Nodari Simonia, Deputy Director, IMEMO, Moscow, June 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Simonia: In the late fifties, for thirty years I was working in the Institute of Oriental Studies, Academic Science. During the last four years I am working here at IMEMO, so my biography is very simple. In fact, it seems that I was moving from junior scientific researcher to head of the most important theoretical department dealing with all social-political economical problems dealing with Third World countries as a whole. It was for the Central Committee because it was the major executive for any kind of power in my country, as you know very well. Usually I was engaged in one department only — Department of International Affairs, headed by [Ponomarov?____] but I had no direct contact with Ponomarov but with his aides, his deputies —people like Zagladin, Brutents, [Ulamovski? sometimes_____]—before we started quarreling with each other.
MS: What was that about?
Simonia: Because of my publication in 1965 I tried to publish a booklet and it was already printed and ready as a booklet to be sold; then the publishing house sent a copy to him and he severely criticized it that Simonia is criticizing the decision of the party — that was number one. Second, Simonia is criticizing, sometimes not openly, but indirectly, the decisions of fraternal parties in Asia, Africa, and that kind of stuff. Eight points. One was enough. It took a whole year to publish in a new booklet, and after this we were in semi-war. After that, I published my doctoral dissertation in 1975, a huge book, more than 300 pages, and half of this book was devoted to a critical review of Marxism-Leninism, of Russian history, and history of the party. Of course it was too much for Ulamovsky and some other other people and then he started open war against me. You can find this easily in the magazine because he himself published two review articles on my book — two by one guy. One short one and another 40 pages review article. And one he stimulated some party people to publish in a magazine Party Life. It was, after Kommunism, one of the most influential party magazines, and then they published all kinds of review articles calling me an opportunist and an anti-Marxist and that kind of stuff. Well, it was a whole struggle in ’75, ’76, ’77. I was sitting with my wife in the kitchen thinking what I would do when I would be fired, but this never happened because this was a time when some other deputies of Ponomarev, who are liberal and progressive, judged by the criteria of that time (not today) — Zagladin, Brutents — sometimes not openly, but defended me. I was just thrown off the staff of one scientific magazine. That was the only punishment. It was my magazine,as a professional — The Peoples of Asia and Africa, and it nothing terrible because I was still close to this magazine and they tried to publish my articles, but still I was not on the list of the — how to say it?
MS: We’d call it the masthead.
Simonia: Yes. And then he tried something else, to fire me from some other engagement. I was part time professor in the Institute of Social Sciences. He phoned the director and demanded that I must be fired, but this never happened because of the influence of Zagladin.
MS: Who was the director of that institute?
Simonia: Matkovsky. Before that he was our diplomat in France, worked maybe on party-to-party relationship. He was sent by Central Committee as a diplomat to have some contacts with the French communist party and then he was called back to be the director of this institute, which was dealing with leftist movements. I was just a part time professor, just coming on Saturdays, only for one lecture. I was making some extra money but at the same time they were aware that many leaders of leftist and communist movements outside my country are more liberal and free in expressing their opinions so they wanted some professors who can accommodate them, tell them using language that is closer to them than the full time professors there.
M: I spoke with Mr. Skvirsky the other day, who was there, and he was telling me what it was like, being at heart a dissident of some sort—
MS: No, that’s not the language that he used, actually.
Simonia: Now! Now everybody says that! At that time, when I was criticized, only five or six men came to defend me in the discussion. There was a series of discussions of my book in different institutions. Open discussions, prople invited there. But only 5 or 6 men said something good about my book and tried to defend me.
MS: Well, he didn’t promote himself as a hero. He was quite frank about saying that he kept his opinions to himself. Now, what his opinions were, since they were not on the record, it is kind of hard to find out. But he seems to be a nice man.
Simonia: First of all, he closes his [medicines or something________________?
MS: I wonder what that was like. I have never had the experience of having to put my whole career on the line or expose myself to that kind of danger for saying what I thought. What has that done to your relationship with all those people who did not defend you?
Simonia: Tolerance is something which is very characteristic of me. I even am tolerant toward Ulanovsky. After perestroika I never used the opportunity to crush him, to say something bad against him. Everybody knows what he is and what I am. Revenge is not a major aim in my life. I have too much to write, to say something positive, than just to devote all my life struggling.
MS: Tell me what you had said that he found so offensive?
Simonia: That is not so easy because I practically criticized everything in this book — socialist political economy, the whole idea of socialism, and then it was the first time — in this second critical book — that I finally conclude that socialism never was built in my country. Wwe tried to this, we started, and we failed. After Lenin’s New Economic Policy failed, then we also failed because it was the only possibility to do something for my country and then we failed. Now I published a book in which I am evaluating all these ideas in more full detail. It was published in December of last year.
MS: Do you have anything in English?
Simonia: No, this book is only in Russian. It was published by progress Publishers and the agreement was that it would be simultaneously published in Russian and English editions but this never happened because it was even difficult to publish this in Russian because of the shortage of paper. It was in November or December of 1991.
MS: So fewer books are being published now because of the paper deficit?
Simonia: Of course. This was delayed a year and a half. It was all ready. In a week it was possible to release this but it was delayed that long. I had close connections with this publishing house. I was director of the scientific council inside this publishing house and so on. Then they found their way to publish a small number of copies — not more than a few thousand. I don’t remember how many — oh. 4000. For us that is nothing. Usually that kind of book is published in 20,000 or 50,000 copies or even more. But they published a small amount, only 4000, because they already suffered economically because the book is very cheap. Still the bureaucratic establishment in this field is small enough to impose this cheap price. And the publishing house cannot do anything. I told them: Put your own price — 8 roubles or something— No, they put this at 3 roubles. Still, this is nothing.
MS: Three roubles? Is that what it’s available for now? Three roubles?
Simonia:Yeah. You can buy it in the same building, the publishing house.
MS: It doesn’t do me any good because I can’t read Russian, but that is astounding. That’s like three cents.
Simonia: Precisely. And recently another of my books was published in English. At that time, when I published this, they were also kind of revolutionary ideas. In this book, there was a totally different approach to Third World problems. I tried not to explain it in terms of old class analysis, but judging realistically what is happening in these countries, and I came up with the idea of synthesis.
M: “Synthesis of Traditional and Modern in the Evolution of Third World Societies,” Nodari A. Simonia, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut. Okay, I’ll get this when I get home. That’s good to know that there’s this.
Simonia: It was just recently released two or three months ago. I am going to send them a short summary of the content. Maybe if you would be interested, not in this series but in a different series.
M: I’d be very interested in this.
Simonia: It is just about Russia as a second model of development. My idea is of three models of development— the first, which is related to a few West European countries. Second model, Germany, Russia, Spain, that kind of country, catching up model for latecomers. And the Third Model is developing countries. And I compare Germany and Russia, the second model. Russia was much more backward; that’s why in these countries there was fascism, and in my country it was the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Because Russia was much more backward and we were not grown enough to have pure fascism.
MS: Maybe you’re grown enough now. I’m not joking, I’m looking at those TV things of the people at Ostankino who are well-along in the process of becoming fascist. I don’t know how worried your are about that.
Simonia: Of course I’m worried. Not only about this; it’s not the major danger. They are used by some other conservatives—not so radical maybe, but still there are enough conservative forces to use a tense situation in the country. There are many mistakes by the government in the economic field — this attempt to impose a monetary policy on my country, which is totally wrong. According to my theory, there would be some kind of synthesis of some traditional values and modern values of Western society. So our transition to the market will be not typical, not like in many European countries, the United States and Canada, but it will be kind of different approach, which is much closer to the model of Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, and so on. Even Japan, if you are not talking about today’s Japan, but Japan before the war and immediately afterwards. It was a totally different story. Everyaone forgets what happened with Japan in reality. Even after the war, defeated as it was, and under the occupation of United States forces, still —five years later— was a highly centralized economy. Before they were able to make a trnsition to a real liberal economy they had five years, and after this they had a transition to a more, more open market and open society. This experience is very valuable, but nobody is paying attention.
MS: Tell me where China fits in your scheme of things.
Simonia: Of course, each country has its features, and China is uneven. If we started with political liberalization and are only now trying economic liberalization, they made the opposite. They are still keeping all political structures under strict control and in this sense are still a totalitarian society. But this not typical totalitarian because the economy is much more free now. And after all, in Germany it was also a free market economy when Hitler was in power, of course guided by the government, under strict regulation. But in China the economy is more liberal today in some parts of the country at least. If you take the Eastern and southern parts of the country, they are deeply involved in a commercial economy. So it is a huge contradiction.
MS: One thing that has puzzled me, and I am trying to do some preliminary work on is this: I wouldn’t necessarily advocate following China wholesale, but they started out with agricultural reforms, and it seems to me that that worked so well that I don’t understand why policymakers here didn’t do the same. Can you give me your view?
Simonia: Yes, it’s a very simple question, for me at least, because for 5 years when I started my research I was a specialist in China and I know the history of China and, after this, when I was professor I delivered many lectures on the politics and economics of China. And there is a big difference between China and Russia —because irrespective that Mao tried to make his own collectivization like Stalin made, but he was never really successful. First collectivization in ’56 failed the same year and there was a retreat back to private ownership. Then he started his people’s communes in ’58; he failed and they made a retreat and by the 1960s there was a full retreat. Then he started his great totalitarian culture, it was three times he tried. Each time it was a short time. But the peasantry was never liquidated as a class — never! There was still a peasantry there. So when Mao died and Deng Xiou Ping started his famous reforms after ’78 there was peasantry. You could do something with this peasantry. But in Russia it was totally liquidated. What existed in villages was not peasants. It was a kind of semi-slaves—you could call it anything, but it was not peasants. It was hired labor without payment, if it is possible to imagine. So it was not peasants on their plot of lands, so psychologically, economically, he liquidated the whole class. He was fighting the so-called kulaks, but in reality kulaks were just 3% of the whole peasantry, but he liquidated all well-to-do peasants, and all middle peasants. So the majority in kolkhozes were just lumpen and paupers, declassified people.
MS: People with no skills or aspirations.
Simonia: Yes, it’s the aspirations that count. After all, you can get some skills if you are trying to do so, but they never wanted to do something good.
MS: I have heard that even now the people in kolkhozes don’t want land reform.
Simonia: Yes, this is a major obstacle. Of course, first we were saying that bureaucracy was the major obstacle. It was the major obstacle, okay. On the first stage — at the stage of making breakthrough and producing new laws. Now that it is possible that this is a reality. There are laws allowing farmers to do something. Now the second stage, it has become evident that there is a real resistance coming from these kolkhozes. Not every day but twice or three times you can read articles in newspapers, and one this summer was about a kolkhoznik who set fire on his buildings, who destroyed his machines and that kind of stuff.
MS: Was this the actual motivation in the minds of the policymakers early on — that they were aware of this possible resistance on the part of the kolkhozniks, or did they have some other reasons? Gorbachev never did get enthusiastic about privatization of land. I don’t understand his thinking.
Simonia: I like Gorbachev very much and I was always his adherent, though I always knew his mistakes and now it is even more clear what kind of big mistakes he made—not because he was all wrong but because time is necessary to rethink, and maybe this was one of the mistakes. Not that all land immediately must be given to the peasants. Maybe it’s not necessary to do that because, after all, we are not China. In general, we are more developed, and that means that we have much more possibility to have mixed economy, even on the level of villages. It is not necessary to dissolve ALL kolkhozes. In some places, especially Kubar and Ukraine and some other places, there was a real __ about big enterprises. And after all, in the United States, there are not only farmers; there are also big plantations. And in many other countries. So it must be mixed. It must depend not only on the political will — I like this, or I like that. It’s not the problem of what you prefer, but what is much more suitable for these conditions. Social conditions, soil conditions. You must take into consideration all objective factors. After this you can decide. If there is already an enterprise that is doing well, why must you destroy it? Just like it happened with Stalin that he insisted on total collectivization. Now we are insisting on total privatization.
MS: I can see that. But I assume that besides the farmers themselves there must have been people in government who were extremely reluctant to even consider privatization of farming, or the option would have come up earlier — especially when there is the example of Chinese success in their reforms.
Simonia: It’s not the same. Don’t forget, for this is decisive. You are engaged in some kind of economic reform. You must feed the people and majority of people, unlike in China, are living in cities and towns. And so you must feed them. If tomorrow you destroy all kolkhozes and sovkhozes, you will not have anything to give them because we are already buying 35 – 40 million tons yearly from United States, Canada, and —who knows —New Zealand. This is not enough. It is just part of the necessity. So tomorrow what will you do if you destroy the kolkhozes, like it happened in Estonia.
MS: I don’t know what happened in Estonia.
Simonia: Yeah, they artificially destroyed all kolkhozes and sovkhozes. Nobody was working and now they are — maybe not starving, but in big trouble, the last two years at least. Big trouble with their agriculture. And this was a country that was proud of its agriculture on the higher level. So you must be realistic and do all these changes. Gorbachev was always saying: We need a gradual approach. But nobody believed him. Or, if they believed him, they simply wanted to overthrow him to take his position.
MS: I am insterested in your thoughts about why he encountered such opposition. I find something incomprehensible here. I have interviewed a number of people but I also stay with people who are politically engaged, and I find it mystifying. I even find it mystifying when I interview people who were dissidents that, instead of feeling any kind of gratitude for the liberation that they experienced, they hate him. If I were in prison and somebody unlocked the door, I would say Thank You. But they don’t. And I even realize that it’s not a question that I should ask them because it provokes such emotion. What is your theory about why he has encountered this extraordinary resistance?
Simonia: Well, it’s the usual fate of all reformers. Take the whole history. If there is one very distinguished reformer, you will find that he was hated by many people in his time. Because there is one way of behaving — one style of life — and then this guy comes and starts changing everything. So all people, after some initial enthusiasm — all people from right position, from left position, they are dissatisfied because he ruined the whole system. And they feel uneasy, unsafe.
MS: See, I could understand that as an explanation for the resistance of the conservative side, but I don’t understand why the progressive side abandoned him.
Simonia: It’s a quality of the progressive side, you know, which is not a good one. Because in 70 years existence in the kind of system we had, morality declined tremendously, and the people (who had some good morality in the sixties and seventies) they were pushed aside and now new people come in with no restrictions in their morality. They call themselves democrats immediately. THEY call. It’s not the WE, you and me, no. THEY call themselves democrats and they came to power and they immediately got involved in the hugest corruption in my country. And we are now totally corrupted. Practically, you can count just a few people who are not yet corrupted, maybe because they are not so able or have no habit. But the rest of them, all of them are corrupted.
MS: yes, I understand. The family where I am staying, the man is with the Moscow city council and he is fierce in his criticism of Popov and the other members of the Moscow government. He says that there is nothing but embezzlement going on in every direction.
Simonia: I am citing Popov, by the way, several times here. I was so enthusiastic about his first publication, even before these huge changes he published some very interesting articles criticizing the system in my country. But when he came to the system, became part of it, there was no more fighting. He engaged himself. In January Moscow News listed the five richest people in the Soviet Union and he was one of them.
MS: Yes. He was apparently quite overt about saying that people in government should be allowed to take a cut when they made a deal with business.
Simonia: It was terrible, that interview. Terrible that such a man, in such a position, with such a reputation. He was openly advocating corruption and the only problem he had was: how much?
MS: Lindsay Mattison told me a few other things that you may not want to comment on, but I am very puzzled by. I had already heard that in November and December of 1990, Gorbachev was not his own person but was under control. And I just finished reading Don Oberdorfer’s The Turn, who says that in April or May — that is, earlier — there were times when Gorbachev would be — . For example he was negotiating over cruise missiles, and had reached an agreement. But then the military guy came in and made him change it. It was pretty clear that he was having to backtrack because he wasn’t his own person.
Simonia: Yes, I practically agree that there was a huge pressure, especially by the end of 1990. Of course, I can’t say that he was defeated and that he was practically as if he was in prison. It was not so. But I can formulate it another way. He paid a huge price making a partial (not total, just partial) retreat, just to persuade these guys that he was agreeing with them, to accumulate more power and to have much more time to manoeuvre, and then he can get back to his old policies. This can be proved by real facts because there was a real retreat; there was bloodshed in Prebaltics and this kind of stuff. He came back, already in March 1991, he was already so strong and much more in control of the situation that he entered into negotiations with Yeltsin once more. And Yeltsin responded. Finally in April they reached an agreement on new Union Treaty and this process started back and they decided on the dates when it would be published, when it would be started, when it would be approved and so on. And finally, I think it was a mistake of people like Yeltsin, even Nazarbayev and some others, Kravchuk insisted to delay, and Yeltsin agreed with this. This was a mistake. And then they delayed and this was postponed from May to June and then they decided in August. That’s why this position— it was decided, not by the military but by the KGB—Kryuchkov—he was the number one man in this coup d‘état.
MS: Is that right?
Simonia: Yes. It’s so definite. He was the most clever guy in this group. More clever was Lukyanov, but he never participated directly. He was just sitting and waiting. He would be elected president. He dreamed about this.
MS: Oh! So you have some inside information about how this all worked.
Simonia: No, it’s not based on strict documents, but the problem is that I am going to write a second book after this. And this book would be “85-92.” The only problem with me is that I have no adequate time because of this administration. That is why I am thinking that next year I will go to the United States and stay there a year or something.
MS: And hide out. I have found it wonderful to be here because nobody can get me on the phone.
Simonia: Yes, this is terrible. I am here every day solving 10 or 15 problems — small, medium sized, big sized. But it takes all my time. And I have only Saturdays and Sundays. It’s not enough.
MS: So tell me, you say that Krychkov—
Simonia: Krychkov — it means “hook.”
MS: So he was the main power there?
Simonia: Practically what he said, even in jail, leads clearly to those conclusions, that he was the most clever — he was controlling everything. He was checking even his friends, these junta members. He was controlling, of course, Gorbachev and his family. It’s now evident. There is official evidence of this, that even Gorbachev, the General Secretary and President of the country, was controlled by Krychkov.
MS: How so?
Simonia: By telephone. All these telephone conversations were checked. And the people who were servants or serving —hairdressers, etc. —everybody who was coming to the family, were checked, asked about what type of talk was there when you were there. And that kind of stuff. It was strict control. I am amazed that Gorbachev was such a wise guy and he never imagined that he was under such strict control. Then he started talking with Yeltsin and some other guys that he is going to dismiss Yazov and Krychkov after they signed the treaty. They knew this in advance. It’s amazing. It’s the most logical thing for them to make this; they have nothing to lose.
MS: Really interesting! How did you find this out?
Simonia: Oh, I am reading all the newspapers and magazines.
MS: But it isn’t in the newspapers.
Simonia: yes, in some of them.
MS: Why haven’t they done more to put these fellows on trial? By now they should have a good case, shouldn’t they?
Simonia: You see what the people in Yeltsins are doing. They are freeing these people, one by one. Two guys were freed because of illness, the third one was very healthy — Starodubtsev— now he’s at home, recently released. He has no right to leave the country but who is going to want him to leave the country? And so—
MS: Do you think that they won’t even press it very hard?
Simonia: There is a growing tendency of cooperation between the old Russian bureaucracy party (nomenklatura) and new —the bureaucracy which came from policies, but which were a part of this bureaucracy and always were a part of this bureaucracy. Look at who are around Yeltsin: Petrov, Ilushyn, all these guys who are heads of party committees on city level, on the regional level. Burbulis, who is number two man, who all his life was devoted to teaching Marxism-Leninism in universities and all this kind of stuff. And the guys are the same guys. This is why I am so depressed because I see that no big reforms are underway. They are always promising that in the near future, the near future, but nothing is going to happen. Because the bureaucracy is still dominating everything, and privatization will be (as I predicted two years ago in a small article in Moscow News), I said at that time that the most possible future for our country is that it will be not just capitalism but it will be bureaucratic capitalism. And I described how and in which way it will happen in my country. I made a comparison with some Asian countries, and so on. This is happening right now.
MS: And if Gorbachev had stayed in office, he couldn’t have moved it along any more effectively?
Simonia: No, it’s just impossible. If Gorbachev stayed in power the social conditions would be the same. The only difference was tempo—at what tempo would be these things. Because, you know, even the wisest guy cannot control such huge forces: 95% of the huge country’s industry was controlled and is still controlled by the state sphere, even today. And you are not going to change this overnight. It is simply objectively impossible. What are you going to do, just divide this between private persons? And what then? Everything will be changed and with no results. So during Gorbachev’s period and if his ideal of the new Union Treaty was successful, in that case it was some hope that all changes in my country would not be subjected to such contradictions, such chaos. Because now the economy is in chaos. Industry is not working at all, or practically not at all —working at 20 or 30% of its capacity. If there would be no substantial changes in policy of government, by the end of the year 70% of industry will be not working at all. And that means total destruction of the country. Gorbachev’s proposal was to divert that kind of possibility and tendency, to make the transition much more smooth. Irreversible, but much more smooth. But this was rejected, not because of economic considerations, but it was just a political struggle between personalities. Yeltsin and Gorbachev. They rejected everything. Now they are coming back to many decisions which were made before, doing practically the same things.
MS: It looks to me as if the economy has to continue on its downhill slide for everything I can see. The things that bothers me had to do with the fact they had set up these towns of single industry where they were all dependent on resources from thousands and thousands of miles away, and so when they break that up, it takes a long time to recreate these trade relationships.
Simonia: Yes. It’s not Malaysia or Singapore. It’s a huge country. You simply cannot do this in a short period of time. That’s why it is necessary just to preserve this and then start slowly changing. Step by step. Then it was proposed during the last year or two of Gorbachev’s time, he was blamed that he is conservative. He simply does not want any changes in society. Yeltsin said this many times. But now that he came to power, now it is June, half a year. If you are so radical, if you say that it is possible to do anything, why you are not doing it?
MS: So the next reaction against Yeltsin could be a swing to the right?
Simonia: Probably. Some small changes already are evident. You know what’s going on in Moldavia, this statement of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov is with them. He came to Moscow and he was asked about this and he never said anything against Rutskoi or against Khasbulatov. So he joined them.
MS: I can’t figure that out. I watch TV and try to get other people to explain it to me but I’m not sure they give me the whole story. I don’t really understand because it looks as if Shevardnadze is responsible for attacking those people in Tskinwali. And he is blaming Rutskoi and Khasbulatov, and I don’t know which side to be on.
Simonia: It is impossible to be on this side or on that side. I am Georgian. But I can’t say that Georgians are 100% correct, or that Ossetians are 100% correct. After all, 30 years ago I was studying developing countries and that kind of thing was there every day during those years and will happen in the future in India or in many other countries. Multi-ethnical countries. The point is, there are some problems, but when you start shooting from this side or from that side, after a short time you cannot blame only one side because everybody’s involved, everybody’s making mistakes. And radicalism, extremism is escalating and after a time it’s not reasonable to take either side. You must stop this, remove the most radical extremist people, and then sit at the table and talk and make some conclusions based on a reasonable, realistic approach to this problem. Otherwise if you start trying to judge, it’s impossible. Because you are saying that Shevardnadze and his troops interfered but before the Ossetians say they would never agree to be in Georgia. They want to switch to Russia. And nobody agrees in Georgia. The best man, the most sincere, the most intellectual people, will never agree in Georgia to give up their own land, with the Ossetians or without them. It happens that Ossetians came, several hundred years ago, and settled on this place. It doesn’t mean that this land became alien for Georgia. It was always proper Georgia. Nobody can find in history, any period of time when this was not Georgian land. Who lives there? Because if you say that these peole were there for 3 or 4 hundred years, good, you can divide Tbilisi also because there are 62 national ethnical groups also in Tbilisi. There is a substantial part of one million in Tbilisi. If you add to this Jewish part, Russian part, Ukrainian part, then it will be 40%. So, you are going to divide Tbilisi? The problem is that Russia can be blamed. They never stuck with a realistic policy, from one side saying that a political solution is necessary, never discouraging them from insisting on joining Russia. It was up to Russia to say, yes, I like you, but if you insist on being separated from Georgia, then it is war. Who knows what will be there —total genocide.
MS: If you were in Shevardnadze’s position today, what would you be doing?
Simonia: Precisely what he is doing, because he is most liberal, but he is in a position where he must be thinking about his country. He must keep his country in order. There is a destabilization. There is a fragmentation of military forces in his country because even in this state council, Kitovani has national guard, Isoliani has his own —how to say? — group of horsemen. They are not horsemen anymore, but they call themselves so. And so on and so on. Each leader has his own military groups and he must pacify this. He must reorganize the whole military structure under the leadership of the country. He must bring stability and order. And at the same time, he has such a problem. This political problem in the northern part of the country, and Russia is interfering in such a way that it creates aggravation of such a crisis. He is in a terrible situation. He is surviving as a leader only because of Baker and the United States position, helping him, giving him some sort of holiday because everybody thinks that maybe through this channel there will be some sort of economic assistance. So he is in terrible position. I’m not going to say that I like him very much, but he is doing his best to save his own people from one more chaos, one more turmoil, and that kind of stuff. And the position of radical leaders of S. Ossetians are always saying that no negotiations, only condition that this will be a separate state and they want to join North Ossetia, and that means to join Russia, the separation of Georgia. Nobody is going to allow this. It is simply impossible.
MS: I have very strong feelings against secessionism as a general policy and I have an article that is going to appear in the Independent Gazette in a few days, trying to find solutions — but not to this kind of thing. You can’t go into that. I can’t see how to solve this in my lifetime. Anyway, if I can go back to something else related to Shevardnadze. One of the comments in his resignation speech refers to the fact that he was not supported in regard to the Gulf War. How important was that as a factor strengthening the right?
Simonia: [passage omitted here because of confidentiality agreement]
MS: The position in the parliament, the congress did not support him very strongly at the point and I wonder how much the Gulf War was a factor.
Simonia: No, nobody cared about the Gulf War, but in that kind of struggle, people are using everything, everything. Like in ours people are using the island between us and Japan. If Yeltsin is going to make any concessions in this field — and he must make such concessions —then there will be a huge campaign against him. Those are not our islans; they never were before Stalin’s time. And if I say something openly about it in an article, they will say it’s because I’m Georgian.
MS: Is that right?
Simonia: My friend, who was working with me, one of his chief, the deputy foreign minister, he was taking blame from everybody in the Russian establishment, that “a man with such a name” (he has a Georgian name) “cannot solve Russian problems.
MS: I hear a lot about anti-semitism. I don’t hear much about anti-Georgism.
Simonia: Anti-alienism. Any kind of aliens. Sometimes people cannot distinguish Georgian or Armenian, or Tatars. Caucausus. You are uniting us. Azerbaijanis are Muslims and we are Christians, and —
MS: Let me go back to your position. You stuck your neck out fairly far fairly early. I interviewed Victor Sumsky, who said that he remembered a time when you said you thought the Afghan war was a mistake.
Simonia: But that was not in open. In open I said this only in the second publication—
MS: he says you were quoted in India.
Simonia: Before in the Times of INdia, because there were two big papers. There was not enough space in one so they published it in two newspapers. And then it was in a Pakistani newspaper. Then it was in Monde, the Diplomatic in Paris. It was also in BBC. With the text of our statement. It was well before we decided to withdraw our troops. so it was a time when this was very dangerous. And immediately I was told that there was a letter from our ambassador in India, complaining that who this guy Simonia, is it our new policy or what? How dares he say this kind of thing? But nothing happened because later on I was told that already there were some discussions on the highest levels of government that something must be done with our troops in Afghanistan. But still it was at least a few months before any word was uttered by our leaders that it was necessary to withdraw. But not openly. Not in newspapers, not in some media. I said the same thing of course in my institute in the closed party meeting when we were discussing — you know that I meetings happen once a year and it was a meeting just discussing our internal problems. Because my institute was engaged in political activity also, it was also our internal problem. What is the position of our institute? Our scientists on this subject. So I made a speech and criticized our scientists that they are silent on the discussion. I am not a specialist on Afghanistan, but it is evident for me what is happening there. And they are specialists and silent and insisting and not sending papers to government, and not proposing something. And some even got some results. They advisers went to Afghanistan, I think for six or eight months, and I ask them for what? For coordination of the war or what? So it was terrible. And even at that time, nothing happened to me. And this was a sign that there are severe doubts in the highest leadership — serious doubts about justice made by our troops.
MS: That would have been what year?
Simonia: You mean my speech on the meeting? Maybe it was ’86, I don’t remember now. But when I was saying that kind of speech I never thought it would be necessary for me to — the publication? Let me see if I have it here.
MS: You thought you might get in trouble for it that early?
Simonia: Yes, of course. When our ambassador sent from Delhi. I was even asked to make an explanation for my chief and I willingly made it. And I even added something to my explanations, explaining that it was necessary to say something even more. My character is that I am the enemy of myself. [We laugh.] Just a moment. Yes. The long one was in Times of India. It was in May ’87 in the Times of India and then it was in the Herald in the Pakistan. Here you see it. I can give it to you.
MS: Tell me one other thing. Lindsay Mattison mentioned to me that there was a distinct policy to use the method of unilateral initiatives, rather than prolong negotiations. Was this a matter of policy. Was there ever a discussion about that?
Simonia: I don’t know whether there was a special discussion but there were different opinions about it. Some people thought this was real new thinking, and other conservatives were saying that Gorbachev is just defeating his policy with one-sided concessions and that America never followed.
MS: Uh huh. I spoke to General Milshtein the other day and he said that Gorbachev didn’t get anything for these concessions. It surprised me because I thought that Milshtein was a fairly progressive person but he obviously didn’t like this unilateral initiative business.
Simonia: As a historian I am always saying that everything is relative. Something which was progressive one time, another time is not progressive anymore. At one time the whole Academy of Science was considered the most progressive structure in the whole Soviet Union because it was the only organization that was brave enough to vote against party apparatchiks when they tried to become corresponding members of the Academy of Science or even full Academicians, and so on. Several times they just voted against them because they were trying to protest. It was unimaginable in the sixties or even seventies. Ulanovsky tried three times to become corresponding member and never was successful. And then one of the very important men who was the head of scientific department of the Academy of Science — the number one man in Soviet science, I could say — he so wanted to become Academician that he tried, he failed, and then once he was successful on the initial stage, and the celebration had already started and flowers were coming and he was going to organize some party and then there was a formal stage in the general meeting. Usually they just raise their hands and that was the end. They started asking him questions on his credibility about what kind of scientist is he if he has — and then they finally openly voted against him. Openly. Yes, it was open! You cannot hide this, you must raise your hand. So the Academy of Science was considered the most progressive organization.
MS: About when would that have happened?
Simonia: But then perestroika started, and perestroika demanded serious changes in everything, including changing the huge bureaucracy in the Academy of Sciences, which was doing nothing but just enjoying privileges. And then they became the most conservative. Everybody is at least now talking about changes but until today they are resisting changes.
MS: Did you yourself have contacts with people who were not respectable? People were artistic, deviants, or dissidents in any way?
Simonia: You mean before?
MS: Yes, before Gorbachev’s period.
Simonia: When I was living in another place in the sixties, my neighbors were not big dissidents but at least people who were condemned and thrown out from the country — like writer Vladimirov, who published a long novel in Novy Mir magazine, “Three Minutes of Non-talking.” This was so popular that it was sold on the black market for fifty rubles at that time. That was the salary of some junior lecturer. He was just my neighbor and we had good, friendly contacts, visiting each other. We were even in the same building, different entrances. And there was another guy who was semi-dissident because he never left the country, but he was closely “protected” by the KGB. Several times they came to his home searching and trying to find publications. And he was giving me them, always illegal publications. You know, there is samizdat. All samizdat was coming from this Leonid Sedov, who was my friend and a friend of this writer, and some others. With some I had more close contact, with some just — take for example, Zinoviev, who is now living in Germany. I knew him because his student was my friend in Eastern Germany. They are writing articles together and I get his fat books because of these contacts. These books are not yet published and he gives a copy to my wife; we read it and return it to him, so we were very friendly at that time with people who were dangerous.
MS: It was dangerous for you to have those contacts?
Simonia: Of course. Because that means that I was also closely followed by KGB people. I am sure. Well, my wife told me that once when she came to the home of Zinoviev, she noticed the TV device to fix all people who are coming to Zinovievs. So she is there.
MS: Do you think those people made much difference? How much difference did it make, people such as your friends who spoke out in this public way and put themselves at risk? Do you think that this encouraged reforms or helped speed up reforms?
Simonia: I am sure. But you must not think that it was direct influence — that they said something or wrote something and there was direct influence. But indirectly, there was a kind of accumulation of some elements of political consciousness in the minds of many people, including some leaders — Gorbachev. If you take Gorbachev it was very important that when he was a student, he had some Czechoslovak future dissident as a friend. He was educated, he was reading some books, like me. This was important because you must understand that when it was a real iron curtain, even good people could not understand anything. They believed. They really believed. I remember when I came in 1950 to Moscow, I was 100% believer in socialism, in Stalin. I was so sad when Stalin died. Really! It was such a feeling that now it’s the end of the world. But later on, slowly, you read this and you get awakened. And then, after all, reading this samizdat was very important.
MS: Do you have any idea that Gorbachev may have read some of this stuff himself?
Simonia: Maybe not much and maybe not everything, maybe only the most important publications. Not samizdat but publications which are made outside the country and then brought in. Because you know that in Progress Publishers there was a department— closed, a totally secret department, which was publishing practically all important Western publications — translating this into Russian, and only 300 copies were published. I saw many of these, I handled them when I was working for the Central Committee. Sometimes I was working there because some topics were so secret at that time that I was not allowed to take home any piece of paper. Just write there and that was that. But they gave me a room of someone who was on vacation and then on his bookshelf there was a very strange white covered books. All were just paperbacks but white ones. These were classified publicstions. So I saw that these were Progress Publishers, so I used to read all these. I violated the regulation because I took these books homes and after a few days put them back on the shelf. And so I read maybe 30 or 40 books that way.
MS: These were books that would not be allowed in the country.
Simonia: No because they were about Brezhnev, about Stalin, about Lenin, Trotsky, or about the Soviet Union as a whole. All major books published in the West were translated. Can you imagine how much money they spent? 300 copies distributed without any price just for internal use by Central Committee members and some other people. Now it’s open, this department in Progress Publishers. I was on the council that decided which books must be published for the public, for everybody. New editions of books published in Western countries.
MS: So you have some special role in Progress Publishing?
Simonia: Till recently, yes. Now they have transformed themselves into private, commercial, so there is no longer any necessity anymore to have scientific counsels. Simply they decide, is it possible to get some profit or not? At that time, profit was not a major consideration. Even a year ago it was a different situation. AT least we managed this year — I was chairman of a small committee of this department — we managed to publish 30 more books. I remember one by an American scientist about the revolution of 1917, and many others. Recently published books about Soviet Union, including this famous book about terror. What is the author’s name? such a famous book about terror in Russia! Conquest.
MS: Oh, Robert Conquest, yes.
Simonia: HIs book was translated.
MS: He is writing about nationalism. I have taken enough of your time. I am immensely grateful to you.