Elena Rusakova (psychologist, Memorial), 1992

Interview with Elena Rusakova of Memorial, 1992 (?)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Note: During the Putin and even Medvedev governments Memorial has been repressed but it still carries on.

Metta Spencer (MS): I am in the “Memorial” office now. There are three different aspects: the Gulag history, …

Rusakova: There are many aspects of the history of the totalitarian regime – historical, sociological, political aspects; the development of the system of repression.

MS: This is where we are now. And you say one part(?) of it is from the ’60s through the ’80s. And then there’s another…

Rusakova: This is only one program(?). This is an example of a concrete program. There’s another special program called “Gulagsmat”(?). This is the history of camps. There’s a special group which goes to places where the camps used to be. Many of those camps still exist. It’s not that they are used but they were not demolished. It’s very difficult to find those places. Many of them are in Siberia, very far from here. Some of the camps were located near towns, but others were in taiga, which is the area of forests [which stretches for hundreds of miles].

And there’s another special program. It’s titled “The history of repression[s] of the Polish people”. Polish officers [POWs?] were held near Katyn. Another big program is the “Ostarbeiter” program. This is the program about German workers. [Soviet people who were forcibly taken to Germany during the Second World War and were forced to work there?]. A great number of Soviet citizens were deported(?) [forcibly relocated to Germany]. They were both POWs and civilians. So they worked in Germany and when they returned home [after the war] they suffered for the rest of their life.

MS: Why were they deported [they were not deported by the Soviet authorities, it was the German authorities who relocated them – YD] to Germany? What had they done to make the authorities want to deport them?

Rusakova: When the Germans came they deported(?) workers[sent Soviet people from the occupied territory to Germany to work there].

MS: Oh, it was the Germans who brought them, not the Stalinists.

Rusakova: Yes. But when they came back to the Soviet Union after the war they suffered because there was a kind of a law during the Stalin regime that people who spent some time on the territory of another country [of the enemy country?] were to be repressed.

MS: I had a friend in Toronto, I haven’t seen him for a number of years. But someone I used to know in Toronto was a Russian soldier who surrendered to Germans. He never went back because he said that if he had gone home after the war he would have been punished. So he went to Canada instead. Was it true that many people were punished because they surrendered?

Rusakova: A great number of people were repressed because they had been on the enemy’s territory.

MS: What was the reasoning for that? What was the logic behind the business of punishing people because they’d been in enemy territory? What kind of explanation did they have for doing this?

Rusakova: A fear that they may’ve become spies. [The logic was that] every person who’d been in other country, or lived on the occupied territory, or had relatives abroad, or had been imprisoned [had been a POW?] in another country might be a spy.

MS: I see.

Rusakova: Maybe you know that every industrial enterprise, every research institution, etc. in the Soviet Union has[had?] a KGB department.

MS: First department. Yes, I’ve heard about that.

Rusakova: And they know everything about every employee. So “Memorial” deals with the whole range of all kinds of repression of people. A person’s rights can be violated just because of the fact that his/her relatives had “bad” biographies.

MS: So, what is all this stuff?

Rusakova: These are some … materials. For example, about the Ostarbeiters I’ve mentioned before. “Memorial” is the second largest in the Soviet Union mail receiver.

MS: Are these mail(?) letters?

Rusakova: [These are the letters?] to the “Ostarbeiter” program. And you see a lot of other letters.

MS: When did these letters come? This year?

Rusakova: Maybe this year.

MS: So these are letters that you’ve received this year maybe, or last year. Or one year ago, two years ago?

Rusakova: [During the period of] about two years.

MS: And these letters are from people who were in this…, what do you call these workers, Ostarbeiters? So they are from people who were forced to work in the eastern part of the Soviet Union?

Rusakova: These letters are from victims of various kinds of repression[s].

MS: So these people are not there now.

Rusakova: No. They were there in the past.

MS: Past as of when? When might these people have been repressed?

Rusakova: In case of Ostarbeiters (Ostworkers) it’s the period from 1945 till the ’60s. But it’s difficult to be accurate here because a person coudn’t get higher education because he/she worked in Germany(?). So that person could find only a simple and low paying work.

MS: So they are just now telling you their stories. These letters are from people who are telling their stories. Is that right? Telling what happened to them?

Rusakova: Yes, their stories, descriptions of their characters, etc.

MS: So these will all be kept? Have all of them been read? Did somebody read them?

Rusakova: The person in charge of this program, Yelena Zemkova, would give you better answers to your questions. Unfortunately, she’s pretty busy at the moment. But I know that they have their own archive where they keep all the materials, and also they gather statistics which would help them to organize charity actions.

MS: Now, let’s see, there are three branches – the Gulag history, the charity, and what’s the third?

Rusakova: Human rights, some aspects of the dissidents’ movement, … development (which is of special interest for me), and human rights education.

The position of “Memorial” with regard to human rights education is to make sure that legal(?) education is given in the context of Soviet history. For example in 1991, and also this year, we[??] developed an educational program on human rights (lectures, lessons) for the students of the age group of 16 to 17. It wasn’t only … education but human rights and history studied together. It’s very important to show people that they can make a difference and that it takes their active stand to get rid of the totalitarian regime.

MS: Yeah, absolutely.

Rusakova: … program “Art in Gulag”.

MS: Is it just painting, or is it also writing and music?

Rusakova: It seems to me that it’s mostly drawing and painting. And also music, which is a special form of art[?]. I mean music recorded on tapes.

MS: People had tape recorders?

Rusakova: Yes, a lot of people had tapes with songs, poems and so on. And the “Memorial” people try to collect that kind of tapes too.

I know that some local branches of the “Memorial” publish books of camp … “Memorial” also organizes exhibitions and they are very popular.

MS: Have you ever thought of making records to sell from the tapes that people made?

Rusakova: … I know a lot of people have their own collections.

MS: I bet there would be a lot of people in the West who would like to buy such tapes. If you produced them on a large scale you could probably sell them and make money for “Memorial”. I would like to buy such a tape.

Rusakova: I’ll have to see. Maybe I can find something [for you]. Sometimes it’s hard to identify which are [real?] camp poems and songs and which were written in the later years – ’50s[?], ’60s and ’70s. But maybe it doesn’t matter and it’s interesting anyway.

MS: Oh, I think there will be lots of people who would be interested.

Rusakova: … microfilms or something like that. This is not the whole document(?). Ours is the biggest building in Moscow out of those that belong to non-governmental organizations.

MS: Did the government give the building to you?

Rusakova: We should thank some democratic leaders of the new Moscow City Council for that. But it was very difficult to get this building. And even this is not enough(???). I know that a lot of stuff is kept in the apartments of “Memorial” members. For example, I myself have a collection of documents on human rights problems in my apartment. Because there’s not enough room for them here. … papers and press analysis[?].

MS: You said this is not old?

Rusakova: Of course it is not old.

MS: … [you’ve had?] this house for about one year?

Rusakova: Yes. We couldn’t function properly because we had no furniture ( ?? ) for example. All the furniture you see here is a gift from different embassies.

MS: … What are they doing in there where the computer is? Those fellows in there are doing some sort of historical writing or what? Are they making records on the computer? What are they doing in there?

Rusakova: I suppose they are making a database.

MS: So these people in here are making database. And what will each record represent? When they finish their database they’ll have a number of different records. And each record will be one person, or one camp, or what? Actually what I’m looking at is when they finish in there, each file will be the record of one person, or will it be the record of one camp in the Gulag, or will it be the record of one attrocity, one massacre? What does each record represent?

Rusakova: I don’t know exactly. I know that they have a big special program called “Electronic Archive”.

… this is some [kind of a?] preliminary system[?]. And the main system is not ready now, because it’s a new program – “History of the Dissident Movement”. And the participants are looking for the best possible way of organizing their material.

MS: So this database has a system of citations in which articles are… here’s something by Homer Jack ( ?? ) on Grigorenko, general Grigorenko. So each item is a new story. I see.

Rusakova: And there’s a parallel system. You can see a list of names [personal cards??].The Soviet archive system uses a system of cases [???] which is not this program-friendly.

MS: Individual persons?

Rusakova: And for us to be able to use this program the material should be organized by documents and names.

MS: … This is the future system I’m looking at. And each item is again a text.

MS: Right here we have a list of the names of people. Is it case ( ?? ) or … ?

Rusakova: This is a commentary [ ?? ]. For example, here’s the KGB chief, and here’s Sergei Kovalev’s wife, and he [himself?] is a member of some red ( ??? ) group ( ??? ), and so on.

MS: Do you already have names … file? How many names are there?

Rusakova: We’ve had this computer only for about two months. And before that we used a simple cataloging system – on cards. But now they have in the computer about 200 names and cases ( ?? ). And of course there will be much more there.

MS: Yeah. You have the material here that you will need in the future. You have all those letters and documents. Will that all be put into this computer system?

Rusakova: Different problems have different systems ( ?? ). If we take, for example, history of Stalin’s repression[s], we’ll see that there’s a great amount of material here, beginning 1917 and up to the ’60s. And the period from the ’60s to ’80s, it’s Arbatov’s ( ??? ) material ( ?? ). And did you also ask about the sources of our material?

MS: No. I can see where you get your material. But I wondered if everything is going to be put on the same database. But I guess not. You’ll have it separated and use different databases.

Rusakova: Each program is developed for a specific purpose. Like, for example, this one serves the purpose of compiling a dictionary of the dissident movement.

Rusakova: This is the space allocated for the material on human rights.

Rusakova: This is … .

MS: Distribution Committee for … this is sent by Jewish people in the United States or not?

Rusakova: “Memorial” had a very big program on humanitarian help. Because we have a big number of victims of repression[?] who are very old and ailing and sometimes live alone. And “Memorial” gets humanitarian help supplies and organizes distribution of those goods.

MS: Wonderful.

Rusakova: So we have a big program which takes care of identifying those who need this help.

Rusakova: It’s a good place. It is the centre of Moscow. But it’s very expensive to have a building at the centre of Moscow. I mean telephone bills, electricity bills, etc. So we are looking for sponsors to help us.

Rusakova: Now I am a member of the Council[?] of the Human Rights Centre and also a member of a new centre organized by “Memorial”. It is the (Youth?) Centre of Human Rights and Legal Culture. We are trying to develop and disseminate our program on human rights education. We want to put together efforts of teachers, [old?] dissidents, artists, actors [especially the so-called unofficial writers, journalists, artists, i.e. those who were not in line with the official point of view?]. And we organized some special courses on human rights education with the participation of such people.

Rusakova: It may be a product of an individualistic philosophy.

MS: The notion of human rights comes out of an individualistic philosophy.

Rusakova: Yes. And we know that mentality in Russia is very collectivistic. And so some human rights ideas are hard to grasp for some of … school teachers. Like for example the idea that a person has the right to chose the country where he/she wants to live. I remember at some of the meetings with the teachers one of them was not only surprised but really angry, considering this idea anti-patriotic.


Rusakova: …[of?] first contacts maybe(?).

MS: Of what?

Rusakova: First contacts. A lot of people come to “Memorial”, like those old people, victims of repression[s], who come to find out how they could get some help; or people who come because they would like to participate in the “Memorial” movement. Really lots of people come. This is a reception room. And on average three days a week people come here and to tell the “Memorial” people about their problems. And in winter time they can come every day and talk with members of our special group…

Side B

MS: And this is not your profession working in this building? You do this in your spare time?

Rusakova: I’m myself a social psychologist and now my main field of interest is authoritarian consciousness and adaptation to [the period of] social change. During periods of drastic social changes growth of the sense of threat can trigger growth of authoritarianism. This is a new problem, new research project. Before this we did a study on a power image[?]. But now we have this new project – study of social change and authoritarianism. It is connected with “Memorial” too.

MS: How do you do your work? Are you doing some kind of empirical research, or theoretical research? What is your work like?

Rusakova: I am a member of … the International Research Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence [intellect?]. This laboratory has a few psychological projects under way. We are very free in our work[?]. The work is being done under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences. There’s Program Systems Institute attached to the Academy of Sciences, there’s this laboratory at that Institute, and this arts [??] program.

Now the new Russian government, Gaidar’s team, has commissioned us … they started a very big research project, with philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and others involved, to scientifically substantiate the reforms.

MS: Reforms of what kind?

Rusakova: The Russian government has its own program of social and economic reforms. And they have big problems implementing those reforms.

MS: But I don’t understand how you are supposed to contribute to that. I don’t understand how your work is supposed to help with the reforms.

Rusakova: Through expert counselling.

MS: I just wasn’t sure how the work that goes on here would help with the reforms.

MS: We are talking about the HCA and the participation in it. In the last December you had two …

Rusakova: … two main parts of our delegation (?). The first one was the “Memorial” activists, mostly human rights activists, and the second – experts from the Academy of Sciences and so on (?). Mostly they were experts on ethnic conficts and interethnic relations.

MS: I met Mr. Emil Pain.

Rusakova: He is an expert and his field of interest is something like nongovermental organizations.

MS: Right. Do you have much contact with his centre?

Rusakova: No, not very much. Marina Pavlova-Silvanskaya (?) [Marina Pavlovna Silvanskaya??] has more contact with them.

MS: She is also a member of “Memorial” or not?

Rusakova: No. Marina Pavlova-Silvanskaya is now at Emil Pain’s team.

MS: She is away, is she not? I think she is in Europe, or some [other?] place. Where is she now?

Rusakova: Marina is a very famous expert. She is a linguist, culturologist], politologist[.

MS: Yeah. I know who she is. But I haven’t met her, and I think she is not in Moscow now, is she?

Rusakova: That’s right. She is in Prague.

MS: She is in Prague.

Rusakova: She is lecturing in Prague ( ?? ).

MS: Does she come back to Moscow sometimes?

Rusakova: I don’t know.

MS: She’ll stay in Prague you think?

Rusakova: Yes.

MS: Too bad. I would like to meet her.

I will leave these questionnaires with you. But I only brought three. I’ve given some to Emil Pain. And I gave one to Mr. [Victor] Bulgakov.

Rusakova: Oh, Bulgakov. A very nice person. But the way, maybe you know that he’s a former political prisoner. He also writes poetry.

MS: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Rusakova: But that’s not all. He is a singer[?]. And he is the head of the Moscow City Council Committee, well it has a very long name, but it’s something like the Committee on [the?]emergency situation[s?]. The main task of this committee is to conduct the investigation concerning the activities of the coup plotters.

Rusakova: … And you know KGB continues to exist de facto today. Under the name of… I don’t remember it exactly, but it’s something like the National Security Agency. And it controls [the work of?] the Institute of Sociology at the Academy of Sciences. You know that?

MS: No, I didn’t know that.

Rusakova: You may remember [the story of?] the Ivanovs family. He was the Director of the Institute of Sociology for several years. Now the Director of the Institute is Yadov (?). Maybe you’ve heard this name.

MS: No, I haven’t.

Rusakova: He’s a well-known Soviet sociologist and comes across as quite an honest person. But when Ivanov was the Director everybody knew that he was a KGB man. Now Ivanov is the head of the Centre of interethnic relations.

MS: Where is that? At the National Academy of Sciences or where?

Rusakova: This is at the National Academy of Sciences. And there was something like a secret department at the Institute of Sociology. I don’t know too much about it. But to have a secret department at an institute was quite an ordinary thing.

It is an independent … centre. But we cannot ( ??? ) get materials from this centre because almost all those working there are former KGB people. That’s because Ivanov wants to have around him people of his own circle.

But it would be very interesting to make a diachronic ( ?? ) analysis. We know that they have there some material on the dissident movement.

MS: They have that material? And you’ll never…

Rusakova: There was some secret sociological research carried out in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. And it may be interesting.

MS: How would you get hold of it?

Rusakova: How what?

MS: How would you get access to it?

Rusakova: It’s very difficult. Probably we could try to do it through the government. But they [the centre?] may want to be paid for allowing us to work with that material. And they may charge a lot. So we are trying to organize some administrative [ ?? ] action.

MS: I’d like to know how that works out. Tell me more when you’ve pursued it further. And if you know someone who gets access to that material and will be doing research with it, let me know who that person is. I’d like to speak with that person.

Rusakova: And may I ask what you are mainly working at?

MS: I am now interviewing many people about the ways in which decisions were made and the ways in which people who were not officials may have influenced decisions. For example, did the dissidents have any influence at all in the kinds of reforms that took place? If I could find the network of people who were dissidents and the network of officials, and then find people who linked them, people who were not dissidents but knew dissidents, people who were connected with officials, [people] in between, you see, I would like to talk to people like that to see if ideas moved or if people were in any way compromised by their relationships, if any effects took place. And also other contacts, people in the art world, who were not exactly dissidents but I think most artists were half-dissidents. And then people in Eastern Europe, in Poland, Hungary, and so on, to find out if those ideas had any effect. Or people in the Western peace movement who had many contacts both with dissidents (like I did, I had contacts with the Group for Trust) and contacts with officials. And sometimes those Western peace people took ideas from one place and moved them over here. So stories about such things interest me very much.

Rusakova: About…

MS: …Events in which people can tell a story, an example of something they saw, or heard, just a small example of how somebody found out information in this way, or somebody may have changed their mind on some issue because of information. That sort of thing.

Rusakova: This is a problem of great importance. Now in our country there is a prestige value in being recognized as a former dissident. I know that people responsible for the program about the history of the dissident movement tried to conduct a special research to estimate the following dissidents had. It’s difficult but possible. In the Soviet Union people belonging to different strata of society have their distinctive differencies (specific language they use, life style, work style, etc.). So in most cased it’s easy to distinguish representatives of different social strata – the elite [what kind?], the intelligentsia, etc. But it’s difficult to describe (?) microelements of their subculture. And it’s very important to describe those elements. I’ll give you an example. Let’s take, say, human rights education. Those who used to teach such things as Scientific Communism or History of the Communist Party were supporters of the official ideology. Now they say that they support human rights ideas.

Now a new official ideology is the ideology of human rights. If somebody wants to be successful and famous, it makes a great deal of sense for such a person to support it. So now most of University professors tend to include the issue of human rights in their lectures [and sound supportive of the human rights cause?]. But when you listen to those lectures you sense in them elements of those people’s culture. For example some elements of statism, which is a way of thinking reflecting a belief in the power of a state machine, in its right to decide what’s good and what’s bad for the citizens of the state. It is a dangerous position from a psychological point of view.

MS: OK. This is very interesting to me.

Rusakova: I’s like to do research on that but it’s very difficult.

MS: If you do, would you please let me see it? Anything along those lines that you prepare I would like very much to see. Because it’s extremely interesting to me. These various subcultures and how they differ. It would be very important if I could [see it?]. So if you are going to write something along those lines, I would really like to see it.

Has anybody else been interested in developing that idea? Working on that kind of analysis. Are you the only one or are there thousands of you out there?

Rusakova: I would think that this subject is interesting not only for me.

MS: So you know how to identify genuine human rights advocates. And you know how to tell, when you see someone, who is not genuine.

Rusakova: Well…

MS: Usually, you think, you can? Because you said you can usually tell they are not quite correct. When you said that there are people who are now teaching in universities, teaching about himan rights. But they have this funny way, this funny set of ideas.

Rusakova: I think it’s not possible in practice to create an absolutely new program of legal education. We have a lot of teachers who are a legacy of the previous system and it’s not possible to change their way of thinking quickly. And the same situation we have in high schools. So we decided to organize human rights education independently, not as part of the official system of education. Now there are lots of private schools. We can create an interschool program. Now we are preparing a textbook [?] about human rights activists and some other things, like, for example, members [leaders?] of new political parties. And we are also working on the book which will contain guidelines for teachers of history, literature, humanities in general. But in the Soviet Union it is difficult now even to find the text of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

MS: I should go.

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