to certain secret papers in return for invitations to speak at international conferences, thereby earning himself a reputation as "a prominent historian". It never entered any of their heads that all this was dishonest, shameful or reprehensible. What can be done if Soviet people have no conscience? There's not a fiber in their brain which retains some traces of moral norms.
It stands to reason that from their point of view, I was an "outsider", like a thief eyeing their riches, and from whom they tacitly agreed to protect their "personal property". Moreover, they simply could not understand my motives what was it I was after, anyway? Was I trying to get a cut for myself? The mere thought of handing over all this bounty to humanity with no profit seemed to them a madness comparable with a banker handing out money to all and sundry in the streets. As I had come to them under the aegis of their new "masters", their initial attitude to me was predictable: nobody dared direct refusal who knows who's backing him, after all? so they agreed with me in everything just in case, but managed to invent new excuses for delay every day. First they claimed it was necessary to await the promulgation of new legislation concerning state secrets; then that the proposal to convene an international commission required approval by the legislature, and so on. Their main concern was to have the matter placed into the hands of innumerable Supreme Soviet committees, where it would sink without a trace in endless debates conducted by yesterday's party bosses, who had undergone a metamorphosis and emerged as today's "elected representatives of the people."
Finally I became totally fed up, time was pressing and I could wait no longer so I was forced to have a harsh and candid talk with Pikhoya, to explain to him that he and his underlings hold no copyright to history, and never will. He defended himself rather limply, mainly by reiterating the need for a relevant "law", talking of the generally accepted 30 year moratorium on state secrets in other countries, England for example. The trouble is that the Soviet people know everything about the West, especially that which they shouldn't know. However, he had no choice but to sign our "agreement", albeit with a marked lack of enthusiasm:
"On the International Commission to study the activities of Party structures and state security bodies of the USSR.
1. Archive materials concerning the activities of the CPSU and state security bodies have been made available pursuant to Decrees #82 and 83, signed by the Russian President on 24.08.91. It is acknowledged that the activities of these organizations were of an international nature and concerned the interests of many countries. In view of this circumstance, the engagement of only domestic experts would be insufficient to deal with this complex of problems. Moreover, foreign archives contain materials which would be valuable in increasing the scope of the study of the history of the abovementioned organizations. The inclusion of foreign scholars in the examination would also lend credibility to the findings of the Commission. As a result of the above, on the initiative of the Archive Committee of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR, the following have agreed to form an international commission for a full and detailed study of the archive materials which have become available:
- The International Archive Council (Paris);
- The Hoover Institution of Peace, War and Revolution (Stanford, California)
- American Enterprise Institute (Washington);
- Research Department of Radio Liberty (Munich);
- Russian University of Humanities;
- Scientific Informational and Educational Center "MEMORIAL"
The Commission will involve foreign and domestic experts in its work on both temporary or full length basis.
The Commission will not concern itself with current defence matters, with persecution of any individuals because of their former activities or causing damage to any country whatsoever.
The aim of the Commission is to carry out a comprehensive and objective study of all the abovementioned materials and let history be the judge.
In pursuit of this aim, the Commission reserves the right to draw necessary materials from other document storages (archives).
2. Organizational Principles
The Commission per se composed of representatives of the founder organizations listed above, which decides all administrative and financial questions.
Working groups organized on the principle of specific activities (thematic, chronological, etc.) with input from invited experts.
The founder organizations undertake the financing of the program and will take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the materials issued for its work.
The Commission undertakes to use any possible income from publication of any of the materials to finance its work and to support archive activity.
As a result of its studies, the Commission proposes to computerize the archive materials and publish them as collections of documents or monographs.
R.G. Pikhoya V.K. Bukovsky
The italicized phrase in the document was written in by hand by Pikhoya, just in case: the Commission may or may not come into being, but the "initiative" must be credited to his Committee, as if to stress: everything belongs to me, anyway, and I'm the boss around here!
So after a month of rushing around Moscow, I flew home with a faint hope that my idea would bear fruit. There was no definite decision, no certainty that the people I had met were reliable, no supporters. Just one sheet of paper with Pikhoya's signature what was it really worth?
But I was unable to achieve anything else. In that phantom kingdom, nothing was certain, nothing was final. Everything could change at any moment. Even promises made publicly were no longer considered binding. Nobody could say for sure who was in power today, and what they would decide, let alone predict tomorrow. The feeling was that a person exists while you clutch him by the sleeve, and the minute you let go, he disappears, dissolves: one moment he's there, the next moment he's gone. The only person who seemed stable in that situation was Yeltsin.
"Now it's all up to President Yeltsin," I told journalists before my departure. "As soon as he gives the go ahead, we'll start work."
4. A Drunken Wedding.
Time passed, but there was no improvement. The Russian leadership was fully paralyzed, as though it had expended the sum of its energy during the three days of the "putsch." It is a unique historical fact that Yeltsin did absolutely nothing during his first hundred days in power. For a while, he dropped out of sight completely: some said that he was drinking, others that he had gone off somewhere to rest. But even when he reappeared, he was unable to devise either a program of action, or set concrete goals. First he started reshuffling the old bureaucratic pack of cards, which only made it expand, then rushed off with his whole entourage to the Caucasus with the intention of reconciling the Armenians and the Azeris; he would proclaim a state of emergency in Chechnya one day, and then rescind it the next. The whole country, like a rudderless ship in a storm, raced along at the mercy of winds and waves. Or, rather, like a drunken wedding party doing a round of all the taverns in the town with music and gypsies. At least, this is a fair picture of the way Yeltsin's entourage lived at that time, in a constant round of all sorts of feasts and routs. It was impossible to get hold of anybody, either at home or in their offices. I spent weeks of wearing fingers to the bone dialling Moscow numbers until I stumbled onto the rhythm of this dolce vita more or less by chance. Apparently, all of Moscow was engaged in "presentations", a word borrowed from the English, but meaning just about any kind of social "eat and drink" gathering in the Moscow context, be it to mark the opening of some new center or firm, or some anniversary or other. And milling about in a crowd with a glass in one hand and a smoked salmon sandwich in the other is not conducive to reaching agreements on serious matters.
In the meantime, events were developing in a manner highly unfavorable for my plans. The nomenklatura was reviving visibly, and filling the vacuum at the top. This was done quite openly, to the accompaniment of assertions in the press that the governing of the country should be left in the hands of the "professionals". The tone was even rather demanding, to the effect that the old regime had not allowed the professionals free rein, and now the new authorities were heading in the same direction. And it was somehow overlooked that there were never any "professionals" involved in the government of the Soviet Union apart from professional "builders of communism", that is the nomenklatura. It was they who wrecked the country, bankrupted its economy, and finally could not even organize an effective putsch.
Consequently, the investigation of these comrades - the putschists - fizzled out. Before leaving at the end of September I managed to make a television program for Russian television under the title "Two Questions to the President" in order to promote the idea of opening an investigation on "the case of the CPSU." We suggested organizing it on the Watergate model, where there were two key questions: what did the President (in our case Gorbachev) know, and when did he get to know it? These were not idle questions, as there were growing indications that Gorbachev knew of everything in advance, and the so called "putsch" was his attempt to declare a state of emergency while hiding behind the backs of his comrades. Our program, conducted on the same parallel, suggested the necessity of a Watergate type public hearing.
Yet even this seemingly self evident idea sank in the overall Russian chaos. On one hand, Yeltsin did not get around to making a decision, on the other the newly bouyant nomenklatura, including elements of Yeltsin's entourage, swept everything under the rug of innumerable "investigation committees" which consisted, naturally, of "professionals." As a result, the leaders of the August 1991 "putsch" are at liberty, and will probably never be brought to trial. Instead of a court hearing, there was a rather feeble Supreme Soviet hearing in October 1991, at which some of the delegates did call for a more comprehensive investigation of the circumstances of the "putsch" and even of the entire activity of the CPSU, but their communist colleagues, naturally, objected. A three ring circus, no less! Since when has it been obligatory to seek a criminal's consent before putting him in the dock?
It is curious that the prospect of an examination of the criminal activities of the CPSU did not arouse any enthusiasm even among the "moderate" public. For some reason, people were particularly concerned about the international aspect. Some facts had come to light during various investigations, mainly about the communist parties, and not very significant ones, at that for instance, about the pumping of millions of dollars from the state coffers into "firms of friends." Yet this was already enough to cause an outcry:
"Judging by all, the investigation will yield a great many documents of this nature," wrote Izvestiya "and it is impossible to estimate the consequences of this work, for the scandal seems likely to spill over into the international arena, have a serious effect on the careers of many politicians, affect the activity of foreign communist parties and many commercial structures, raised on the financial leaven of the CPSU."
Alas, homo sovieticus cannot hear such words as "foreign" and "abroad" without wetting his pants. Yeltsin proved to be no exception: on 14 January 1992 he signed a decree "On the protection of state secrets of the Russian Federation", which reinstated practically all the norms of secrecy of the former USSR. When I returned to Moscow in March of 1992, I encountered an example of typical Soviet window dressing: on one hand, there was the triumphant opening of the "Centre of Contemporary Documentation" in the Archive Committee, which allegedly contained the party archives and made them available for public scrutiny. As a result of Pikhoya's efforts, this had been trumpeted in the domestic and foreign press as the latest milestone on the road to new democracy. And it is true that after getting a pass, one could go up to the second floor of the former Central Committee building, into the reading room, and even have a look at the inventory lists of the documents. On the other hand, this was where the democracy of the new Russian authorities came to an abrupt end, because no actual documents of any interest could be drawn and studied. Actually, even before you were allowed to look at the inventory lists, you were instructed in the "rules" of the Center, which meant that in accordance with Yelsin's decree, the following documents were inaccessible:
1. All documents after 1981;
2. All materials concerning decisions made by the Secretariat of the Central Committee after 1961;
3. All materials with "special file" classification;
4. All materials concerning the International Department, The Foreign Cadres Department, the International Information Department, The Administrative Organs' Department, the Central Committee's Defence Industry Department, and documents of the KGB and GRU after 1961.
If you really wanted to, you could acquaint yourself with plenums on agriculture or the fulfilling of five year plans. If not, then not. I was even denied access to those documents which concerned me personally, my fate, my life, and which were listed in the inventory among the decisions of the Secretariat. As for some "international commission" forget it! In vain did I waved our agreement under Pikhoya's nose, pointing out his signature: he merely glinted at me with his spectacles and reiterated:
"That's no longer valid."
His signature on an agreement forwarded shortly after I left Moscow and signed in October with our founder organizations proved equally "invalid". Presumably the same applies to all other "agreements" he signed with other organizations, to whom he intended to "sell the same goods" over and over behind our backs. There was about a dozen of them, each one of which had proudly announced to the press that it had obtained exclusive access to party secrets. A month or so later, the same claim would be made by yet another equally triumphant body. There is nothing surprising in this, because Pikhoya's dream was as simple as it was unattainable: to make lots and lots of money without letting a single document out of his hands and, God willing, not bring down his bosses' wrath on his head. He dreamt of millions of dollars to be made in exchange for accounts of youth work conducted by the party, sold to crowds of eager buyers with the air of a benefactor to mankind. As was to be expected, he ended up with nothing, and took umbrage at the West as a whole.
"Those sons of bitches," he complained bitterly (to me, of all people!), "They all want exclusive rights. Well, now I won't give anything to anyone!"
Undoubtedly, the 30 year moratorium ("just like in England") so favored by him, was enshrined in Yeltsin's decree not without Pikhoya's assistance. After all, only that which is "forbidden" has a market value, only that would become his "personal property" to do with as he wished. The permitted materials aroused no interest, because they would have to be issued free of charge.
So my idea of a "historical Nuremberg" perished stillborn, and with it the possibility of a fitting conclusion to the biggest war waged by mankind. Nobody in our immense country, devastated by that war, was moved by a sense of duty to history, to truth, to the memory of its victims. Nobody evinced any interest apart from the carrion crows which appeared from nowhere to tear at the fresh corpse. Bureaucratic nonentities, who suddenly found themselves occupying seats of power, pandered to their own feelings of self importance by exercising a free hand with something to which they had no moral right: our heritage. Insignificant nobodies who had worn through the seats of their pants by sitting in party committees denied us, who had borne the brunt of the great struggle, the possibility to learn the whole truth about our lives. Was I to endure this, too?
Leaving Moscow again at the end of March, I gave a number of biting interviews, pulling no punches. So that, I said, is the real nature of your "democracy", which has risen in defence of communist secrets.
"Can you imagine a 30 year moratorium being placed on all Nazi documentation after the fall of Germany? The new Germany did not hide the old Germany's secrets. When one makes a serious break with the past, there is no need to conceal that past."
Even Izvestiya did not pluck up enough courage to publish this interview for a couple of weeks. I thought that they would never get around to it. To hell with them all! An effective slap in the face can only be administered to someone who has some sense of honor, so my words would have been wasted, anyway.
In all honesty, I had no intention of going to Russia again.
5. Dialectics Not According to Hegel.
As the Russian saying goes, one wouldn't have luck if not for a disaster: by the spring of 1992 the communists had become brazen enough to lodge an appeal in the Constitutional Court of Russia against Yeltsin's decree outlawing the CPSU.
To an impartial observer, this must have looked like a bad joke one group of communists litigating with another group of communists about the constitutionality of the ban on their former party, in a court all of whose members were also former communists. And this, mark you, in a country without a current Constitution, only the old Constitution of the former USSR, which the law-makers could not agree to replace and, therefore, have amended several hundred times. A situation like this beggars the inadequate imagination of Kafka and reduces Hegel's conception of dialectics to childish babble.
However, for Yeltsin and his entourage, this was no joke. The possibility of the court accepting the appeal was a real one (at least seven of the twelve judges were openly sympathetic to the CPSU), and the consequences could be positively horrifying. Apart from political complications, it would have meant the return of the "divided" former "party property" (including the Central Committee complex on the Staraya Ploschad, which was now newly occupied by the Russian leadership), to say nothing about the party archives. So it stands to reason that in his address to the US Congress in the summer of 1992, Yeltsin cited this court case as one of the most urgent problems facing the country.
Alarm, even panic siezed all the President's men. And this led to what I had spent almost a year trying to achieve: the CPSU archives were opened, at least in part, and I, who had been hurriedly summoned to Moscow as an expert witness to the proceedings, received access to them. That was the categorical condition I made, payment, if you like, for my participation in the pending farce.
As was to be expected, our aims were somewhat different: the commission selecting documentation from the archives was only seeking illustrations of the "unconstitutional" activities of the former party leadership, and the materials they chose were insufficient for a systematic study. It was a miscellaneous collection of documents relating to different periods and grouped pretty much at random into 48 volumes under general headings such as "Violations of human rights", "Terrorism", "Corruption" and so on.
Moreover, the general feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity in the country was reflected in the composition of the commission and its methods of work. If neither the President not the Government could come up with a clear definition of Russia's interests, decisions concerning what was still a state secret and what was not were made ad hoc by these functionaries with party pasts, whose reasons were at times positively surreal. For instance, I learned by chance that it had been decided not to lift the seal of secrecy from a list of Western journalists who were on the KGB payroll. Obviously, I wanted to find out why.
"How on earth could we reveal this?" was the response. "After all, these people are still alive..."
But the most outstanding characteristics of these people were their staggering ignorance and provincial mentality. These people, who represented the new political elite, the brain trust of Yeltsin's team, his closest and most trusted advisors, simply knew nothing about the outside world. I chanced to see the minutes of one of their meetings, where it was recorded that it was decided not to unclassify a document concerning the KGB's financial assistance to Rajiv Gandhi. It later emerged that the members of the commission did not know that Rajiv Gandhi was long dead, and they feared that if the document were to become public, it could provoke an unrest in India!
In any case, strictly speaking, this commission saw only what it was given to see. In other words, matters which could no longer be concealed. In the shifting world of the communist twilight, nothing is really what it seems. Among other things, the staff of the archive, without whom no commission would be able to find anything, were often former CC technical personnel, and would have got there jobs, in most cases, through high Party connections, sometimes even relatives. Moreover, it is hard for such people to overcome the reflex habits arising from years of working in the most secret repository of the most secret state on earth. As a result, any searches for documents come up against the silent but stubborn resistance almost sabotage, in some cases of archive staff to issue any of the materials entrusted to them, a reluctance which can be encountered in the archives of normal countries, too. In this case, the reluctance of some was fortified by fear, of others by the typical Soviet aim of extracting the most profitable personal benefit from anything within their jurisdiction, of others still by political sympathies, and in some it was a classical manifestation of the desire of a petty bureaucrat to exercise his powers to the utmost and humiliate anybody seeking his services. All this, in sum, constituted an insurmountable obstacle. Those staffers who behaved like normal people and were willing to cooperate with researchers could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
It is not hard to imagine what the commission's members had to go through to scrape up those 48 volumes. They began work in April, straight after the matter was taken up by the Constitutional Court, yet when I arrived at the end of June, things had just barely begun to move. Documents dribbled in all summer and autumn, some of them were "found" toward the end of the process, and only because of Yeltsin's personal intervention. Yet some remained forever "unlocated". I was able to appreciate the difficulty of extracting any information when, dissatisfied with what the commission was "finding", I began to demand supplementary documentation. Nobody refused me directly, but documents and culprits alike remained elusive. And what can one say to a bland assertion that this or that document cannot be found? It is true that location of documentation in the CC archives is not a simple matter, as the holdings consist of several billion bits of paper.
The matter was complicated further by the circumstance that the archive had been split up, and its most important part the archive of the Politburo, with all its decisions and minutes of meetings from 1919 had been transferred to the Kremlin in 1990 and amalgamated with Gorbachev's Presidential archive. It was physically impossible to get in there without special permission from Yeltsin, who had inherited it along with the Kremlin at the end of 1991. In the main CC archive it was at least possible to check the inventory lists (i.e. a kind of catalog or register giving the date, reference number and title of a CC decision) before trying to secure a document, but the Politburo archive was totally inaccessible. Obviously, one cannot request the issue of a document if one does not know of its existence. The staff of the Presidential archive were openly mocking in their reply to my detailed queries: "No document found. Can you give us the date and reference number?", knowing full well that I could not possibly do so.
The Central Committee archive was not much better: the inventory gives only an approximate idea of the content of a document, in most cases, just its official title along the lines "Query from the International Department" or "Memo from the KGB of such and such a date." So you have to sit there and guess, do you need this document or not? Is it worth weeks and months of determined effort to secure it? And more often than not, after you have jumped through innumerable hoops, the document turns out to be useless. Just like the fisherman in the Russian fairy tale, you cast his net into the sea, and it comes up full of nothing but seaweed...
I had to employ all my prison experience of methodical struggle with the bureaucratic machine. Every time, I had to reach the "top" and organize pressure from there on the lower ranks, invent countless reasons why I needed this or that particular document for my appearance in the court. I think there wasn't a trick I didn't try. From the arsenal of our prison stratagems, there was only one which I consciously never employed: bribery. Maybe I am wrong, but it seemed to me that it would be too demeaning to descend to this level, as it would have been offensive to, say, a former inmate of a Nazi concentration camps to try to buy documents indicting the Nazis from the SS. The thought that the scum who built their former well being on our bones would derive profit now from their erstwhile activites was too repugnant to contemplate. Regretfully, I must confess that there were times when, infuriated by the sabotage practiced by these dregs of humanity, I would think longingly about how, had I the power, I would take them out into the yard in small groups, put them up against the wall, and shoot them. Then go back inside and ask in a quiet, even voice: "Now, how about that document? Has it turned up yet? No?" and take the next group out to the yard.
I do not know whether I had simply forgotten the servility of the Soviet people, their dishonesty and willingness to bow only to force, or whether their final demoralization occurred during the fifteen years that I was out of the country. But whatever the reason, I found that I could not deal with them without a constant feeling of revulsion. They seemed to be some sort of hybrid Gogol's heroes with the psychology of Dostoyevsky's personages, aggravated by 75 years of Soviet life. I am amazed by the thoughtlessness of Western businessmen who scurry to enter "eastern markets" at a time when even I find it hard to distinguish the motives of my former fellow countrymen. These motives, even on a casual, surface encounter, are incredibly numerous and, more often than not, completely irrational. Take, for example, the nondescript, nervously sweating man who came up to me in a corridor in the archive complex, motioned me into his office and surreptitiously showed me a bundle of documents. What does he want? I thought. Why is he doing this?
"Can I copy these?"
"Heavens, no, under no circumstances..." Hands raised in horror, desperation in his eyes.
"Can I read them?"
"Give them a glance...maybe you'll need something..."
The documents were nothing special, I had seen much more interesting ones. These I can do without, they do not tell me anything really new, but it seems awkward to just stand up and leave what does he want? I feel sorry for him, too he tried, even now he's in a lather from his own daring? From nervousness? From the stuffiness in the room?
"And if I do need them?"
I feel somehow dirty, any moment now I'll probably start sweating, too. Does he want money? Praise? Love? I don't know. I'm almost prepared to divert from my usual practice and give him some money, just to put an end to the situation. But what if he takes offense? What if he's acting from the heart, and not out of mercenary considerations?
"So I can't copy them?"
"No, no, impossible..."
A long, painful pause.
"You need some help?" Sure enough, I've offended him. He purses his lips and sweats even more profusely. Devil take it, what was I supposed to do? What did I misunderstand in that mysterious Slavic soul? Maybe he genuinely wanted to help me, and this was the only thing he could think of? Or maybe, having lived all his life in unswerving obedience to the regime, he has suddenly rebelled, and accomplished an enormous feat of courage by showing me those papers? Only the courage was insufficient to let me copy them?
Actually, those who actively hated me or secretly sympathized with my aims were, in both cases, a minority. Most of the staff, that ever present "silent majority", was completely indifferent to my work in the archive. Even the curious matter of my presence in the former building of the Central Committee (where the archives were housed after the August 1991 "putsch"), whose walls were still hung with portraits of Marx and Lenin and doors bore name plates like "Deputy sector head, Perepelkin G.V." did not affect them in any way. In fact, all the changes taking places in the country were perceived by them as nothing more than yet another change of bosses. I realized quite soon that their attitudes to me varying from sycophantic willingness to please one day, polite indifference the next and cold formality on the day after that did not signify anything personal, but were a precise reflection of which way the wind was blowing in the higher echelons of power. In time I became so accustomed to this, that I used it to gauge the political climate in the country at a given time and could reach an unerring conclusion as to which side in the permanent Russian struggle for power had the upper hand that day. Moreover, having determined the latest moves at the top, I could predict unfailingly whether I would or would not be given some document.
Sad as it is, it looks as though the "silent majority" in the whole country is the same, accustomed as it is to being merely the corps de ballet of the performers at the centre of the stage. How could these people possibly be transformed by some "democratic innovations" or "market relations"? In this kingdom of functionaries, where a bureaucrat became a poet and a poet a bureaucrat, the interpretation of "democratic ideas" was very idiosyncratic: as the right of a functionary to disobey his direct superior, having proclaimed the "sovereignty" of his region, city, enterprise. But no common interest came to replace blind obedience: the idea of "the common good" had been exploited too long and too brazenly by the communists. As a result, the country, society, falls apart without the support of vertical connections. Yet every separate shard retains Soviet mentality, with all its servile system of relations.
It is no better with those who came to believe in "market relations." It is hard to imagine human material more unsuited to business. First and foremost, Soviet man believes that any "business" is founded on the cheating of one side by another. Otherwise, how does one make a profit? At whose expense? If this had been considered prejudicial, even criminal, in earlier times, it has now, at the whim of Russian history, become the norm. This is perceived as the "capitalism" which was proscribed by the communists for so long because they wanted to keep its benefits for themselves. The way it was with black caviar and quality smoked sausage: they didn't give it to the people in order to eat it themselves.
This is no joke, it is a sad reality. It is simply impossible to explain to a Soviet man that business can only function properly when it benefits EVERYBODY. Talk of honesty, of the principle that a businessman's reputation is his most important asset elicits the same sardonic grimace as Soviet propaganda in earlier times did: yes, all this must be said for the form's sake, it's ideology, but in practice...
Born in falsehood, raised on deceit, Soviet man is firmly convinced that the world is created on the principle of a "matrioshka" doll: what is on the outside is just an illuson "for fools", whereas what is inside, "real", is completely different. As he fears to appear a fool more than anything else in the world, the idea of reaching an agreement with him, let alone doing business together, is mind boggling. After all, he must first determine, what is "really" behind your offer, who is standing behind you, and who is standing behind them, and so on, right down to the last "matrioshka."
Therefore, even before you've opened your mouth, he is already firmly convinced that you intend to cheat him, while his aim is to cheat you. What kind of a basis is this for any business? At best, like Gogogl's Korobochka, he will go off to find out "the going price for dead souls", and will do his utmost to sell the same consignment of goods to several persons at once. At worst, he will try to "sell" something he does not have, or "buy" something without paying a kopeck. The latter option is his idea of business virtuosity, an achievement of which only the smartest can boast: if the aim of business is to buy at a lower price and sell for a higher one, then the ideal is straight out theft. And when he finally ends up with nothing, he takes umbrage at the whole world.
If this description does not fit the majority of people in today's Russia, it nevertheless applies to a very great number. Unfortunately, their superiors are no better, all those Pikhoyas with their naive get rich quick schemes. What did he gain from all his efforts, intrigues, worthless "agreements" with Western institutions? All to end up like the dog in the manger. Now, in view of the Constitutional Court hearing, the "biggest boss" forgot about his decree, and the vaunted 30 year moratorium, and demanded the opening of the storehouse, forcing Pikhoya, the very picture of a dekulakised peasant, to give up "his" property. For, despite all his ambitions, he was (and remains) only a storeman, charged with looking after goods belonging to someone else.
He was a pathetic sight. I thought he would have a seizure at any moment. In fact, he did take to his bed with a heart attack or maybe he feigned one in a last desperate effort to weasel out, who can say? But his heartless superiors dragged him out of bed and to the archive open up and search! When did the Russian leadership care about anyone's heart attacks? So Pikhoya, clutching his chest and swallowing pills, searched. And I, acting through his bosses a deal is a deal, if you want my help, you open the archives extracted document after document from him.
Only four months earlier he had refused to show me something which concerned me personally: the Central Committee decisions as a result of which I was thrown into prisons and expelled from the country. Now, timidly and almost without protest, he opened even "special files", KGB reports, International Department documents. The Holy of Holies of the Central Committee.
"You see, Rudolf Germanovich," I could not resist saying to him once when there was just the two of us in the rest room of the Constitutional Court, "remember, how you used to declare - 'nobody', 'never'...Was it worthwhile resisting so much in order to have to give up everything now?"
"Never mind, " he muttered glumly, "this madness with the court will end sooner or later, and everything will return to normal."
He was right. The court ended, and by spring 1993 my "golden rain" ceased as unexpectedly as it had begun. The archives were shut tight, the 30 year moratorium was restored, and even all that I had managed to salvage in the frenzied time of the court hearing, all the volumes of documents amassed by the commission, were once again classified as secret. Maybe forever.
Being no less perspicacious than Pikhoya and feeling certain that I would not be able to make any copies either for lack of a photocopier, or because of the necessity of obtaining special permission for every scrap of paper, or for God knows what other reasons I took the precaution of acquiring a miracle of Japanese technology a portable computer with a hand held scanner. At that time, this piece of high tech had only just appeared in the West, and was completely unknown to our Russian savages. Because of this, I was able to sit right under their noses and scan piles of documents, page after page, with no worries about the curious, who kept coming up to admire my machine.
"Look at that!" would exclaim the leaders of democratic Russia, peering admiringly over my shoulder. "Now that must have cost a few bucks!"
Nobody realized what I was doing until the court hearing was almost over, until December 1992, when one of them suddenly saw the light and yelled loudly enough to be heard a block away:
"He's copying everything!!!"
There was a deathly hush. I kept scanning, as though I had not heard.
"He'll publish everything OVER THERE!!!
I finished working, packed up my computer and headed calmly for the door, looking neither left nor right. From the corner of my eye I could see the horrified faces of Yeltsin's "elite", frozen in unbelief, and Pikhoya's childishly hurt features which seemed to say:
"So let him! Serves you all right!"
Nobody said a word as I made my way to the door. They were probably busy calculating what untold millions I would make in the West.
...And that is how the pile of papers marked "secret", "top secret", "special importance" and "special file" came into my hands. Thousands of priceless pages of our history.
6. All rise, the court is in session!
The hearings of the Constitutional Court on "the case of the CPSU" opened with a great deal of pomp on 7 July 1992. The judges in their specially sewn black gowns were all former members of the party. The "plaintiff" former secretaries of the Central Committee and Poliburo members, the "defendant" the presidential team, vice premiers, ministers also former party functionaries, but junior in rank to their "opponents". Even the "experts" had all been professors of party institutes. To complete the picture, it must be mentioned that this entire show was acted out in the building of now defunct Party Control Committee of the CC CPSU. It was all highly reminiscent of an inter party investigation into non payment of membership dues.
Presiding over the court was Valeri Zorkin, also togged out in a black gown, but with a gold chain of office around his neck. He was intently studying a small brass gong on the table before him, obviously trying to estimate how hard he could strike it without sending it flying.
"Is he, at least, an honest and decent person?" I asked disconsolately of my neighbor, a representative of the "presidential side."
"Oh, yes,", he answered cheerfully. "He's one of ours. Marvellous man used to be a professor at the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs."
I bit my tongue. Serves me right for asking silly questions. Our understanding of "ours and theirs", "decent and not decent" were clearly quite different.
This court case, which boiled down to the mutual claims made by two factions of the divided CPSU to the property of their former party, was a pale travesty of the "historical Nuremberg" I had envisaged, and my participation in it must have looked incongruous. For one thing, the whole idea of the investigating such a case by the Constitutional Court instead of a criminal court was a fundamental compromise, which effectively tied the hands of those who took part in the process. Everyone, including the President of Russia, understood that it was essential to proscribe the CPSU because it was a criminal organization, and not because its activities had, allegedly, breached the Constitution it had created itself. To prove the latter would be as impossible as making a definitive ruling on what came first, the chicken or the egg. Moreover, several hundred amendments had been introduced into this Constitution for the very reason that it had been adopted for the convenience of the communists. So it would be legitimate to ask, in breach of which Constitution had the CPSU acted? The original, unamended one, or the current, amended one, which rendered their activity unconstitutional? Nonsensical ravings, no more, no less.
As was to be expected, the press and the public saw through this cunning move the Russian people may be passive, and careless, and God knows what else besides, but they have never been stupid. The newspapers had a field day wondering, with seeming incomprehension, why the court was not applying international legislation, which was quite adequate:
"There is the London Agreement of 8 August 1945 concerning the prosecution and punishment of the main military criminals of the AXIS countries, the judgment of the International Nuremberg military tribunal of 1 October 1946, the 11 December 1946 resolution of the General Assembly of the UN adopting the principles contained in the Charter and the judgment of the Nuremberg tribunal as acting norms of international law. There is the international pact on "The unacceptability of a statute of limitations on war crimes and crimes against humanity" wrote the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva, to name just one Rossiyskaya gazeta, 30 June 1992. "No Statute of limitations.". "The norms contained in the abovementioned sources were first applied to German National Socialism. But it would be wrong to assume that the situation which has arisen on the territory of the former USSR differs in principle from that, which was assessed in the judgment of the International tribunal of 1946. It has emerged that both states Germany and the USSR cooperated in the attack on Poland in 1939. Then, in accord with secret agreements with Germany's political leaders, Soviet communal socialism attacked Finland, annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and part of the territory of Rumania. As for the killing of thousands of Polish prisoners, seized in the aggression against Poland is this not a uniquely cynical and inhuman war crime?
The criminal organization which exercised power in the USSR drew no conclusions from the Nuremberg process, at which, by force of historical realities, the dock was occupied solely by the National Socialist Workers' Party of Germany.
Let us remember: 1950 participation in the outbreak of civil war on the Korean peninsula... 1956 armed intervention into the internal affairs of Hungary...1968 identical intervention into the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia. And 1979 the invasion of Afghanistan."
It would seem that nothing could be simpler, more convincing, more logical. But no, the former communists did not summon sufficient resolution, could not take such a step. Neither Yeltsin nor his entourage wanted to be identified as accomplices of crimes against humanity. Instead, they had to think up an awkward and convoluted caveat prove that the CPSU had "substituted itself for the state" and was thereby unconstitutional. But not criminal God forbid! The court forbade the use of this term it was, after all, the Constitutional Court, which was not empowered to deal with crimes.
The representatives of the CPSU were quick to exploit this weakness. On the opening day of the hearing, Pravda devoted its whole front page to the case, quoting members of the President's team when they were party officials next to their more recent pronouncements, under a huge headline: "Gentlemen! When were you telling the truth? Yesterday or today?"
The same could be said of most of the witnesses for the presidential side all former party members, if not leading party figures. So the defenders of the CPSU chose what they thought was a very cunning strategy of putting the same question to every witness: "Do you consider that all party members are responsible for the party's activities?" What could these former party members answer? Nobody wanted to assume equal responsibility with their former party.
"Ah ha!" crowed the CPSU side. "But the party is, after all, the 18 million members who comprised it, not a mere handful of leaders."
Then, triumphantly, they produced their witnesses provincial party members who, under oath (and quite sincerely) assured the court that they had never taken part in any unconstitutional activities. And it is hardly likely that CPSU members in the Vologda region engaged in international terrorism, invaded neighboring countries or even persecuted dissidents. They were preoccupied with bringing in the harvest and fulfilling five year plans.
Moreover, the CPSU representatives (who are experts in dialectics, after all) insisted that the party had changed completely after some congress/plenum/resolution, which denounced past actions, and by virtue of this could not be brought to book. All right, several tens of millions of people were killed under Stalin, nobody is denying that, but, after all, this was roundly condemned by the 20th Congress of the CPSU. Yes, Khruschev and Brezhnev committed their share of offences, but they were denounced later, were they not? The last time "undesirable practices" were denounced was in 1991, which allegedly signalled a total rebirth of the party, so right now they could have lived and flourished as never before. But, alas, for no reason whatsoever, they were banned...
Unfortunately, the "presidential side" could not come up with a convincing rebuttal of such specious reasoning. For they, who had also been brought up on dialectic materialism, considered that since they had left the party and condemned it a year or two ago, they bore no responsibility for the past. Furthermore, they believed that they had a perfect right to sit in judgment on their former colleagues, who had been less quick on their feet. It was patently obvious why they were so eager to have me, and two or three other dissidents, appear as witnesses: we were not bound by party dialectics, and, in our responses to questions, we could say what none of them could utter.
There was also the fact that our very presence endowed the proceedings with some kind of meaning. This was certainly felt, if not understood, by all present, and that is why the judges and the CPSU members were unfailingly respectful in their dealings with us. This clearly annoyed some of the people in the presidential team, even though they were probably unaware of the true reason for their discomfiture. One of them informed me, quite out of the blue, that he had demonstratively quit the party on 19 August, the first day of the "putsch": presumably, I was supposed to be amazed by such daring. Another one described to me at tedious length how cruelly and unjustly he had suffered for his freedom of thought: instead of being promoted to the post of a Central Committee Secretary, he was "exiled" as an ambassador to a Western country. These were not even the birth pangs of conscience, rather something like the yearning in the eyes of a monkey surveying his tail less lineal relative.
Oddly enough, the participants and the spectators of this farce treated it with equal seriousness. Not a shade of irony, not a hint of any understanding of the absurdity of the situation. A cordon of militiamen restrained the crowds that gathered every morning outside the building, those clutching red rags on one side, those with white blue red banners on the other. The courtroom was packed with press and interested onlookers: CPSU supporters sat to the right of the aisle, the President's supporters to the left. And God forbid that you sit on the wrong side! Former Central Committee Secretaries, Politburo members, people who, until recently, held the fates of the world in their hands, and those in whose hands their own fates were now, sat in that stuffy room for hours, trying not to miss a word. What were they hoping to hear, what truths did they think to discover? Summoned as witnesses, they got tangled up in stupid and petty denials, lost their tempers and cursed, just like inexperienced thieves, caught with their hands in the till. The once all powerful Ligachev spent all the long weeks of the process sitting on the edge of his chair, straining forward with a hand to his ear, a pose someone much younger than he would have found difficult to sustain. What could this old buffoon possibly not know about his own party? Former Politburo member Dzasokhov, like a guilty schoolboy, denied his own signature under some document. Surely he could have thought up something more convincing? Falin, who had been summoned from Germany, wriggled around like a handful of worms. These were powerful figures, I had seen their signatures under truly frightening documents and resolutions which had cost many people their lives. I had imagined them to be perfidious, omnipotent fiends, but seen up close, they turned out to be fools. Poorly educated, inarticulate and capable only of the stereotyped thinking of Pravda editorials.
Those on the "presidential side" were not much better. They were a touch more intelligent and better educated, but only superficially. Looking at this line up of the Soviet "elite" I recalled an old joke which went around in the 1960s, that there are three qualities which cannot coexist biologically in one person: intellect, honesty, and party membership. One of the three was invariably excluded, so the result could be either a smart son of a bitch, or a stupid party hack. When the crisis of the regime came, that is exactly how they divided up: while the minority of clinical idiots continued to march, waving red banners, the cynical majority was quickly metamorphosing into "reformers", "democrats", "nationalists" and "free marketeers." As far as they were concerned, the events in Russia did not constitute a revolution, nor liberation from totalitarianism, and certainly no sacrifice of their ideals, but simply an opportunity to advance their careers, jumping a couple of the old hierarchical steps in one go. How could CC secretary for propaganda from the Ukrainian satrapy, Kravchuk, pass up the chance to become President of a sovereign, nuclear state? Or economics editor of Pravda, Gaidar, the post of Prime Minister of Russia? And who cares whether this is now called democracy or socialism? For people like these, who were devoted only to their own privileges, "democracy" meant merely new opportunities for deceit, and the "market economy" meant only one thing corruption. For that reason, they would stifle any independent initiative under the guise of stamping out corruption, while justifying their own corruption by "market forces." Having seized power with a Lenin like grasp, they will never allow anything new to develop, apart from one thing: a new mafia in place of the old.
No more than a month after the August "putsch", the new "democratic" rulers had moved into the Kremlin, taken over the buildings of the Central Committee on the Staraya Ploschad, appropriated government cars, occupied special dachas, special apartments, registered in special clinics and gained access to special supply of goods and foodstuffs. They stole on a scale unimaginable even in Brezhnev's times. There was no way they would let all this slip through their fingers into the hands of the less wily members of the former party.
This was the foundation of the process in the Constitutional Court, its hidden essence. I spent half an hour in the courtroom on the first day, and did not enter it again until I was called to give my testimony. Instead of that, I sat in the rest room, where one could watch the proceedings on a monitor if necessary, and scanned documents. Or went across the road to the Central Committee archive. When I got tired of sitting over my computer, I would go out and stroll along streets I knew from childhood, but there was little left from those days, it was like being in a completely unknown city. Moscow resembled a monstrous ruin, as though it had been subjected to intensive bombardment by American warplanes. Whole streets had disappeared, replaced by ditches was it anti-tank defences, or the laying new sewage pipes, who could say? Row upon row of empty houses with sagging facades and blind window eyes huddled on each side. Grass and small bushes sprouted through mounds of fallen plaster. It was obvious that this desolation was not new, that this had happened over many long years, probably since the time when, due to some mysterious cataclysm, all life here came to a standstill. I could not even find the house in which I had lived: it had been demolished with all the other houses on our block, and a huge apartment bloc for the military, built in the "late evil empire" style now occupied the vacant lot left behind. It was only here and there that a sudden glimpse of a miraculously intact piece of bas relief on some half ruined house or the rusty railings of an old fence would stir up memories of a different image of the city. It was here that by the time I was some fifteen years old that I realized just what a country it was into which I had been born, and where I lived in hostile surroundings, like an advanced party of a universal Liberation Army, operating behind enemy lines. I had dreamed of these streets in my prison cell, these alleys and courtyards had helped me to escape from the KGB on countless occasions, these houses were the only friends I could trust completely.
Had this all been just a dream? The houses and courtyards which could have substantiated my memories were no longer there. The Army did not come to the rescue of its scouts it emerged, much later, that there were no such Army. Everything in my life proved to be a host of phantoms, nothing more. All that remained was an enormous cemetery, in which, as everyone knows, triumph belongs to the worms.
There was also dismay, bitterness, a feeling of helplessness and of a wasted life:
Why the hell could we not have brought this chapter of our history to a more worthy conclusion? What did we overlook? Where did we go wrong? Or maybe all our efforts were hopeless and senseless right from the start?