Alice Bobroshova (Dartmouth), 1994

Alla Bobroshova interview (Part of it. The whole thing is on a small tape but almost inaudible)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

[She talks about how at the beginning Norman Cousins traveled around the USSR giving lectures and proposed the Dartmouth Conferences. The original idea was to have grass-roots meetings but that was impossible, so it was changed to meetings of elites. She was working for the Soviet Peace Committee at the time and was sent as an interpreter. Nobody thought it would be approved.]

Bobroshova: He went to the meeting and talked about how many good changes he saw. He also said that he can’t keep silent about things that he thought completely wrong — the involvement in Hungary. He suggested a kind of a meeting. They said, we’ll think about it and let you know. The Central Committee. It must have reached very high, maybe Khrushchev himself. I don’t think that Cousins expected to get approval, but he was very happy.

But then happened the spy plane, U2. Khrushchev had to go to Paris and everything fell through. We thought that all our efforts were in vain, but no. There were some articles in the press, against this, against that. I want to go to the Lenin Library to read it again, to refresh my memory. We thought everything was finished.

Spencer: If it was published in Pravda, it must have meant that somebody in the Central Committee opposed it.

Bobroshova: Yes. There were always factions. I’m sure that Khrushchev himself. Especially the head of the soviet delegation was chosen — Alexander Kornichev. He was a Ukrainian writer. He was a playwright, very successful before the war. During the war he wrote a play about two generations of military commanders — the old generation keeps to the new ways. Now the times were different and there was a new general. Stalin liked this play. So he became one of our greatest writers. He got all the titles. He married a Polish writer, Wanda Vasilevska. She was a god-daughter of Pilsudski, the head of Poland. she was a daughter of the Polish minister of foreign affairs but when the Germans divided Poland, she joined the Soviets, she walked to Western Ukraine, which was held by Poland. She came here and married Kornichev. She was quite talented, wrote rather good novellas about the war, the Germans. Some wicked people would say that she would write for Kornichev but I don’t believe that. He was capable of writing for himself.

At one time he was President of Ukraine. Some people didn’t like him. He was very open. Maybe he was not very sincere but he could be a nice guy. In some way, he and Norman Cousins, though like two poles in differences. Norman was so critical of communism, but they complemented each other. I think the success of the first conference was because they were so good with each other. It was like some kind of chemistry. Kornichev didn’t speak a single word of English and Norman didn’t speak a single word of Russian but they got along. The American group included Walt Rustow, Philip Mosely, Agnes de Mille. We had one of our cinema producers, and a general secretary of the Baptist church here, and they had their counterparts. It took place at Dartmouth College. The conferences were closed, no press there until the end. The idea was that it should be away from cities. People lived together for a week, then a few days before and after. They would play tennis, go for walks together. The first time there were two simultaneous interpreters for the conference. Later on we had all the proper equipment and there were four interpreters from each side, of the highest level, from the United Nations. George Sherry and George (Khlebnikov ?) they were both from the second one. At the first conference very few Russian people knew English, but later on we tried to get people who did speak. It is much better. You can’t have enough interpreters. Language was never a problem.

It was very difficult for the Soviet group. It was a whole new idea of how to talk to each other. It was not supposed to be a confrontation. Not to be a defence of the policies of your own government, but to learn to understand each other. Try to find a way out of these old confrontations. The agenda was over the most vital problems of the time. Disarmament. Nuclear weapons. The development of trade. Later on, ecological problems. The same problems that were discussed at conferences all over the world. But in the seventies these conferences were important. These people were experts in their field. They could influence their government. They would work out something. These things were used at official negotiations, but at official negotiations you can’t go back, everybody feels like they are representing their goverment like in a war, your country is depending on you not to go back a step.

But this was different. We always, at any new conference, we never changed the group completely. The majority were always the old people who knew the ways. We would involve some new people but explain to them first not to be defensive. You had to learn to yield in some ways.

Spencer: Were people told that they didn’t have to represent the views of their government, that they could say, I would like this but I know that my government policy is something else?

Bobroshova: No, the Soviet delegation could not go that far. They could not say, “My government is wrong.” But they would listen to criticism from the American side. They would not flare up. Sometimes they would say, maybe our government could make things a little bit different. But in small ways. They couldn’t give up this idea that it was “my country, right or wrong.” The Americans were more so. They could criticze their government quite freely, though they also had this idea, “my country, right or wrong,” though it was stronger in the Soviet mentality.

It was always bilateral though some problems were global — north and south, etc. David Rockefeller always took part consistently. Sometimes he would come for a couple of days only but he was very active. So some ideas which were later set up in relationships came from the Dartmouth Conference, such as the International Institute of Applied System Analysis in Austria, the idea came from Dartmouth Conference, or the idea of the American-Soviet Trade and Economic Council. I don’t know about now, but it existed for many years here and in the States.

Spencer: That’s not the thing that Arthur Macy Cox was involved in, is it?

Bobroshova: No. Donald Kendall of Pepsi. Some people from the American Chamber of Commerce. It was a high level for trade. Some things on arms control would initiate there. . . . .

. . . .

We had generals who took part in our conferences from both sides, like David Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Scowcroft, Graham Allison, Brzezinski. A lot of assistants of the secretary of state. . . .

Saunders dissected the Dartmouth process into step one, step two, step three, step four and so on. That’s his favorte baby. He tried to make the follow this but I told him that what — yes, later on, in the seventies there were both groups. They set up working groups, one in arms control, one on the middle east). The arms control one is over, but the one on the middle east has become the one on regional conflicts. They have a subgroup now, on ethnic conflicts. . . . At the Dartmouth Conference, nobody ever thought of step one, step two, step three.

. . . During the Vietnam War we stopped. The last one was in 1964 and the one after that was in 1969. It started again and that’s when the Kettering Foundation first joined it. A lot of people died. Of the first group, only three people are alive. Norman Cousins died in 1990. I was there and saw him two months before his death. I had worked with him for thirty years. They invited me and my two granddaughters to travel in the US for two months. I have so many friends.

Norman Cousins was a person who stimulated me. When I was with him I felt so interesting. There are just three or four people who impressed me so much. W.E.B. DuBois was one. He was very old. Also, George Kennan, whom I met at the first conference. I accompanied them as a translator. He was known in our country as the father of the Cold War. I found him such a wise person, with such interesting ideas, no hatred. Then I read some of his books. . . .

But Norman Cousins, . . . was the greatest experience of my life.

The Kettering Institute is doing work now on Civil Society. Strengthening it, teaching peple how to take part in political life. They set up a civil society education centre in our country. It works now. Such centers are also in Hungary. Our people were not citizens, they were subjects. Now they teach people how to be part of democracy. It works.

My first meeting with Khrushchev was on the date celebrating the October Revolution. We had a parade, and usually the weather was very bad. They had to stand for four hours in the old days. I always asked, do they have a heater underneath? Do they drink vodka to keep warm? Maybe. Afterwards there was a big reception. The foreigners were invited to the celebration. So Dr. DuBois and his wife were invited. I had never been to such a high reception. There was a big table laden with all kinds of food. It was 1959. Caviar, everything. While we’re eating and drinking, a young man comes up to me and says that Nikita Sergeyevitch would like to say a few words with our guest, and would you please come with me? I leave this beautiful food and went upstairs. I could see immediately that Khrushchev was drunk. I am sure he did not understand anything, but I introduce Dr. DuBois and his wife, a writer. . . . Then they started serious talk. He wanted to know about the Middle East, what was happening in (Beirut?). Du Bois was not always easy to understand. It was not only his accent, but he didn’t say anything simply. He couched it in all kinds of ways.

There were a lot of rules about interpreting at the institute. After finishing university, I was accepted at a very special course that was established by order of Stalin. Very small groups to study foreign languages, English, French, and German. It was 1943. I think that Stalin believed that the time would come that he would need very good interpreters. So our teachers were the best. There was commercial translation, medical translation, literary translation. I met my future husband there and I was not so much interested in learning, but anyway I learned something. My husband had been brought up in the States and England, and when he came back to the Soviet Union he didn’t know Russian and had to attend a special course. So whatever I didn’t get in the lessons I got later. One of the rules is that if you don’t understand something, either say, excuse me, I have to ask you to repeat it, or if you know the subject well and you are sure that you can say whatever you say and it will be more or less okay, then do it. But I thought that speaking for the head of the state, I should not do that. So I said to Khrushchev, I apologize, I didn’t get what was just said. He looked at me— if looks could kill. But still I kept on. I asked him to repeat, he repeated, I understood, and then I translated.

A couple of weeks passed and my boss at the Committee called me and said, you are going to accompany our guest to the Kremlin to meet for a real talk. Du Bois came here with the idea that the Soviets should pay more attention to Africa and study it. So he brought the idea of establishing — actually, it was the first regional institute here, the Institute of African Studies. He gave this idea to Khrushchev.

I remember how his wife, who was 30 years younger than he was (his first wife died) said, “I have a new hat. Can I keep my hat on when I go there? Do you think he will notice my hat?” And DuBois watches and says, “Okay, hurry up, girls.”

I was very uncomfortable, wondering whether he would remember me. So we went in and Khrushchev said to me, “Well, young lady, you don’t look so frightened as last time.” Their talk was very interesting. I was amazed. There was nothing about Khrushchev like pounding his shoe on the table. He told anecdotes. He had done his homework, was able to answer questions about Africa that he was not supposed to know. He told about his childhood. He even mentioned some of the American writers whom he had read. Very different from the image we had of him. That was my second visit with him.

Then Norman Cousins came. He had already come before. You can get his book, The Improbable Triumvirate. It’s about Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the pope. Kennedy used him like Eisenhower did. He came and saw Khrushchev, but I didn’t accompany him. Cousins talked to Khrushchev about some of the Catholic bishops in Czechoslovakia who were killed. He went to see Khrushchev and then he went to see the pope, bringing Christmas greetings from Khrushchev. I remember, we were sitting in the Metropol Hotel waiting for those Christmas Cards to arrive. Cousins sometimes changes stories when he writes them up. For example, in his book he says that while he sits and talks with Khrushchev, Khrushchev takes a card and writes on it. No, it was not like that. We were sitting in the room and the plane is leaving soon and Norman is anxiously waiting, he wants those cards. And then somebody comes and gives him those cards and he goes.

Next time when he saw him, when I was present, he asked about the Czechoslovakian bishop. Khrushchev says, I could let him go, but he would then tell all over the world what the conditions were in our prisons, and so on. Cousin says, I promise that this will not happen. I will talk to the pope and such things will not happen.

And at the next meeting, Khrushchev says, but you promised me that there would be no such things as that kind, and there were such things. . . . Cousins starts to explain, but no explanations counted. It had happened.

So the next meeting was quite difficult. (Are you going to use all this? I will tell you why. This is what I started writing, but I can’t give it to you because it belongs to the Kettering Foundation. So don’t use this word for word.) It took place after the Dartmouth Conference in 1963, during the Cuban Crisis. At that time there were already disarmament negotiations in Geneva. And one of the stumbling blocks for the Americans was the inspections. You know, our mentality wouldn’t let the American team come and look everywhere. Everything depended on the number of inspections. Everybody who would go to the state and meet somebody on a high level had the task of trying to work out the problem of number of inspections. So the chairman comes up after a conference and said he had talked to Jerome Weisner, who was close to Kennedy and said it was okay, they would be satisfied with three inspections. Before, they had wanted more. There was another channel. Somebody else spoke to somebody else. Another channel was [Kuznetsov?] the head of the delegation to Geneva and talked to Americans there and said they would be satisfied with three. So Khrushchev had the very firm impression that the Americans would be satisfied with three inspections. He said it had been a hard job to make the party people agree to inspections at all. He used all his persuasion powers. Then at Geneva, the Americans said, No, we want eight inspections. So Cousins comes at this time. Khrushchev feels himself deceived, so he starts the conversation with this accusation that he felt let down. Kennedy had sent Cousins to find out what had gone wrong, that they got the impression that they would be satisfied with three. He said, “Let’s not talk about how it happened. Let’s start again.” Khrushchev said No, I don’t want to discuss it with you. How would I look to my Council of Ministers? I believe what I was told by them. I can’t go back to them again.

Cousins didn’t show it in his book, you will not get an impression of how awful he felt. It finished it late at night and he said, I can’t go tomorrow. I must talk with him again. But Khrushchev said no. It was 1963. …. (inaudible passage).

There was a press conference at the ministry. [I think she says it was about the U2 plane.] The meeting was supposed to take place. Khrushchev came. I went with an American journalist who had dysentery. He was supposed to go to the hospital but he didn’t want to do. I said, I will go with you but you must promise me not to touch anybody, not to shake hands with anybody. But when we were walking along, he was on the outside and Khrushchev was on the inside, showing everything and talking. He saw that there was an American there and he said “American, American!’

And he said, yes, American, but a progressive journalist. He had a picture of himself on a booklet, so he takes it out and shows it to Khrushchev, and Khrushchev puts out his hand.

He looks at me. I didn’t want to be part of it, I knew that something would happen. He looks at me, and I shake my head, no. What to do?

He takes the end of his coat, wraps his hand, and gives it to Khrushchev. People don’t know what is going on. He tries to explain that he had got some kind of cold and was told not to shake hands, but the people surrounding him won’t talk to him.

The generals surround him and want to talk to him. Khrushchev looks around wanting his interpreter, Sukhardrev, who is not around. He says, is there anybody? Others say, “We can’t hear.”

Khrushchev says, “Somebody bring a chair.”

I stand on the chair, translating. That was the time when Sukhardrev rushes in and sees me doing his job. Maybe Khrushchev will like me more than him! So he just pushes me and mounts the chair himself.

So my journalist says, Let’s go home. So we walk through [Gorky Park?] and I tell him, now Khrushchev will get dysentery and he will not go to the summit. And who will be responsible?

It was a story that was all over Moscow, you know.

Spencer: As for policy, can you tell me whether there were occasions when people’s ideas about policy changed as a result of their conversations at Dartmouth?

Bobroshova: People were not making policy at that time. . . . If you wanted to [participate] you couldn’t say anything contrary to your country’s position. . . . But they saw each other as people. . . . .

Spencer: I know that high level people would come to the meetings that I attended and really listen much better than politicians in Canada or the US.

Bobroshova: Yes. I often had to work with “our friends” —- American Communists. . . ..[This passage is unreliable because the tape is not audible and I am partly guessing.] They didn’t have a hard ground under them. But later, when the Dartmouth Conferences started, . . . those people were sure of themselves. It was easier to deal with them.

We would try to show them [the Communist visitors] the best, but you can’t hide everything. I had to defend everything. Our favorite year of counting was 1913. So I would say that in 1913, 90 percent were illiterate and now only 1% are illiterate. In 1913, there were so many —— and now there are ——. Of course, there were such changes, but the costs! Millions of lives!

But here, at Dartmouth, I could be myself. I was enriched. I could understand more of the way the United States functioned. It was like a normal discussion. People understood that the other side was not an enemy. The other side hade its own ideals.

It seems to me that the idea we started with — the idea of coexistence with Kornichev. And then Arbatov came in 1974(?) and . . .

Spencer: Could you tell me about him? When I hear stories from Westerners who think they had some influence, 90% of the time it is through Arbatov. He doesn’t claim so much for himself in his book. I think he must have had more influence.

Bobroshova: He doesn’t overestimate his influence. Many people now think that if Arbatov was [successful in the Brezhnev time, then how could he be for Gorbachev?] I don’t agree with that. I have known Arbatov since 1965 — the group of consultants under Andropov. ……… (can’t understand more)

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