Henry Trofimenko, 1990

Moscow, March 7, 1990
Interviewer: Gwynne Dyer

Dyer: I was going to ask you about any political resistance from the Soviet military industrial complex. There are lots of jobs here.

Trofimenko: To some extent I feel there is some resistance — not so much from the military people because the military people understand: All right we are not yet disarming to the extent that we are simply closing down the shop. Military people understand that they have to have smaller, but modern forces. We are keeping a lot of old stuff, a lot of scrap iron, and we are spending a lot of money for that scrap iron. We still have vintage tanks of the Second World War. They would be eager to get rid of those things. So military people understand what is necessary, what is affordable, and so forth. Their main worry, to be quite frank, is about the social security of those military people who have to be demobilized en masse from Eastern Europe. They have a good living there. They are quickly sending several hundred thousands of troops into the Soviet Union, in to new lodgings. The children have to be put into new schools and the officers have to be offered decent jobs, this is their worry.

As to the military industry, I guess some of those guys under various pretexts (they say they have very special skills and don’t want to switch to pots and pans) but in their heart they don’t want to part with this lucrative business. They have a qualified work force and the moment that they start to produce pots and pans instead of aircraft, you disqualify your personnel. This is the resistance. And they say, maybe it’s not for good, this disarmament. You will still need new gadgets. Some of their complaints are understandable. Because if you want to produce peaceful goods, some of it will have to be on a par with what you produce electronically. But it’s difficult to use the stock of military industry for civilian production. We forgot how to do it because we made conversion forty some years ago. Few people who knew how to do it are still surviving. That’s the problem. So the resistance has a plethora of motives — some are reasonable and some are nostalgia for the good old days when you produced more and more tanks.

Dyer: Talking about removing people from Central Europe, I cannot believe that it is going to stop at 195,000 Americans and 195,000 Soviets. We have already had agreements in the last month to pull all of the troops out of Czechoslovakia and Hungary by the middle of next year. The Soviet government is asking the Poles to ask it to take the troops home. And it’s very hard to believe that there will be 195,000 troops in a reunited Germany in two or three years time.

Trofimenko: Nobody knows that but I guess so far, the general feeling in Germany is that they would be performing a process that is not to anybody’s liking in their surrounding neighbors. So this kind of a keeping up the 200 000 troops would be some measure that is supported by almost everyone in Europe. It depends on how things go. Generally, the agreement to keep these troops is some sort of a guarantee that the process of unification of Germany would not only be for the German people but would be acceptable to all the people. How it will go further, nobody knows. … Of course, the role both _ would diminish. Whether it would really transform them into some sort of totally political alliances, with the pace of events it is really difficult to predict anything. So maybe in a few years time there will be no more troops. But so far they serve a useful role as a guarantee that in the process of reunifying Germany you would not lose the status quo which we had for forty years in Europe. It is a transitional role; our position is that in 1995 we take all out troops out of foreign territories. The Soviet Union has followed that, we are not bringing to our soil. We are more performing that task that is expected from our side, by the Czechs, by the Poles, by the Hungarians, though the Czechs are saying, let the Soviet troops go out. But they are quite satisfied that some part of the Soviet troops are staying in eastern Germany and the same thing relates to the West. Maybe the stationing of American troops in the Federal Republic is more abhorrent to French than to American people. But I could envisage the situation now, (now, if you had asked me half a year ago I would not have envisaged the unification of Germany that far back) but now, miracles are happening, so everything is happening very shortly.

Dyer: Could we talk then about the very fast moving and hypothetical nature of international relations? With a couple of assumptions, first that the unification of Germany does proceed smoothly and everybody is more or less reassured that we have not created a monster. And the second assumption is by 1995 the Soviet Union succeeds in getting all its troops back within its own borders. On those two assumptions, what jobs are there left to do in international relations — regulatory jobs, the jobs that the alliances once did, and who is to do them? What is the new structure going to look like?

Trofimenko: Difficult to predict but there are several important tasks. One task is that we would not supplement the bloc division of Europe with economic division of Europe — that is, with the European Community becoming de facto a new economic bloc. Against splitting Europe on economic lines instead of political and military lines. That means that one has to create some European structures, and again the search is around what kind of structures one has to have. But of course it ought not to be just simply declaratory, or a superficial thing — you create some new European council and that’s it. Really, one has to merge both parts of Europe, and to do that, our economy and the economy of W. European countries should form a better union.

I guess there is a dual task: on one hand to improve our economic performance so we could really be compatible economically, not only with the economic reference, but with much more compatibility of currency and so on, so we would be natural partners of W. Europe. I mean, we the Soviet Union and E and C European states.

And on the other hand, one has to continue the Helsinki process — creating some sort of a new infrastructure of Europe by extending those very close connections that EC has, on the wide European basis, merging the EFTA countries and the Soviet Union and countries of E. and W. Europe into some sort of European community. It’s not the task for the next few years, it’s a long term task, but at least we have to start it. Lowering the military confrontation, which will still exist, despite the agreements that are forthcoming. One of the greatest tasks is to break the psychological wall, because it is not easily eroded in the mentalities of the people. We still look at the West as somewhat different. We have to overcome this mentality, have to treat France or FRG like Britain treats the United States or like Belgium treats Holland or so on. It is not a thing that can be done very quickly because a new generation has to grow up — a generation that will have more universalist mentality. World outlook. So some of us old people who are still running the country, despite innovative ideas, still they believe in the heart that there are all these bloody imperialists who will sometime take us by the throat. It is very deep inside. It is the same thing, if you are born in an atheist family, you think that God doesn’t exist, you are born in a family of churchgoers you are a churchgoer yourself. It is taken with milk of your mother.

Dyer: This is so interesting. Do you mind my asking about you? You are obviously a person old enough to be in some senses one of the people you are talking about. What did you think, what did you know, when you were a young man, a late teenager. What did you believe in?

Trofimenko: You ask very personal question. I was asked that question several times: when I was converted to a new mentality. I was trying to think about it and I hate to boast of saying anything, but I would say my first conversion was when I didn’t go to the Stalin funeral, when I was a young boy. I was working as a radio correspondent and my office was a couple of blocks from the central hall where Stalin laid in state. I could easily have walked there. There was no crowd. And I decided I would not see him off. I had a grudge against this man. One grudge was (of course I was indoctrinated) but I couldn’t understand. All right, there were these enemies around you, but they were your comrades. Why didn’t you just dismiss them, why did you kill them? Your own comrades! To me it was incomprehensible.

Gradually, this kind of notion, when I had to write commentaries about our intervention into Hungary. I wrote some. I tried to be objective, but while writing this thing I lost several years of my life because what I wrote was not to my liking. So this kind of education, you gradually came to this thing. And then in our institute (I jump a lot of years) we have been having some progressive ideas during Brezhnev time, we have been putting them on paper, saying we have to do this and do that, but this paper was put aside or dismissed because the policy was stagnant. Nobody took any new ideas. And so when the new leadership came, and asked for suggestions, then there was an avalanche of new thinking. Of course, now it is more young people who are now taking the business of thinking theoretically in their own hands. And I welcome this.

Dyer: Talking to any number of people my own age and older, I got the impression that everybody knew everything by fifteen years ago — that there was no longer any belief in what everybody said. But when you were a young man — a very young man — everybody had been so indoctrinated and very cut off from opposing views that most people sort of believed in the system as it was.

Trofimenko: We believed in the system, you see. One of the greatest desires of me and some of my friends when I was young was to go volunteer in Greece to fight for Greece’s freedom on the part of the national liberation movement.. And all of us were somewhat knowledgeable about concentration camps, but nobody in my circle, and I was in a comparatively well to do family, knew the scope of it. You knew it was some theory and so far as it didn’t touch you or your immediate family, you did not know about the scope. You knew about Stalin’s attempts.

One of the despicable, nauseating sides was when I was in the college and the so-called cosmopolitans were persecuted. Very prominent lawyers, teachers of history, and all of a sudden Stalin took them out. In every institution you had to denounce them. And you denounced. I didn’t denounce but I was present. All of us students, we understood that knowledgeable people have been criticized and thrown out of the institutes for nothing. So in any thinking person that created some sort of a questioning, but I think it would be an exaggeration to say that you were revolting. Some were revolting, but in me it transformed to some kind of notion that Stalin was not right, that he was some sort of a totalitarian dictator that was forcefully putting his own methods (though of course I thought that Stalin was doing it for the better, for improving the country) but the methods were suspect.

Dyer: Cosmopolitan meant Jew?

Trofimenko: Cosmopolitan meant Jew most of all, though in order to make some sort of objectivity, some non-Jewish people were thrown in. Of course, in our country it is now that young people mature intellectually rather early, but during Stalin’s time we matured rather late. Because it was all this indoctrination, all this baloney that was put into your mind. You could never question the teacher, because any serious question was considered counterrevolutionary. It depended on the teacher, whether he would really intelligently talk to you. One in fifty. Or he would say, Oh you are asking immature questions, shut up. Something like that. But what is happening now is that everybody knew everything ahead of time, everybody was in his soul at the age of fifteen was a liberated democrat, and only some obscure crowd around him was not. It’s not so. We passed through an evolution. Each one sort of made an evolution of his own, in his own mentality. I am proud that when I was a correspondent in Britain in the sixties, I made only good reporting, showing positive sides. I didn’t show how the unemployed were looking into the garbage bins or something like that, though that was also happening. I was trying to make something positive. At that time it was possible. I even tried to make a story about Prime Minister Harold Macmillan going into retirement, and just working normally. It was about 5 or 6 months before Khrushchev was kicked out. I made an arrangement, but then some of the Macmillan side declined. I wanted to make this big television story, how he is queuing for a bus, how he is going for a walk. Khrushchev was dismissed and Macmillan’s office phoned me saying, now we are ready to do this story. And I said, but now Moscow television would not take it, so finito! I was trying to show that you could have this normalcy, you don’t unperson a person when he is retired. That would be very good, but when Khrushchev was kicked out you couldn’t make this story.

Dyer: What you say has puzzled me a lot. I understand that there is an evolution. Everybody, it did take a while. There was no dark, mysterious crowd around, holding back the enlightened individual. Everybody was advancing at their own speed. But then there is a period of almost ten years of 1955 to 65 of increasing liberalization. There are hiccups, but everybody is out of the camps. There is economic liberalization. A lot of what we have seen in the last five years is starting to happen in the first five years of the sixties. And then twenty years of “Zastroy???”. What happened?

Trofimenko: Probably because Khrushchev only scratched the surface. The system that had been created, and maybe the system of culture. And Khrushchev, to be frank, he didn’t want it.

Gorbachev is much wiser, he applied for an alliance with intellectuals and to get intellectuals on his side, he made an effort to make glasnost, freedom of speech a real thing, not just a declaratory thing. And then all the intellectuals came to the Gorbachev side. Khrushchev was fighting the intellectuals. He was fighting abstract painters, fighting poets and authors like Pasternak. What did Pasternak do? The educational maturing of Henry Trofimenko was Pasternak’s story also. What Pasternak did? Pasternak showed that those who were liberal didn’t accept the October revolution. A normal thing and he was denounced as traitor. I remember the story printed in the Literary Gazette: Oh, it’s like a frog, and I came and threw this frog away.” A comment on Pasternak usually started: “I didn’t read the novel but I would like to say…” So Pasternak is an enemy because he showed that bourgeois liberals didn’t accept the revolution. And on the other hand, Mr Sholokhov, who in his novel Quiet Flows the Don, shows that the man from the working class — Cossack — didn’t accept the revolution. He was given the Soviet highest prizes and was pushed through to have the Nobel Prize. So that to me was absolutely comprehensible. See, from the Marxist point of view, this Cossack ought to be considered counter-revolutionary because he didn’t accept the power of the people. And the guy from the bourgeois family is not supposed to accept. Everything was put upside down, but one other thing was that the entrenched power of those people who ruled Soviet culture was so much that they gagged everyone. Khrushchev inadvertently so. He was not a great thinker. He was a very good mover. Some say a revolutionary romantic. but he let some people loose, like Solzhenitsyn, Bardovsky(?). Some of them published, but then they started to frighten him. “Oh, you are undermining the roots, uprooting everything.” And this establishment, the writers union, etc had a vested interest. They were taking the cream of everything, not doing anything because it was only mediocrity that could go to the top. And they suppressed everything.

Even now, in order to release some sort of creative energy, our cinema people have to create a new union, our literary people are fighting the official authors union because there is an embodiment of good living there. You could write baloney and have all the laurels on your lapels because you are number one because you wrote some verses glorifying Khrushchev or something like that. And the real taste for values was lost and these associations that had been created, thought at the time of Khrushchev, when he was trying to undo some of the wrongs that Stalin did on the political side (he tried to touch the economic side but he didn’t succeed), but he didn’t even touch the cultural, the moral, the psychological side of it and I guess that is one of the reasons why he lost ground finally because all the intellectuals were not on his side at certain periods. Despite some promise there was no freedom of speech.

Dyer: I know that this country wasn’t seething with underground dissent in the fifties, but in the mid and late seventies, ten years after Brezhnev comes in, I do have the feeling that everybody knew that this country was a giant Potemkin village where nobody believed in it.

Trofimenko: That’s right. I agree with you. But nevertheless, at that time we had one bonanza. We had, through inadvertence, not out of our own making, there was this oil crisis, oil bonanza. And all of a sudden oil boomed. And we are number one or number two oil producing country in the world. We had a tremendous influx of this oil money and instead of reforming our economy, doing something, we stood still. But nevertheless, we had enough money to satisfy anyone. You could go into provincial shop and buy a British cardigan or French perfume if you had money, and they were affordable for intellectuals, for lower middle class. Because of this oil money. It is one of the things that should be really investigated. Actually it stopped any reform in the Soviet Union because there was enough money to satisfy that strata of public opinion-makers, and they lived very well. They didn’t care abut expression. All those official institutions that had been growing for forty years in the Soviet Union and only individuals were practicing dissent, though dissent was rather widespread. But I would say it has a very strong Jewish background. The people who were trying to emigrate. The Russian nationality, but it was mostly Jewish. There were very few people. And to be frank I don’t know that anybody believed that out of this small dissent would come such a wave of anti-establishment feeling, as it is now. That is why the idea was that if you sent them abroad and isolated them, they would just die away over there, far from their country. And that was miscalculation. First of all, there were not so few of them as evidently appeared, second, in the era of mass communication …

[ tape turns over here and a little is missing. ]

Trofimenko: … been going into the sun, you see. But they were returning through the radio waves, through the literature, the underground, so to say, or unlawfully brought to the Soviet Union because there are a lot of them were very talented people who saw the problems of their country. And later on, in 1985, when Gorbachev came and started to reform from the top, it appeared that SO MANY PEOPLE were thinking likewise, like dissidents. But we have fright deep in our blood. It is very difficult to eradicate. For thirty odd years of Stalin, his repression, it impressed on the people. Even now, oh, a year or two ago, you could read in the newspapers, “I write to you but I still don’t sign my name because I’m not sure how it might turn.” Because, and this kind of a fright, it gagged people. The people were dissenting, but they were dissenting on their kitchen. He couldn’t go out and speak openly about what worried him because when he went out, he was [doobed? Maybe means `doubted’?]

Dyer: So that when Gorbachev came in in 1985, the reason he was chosen had to do with the economy. Essentially, the oil money wasn’t paying enough to pay for the damage in the economy.

Trofimenko: The oil money already didn’t exist because the price of oil started to go down, you know. And in that period, during the 70s, when we could have done something for our economy, to stop extensive development and put on intensive development, we didn’t do it. And probably we couldn’t have done it. Now in a backhanded way I understand it because of the stultifying structure of the whole country, of the economic structure, of the political structure. Everybody who was in the position of having some access to some basket, to some piece of pie, he didn’t care. He couldn’t care less; he had his pie and that’s all.

And that’s why even now it’s very difficult to break this structure. At that time, when it started to go down, there was more and more people feeling going against it, and Gorbachev was expressing that feeling. Understand that there was no way to openly say in the Soviet economy and political system and try to rectify it. Again, it’s not that overnight Gorbachev came with his plan. Gorbachev also initially thought that you could do a patch-up job, you could repair here, you could accelerate a little bit there and you would have new things going. That’s why at the 27th party Congress we didn’t adopt a new party program but also simply made a patch-up job in the former program without much changing it. But then it dawned that unless you really feed and clothe the people who are always underfed — not that they physically are starving, but they were not living like people ought to live in a civilized society — unless you feed them, you can’t ask them. Dostoevsky said, you first feed them and then you ask of them. And so far it is very difficult to ask because they are still empty. That is the problem.

Dyer: A final question, and this is going back to foreign policy. Beyond Europe, where we talked about the Helsinki Process and the EC, and one can see how structures can be elaborated that will provide security and a measure of economic levelling across Europe over the next ten or fifteen years. I don’t know how, but it will happen.

Beyond Europe, to the South, in the world at large, it’s a very different place. What kind of both political and military arrangements is the North likely to have jointly with the South to contain all the tremendous instability down there and what kind of economic arrangements are likely to emerge? I’m talking North-South. I’m talking global instability. I’m talking `What does the Security Council look like, is it doing things really in ten years time?’

Trofimenko: You see, I guess it is a problem that so far nobody has a plan to solve it. It is immense. We all know that it is a very big problem that nobody knows how to solve. One gratifying thing is, we have ceased to fight proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union and NATO and WTO in the Third World. … And sometimes without the possibility of fighting head-on, you fought indirectly, thinking you would undercut American imperialism by deposing, I don’t know, some guy in Liberia or somewhere. And they thought, Oh, No. We will undercut the Soviet Union by dislodging some guy in Madagascar, or somewhere. It is a stupid thing but a lot of money, a lot of effort came into it.

All right, we are through with that. But now the second thing is, what to do. And it is not only our country but some country like the United States. They also need tremendously to overhaul. So they are inward looking now. Despite their outward to Panama, they are inward looking, and a lot of countries are inward looking. Some are outward looking, like Japan, but even such a rich country as Japan couldn’t do much for the Third World. So it ought to be some sort of a dialogue, some sort of a new arrangement, first of all referring to the debts of all those countries. Those debts ought to be diminished somehow. I don’t think they would be done away with totally, but somehow. Then one has to think, what kind of a new integration ought to be made between the North and the South? Because I guess at one time when the South was demanding of the North some concessions, it was too much. But on the other hand, what the developed countries of the North (excluding the Soviet Union at that time) were trying to impose on the South was also unrealistic because it was going beyond what was possible there.

So I guess for the time being, one has to have some growth of population, one has to have some sensible program of liquidating hunger and liquidating some of the most outrageous illnesses, this kind of thing. And through the United Nations — I guess the United Nations now ought to be the main body dealing with the thing — one has to put efforts at least (I don’t think we could do much at this stage) but to stop the world sliding more into illiteracy, poverty, illnesses, and so on, to do something cooperative. To pool money, to pool expertise. But this problem will be staying with us for a very long time. I repeat that I haven’t heard anyone who has a master plan of policies.

By the way, the policy of your country, Canada, in dealing with the Third World, is very sensible. It cannot do much but with your small resources that is devoted to Third World problems, it is disposing of them very sensibly, I guess. One has to take up Canadian experience of small steps, small incremental improvements in parts of the world. If all countries would take the Canadian example as a guidance, then we could do something.

Dyer: Thank you. I think CIDA does a very good job. I was going to ask about peacekeeping forces and their role in the Third World. Is that still on?

Trofimenko: I think we have to come to that. We have to come to the original idea of the United Nations, but you know, my thesis is that it was a good idea, but instead of working like united nations, we became disUnited Nations, mainly because of the clash between the Soviet Union and the US. And when Jeane Kirkpatrick described in one of her articles that the United Nations is sort of a body where the class struggle is waged, I agreed with her. We waged class struggle there.

To hell with this class struggle! We have to work for common goals, and one of them is to keep peace. And the moment we stopped quarreling, the United nations became immediately performing much better, only because the main powers are performing as it was initially and correctly thought. It was supposed that the United Nations should be the main peacekeeper, especially in some small conflicts around the world, it has to get this role and to strengthen its role. The decision of the United Nations and of the Security Council, should be implemented and not just declaratory. Through the sending of some troops separating the warring parties, we have to come to the original idea of peacekeeping and try to make them work efficiently.

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