Fyodor Burlatsky (his political struggles), 1994

Fyodor Burlatsky, interviewed June 12, 1994 in Moscow from Toronto by phone.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
This was my first conversation with him.

METTA: I have three things that I would like to talk to you about. I’m doing a book on the influences of, you may say, New Political Thinking — earlier phases and late as well.

BURLATSKY: During the Khrushchev times, you mean?

METTA: No, during the Gorbachev period mostly but going back further too. For example I’m interested in Problems of Peace and Socialism in Prague and the group of people who were there. Also a second thing is I’m interested in your role in decisions about human rights policies, and then the third, I’m trying to see if there were influences of the international peace movement on any of the crucial policies that you were aware of during the Gorbachev period. Maybe you can tell me about your own history in the Problems of Peace and Socialism when you were there and so on.

BURLATSKY: I was not permanently there. I came there from time to time. This is why I know the people who were there. I was included in some cooperation between this magazine and the International Department of the Central Committee. I did not work there permanently.

METTA: What was your role in connecting those two organizations?

BURLATSKY: Mr. Khrushchev gave me some advice to come there and had a talk with Mr. Rumyantsev, the Chief Editor of this magazine and explain what Khrushchev wanted to say to him. It was twice, special travel to Prague. Secondly, when we were together in Prague in 1964 during the Khrushchev’s visit to Prague, maybe you remember? The first time here, Khrushchev told me the main ideas he had in mind about this magazine. His idea was to connect the Communist and Pro-Communist parties around this magazine, and especially to prepare a platform against Mao Tse Tung and his policy in Communist movement. This was the main topic which comes from Khrushchev.

METTA: Was that public knowledge? Did they ever say that they were really working against Maoism?

BURLATSKY: You know, it wasn’t said openly, but indirectly many of the articles were prepared especially to be against the Mao Tse Tung ideas. For example when they prepared some articles about the peace movement, about the problem of socialism and about the cult of personality, they had in mind their opponents, first of all the Mao Tse Tung people. This is what Khrushchev told me and what I told Mr. Rumyantsev.

METTA: So you were there to give instruction on what Khrushchev had in mind. Was he satisfied with the way things are going, or did he ever feel that it was off track?


METTA: When you spoke with Khrushchev about this over the years was he generally pleased with the magazine, or did he sometimes…

BURLATSKY: The first was this point, especially he emphasized that the magazine may explain everything with the basis of statements of 1960, you remember this statement?, the communist parties, Mao Tse Tung was against this. About the magazine, this was the second time in, I don’t remember exactly, it was in August or maybe July. I don’t remember exactly in 1964 when Khrushchev had a meeting with Mr. Novotny in Prague. I was there and Khrushchev gave me a special instruction, go to Mr. Rumyantsev to say that Khrushchev is not satisfied about his work. Yes, he was disappointed. Rumyantsev asked him to invite him on a visit to Moscow and Khrushchev told me that he did not want to speak with Mr. Rumyantsev and it will be good if Mr. Rumyantsev will continue there but not come to Moscow.

METTA: What was that all about?

BURLATSKY: I am not sure that this stems from the political or ideological position of the magazine, or personal position of Rumyantsev. I think it was some sort of intrigue against Rumyantsev from somebody around Khrushchev because the people had in mind that Rumyantsev would like to come to Moscow and become a Secretary of Central Committee of Communist Party. Then I understand Mr. Ilyichev, who was a Secretary for Ideology at that time was afraid about this. That’s why it looks like intrigue.

METTA: Is it a sort of rivalry, a personal rivalry, or was it ideological?

BURLATSKY: I think it was a personal problem, because the people around Khrushchev did not want Rumyantsev to come back and replace somebody, for example Mr. Ilyichev. I had very good relations with Rumyantsev — we were together in the magazine Kommunist before — and I told him this is sort of intrigue. He may continue what he did before with the magazine, but maybe understand that the people around Khrushchev, especially Ilyichev, influenced to Khrushchev to some sort of intrigue against Rumyantsev. That’s why, when Khrushchev was pushed away, it was my idea to invite Rumyantsev to the newspaper Pravda. I told this idea to Mr. Andropov, he told this to Mr. Brezhnev and maybe you remember that Rumyantsev became, when Khrushchev disappeared from the political arena, Chief Editor of the newspaper Pravda. Maybe Suslov was the second figure, he disliked very much Rumyantsev, but I think the more important was Mr. Ilyichev because Suslov had no influence with Khrushchev.

METTA: Was there some kind of connection between him and Institute of Sociology Conflict? Wasn’t he involved in that somehow?

BURLATSKY: The Institute of Sociology. This is the second topic. We started to prepare this Institute with Rumyantsev together in 1969. It was later. That is the second story; it does not connect with Khrushchev whatever.

METTA: Wouldn’t it have anything to do with his generally liberally orientation in both cases?

BURLATSKY: Yes, but I don’t think that Khrushchev had in mind his liberal ideas. This was personal. I got this feeling it was personal intrigue.

METTA: As far as you know Khrushchev was satisfied with the basic content and orientation of the magazine.

BURLATSKY: I think yes, but maybe he had in mind more active criticism against Maoism.

METTA: One of the things that I have found is, I have spent some time going through the World Marxist Review and they never show the cast, you know what we would have a masthead, with the staff. They would never show who was there.

BURLATSKY: Repeat please.

METTA: The list of the staff was never shown. What was that all about? Why did they never show who was working there, and were there pseudonyms used? Did people write always under their own names, or sometimes use pennames?

BURLATSKY: It was not usually, but the official members was on the list, the official members of the magazine board.

METTA: They never printed it.

BURLATSKY: As I remember it was printed, the Chief editor and somebody else.

METTA: Sometimes I’ve wondered who worked there because it would be interesting to know what relationships were formed and what relationships were important. But I could never find it from the list. I’ve asked some people and they’ve named a few people.

BURLATSKY: You can call Mr. Chernayev, who was there, or Mr. Shakhnazarov. Both of them were there; they will give you information about everybody. Both of them work now in the Gorbachev’s Foundation.

METTA: Yes, I interviewed Mr. Shakhnazarov but not Mr. Chernayev. I spoke with Mr. Gerasimov who said “Oh it was like a second university for us. It was such an interesting place because we were free to read things and talk and many of our ideas changed.”


METTA: He said many of my friends changed their ideas a lot in Prague because it was such an interesting place to be. Was that a general thing that many people really went through some sort of attitudinal change and was this well known that this was happening to people?

BURLATSKY: Excuse me please, I did not understand.

METTA: Mr Gerasimov told me that many people who were in Prague on the magazine staff had changed their minds on many issues because it was a stimulating environment, and their ideas changed. He said it was like another university experience, it was so interesting.

BURLATSKY: Yes that’s right. It was they can research the experience in East European countries. Remember that Mr. Karder, after the terrible war in 1956, started with some new deal inside of communist movement, and it was a Yugoslavian example, it was in Poland and the Czech examples that was more democratic than in the Soviet Union. Inside the magazine were different people, especially from Italy and communist party, then from France and some from Great Britain, and this was international influence, more democratic influence from the Western and Eastern Communist Parties to the members of this group.

METTA: Would you say that some of the major influence of Eurocommunism would come in that route from the Italians?

BURLATSKY: That’s right, the point was I can say about myself because I visited Yugoslavia in 1960 or in 1959 and this was when I got a very big influence from Yugoslavian experience, especially with decentralization and economical reforms, you remember it was the first step for me and the second was Hungary and especially the influence from the West Europe which I visited 1950, 1957, 1956. And the same for all the people around Rumyantsev. He was a liberal man, not so much as Arbatov, as all of us, but we pushed him to the right position. For example when he came to Newspaper Pravda. I prepared an article for him, I write this article about “Party and Intelligentsia,” maybe you remember. It was a very important article.

METTA: No I don’t. Was that in the journal?

BURLATSKY: You may find it.

METTA: Where?

BURLATSKY: It’s in Rumyantsev in Newspaper Pravda in 1965, when he came as Chief Editor. I wrote for him, he edited this, but I wrote for him this article “Party and Intelligentsia.” It was a big blow against dogmatism and a big support of for the XXth Party Congress. That was the reason that Suslov started to hate Rumyantsev and why Rumyantsev lost his position as Chief Editor of Newspaper Pravda.

METTA: You’ve reminded me of something by speaking of the Yugoslavian connection. There’s a very interesting theory which is a little remote, it seems to me. Someone wrote about how your group that there’s a kind of history of people who were around Kuusinen, and that these people came out of a group that had been around Zhdanov in Leningrad. Then there’s something about how Zhdanov’s trouble came from having been too supportive to the Yugoslav delegation.

BURLATSKY: What is your name, please forgive me?

METTA: My name is Metta Spencer.

BURLATSKY: Metta, it is not true. It is true that Kuusinen was a very liberal man and he invited young — and I can say a talented — people to the book, Fundamental Questions of Marxism/ Leninism. Like Mr. Arbatov, Belyakov and me. We prepared a very liberal book.

METTA: Yes, I’ve heard of it, but I have not read it.

BURLATSKY: Especially, I prepared together with Kuusinen a very important statement to Mr. Khrushchev and then I included this in the program of Communist Party in 1961. The statement was that we finished with the Dictatorship of Proletariat, and started with Social Democracy. This idea came from me, but Kuusinen never had something Mr. Zhdanov. Mr Zhdanov was a very dogmatic man, and unfortunately Kuusinen was politically banished after the so called Leningrad story. Maybe you know Leningrad events. When Stalin shot some people and Kuusinen was very close to those people and not to Zhdanov. Kuznetsov, Vosnesensky, and others.

METTA: So there’s nothing to that?

BURLATSKY: No, no, Zhdanov was as very dogmatic man and pro-Stalinist man. Leningrad group, yes, but I don’t think that (Kuusinen?) was very close to them. He had relations with them because he was in you remember it was prepared during the Russian-Finnish War. The Prime Minister of the republic, but not Mr. Zhdanov, certainly.

METTA: Well that clears that up.

A couple of little clues of something I don’t understand. I understand that Mr. Gorbachev attended Mr. Berlinguer’s funeral.

BURLATSKY: Mr. Gorbachev?

METTA: Yes. Mr. Gorbachev attended the funeral of Mr. Berlinguer. The Italian Eurocommunist leader.

BURLATSKY: Yes that’s right. He had a big influence to Mr. Gorbachev.

METTA: He had a big influence?

BURLATSKY: Yes that’s right.

METTA: How did that happen? I don’t think I’ve seen that written down. Can you tell me something about that?

BURLATSKY: Gorbachev visited Italy during his vacation time. I don’t remember exactly when it was.

METTA: I know about that, and he met them there?

BURLATSKY: At that time he had many talks with Berlinguer, then when Berlinguer died, Gorbachev was head of delegation there, and said very important words during his burying, that, Enrico we will never forget your advice about democracy in the Soviet Union. It was first time when I personally [took note of] Mr. Gorbachev. It was published in the Italian newspapers but never published in Russian.

METTA: Gorbachev was in Prague on some trip in 1969 but it is not often described. What was that trip about?

BURLATSKY: In 1969. It was during his vacation time, I remember.

METTA: No, well it was a trip that, the only way I know about it is that Ligachev’s memoirs describe how they met, and they met on that trip, and there’s a photograph of them standing in front of St. George slaying the dragon, I know that statue is in the castle in Prague.

BURLATSKY: Maybe it was during the vacation time. I don’t remember if he visited Italy twice or at that time or just once.

METTA: I know he visited once, as a matter of fact I have several friends who, I started interviewing people in the Charta 77 movement in about the mid 80’s. Some of them, for example Jaroslav Sabata, reported that he was very disappointed when finally Gorbachev came to Prague after coming to power because Gorbachev made, well they could excuse him for his supportive statements to the government in public, but when he was in the streets speaking with people, he sounded more supportive of the regime than he should have, and everybody was very disappointed.

BURLATSKY: Metta there is a problem now. It’s half past 12 in 5 minutes, the people may call me at half past twelve.

METTA: Okay I can call you at another time.

BURLATSKY: Invite me to Toronto.

METTA: Sure, you’re invited to Toronto. It would be very wonderful. So you tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll call you another time or whatever.

BURLATSKY: Can you call me back in an half hour.

METTA: Will do, thanks bye.

METTA: You’re free now. Well, just wind up a little bit more with the Prague thing. The Czech dissidents whom I have known over some years had no contact whatever with people at the magazine and didn’t even know that there was anything about that magazine or the people there that they had anything in common with. The only exception to that was Jaroslav Sabata, who had some idea that there were people in Russia who had some affinity. He tried to get in touch with Mr. Bogomolov, and Mr. Ambartsumov and didn’t succeed, but anyway. What I’m interested in is whether you know of any contact between Czech intellectuals and dissidents, and people at the journal?

BURLATSKY: What about the journal, this is true, that the people in this magazine look dogmatic compared with Czech dissidents. It was one member from Czechoslovakia Communist Party, Mr. Ausberg, something like this, he was Novotny’s assistant before, but he was personally was not so progressive man, and they pushed him from his position (he was a member of Communist party of Czechoslovakia) to this magazine. I had very close relations with Czech dissident members of the POlitburo during the Prague autumn. One was Mr. Coldger(?), especially Mr. Rakovsky, a member of the politburo, and and (Desmilier?) and some other People. When I came usually to Prague, he and we discussed the problems of political and economical reforms. That’s why in 1968 I had my own troubles in our country because I explained that I still believe in the Czech spring.

METTA: Was there any truth in it?

BURLATSKY: Yes, because I was very, I believe that I’m very much in the economical reforms especially such as Yugoslavia and, I like what Mr. Karder started.

METTA: Can you spell his name?

BURLATSKY: Mr. Karder from Hungary. That’s why I discussed with the people in Prague, the possibility of real economical reforms and democratic changes. I did some articles in our country just after Khrushchev disappeared. There were one or two months when nobody understood what happened. I published some articles in this way, that we need economical and political reforms. The same ideas were discussed in 1967, when I came to Prague.

METTA: Were you acquainted with Ota Sik?

BURLATSKY: No, not personally.

METTA: Okay. What about Mylnar, so far I haven’t been able to interview him, although I have tried several times, and I don’t know whether I’ll succeed, but he certainly interests me because he continued to be an activist long after the Prague spring.

BURLATSKY: I met Mlynar at that time and especially, do you remember the name of the President of radio or T.V., a state company in Prague and then became an immigrant, now he’s a member of European parliament. I met him after this too. Maybe it was this man? I had many talks with this man.

METTA: I keep running across the name Rossi and Antonetti. Rossi must have been somewhat influential in the magazine.

BURLATSKY: Yeah, Ambartsumov knew Rossi very well. He was very close to him.

METTA: I see. Mr. Zaradov was the editor for a while.

BURLATSKY: Yes after Rumyantsev.

METTA: Was that directly after Rumyantsev?

BURLATSKY: I think so.

METTA: When people became editor, how was that choice made?

BURLATSKY: It was a decision among the Communist Parties that the chief editor should be elected but represented by the Soviet communist party. That’s why the real decision comes from the politburo of the CPSU. But after this all communist parties who are included in this magazine formally elected him.

METTA: Was there sort of a continuity when Mr. Rumyantsev left? Were there any significant changes, or was the new leadership similar?

BURLATSKY: Mr. Zaradov was not a liberal man. He was very flexible, not conservative, not so well educated, without some of his own political positions. He was not bad, but not as good as during Rumyantsev’s time. During his management the magazine became more traditional, did not play the same role as Rumyantsev. The young people, the liberal people who were around Rumyantsev left the magazine: Zagladin, Shakhnazarov, (Barazhnikov?) — all of them back back to the Central Committee of the CPSU.

METTA: This thing that I referred to said that both Mr. Andropov and Kuusinen had been in Zhdanov’s circle, or the young people around him. You say that was not true?

BURLATSKY: No, they were close to Leningrad leaders because it was usual that the Leningrad (? sounds like Sovkhoz) managed the north region, I mean the region that revolts were from. Andropov. Kuusinen was close because he was close to Karelia and Finland, but I would like to emphasize that these people, Kuusinen and Andropov, were outsiders of the Leningrad (?? sounds like Sovkhoz) because they were close to the people who were punished by Zhdanov but not to Zhdanov. There’s a special question, which way Mr. Andropov survived when Stalin [destroyed?] his group. It’s a special question.

METTA: Do you know the answer?

BURLATSKY: It was a strange story. First of all he came to Central Committee, not an important staff, and then to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then became ambassador to Hungary. But in which way he survived is a special question to be researched. I don’t know.

METTA: Mr. Ligachev also got into trouble briefly for being too close to Zhdanov, apparently as a young man.

BURLATSKY: Maybe, he did not tell me. We were at ___ at the same time. I left before him, about 1964.

METTA: I’d like to make sure that I talk to you about human rights, because that’s even more important to me. I’d like to know how some of those changes came about? What preceded the decision and what were some of the influences that made that change happen?

BURLATSKY: In 1988, I created the Human Rights Commission.

METTA: That was with the Parliament?

BURLATSKY: No it was before. It was a commission, a social commission, independent commission which included very important and famous people from different fields. We started our activities with them and with agreed organizations together with Western partners. Mrs. Rosalyn Carter and I became Presidents of so called De Burght Conference, or East-West Conference on Human Rights. We took part together with Rosalyn Carter and people from the American Congress, from the different parliaments of the Europe. We prepared two conferences, first in the Hague and then and one conference in Moscow. They discussed the human rights problems.

The first problem which Rosalyn Carter explained to us was the problem of the prisoners of the religion, the Baptist religious groups who were in the prison. After the first conference I had a talk with Mr. Gorbachev, gave him a list which included more than 400 prisoners, and asked him to release all of them. In the beginning he refused to do this and told me each case should be researched separately, but then I argued and he decided to release everybody. He gave this instruction to Mr. Lukyanov, who was a secretary of Central Committee and managed many services: KGB, and Ministry of Internal Affairs. I research what controlled the decision, and everybody was released at that time. It was the first step.

Then I was elected as president of this commission to the Congress and to Supreme Soviet became the president of its sub-committee. I prepared three drafts of laws. Not just me, but I managed this commission which prepared three drafts of laws: freedom of press and mass media, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement and migration. They were very big commissions which includes not just the deputies, but representatives from different ministries (from Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Domestic problems), from the KGB — all the ministries interested in this topic that were were included in this commission. My western partners helped me as consultants, I sent them two drafts of laws. I sent to my partner, a secretary, to Mrs. Rosalyn Carter and to Mr. Van Eeghen, who was secretary for the International East-West Conference of Human Rights. I sent the draft of laws over to people there. They gave me many remarks, especially about the draft about freedom of religion, of conscience, and the second freedom of movement and immigration draft. Then I prepared this draft with another commission from our parliament, a special commission which manages the problem of law. Then we declared a session of Supreme Soviet, had a big discussion, a big struggle, and then a very big story. Especially this freedom of movement part, because Gorbachev was against it.

METTA: Really?

BURLATSKY: He worried very much about a brain drain. Bureaucrats told him that we lost about eight million — the best, our specialists. He told me that Americans now are not interested in this law because they are afraid about Russian immigration. I had two meetings with State Secretary, James Baker, once in Washington during the prayer breakfast.

METTA: I can’t help laughing at prayer breakfasts, but go on.

BURLATSKY: I like it.

METTA: You do?

BURLATSKY: I like it because it’s some sort of community, of national feeling.

METTA: Okay, you can have them. You can have my share.

BURLATSKY: You know the prayer breakfasts in Washington?

METTA: Yeah, I know what they are. I just think they are kind of corny.

BURLATSKY: I had a talk with James Baker and asked him to help us influence Gorbachev directly with the freedom of movemen. And the second time, when he came to Moscow, I understood during our discussion (because very many people were against this law) Mr. Bush had a talk with Mr. Gorbachev on James Baker’s advice. After this, Gorbachev changed his mind and decided okay. But he told me, “Please, let’s compromise.” This law started from January 1, 1993. We discussed this in Spring 1991. I said okay and then the last draft of the law was adopted. That’s why every human rights law which we prepared had a very big story, a very big struggle.

METTA: That’s the first I’ve heard Mr. Gorbachev opposed any of it.

BURLATSKY: Especially this freedom of immigration.

METTA: This was not ideological for him but just practical.

BURLATSKY: This is practical question.

METTA: You didn’t persuade him yourself but you got someone else to persuade him.

BURLATSKY: Because of Mr. Bush, I think.

METTA: Interesting.

BURLATSKY: I had not enough influence. I was not as important as Mr. Bush. I should have used Margaret Thatcher. (He chuckles.) She did a very good deal with Mr. Gorbachev, she pushed him to the liberal position. The first was Enrico Berlinguer, the second very big influence was from Margaret Thatcher. She came to Moscow and had a talk. Very interesting story.

METTA: So he was really persuaded?


METTA: That’s wonderful. Before you set up this commission in 1988, you didn’t just do it by yourself.

BURLATSKY: I was close to Andrei Sakharov and met him in 1969 and 1970, but I was not included in his group.

METTA: Were you open about being close to him?

BURLATSKY: What do you mean?

METTA: Did you let everybody know that you were close to him?

BURLATSKY: I met him, but I was not close to him. I wrote an article last time that explains the story in Independent Newspaper of my visit to Andrei Sakharov. It was Mr. Zeldovich, a physicist who prepared atomic weapons together with Sakharov. He was a friend of mine and he asked me to give some remarks about the first Sakharov’s brochure which he prepared in 1969. I did it and we had some talks with Andrei Dmitrievich.

METTA: One of the things that I wonder about is Dr. Chazov. I think he signed the statement chastising Mr. Sakharov. The members of the doctor’s movement always say, well he had to sign this, he would have had trouble if he had not signed it.

BURLATSKY: You know, it was a personal choice for everybody. I, for example, never did it — never against Sakharov or against somebody else, and I had many of my own troubles. They pushed me from my position three times.

METTA: I knew about one time, I didn’t know about three times.

BURLATSKY: Three times, of course.

METTA: What were these 3 times?

BURLATSKY: First was 1967 when I published an article against the dictatorship. I was a political observer with the newspaper Pravda and they pushed me from this position. The second was in the Institute of Sociology, we created it together, Mr. Rumyantsev, the Institute of Sociology. He was president, I was vice-president. We worked together in 1969 till 1972. Then they pushed all of us, about 140 sociologists. The first to be pushed was me, vice-president of this Institute, I was the real manager because Rumyantsev at the same time was vice-president of the Academy of Science. The third time was in 1975 when I created the political science sector of the Institute of State and Law. They eliminated this sector. I started to create political science in our country.

METTA: I know.

BURLATSKY: I published my first article in 1965. Then I created such an organization inside the Institute of State and Law, pushed me from this position too. It was the Brezhnev epoch, but I never criticized somebody of course. What about Chazov, it was a choice. If he refused to emphasize the criticism against Sakharov, he couldn’t be punished, but it was possible that he could lose his high position and become not so important. Just that, but not punished.

METTA: You were speaking of 1988. How did you go about deciding to create this commission, and how much support did you have?

BURLATSKY: I was a lawyer educated in law and all my publications, even during Khrushchev’s time, were about democracy and the process of democratization, especially about human rights, juries, courts, and such questions. That’s why I had this in mind. I explained this, sometimes not directly. I published many books and articles in Aesop’s style. I published a biography of Mao Tse Tung and everybody understood at that time that it’s not just about Mao Tse Tung but Stalin too. I published a book about Machiavelli, and everybody understood that it’s just not about the prince in Italy, but about the cult of personality of Russia. In this way, not just I, but many of us did it. That’s why I was prepared and I just used the chance. What about the decision?. The decision came when I asked Mr. Gorbachev, not directly but indirectly (and Mr. Shakhnazarov helped me), and Gorbachev said okay if we created this commission. That was important because before this time I was like a party dissident. People could not support me officially but after this we created this commission. That’s why the initiative came from me.

METTA: You must have known, quite awhile before, that he was likely a person to say yes. You say the first time you met him was at Berlinguer’s funeral.

BURLATSKY: No I did not meet him, I mentioned to myself this unusual man. Just this. My friends from Italy told me [about it]. I had a group from the Italian Communist Party. I taught them.

METTA: You taught them?

BURLATSKY: Yes, I was a professor, lecturer, especially with Italian and French representatives from these two parties. They told me this story, the people from the Italian Communist Party, that when Gorbachev was in Italy, he said that about Enrico — what I told you before.

METTA: I guess the question for me is, how soon, how much before had he shown his tendencies towards democracy?

BURLATSKY: I mentioned [ed. he means noticed] this just during his Italian trip when Enrico died. I mentioned [noticed] for myself. But what about his activities as secretary in the Central Committee when he came to Moscow? I did not hear anything, I just heard that some young people were included in the politburo and among then there is such a young man, a well educated, clever man, but I never heard before 1985 that Gorbachev looked like a dissident. Never!

METTA: There is a wonderful story that I cannot find, I cannot document it. It was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta by a guy named Lebedev reporting on an anecdote that Mlynar was supposed to have given in an interview. According to this story, Gorbachev had attended the 20th Party Congress. (I know that’s not true, but he did attend the 22nd Party Congress.) According to this story, afterward he went to the lookout point in front of Moscow State University where Herzen and another man took an oath to combat absolutism, and he took an oath to devote his life to combating Stalinism. Have you ever heard that story?

BURLATSKY: This is what Mylnar explained in his article in Italian press when Gorbachev came to power. Mylnar published an article. Did you see this article?

METTA: No, I tried to get someone to find it and I couldn’t get anybody who…

BURLATSKY: It’s a very important article.

METTA: Was it L’Unita?

BURLATSKY: L’Unita, yes I think so. I met Mlynar, maybe it was 1989, in Prague, and I asked him, will you prepare a book about Gorbachev? He told me, maybe yes — but not now. He told me the same story, that when they were together as students, they lived together in one room, not just one room but connected rooms with one bathroom. He told me Gorbachev was a very anti-Stalinist man at that time and discussed many problems and that Mlynar had an influence on his mind. But I never heard something like this in Russian, nobody can say that about Gorbachev, he was a normal Party man.

METTA: So it was true, but he was hiding it, you think?

BURLATSKY: Yes he hid it, but maybe it was not so important for him because he liked power very much; he was a real man of power, that’s why he did not want to become a dissident. He wanted to be above.

METTA: I can understand that. One of the things I’m interested in is showing any influence that the international peace movement may have had on changes on military policy, and also other matters, such as democracy and human rights and so on. I used to attend conferences in Moscow and I always felt they were listening to me. I thought, that’s very strange, people don’t listen to me anyplace else! I wonder if I was correct, if there was good deal of attention paied to the international peace movement and that these conversations sometimes…

BURLATSKY: Yes it was a big influence from the Helsinki Commission and it was a very important first conference in Moscow in 1988 when many people from Helsinki Commission came to Moscow from different countries. From United States for example Mr. Bernstein, from Austria this Mr. Schwartzenberg, from the American congress Mr. Smith, from Great Britain parliament Mr. — I don’t remember. This was the first very important conference together with us, and it was a very big influence from them. Then the Helsinki Watch Commission from United States and the Helsinki Commission Mr. Stanley ??? and Mr. De Concini from American Congress, from Great Britain Mr. Martin who was a general secretary for Amnesty International. Many of them. I can say that it was a really big intellectual influence, I can even say political pressure. Very important for us.

METTA: That’s interesting. Political pressure, tell me how that would be so? I don’t understand that.

BURLATSKY: For example during the conversation between Reagan and Gorbachev, during the Gorbachev visit to United States to Washington, they had a conversation between them. Reagan emphasized — Bush and Margaret Thatcher and all of them — that the human rights problems are very important for the Soviet-European relations. It was a very big pressure. Then on the next level, the social level, many people came to Moscow and had a talk with Mr. Gorbachev and with members of our parliament. All of this influence looked like a political pressure.

METTA: That’s good to know. Were you joking about saying you’d like to be invited to Toronto, or would you like me to work on that?

BURLATSKY: Yes, I’d like very much…[phone disconnects].


METTA: I’m sorry we got cut off.

BURLATSKY: Yes I would like very much to come to Canada and visit.

METTA: Wonderful. I will be in touch with some people. There’s a Russian and East European studies Institute and I’ll see if I can find some way to do that, to invite you. Good, thank you very much.

BURLATSKY: Do you want my address?

METTA: I should take it. No I don’t have the home address.

BURLATSKY: Yes please, this street is called Pavlika Morozova.

METTA: For that little boy?

BURLATSKY: Yes it’s terrible story. I tried to eliminate it but without success. Number 22-90, Moscow, Russia.

METTA: Is there a code or district?

BURLATSKY: Not important. You can call my secretary and she will give you the fax number.

METTA: It;s been delightful, absolutely wonderful, I’m so grateful to you. I hope we can find a way…

BURLATSKY: It’s very important to explain this history because many things we can understand now, and in the future we must understand what happened before.

METTA: We what?

BURLATSKY: We must understand what happened before we prepared the changes.

METTA: Well, thank you very much and good bye.

BURLATSKY: Thank you Metta, it’s been a pleasure.

See also
Fyodor Burlatsky (invading Afghanistan), 1990
Fyodor Burlatsky (changes under Yeltsin), 1996
Fyodor Burlatsky (his human rights actions), 1997

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