Arkady Popov, Summer, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Interpreter — Sasha Kalinin
Tim notes: “Once again, even the translator is difficult to understand. One might think that Popov himself is more intelligible at times.” (That’s because Sasha Kalinin stutters.)
Popov: …the more precise, the more specific. I explained that it is more personal.
Metta: It is, yes. Why don’t you tell me a little about your work here and how you got to know Olga and what you were doing when Olga knew you.
Popov: Well, now Mr. Popov works with the Centre of the ethnopolitical studies, which the exists with him. The cessation of foreign post created by the Sheverdnadze and now and headed by the former ambassador to Washington, [Andrei Ulietev] for a short period, foreign minister of the U.S.S.R., Alexander Bessmertnykh. Mr. Emil Pain is the director the centre of the ethnopolitical studies. And now Mr. Popov defines case of day which functions more that they were open. He is responsible for monetary for social and technopolitical situation all over the territory of the ex-Soviet Union. Moreover, he is partially responsible for organizing sets of seminars and you took part in the second the third of his seminars. Roger Fisher and William Uhl.
Metta: Is that “Getting to Yes”?
Popov: Yes, yes.
Metta: I used this in my classes. I have a program in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto and I teach a course on negotiation and non-violence and that’s one of the books I use.
Popov: This seminar in which you took part was an attempt to try practical conflict resolution. It was just an academic enterprise.
Popov: The Centre… [Noise]
Metta: Mr. Payin gave me some… [Noise… phone]
Popov: [Sasha is translating, refers to Popov in the third person] But the main focus of this centre’s interest are interethnic conflicts. Mr. Popov and Olga learned together at Moscow Stadium. The university in the same group. Olga’s husband was a famous geographer. [Name] was the proponent into the dissident movement. And he and Olga soon joined all the [ ] among they formed of the Trust Group. And Mr. Popov had the director with remembering the full name of the book but it doesn’t matter. Well, the members of the group soon will be getting their doubts open. They were getting over repression and their corruption, and so they were even more deeply involved in the interdissident activities. And Mr. Popov credited another. Let’s say family type with the dissident movement because he is, his brother, Alec Popov, was heavily involved in the dissident movement. And he emigrated to the United States in 1982. And now he lives in Massachusetts.
Metta: I see. I guess I should say a little bit about the search I am doing. Olga and I will be writing a book together and the purpose of my visit in Moscow this summer is mainly to collect interviews for use in this book.
Popov: Metta, excuse me, I am not sure that. I understood what you are doing is research.
Metta: I am doing so.
Popov: Metta, Mr. Popov is extremely modest. He said that he probably could not be of any use because he was not a dissident and certainly he was not a member of the [movement]. It’s true that he had acquaintances among the dissidents, especially among Jewish activists and among human right activists. Sometimes, he gave some [accommodation] at his apartment. It was quite a widespread practice.
Metta: I need to explain more. I am interested in sharing the networks. I think there were several networks. Here, let’s say this is a network of officials, and here is a network of dissidents, and here is a network of artists and intellectuals, and here is a network of foreign peace activists. So I am interested in seeing how the whole thing worked. I can see that dissidents were careful about not having public… sometimes not injuring their friends by making it clear what their activities were. But there were relationships between peace activists abroad and let’s say officials. There were relationships between those peace activists and dissidents. There were people such as yourself who may not have been a dissident but whom knew these people. I am interested in finding people like you who are in between these networks, who knew people in both networks and sort of linked them.
Popov: Metta, there were such people as you mentioned and whom you want to find, but, unfortunately, Arkady is not one of them. Those people could be found among artists, believe it. They had access to dissidents and to the foreign world. But, his position in the life was quite a quaint one. He was a researcher. He had acquaintances among the dissidents but he couldn’t perform functions of the intervenor because political [healing] we absolutely in excess.
Metta: Yes I know that. But I think that people who… I mean, these networks were linked and they were linked in various ways: at the top, and in the middle and at the bottom. And people who passed, who shared information passed ideas back and forth perhaps without even knowing that happened, and it’s important to show that people such as yourself existed and that you were able to function in (I know what kind of job you had at the time), but you were still were to hold a job, even though you knew your brother and you knew Almanac and Your. And if I can find people… or you could suggest people who are artists who had contacts at the top. Yesterday, I spoke with Maria Andrei Shef… something or another who is an art historian, and she told me what it was like and she occupied a role like yours, at some middle level. So I want to speak to people at all levels.
Popov: Metta, well, it’s very difficult to make a distinction between proper dissident activity and performing intermediate functions. It’s true that there were people who acted as the intermediates, but for them, it was first was certain on May the 1st. That in there, [proper story] who pledged. Because it was very difficult to sign a letter in support of socialism, for example, and to lead a normal life after that. If the person who had signed a petition was really famous, or who known to have involved, he was protected, to some extent. But if he was not famous, he practically for sure, lost his job, lost many other opportunities and so on and so forth. So, the people who were actively involved in this semi-dissident activities, they’re mainly actors.
Popov: Actors and writers?
Popov: Yes. But he mentioned… there were many names. [two names, sounds like Youfriam of Boukov], who signed a lot of petitions in support of socialism and so on and so forth. They were not repressed. They couldn’t be. And writers, many of them lately, and they later emigrated. They supported socialists and suffered. Finally they organized their own [almanac]. Later, they were in trouble. They ran serially and they criticized. Many of them were excluded from the writer’s union and so they were pressed into full-fledged dissent. But for some time, they really acted. They were [cutthroat].
Metta: Olga said when she and Yuri would go to jail or would be out someplace and couldn’t look after their children, some neighbours would take care of the kids. Now this is not being a dissident, but it’s being close to it, and I imagine that your role was similar. Is that true?
Popov: … his brother was involved in the student movement, which was not, strictly speaking, political.
Metta: When was this?
Popov: Well, he was involved, maybe not directly with the student movement in the Ryazan? It’s a quite big town not far from Moscow. He was sent to work there after the institute, after graduation. And he knew a lot of people who were involved in this movement. And he just felt compassionate for them. He tried to make the post known. The post, in their case, make it public. Later, he returned to Moscow. He was admitted post-graduate course but sometime later, he was dismissed, because of his political views, not activities, but views, were not compatible with the status of the Soviet scientists.
Metta: What discipline was he in?
Popov: Physics. He’s a specialist in Physics and now he of the vice-president of quite successful company in Massachusetts. Well, finally, his brother joined [Verlost]. They are jewish activists, though he was not a jew himself. At that time Jews needed support of non-Jewish. Well, he felt people and not only Jewish, but the Russian Germans too, to get their way abroad, and he accommodated them in his Moscow apartment. He often complains, appeals, and so on and so on. And so, he was to some extent, a specialist for getting abroad.
Metta: Now this is after he got kicked out of the institute. He started doing this. But how did he make a living?
Popov: Well, for quite a long time, he worked at Moscow State University, more or less, according to his training. And when he was finally sacked, he worked as a gardener in some shops and so on and so on. But what is important, please, don’t interrupt me, is that he joined the Moscow Group of Amnesty International. And that gave him necessary protection. Many of his friends were arrested, were put to trial and sentenced. But since he member of an international organization, authorities didn’t sentence him, at least. His apartment was searched several times. His telephone was tapped and so on. And one moment, they felt that his arrest would be inevitable. At that time, given the power to destroy money and the many materials that he kept at his house. So they were on the verge.
Metta: Was this a general pattern, that belonging to something like Amnesty was a protection?
Popov: Well, Metta, probably not general, because the leader of the Moscow arrest of Amnesty International at that time — he was still exiled. But they were not treated as severely as many others.
Metta: Were they treated, say, less badly than members of Helsinki Watch?
Metta: So being in this international organization was some additional protection?
Metta: But Helsinki watch was more of a local organization at that time, or am I mistaken? The Helsinki Watch group was not as international at that time. Is that correct?
Metta: Although there is a Helsinki Watch organization, I guess, now.
Popov: Well, it’s true that the Soviet authorities treated members of Amnesty International not so harshly as the tentative members of other human rights organizations. The reasons are numerous. Among there is that one of the founders of Amnesty International, some Irishman, was a laureate of a Nobel Prize and of Lenin Prize for the International Peace and Friendship between the peoples of the world. So, the Soviet authorities although they didn’t like any human rights activities. They nevertheless were more flexible in their attitude and in their policies towards Amnesty International. For example, the leader of the Moscow group of Amnesty International, they [put him on trial], though he was put to trial, he was sentenced to five years of exile, not a prison camp, but exile and that was…
Metta: Exile in Siberia?
Popov: In a wild place, but nevertheless, it was better than prison camp. And it was exceptionally liberal, exceptionally mild sentence for that time. [And Sakharov visited him] this month in exile. But when the Soviet authorities found that they have to stop activity of a political member of Amnesty International group, they tried to do it not by policing, but by pushing the person abroad. The mixed attitude of the Soviet Authorities towards Amnesty International can be partially explained by the fact that Amnesty International criticized violations of Human Rights in Chile, in South Korea, in South Africa, and this criticism was used by the Soviet propaganda. So it was very difficult to use arguments provided by Amnesty International, and to criticize free will and suppress it here.
Metta: I find that very interesting the notion of a bad guy being compromised, the bad authorities finding themselves unwilling to be as bad as they would like to be because they have other constraints. And what occurs to me is that maybe there were times when this sort of phenomenon took place in interpersonal relations as well. Maybe there were times when say, an authority, who was friendly with you, or with someone else, who when he found out that you had been doing something unauthorized, almost dissident, did not want to be as critical, because he had a relationship of friendship with you, or a good relationship with you. In other words, is it possible that people in your position sometimes compromised the authorities so they were less aggressive?
Popov: Well, there were three type of behaviour of the authorities. We use good attitude. The first type of offering of behavior is that a chief tries to fulfil his instructions. He tries to terminate, to educate, to enlighten, to encourage people to do what and he and certainly, to be of proper behaviour. The second type is more flexible, when the KGB is quite married with the person who is the cause of his troubles. And he says, “Okay, I understand everything… you are a good guy.” I guess of USSR, [Breland and campus committee are sharing them]. But in relations with the higher chiefs, here he says something different.
Metta: He tells his superiors that he has reprimanded his subordinate.
Popov: Yes, reprimanded, punished. It was the most common type of behavior. And the third type is when a chief really shared ideas and tried to protect the persecutor, the person, but it was extremely rare case.
Metta: I see.
Popov: When I credit some of his personal history. He had some troubles with the authorities for a long time, and certainly in the beginning of the 80s but it happened so that the people, his troubles, happened in 1986/87, after the beginning of the historical process and so. But it was not so much his personal position with the chiefs, but result of the condition of the quality of the institute at that time and the tradition of this institute. But there it happened a little bit earlier, his life would be broken. But at that time, they had very limited glasnost and the presence of Yeltsin as the chief of the Moscow city Party Organization hurted them. And finally, they won. At that time, the researcher committee’s could elect the directors.
Metta: Beginning then?
Popov: No. Only at that period, for quite a short period, for a year and couple two years. Now this practice is concluded. And they could organize, old members of the institute, old personnel, and finally they overthrew the director and other leaders.
Metta: What institute was that?
Popov: Central Research Institute of Aubernistics….