Landrum Bolling Phone Interview, Cambridge, Mass. May 1994
(I called Mr. Van Eeghan first in the Netherlands, mentioning Mient Jan Faber. He was not willing to talk about those stories, since the people are still alive and it might harm them. Instead, he told me to call Bolling, who is co-chair of the De Burght conference. Close friend of the Carters.)
I interviewed Mient Jan Faber who told me some interesting stories about Ernst Van Eeghen….’
Bolling: I’m with the Conflict Management Group, which is a non-profit consulting and training service dealing with the negotiation skills and concepts related to international conflicts. It’s an outgrowth of the Harvard negotiation project.
MS: Roger Fisher’s …
MS: Actually, I have on my to-do list that I must call Roger Fisher. I met him before and I want to get to him to ask about setting up dialogues between anglophones and francophones. I know that Roger Fisher was invited to Ontario and did something like that a couple of years ago.
Bolling: Have you seen that special issue of Maclean’s that dealt with that?
MS: Yes. It must have been about three years ago.
Bolling: That’s right. That issue is still getting circulated around.
MS: I will have to dig for it. Anyhow, Van Eeghan says that you are co-chairs of something and he will tell me about it but he didn’t want to.
Bolling: First of all, Mr. Van Eeghen is not without his sense of self-worth, but he comes across often as someone who is unwilling to take any credit for anything, so he always prefers to duck any explanation of how this got started. He is genuinely modest, and is always inclined to talk down his own role. I don’t know what is going on in his head. Actually, this thing that is called the De Burght Conference. It was launched as a conference centre down on the west coast of Holland, the tip of Holland. And this meeting was held in January 1988, and brought together a group of about 15 leading Soviet people and a similar group of Westerners and Europeans. I don’t know how much you were told about that conference.
MS: Not a word. I’ll tell you what Mient Jan Faber told me. I was asking him about the INF negotiations and he told me a wonderful story about Van Eeghen’s being in Moscow. They told him to stay in his hotel room while Arbatov went to negotiate with somebody to get an agreement that they would keep the SS20 at no more than 3 78 because otherwise the Dutch would deploy cruise missiles. And when Van Eeghen came back, he told Mient Jan that he thought it was agreed. Then it fell through because somebody (I guess Gromyko) got into the act. Do you know that story?
Bolling: Well, I have heard a bit about it. I never had anything to do with that at all but I do know that he was very much engaged in carrying messages back and forth between the Kremlin and the Pentagon at one period about the cruise missile issue. He and most Dutchmen were very opposed to the deployment of cruise missiles in Holland and thought this was a total non-win situation and he was and is a friend of Sam Nunn, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is also a personal friend of David Jones, who used to be with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he has had a lot of acquaintances over the years with leading personalities in the Soviet military establishment. So he was an ideal conduit. This is all because he was vice-president of the Dutch war veterans association and as a war veteran from Holland, he used to meet from time to time with the Soviet veterans from World War II and so on the basis of his fellow-officer friendships he got into fairly high circles in the Kremlin and various things came from that. The De Burght conference, of which I was a part, had to do with human rights questions and getting prisoners of conscience and religion released from prisons and mental institutions. You know nothing about that?
MS: I am embarrassed because I have never heard of it.
Bolling: It began in a curious way. A group of U.S. Congressmen were approached by some Ukrainian Baptists in this country, who had settled around Chicago. They went to some Congressmen to intervene with the Soviets about the release of some dissident, underground Ukrainian Baptist ministers, a man named Khailo had been in prison and mental institutions for about 15 years. He was one of those Baptists who refused to register with the authorities and whose activities, therefore, under the Stalin law of religion, were illegal. On that basis he was thrown into prison and underwent all kinds of indignities over the years but he survived. He is apparently a very strong man, physically and mentally, and he managed. Anyway, Van Eeghen was brought into this because these congressmen went to Moscow, at about the beginning of the Moscow era, I guess, and wanted to present a petition which 200 congressmen had signed, asking for the release of Khailo. They never got to see Gorbachev. They hardly got the time of anybody in the Soviet authority at the time. They came back very disappointed. And then somebody told them, there’s a strange Dutch man who seems to have some kind of in with the Kremlin and he is also a very pious religious person so appeal to him to see if he will help. So the congressmen got in touch with him. He said, I don’tknow that I can do anything but I will try. He went to Moscow and looked up a friend who was a KGB general. He said this is terrible, you shouldn’t have a man like this in prison. The KGB man said, yes, you are quite right, we should get out of this and I’ll see what I can do. So Van Eeghen went back to the Netherlands, got a fax saying, located this man and he will be released. Van Eeghen said he would like to come to see him. They explained that, no, it was not appropriate to come to see him now, he is not very well and would be in hospital for a week or two but would be okay and eventually he could come. So Van Eeghen said he understood that the man wanted to emigrate to America. That was another part from the American congressmen and the Ukrainian Baptists from Chicago. They would sponsor his coming to the US. The Soviets for that said, no, no, no, you totally misunderstand. The man is not interested in emigrating and we are not interested in negotiating with the Americans about his emigrating or anything else. So Van Eeghen said he still wanted to see the man. Eventually he did go and tracked the man down in some village way out in the rural areas of the Ukraine. The man was a very impressive person and very determined to emigrate to America. He wanted to bring his entire family of 29 people — 15 children and various —.
MS: This man had fifteen children while he was in prison!
Bolling: I don’t know how this all happened, but anyway he had sired 15 children and some of them had married and had children. So 29 people he had to get out. Well, the American government had indicated through the embassy that they would cooperate in all this but the Soviets said to Van Eeghen, we will let this man go to Holland if you will arrange the transportation on a permanent residence permit. He has no money. We will let him leave with his 29 relatives. So Van Eeghen worked out that this would be done. Then the Americans said, Mr. Van Eeghen says they will have permanent residence status in the Netherlands. They obviously won’t qualify as political refugees needing asylum in the United “States. They can’t go to America.
I was in Jerusalem at that time and I got an indignant call from Mr. Van Eeghen: These crazy stupid Americans, what is going on? And I said it’s a technicality and legally that’s the way the law reads, but I am sure the Secretary of State will sign a waiver and let them in. So I called and worked it out and the State Department response was very positive. They said, we are very aware of what Mr. Van Eeghen is doing. Once he has them out of the Soviet Union, we’ll work it out and let them into the states.
So he worked it out. It cost him many thousands of dollars to help get them out. He had them in Holland on his hands for about three months. The Soviets said, if there is any publicity about this, the whole deal is off. And they kept very quiet, even after they got to Holland.
Now in the course of these negotiations, Mr. V E had talks with a minister of justice for the Russian republic and also the deputy foreign minister and the word they gave to him was, look, we would like to be rid of this whole problem. We don’t want to be embarrassed any more with this religious persecution of people, yet we’re not going to do it in a way that would cause the Americans to have a propaganda circus against us. We’re not going to be put in the dock and ridiculed, so we would like to have an international conference on Human Rights in which we could discuss these things with many countries and in the course of it we could work out something. But the US govt isnot interested in this, but if youcould arrange some kind of international human rights conference to which we could be invited, we could begin to work toward releasing all of these people
So it was that suggestion from high soviet officials that prompted VE to organize what came to be called the De Burght conference. He would get the Europeans and he asked me to organize the American delegation. I said that I would start with Jimmy Carter because that was one of his strong interests when he was president and I know him well, so I’ll just call him upand ask him. So Mr. VE and I met inWashington, flew down to Atlanta, went down to Plains Georgia, and sat in the Carter’s home one morning with him and Rosalynn and talked it over. Carter said, I think it’s a great idea. I shouldn’t be involved in it because I’m too high profile but Rosalynn can take part in it if she’d like, so she said, Yes, I’d love to. SoI said, Okay, Rosalynn, you’re going to be co-chair of this with a Soviet. And we did work it out. So Professor Burlatsky, who was editor of Literaturnaya Gazeta, was the chairman of the Soviet delegation and we got R. Carter to be co-chair of the Western side. VE got Mme Giscard d’Estaing to come along. She and Rosalynn Carter were friends. We had a veryinteresting group of parliamentarians, former cabinet ministers from Holland and Sweden and Italy— a very bright, able Tory MP from Britain.
MS: Was there a Belgian there— Robert De Gendt?
Bolling: We had the head of the Belgian trade union movement.
MS: De Gendt is a trade unionist.
Bolling: We met for three days. On the American side we had 3 sitting congressmen, two former congressmen, a court of appeals judge, Father Hesburgh, president of U of Notre Dame, quite a variety of people. The Soviet delegation was also very interesting. A Metropolitan from the orthodox church.
Bolling: I believe that was the name. The minister of justice in the Russian republic, who later became procurator general of the Soviet Union. There was a woman minister, some academics, some journalists, and we also had a representative from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. The former foreign minister of Poland took part. It was a fascinating gathering.
MS: If you do have those names, it would be terrific.
Bolling. Okay. We had a crisis in the middle. A protestant pastor from Switzerland who was head of the European church committee on religious persecutees in the Soviet Union, a very activist critic of the Soviet Union, came up with a list of about 200 names of people said to be in prison. This upset the Russians and eastern Europeans, who were quite angry that we had pulled this on them without advance warning. He hadn’t warned Western delegates either, but produced it on the spur of the moment. There was a Czech representative there who was trying to be more papist than the pope, who blew up and said we have been insulted and so on. But Burlatsky was extremely skillful. He said, we are surprised at this way of presenting these names. We don’t know who these people are and we’re not prepared to respond to this. These may be common criminals posing as persecutees, but I assure you that when I get back to Moscow that I will take this up with the proper authorities and we will see what can be done. We ended up the 3 days on a friendly note of unity. We agreed to hold another meeting and set up a continuation committee. That was Jan of 1988. Then we had a meeting in June of that year in Atlanta. President Carter hosted it. A delegation came from Moscow. A much smaller conference than the original one. Six months later, Jan of 89, we had a meeting in Moscow. By this time we were told that more than 200 people had been released. Eventually the deputy secretary of state told me at one point that there may still some person left as a prisoner of conscience, but if so we do not know who that person is. Every file we have on persecutees has been closed. In total something like 500 were eventually relased.
Then we got involved in urging them to pass a law on religious freedom and eventually a law was passed by the Supreme Soviet before it went out of business that was a very progressive law. That law has been under attack and a subsequent law was presented to the Russian parliament last year and passed, I believe, but Clinton, upon the urging of various groups in the US prevailed on Yeltsin not to sign the bill and then came the great to do in the White House and the bill languished but it has been re-introduced in the Duma and the patriarch has been giving it strong backing. There is a big row going on. This would entrench the Orthodox Church. Of course they are put off by the American televangelists who are swarming in there. Mr. Van Eeghen has just been to a meeting in Chicago to discuss what should be done to prevail upon the Soviet authorities to pass a more even-handed law. I didn’t go to the meeting.
That takes the De Burght conferences up to the present time.
Mr. Van Eeghen is extraordinary. He comes from an old patrician family in Holland, was an army officer since world War II, has run the family business since then, and is now grooming his son to take over. The business has been in the family hands for 320 years. It is a trading company. His ancestors were Mennonites who were not allowed to join the Dutch East Indies compay and had to go off on their own.
MS: Is he a Mennonite himself?
Bolling: No, he’s Dutch Reform. His grandfather broke away from the Mennonites. But he’s very proud of his Mennonite ancestry and their social unacceptability made it possible for the family to have a much greater fortune than if they had absorbed into the Dutch East India Company.
MS:. Amazing. You mentioned that he had been active as an intermediary between the Soviet Union and the Pentagon.
Bolling: He’s had friendly ties with a number of people connected with the American military staff. One of his very good friends has been Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. He’s known several American generals and admirals and is a good personal friend of Gen. David Jones who was of the air force and later of the joint chiefs of staff so he has had very high level access to the military here.
MS: I wish he had been willing to tell me a little about the negotiations on the missiles.
Bolling: My guess is that he would be a bit reluctant on that but I don’t know. It’s not anything that I have talked to him very much about.
MS: The impression I got was, as you said, he doesn’t like to take credit for anything.
Bolling: Like a lot of people, he doesn’t want to be out in front.
MS: Now, Burlatsky’s role at that time. I think he was in charge of the human rights committee for the parliament, wasn’t he?
Bolling: Gorbachev created something called the Soviet Commission on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and as far as I could tell, this was a kind of a letterhead organization with no budget and no staff. It was just a kind of a fishing license for Burlatsky to go out and see what he could do in this general field. From the beginning it was just a personal understanding that he had with Gorbachev. Burlatsky was Gorbachev’s speechwriter and one of his advisers. He went with him to all the summits and so on. Burlatsky has played an intersting role both for Khrushchev, whose speechwriter he also was until Khrushchev’s reform movement collapsed and Burlatsky was put on the shelf for about 17 years during stagnation, then eventualy he came back with Gorbachev. Now he is sort of out of it again.
MS: As I recall the staff of Literaturnaya Gazeta didn’t take to his response in the August coup.
Bolling: From what I have heard, and I have checked this out with several sources, it was all a very cleverly maneouvred scheme. He was on vacation in the Crimea when it took place. He sent word back immediately, according to his story and the story I have heard, to the editors there to come out with a denunciation of this coup. They did not respond to this at all. On the contrary, by the time he got back to Moscow in a few days, they had organized the protest against his leadership and accused him of a compromised position with regard to the coup. Various people that I have inquired of in Moscow, including people who are critical of Burlatsky (he has his critics, there is no doubt, people who don’t like him) everyone has said it is absolutely true that Burlatsky’s hands are totally clean on that coup. It was a palace revolt against him that they were able to carry through and get him out. Somebody else wanted his job. I personally believe that that is what happened.
MS: It would figure. Anybody who put himself in that situation for so long by maintaining his integrity under Brezhnev would hardly be likely to capitulate so easily.
Bolling. I think his hands are clean on this. Now among some of the real human rights activists in Moscow, Burlatsky’s name is not greatly honored. They think he was part of the establishment too long and that he never served time in prison because of his human rights views. He was an old apparatchik who always found ways around it. Even in the Brezhnev era he was relegated to the sides as a professor. He wrote history books and biographies. Mao and others.
MS: I have interviewed a number of former dissidents and I have very positive and very dubious opinions of them because they seem frequently to have the same kind of complaints about Gorbachev. I have never understood how somebody could let me out of jail and I wouldn’t say thank you. But they don’t.
Bolling: No, this is what’s going on with Arafat and the PLO right now. Arafat is a difficult guy but they have got a great revolt going on now against him just when he is finally delivering on something that offers great promise. But because he didn’t deliver more and faster, and didn’t consult more people, people are out to get him.
MS: What is the future of this De Burght?
Bolling: I don’t know. I have been trying to get out of it for several years. Van Eeghen keeps it alive, though actually there is no organization.There’s no president. Mr. Van Eeghen keeps this ghost of an organization alive as people come up with things. There was a meeting at his home in January that lasted 4-5 days. It had to do with drafting a critique of the draft law on religion that the duma had been considering. A lawyer from Moscow came— Professor , what is his name? He’s a lawyer who has worked on the religion law for a number of years. Has a Jewish name. Is himself not interested in religion at all but has been a kind of legal technician. He has a positive view about how to create an even-handed treatment of believers, non-believers, and the different kinds of believers. He took part in this meeting. There was a professor from Emory University who was a specialist on religious freedom issues and a professor from Brigham Young University—a lawyer who is also a knowledgeable man on religious laws in the Soviet Union, plus a couple of Engish scholars, a Dutch specialist. Mr Van Eeghen and I and this Russian had a 3-4 day meeting to discuss this draft law and we worked up a critique of it which was submitted through the proper channels to Moscow. That took place this last Jauary. I don’t know that the De Burght name will ever be involved again. It may well be but every time something comes up, somebody says let a De Burght conference sponsor this. But I don’t know. I’m just being candid that there is no such thing in the formal sense, but it is the shadow of Ernst Van Eeghen.
MS: I am very glad to get this. I hadn’t pursued these questions sufficiently.
Bolling: In the years after the first conference, Burlatsky finally told me exactly what happened after he got back from that first meeting. He said he went directly to Gorbachev and said they had had this meeting in Holland and said, You’ve got these people still in prison. Why have you got them in prison?
He said, what do you mean, I’ve got them in prison? What is this all about? Gorbachev sort of acted as if he didn’t know anything about this. He said, well, let’s get rid of this problem. We don’t need this. They ought to be released. So Gorbachev gave the right orders and bit by bit they were released.
MS: And Gorbachev acted as if he didn’t know anything about it?
Bolling:Well, that is the impression that Burlatsky gave me, that Gorbachev said, “ I don’t know anything about this. Let’s get rid of this problem.”
MS: Is it possible?
Bolling: It’s impossible to believe that he didn’t know anything about it. In any case, apparently his mind was already made up to deal with this. He was kept informed about what was going on. After this they did create officially in the Supreme Soviet, they had a commission on human rights, and Burlatsky was made chairman of it, so in the end, during the last year or so of the Supreme Soviet, Burlatsky did have quite a conspicuous position in the government structure, as a member of the Supreme Soviet and Chairman and he wrote the law on religion tht was passed by the supreme Soviet.
MS: Has he had anything to do with more recent conferences?
Bolling: No, he was not present in January at Van Eeghen’s home.
MS: When was the last time you had any contact with him?
Bolling: About two hours ago. I had a long phone conversation with him.
MS: He was in the US a couple of weeks ago.
Bolling: Right, he spent a weekend at my place here.
MS I had to try to reach him for an interview but he said he would call me from Luther College.
Bolling: He is back in Moscow now and his daughter, who had been at Luther College, is on the way home to spend the summer.
MS: Where is Luther College?
Bolling: Decorah, Iowa.
M.S. Why would anybody from Moscow want to go there?
Bolling: It’s a strange story. A friend of mine arranged for him to be invited to give a lecture there and the president of the college offered him a generous scholarship. She thought it was a terrible idea — a small town in Iowa. But she went and I gather she is getting along fine.
MS: May I ask a little about your program in conflict management. I teach Peance and Conflict Studies.
Bolling: Getting to Yes had an incredible impact on executives throughout the world, and Roger Fisher was under pressure to set up a training program. He set up an organizastion called Conflict Management, Inc. But that is not what Roger is interested in. He is interested in international conflict. So he created a non-profit auxiliary that is called Conflict Management Group. This organization is involved in offering training programs and consulting services to various governmental and nongovernmental bodies interested in conflict resolution. At the moment a team of our people had a onference in Nicosia with Turkish and Greek Cypriots about training for negotiation among those antagonists. There’s to be a follow-up session about training for young Cypriots studying in this country, to be held here in Cambridge. Roger Fisher and a small team are in Australia doing training in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra for the Australian government. Hr’s going on to south Korea where we have had involvement for several years in training people for their finance ministry, their trade ministry, in negotiations. We are involved with some other orgs working on the problems of Macedonia. We are working on using ideas of conflict reduction for street gangs in the inner city of Boston. We have contracts for training programs for the ministry of foreign affairs in Greece, Finland, West Germany. We’ve been involved with both Mandela and his team and De Klerk and his team over the last years. So there’s no pattern, except responding to requests that people have for training programs for people who want to be involved in training negotiations. I took part in some overseas projects in November-December. We were invited by the Egyptians who are interested in establishing a Middle East negotating centre. We spent a week in Rome with a small staff of the European High Commissioner on National Minorities — a new CSCE office that is headed by the former Dutch foreign minister, Max ______, who’s got a charter, a small staff, and is trying to find out how to be effective in dealing with conficts in the European community. He has invited us to be active with him and his staff in preparing for interventions in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and so on.
MS: Goodness! Amazing. Impressive and encouraging. This is not part of Harvard?
Bolling: It’s an outgrowth of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Roger stil has an office at Harvard and a staff, which continues as an interdisciplinary research and training program. Conflict Management Group is nothing to do with Harvard officially but we are located just off Harvard Square and there is a lot of interaction with the Harvard Negotiation Project and Harvard Law School.
MS: I have an assignment that I haven’t managed to do —to find out about that long weekend.
Bolling: Yes, it was apparently extraordinary and produced agreement that nobody had dreamed would be possible. How much came out of it over the long haul, I don’t know. But at least it brought people into an exercise of exchange of ideas, perceptsion, values, etc. that got beyond so many battiers that people were astounded at what they had wrought.
MS: I am active in Helsinki Citizens Assembly and they run groups bringing together high level independent activists. They had one group from the Transcaucasus. There are about 10 different wars going on there. Others from the Baltics. Last time i was there David Matas said we need to do this with francophones and anglophones in Canada. We had one meeting and I said I would try to get tips from Roger.
Bolling: Do you know Joe Stafford? He was Canadian Ambassador to Israel at one point. He was ____ in Cyprus. He’s just retired from the Canadian foreign service. A very able man who has been very active in the last year or so with our CMG involvements with Canada. I didn’t mention Canada before but we are probably more deeply involved in Canada than anyplace else on early. Roger and his team got deeply involved in the native American and their land disputes with the federal government and with Ontario, British Columbia. We had a lot of involvement in Canadian affairs. Joe Stafford is in th midst of setting up something comparable to Conflict Management in Toronto. He’s first rate, really experienced diplomat, and not stuffy.
MS: I’ll look him up. If you can easily put your hands on lists of people…
Bolling: I’ve got a file and I’ll send it to you.