Alexander Kalinin (Julia's practice interview), 1991

Alexander Kalinin interview, June or July 1991
Interviewer — Julia Kalinina, on behalf of Metta Spencer

Kalinin: I was born in 1948 in Moscow, am a historian by education, graduate of Moscow State University Department of History. For several years I worked at various research institutions of the USSR Academy of Science and for about two years I was a member of staff of the Soviet United Nations Association and now I am a People’s Deputy of Moscow City Council. I have different fields of special interest. Political science — a good umbrella description for all of them.

Julia: When did you begin to take part in international meetings?

Kalinin: In 1986 or maybe a little earlier. 1985.

Julia: Do you remember what problems were mostly discussed in those meetings?

Kalinin: At the first meetings I took part in meetings of the youth movements. Later I began to take part in the discussions of the international affairs, military policy, security problems at large, and some other problems, such as the environment. So for some time I was a jack of all trades. I had to be expert on all problems that were discussed.

Julia: Do you remember any of the Western participants?

Kalinin: Well, I am not sure that I remember their names, but some people, some thoughts that were expressed impressed me very much and they stimulated my mental processes. I remember some names. For example, Johan Galtung, Gene Sharp. But I don’t remember the name of the guy who asked the Soviet youth delegation. It was four years ago at a meeting with young Christian Democrats of Europe. The guy slept during two days of discussions and then he awakened and asked, Okay, I understood practically everything. I have only three question to ask the Soviet delegates. Now I prefer to ask only two of them and, depending on your answers, I will ask the third. Do you think that all persons are equal? All women and men? And there was a long pause on the side of the Soviets and then a Soviet guy made a long reply, a long, long, long statement about the perversity of the very idea of equality. Now they are sure that no people are equal. That is the basis of our mentality, our faith, and so on. It was very instructive because it was the collapse of the Soviet mythology, which is based on the notion of equality. And all Soviet participants tacitly agreed with what this guy said.I was embarrassed, for I felt that if I said something totally different, opposite to what they guy said, I would be attacked by the members of the Soviet delegation. And then, though it was only four years ago, I felt that I had no clear understanding of my own values. For example, the relationships among equality, justice, freedom. I didn’t have a clear priority of my values. And it was very difficult for me to prove the idea of equality. Now I can do it, but this case is a good example of the influence of such discussions. A question like that couldn’t be asked by a Soviet. We never discuss such things. Even now. And maybe it’s a tragic peculiarity of our political discussions. We do not touch such basic values. And the Westerners who want to understand the main traits of our mentality, sometimes ask very penetrating questions. It’s a good fortune to be asked.

Julia: Where did this meeting take place?

Kalinin. In 1987 in Yerevan. It was devoted to the problems of cooperation between Christian Democrats and the Soviet Youth Movement.

Julia: Who were the participants?

Kalinin: I don’t remember. The organization is the All-European Organization of Christian Democrats. Participants from Italy, Switzerland, Sweden,and Belgium.. . . The problem of equal responsibility is a very interesting issue. For example, when I read the thesis of equal responsibility, it was the mid-eighties, I was shocked. It seemed to me to be wrong because I was accustomed to the Soviet interpretation of the Cold War. And I took it for granted, at least until maybe 1983, when the Soviets installed their rockets in Germany and Czechoslovakia. I felt that the decision was not wrong but it was not the best option at that time. Then I began to read more on the issues of security, balance of forces, and so on. Nevertheless, I couldn’t accept the notion of equal responsibility for about three years, and only in late 1986. I felt that the notion was essentially right that the Soviet Union bears the same responsibility for the arms race and the Cold War as the West. So when I took part in the discussions where the problem of responsibility was discussed, I supported the notion, though I did it in a rather mild, diplomatic form. But I was quite clear about it. I just tried to avoid humiliation in such discussions.

Julia: When did you feel that the struggle for peace and disarmament were connected with human rights?

Kalinin: I felt it from the very beginning. For me, the problem of human rights was the problem of primary importance. Disarmament, peace, and so on, they are just the most appropriate means to secure human rights in their totality. It was just that I began from human rights, and then I accepted the necessity of peace — not only negative but positive peace — the reduction of military expenditures, the abolition of the means of mass destruction, attachment to minimum offensive weapons.. . .

Julia: Were there other issues that you found it hard to accept?

Kalinin: It was difficult for me to accept the idea of the superiority of the Soviet capability on land. I believed that the Soviets had superiority in numbers but I didn’t think it was decisive or very great. I thought in a conventional way. Superiority meant the ability to crush enemies — to win a decisive victory. It was necessary to define a very positive victory. And when I tried to elaborate, I understood victory to mean occupation. The Soviets had superiority exactly on land, that was necessary to occupy the territory of the Western countries.

Julia: Do you remember some other strange ideas?

Kalinin: For some time, some feminists’ ideas were very strange, naive, irrelevant, and so on. But you see, I tried to develop the capacity not to reject something outright just because it is strange or totally different from my beliefs. It was necessary to hear them attentively. And some things rather soon became not so silly. I think that the most impressive example of this is the notion of non-offensive defence. I am amazed when I came across it. I tried to elaborate it, and so on. I think it is a very good idea, and I tried to make it popular in this country.

Julia: What was the outcome of these meetings. Did you forget these strange ideas or did you write articles about them?

Kalinin: Personally I am very enriched by these discussions, by this exchange of views. I borrowed a lot from the Western participants. I tried to disseminate these ideas, but unfortunately, I have narrow opportunities to do it. I wrote reviews, I wrote articles, I made speeches, but I think that I could do much more in this respect if I had more opportunities. You know that only one big article was published.

Julia: What about ideas that seemed inadequate? Did you forget it or try to prove it silly?

Kalinin: No, I didn’t try to prove it silly. I remember the things that are strange, that puzzle me. So I think that all strange or startling ideas are not forgotten by me, but I do not try to prove that they are silly. I am waiting for the moment when I will be able to say whether they are wrong or right.

Julia: Can you name such ideas?

Kalinin: Personally, I am very interested in the idea of nonviolent political and social transformations and so I try to make these ideas popular to the extent I can. But still I am not able to propagate these ideas in the manner that Gene Sharp does it. I am not sure that nonviolence is a universal method. I feel that there are some situations when something like violence in the traditional sense of the word is appropriate, though at the same time I feel that my position is inconsistent. I cannot propagate killing. I am not sure I answered your question. I think that nonviolence is very elevated idea. It’s a new way of life, of thinking. It’s something I need to accept, to incorporate, to make my own, but I don’t reject it.

Julia: What is your opinion of international, nongovernmental meetings. Can they influence the decisions of officials?

Kalinin: I don’t know. It’s extremely difficult question. I may just guess. My guessing is that to some, there is a very slight extent, these meetings and these discussions influence the decision-making on the state level. But I cannot explain to you the mechanism of this influence. I don’t know which channels. I know that normally the soviet delegation includes a member of a central party committee, some people’s deputies, and so on. But I am not sure that these people translate these ideas, or that they even understand these ideas. I told you about the reaction of these officials to American jokes. All members of the Soviet delegation began to laugh. I asked them why they laughed, and they said “Hush! We’ll tell you later.” Then they told me, when the Americans are laughing, you are to laugh too! But there are some experts who actively participate in these meetings and they are very different people, from different organizations. I believe that finally, all depends on the personal types. When you have good listeners, with people who are engaged in the process of political decision-making, for example you may tell somebody who really participates in the decision-making something that strikes him, that makes him see the program from a different light. But you have to have such persons. If you don’t know them, you have no possibility to influence their political decision-making. You may write an excellent article but it will not exert influence. You have to talk. And talk with people who are not biased against your ideas, against you personally, and so on. And so you have the mechanism for the translation of influences. Personal relations. Friendships.

Julia:Where do you think state policy is formed. Can you guess?

Kalinin: I can say for sure that ______ policy-making happens somewhere else. Not in the commissions of the Supreme Soviet ,but somewhere else and I don’t know where. Perhaps six or ten years ago, all the important decisions were taken in the departments of the Communist Party Central Committee. Now I am not sure that it is the case, but I am sure that all the important decisions of foreign policy are not made in the ministry of foreign affairs. It is difficult, vague process, a process of constant negotiations between people who are . not formally responsible for decision-making. The whole Soviet decision-making system may be sclerotic, rusty, obsolete, but it is unbelievably stable, despite many perestroika changes, the system is essentially the same. We know that many important decisions were taken in the political bureau of the Central Committee, but they just extend the ready decision. Maybe the most interesting point about the Soviet political system is that those who really take decisions are not responsible for those decisions. The responsibility lies on other persons. Division of responsibility and real power.

Julia: How can people like you influence decision-making?

Kalinin: I can speak only about myself, and my own role is very modest. It is not an act of self-effacement but the fact. I couldn’t influence the decision-making. I cannot do it now. I am not very effective propagandist of the new notions and ideas. Nevertheless, I am not in despair and I am going to continue my activity to do what I can. But some people who are engaged in the discussions and popular diplomacy are far more effective than I am. They could influence some key figures, can communicate with them.

Julia: Why, because they have better friends?

Kalinin: Better friends, better relations, are well known, have some prestige. Some are more clever than I.

Julia: Whose influence on Soviet government is stronger: influence of Soviet peace activists, Soviet researchers of political studies, or influence of Western peace activists, western activists?

Kalinin: I think the influence of Soviet public opinion is still negligible— especially in the fields of security policy, military. But influence of the Western public opinion is stronger. More effective.

Julia: What are the channels?

Kalinin: The Soviet power elite has a huge apparatus of advisers, analytical staff and so on. I think that the main channel is the Soviet diplomats, for they prepare reports and it is their main business to inform the center about the situation about changes of public opinion, changes of attitude of the government, of the opposition, and so on. And I know that they prepare, maybe not very good or unbiased reports, but at least very lengthy ones. So these reports reflect the changes of public opinion. And the Soviet elite is very sensitive to criticism from the West. The Soviet elite may reject or neglect the public mood in the country, but they are very sensitive to Western public opinion.

Julia: And why do you think this Soviet elite pays more attention abroad to the advisers here?

Kalinin: I think that in reality different information flows are compared, are processed somewhere, but the members of the Soviet elite cannot respect the representatives of the Soviet public more than they respect the public at large, and if they do not respect the influence of public opinion in this country, there is no reason why they have to accept the advisers of those. That is the main reason why the Soviets who are engaged in a process of popular diplomacy are not effective in their attempts to state policy.

See also
Alexander Kalinin (spiritualism, etc), 1993
Alexander Kalinin (Russian political parties), 1994

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books