Interview with Genrikh Borovik, 1992 (?)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Borovik was the head of the Soviet Peace Committee when I interviewed him at his office. We spoke first about the several, variously colored phones on his desk — a specific color for each mistress, he joked.
M. I’ve been here for two months…..
B. So the question is whether the peace movement……any people — it doesn’t.
M. Whether it did have any effect on policy, or if not directly on policy, did it create a mood in the country that encouraged the top…Gorbachov and his team…
B. Ah, perestroika…maybe I will begin with the last events….well, a year and a half ago, I think the movement against nuclear tests was the decisive thing to push the government to stop the tests. I think that the moratorium which was proclaimed by Gorbachov four years ago…for eighteen months…it was extremely under the pressure of people. I do not think that those people who think that everything is decided by only the people on the top are quite right. Maybe they are not right at all. Especially here in the society when we should feel the mood of the people. Because of the elections…problems of the Supreme Soviet… which is absolutely different that it was before…you have to feel the mood of the people. So I think that any movement which gathers people together and gives them strength and gives them ideas or absorbs their ideas and formulates those ideas for them to express, I think it made them quite influential. I don’t think about such things as hunger strikes, or peasant strikes…but meetings, well I personally participated in several meetings in….asking for something, then the minister of Defence, Yazov, said that ‘OK maybe we will stop here but we will do it in (another location)’ and I argued with him, quarreled with him during the Supreme Parliament, and you know people watched this and said ‘oh, well he is doing the right thing, lets go and help him’ and they would go and help.
M. When was that debate?
B. The debate was a year and a half ago…spring of ‘91.
M. That was at a time when the hard-liners were being strenghtened, when Gorbachev was swinging to the right. Is that right?
B. Two or two and a half years ago we made a huge ecological festival on the Kola peninsula, with Swedish people, Norwegian, from Denmark…and they already had everything together…artists, etc,…they made it a great issue. ……I remember that Gorbachov was planning his trip…and I heard that they were planning to test in august, every year they test in august (Duart…I’m paraphasing here) the same time this festival was scheduled to occur….so I talked to one of Gorbachev’s assistants and said please don’t go there in the beginning of august because they will have something and it will be a terrible thing for you…so please ask him not go. He said ‘that’s impossible, absolutely impossible…are these people so crazy’….and so accidently without his knowledge Gorbachov was going to be there at the time of the test….and some people said that he was coming especially to recognize the testing on the 6th of August. So, such things are not unnoticable…such things are not in vain. It coming together and then it may be destroyed…the moral atmosphere. But then again when something happens it is restored by life itself and by the efforts of the human beings.
(I cannot make out a long section here — 115 to 122)
I believe those people who say that the change came from the top, absolutely, but it came from the top being prepared by the people and being suffered under by the people. The country was pregnant with that and the pregnancy was expressed by these movements. I remember in ‘87…it was already two years of perestroika…I tried to have a peace walk from Leningrad to Moscow without any military, without any KGB…and it was a great battle to change this this way. And we ended this walk for the first time in history with rock music…rock music on a stadium…and it was made on the 4th of July which is the American Independence Day.
M. How did you come to the decision to have dissident peace activists come to the meetings?
B. Usually what they did, they blocked our meetings…they demonstrated.
M. Now what about due …. of your own people, anything?
B. They usually asked them to let them participate and it was forbidden, militia….and we decided ‘why not?’ It was much easier in ‘87 than in ‘85 or ‘86……at that time the chief of the international department of (175?) he told me after this meeting, ‘I heard that you allowed dissidents to come and to speak,’ I said ‘yes’ and that ‘nothing happened’ — the country was still the country and the people were still the people, we even helped them to make a press conference here in this building. He said ‘but, it the same time it means that you recognize them, you registered them as a real group.’ I said ‘no, first of all none of the peace movement needs to be registered by anybody, it is just people who like to go and who like to…
M. But he really didn’t like you doing this…
B. I prefer you wouldn’t mention his name because he is not a bad guy—actually he is a good guy, but at that time everything was under the country…everything. I don’t think that he could tell me go away you’re fired or something…it was impossible. But at the same time he had some reservations, some big reservations. And to be secure he told me that thing.
M. You didn’t clear it with anybody first?
B. No, I didn’t. I just did it spontaneously by myself.
M. What did it do to the morale of your own staff, because I remember hearing your view in meetings where there were very strong discussions of this…
B. Of peace movements dissidents?
B. There was strong views against alternative peace movements.
M. Was it because they felt threatened or was it that they were defending a line…
B. Soviet Peace Committee was completely under the leadership of the Central Committee. They were completely under the leadership of the international department of peace committee. They were created by Stalin basically, in 1949.
M. I remember those discussions quite well, because as a matter of fact some of the members came to Toronto and I had lunch with them and there was a squabble in my living room about this. And the peace movement’s interpretation changed all the time…the first position at that point was that this group doesn’t exist or we don’t see it or heard of them, and then it was ‘yes, they do exist but they are disloyal, etc. etc’…but everybody seemed to stick together. How did something that happen, how would they have coordinated, for example, the position that was to be taken..
B. Of those alternative peace groups?
M. Obviously they were not thinking independently, as you say they were taking their message from somebody else.
B. It doesn’t mean absolutely that all of them were lying…. most of them were completely sincere…being absolutely sure that the international policy of the government of the Central Committee was very peaceful…(unclear)…..I also believe that our international policies were peace-loving policies…at that time I would never think that we were sending any terrorists, and by the way I don’t think that we did it…there was the Lenin (232?) school which prepared a few people for other countries, but I don’t think it is exactly terrorists who would go and kill people. I can tell you my tragedy is that for a long time I believed that people who are coming to such posts as members of the Politbureau, they are absolutely honest and that their morals should be on the same level as their posts, because this post requires a very high morale….then I learned about some things which I didn’t know, I began to understand the bad fortunes of this country. Maybe it was also easier to believe…but it was sincere. But I don’t think that everybody here was just lying, no, I don’t think so……..I can tell you terrible things, it was in ‘88 or in ‘87 I came to Prague for some congress, I don’t remember which one, I came there and there was a young guy, a young scientist in our delegation who was going to make a speech tomorrow. He came to me in the evening and he asked me ‘should I sound as liberal?’…you can imagine!
M. Yes, I can imagine…I can imagine what it felt like…that is the thing.
B. I said ‘sound like yourself!’ But I don’t think that all those attempts made even by the delegation which under the Central Committee, but sometimes it went out of their control.
M. I guess part of what I’m looking at is the way in which public opinion changed. I would say it wasn’t just like Gorbachev switches a button and everybody switches, although sometimes it looks that way. Many people are telling me that they had private thoughts that in a way were suddenly permitted to be expressed, but I don’t know? Do you feel that these events changed public opinion…that the events….public demonstrations and so on changed public opinion? In your case when you first took a risk, for example, and said something that still might get you in trouble….do you remember the first time that you reversed yourself in a public way? Taking a risk in the direction the whole country was going in?
B. You know, I sometimes think how much different it is between the physical risk and the social risk. Physical risk is much easier. You know I was in physically very difficult situations, I was in Vietnam in ‘55, I was in Vietnam in Dec. ‘72 during the Xmas bombing — which was terrible — I was in Cuba during the revolution, the Bay of Pigs, I was in Chile before the coup d’etat, I was in Nicaragua and I never felt any deep fear, but, because I was sure I was doing the right thing…I would join the fight if I had too, but when you are organizing this concert in this stadium, rock music, and everyone is asking ‘for who are you doing this, why are you doing this on the 4th of July, why are you doing rock music, what is under it, what is the second thought?’ You know there is no second thought, it is just beautiful thing. In this time you begin feeling fear. It is quite interesting. Because everybody would think about you as stupid. Like for instance, the intelligentsia thought that Andrei Sakharov was psychologically not very well. It is a terrible thing the atmosphere. But when you do such things and people understand it…’Look, this is wonderful…rock music is not very dangerous, they will not get drunk, they will not kill people, everything is all right…’ Well, you think that you are doing the right thing.
M. It seems almost as if some sort of religious conversion took place in the whole country, in that within a couple of years people were thinking in a different way and I don’t have any complete grasp of how that works psychologically, I mean how people ‘felt’ as they took that opportunity to….
[tape ends here]