Press Release: Independent peace movement, USSR

NOV. 22, 1983 by Prof. Metta Spencer

Everyone whom I met in Moscow and Vienna seemed to view the present situation as a new cold war—one more dangerous than the earlier one. The problem was generally attributed to mutual mistrust, which has undermined the necessary political will for nuclear disarmament and detente.

Out of concern for this deteriorating public opinion, I concentrated on discussions aimed at bridging the two blocs and the numerous splits within those blocs. I met with Soviet delegates and frequently spoke in the dialogues about the importance to the Canadian public of having a Soviet peace movement that resembles in some respects our own. Few Canadians know, I said, that there is a Soviet Peace Committee with about sixty million members. News of its massive rallies rarely reaches print in Western papers, for reasons that need to be understood by its officials. It is vital for Soviet peace workers to understand why public opinion in the West discounts their peaceful intentions.

The most serious obstacle western peace workers face in persuading the public to accept nuclear disarmament is, I argued, the pervasive fear of the Russians. Those of us who give frequent public speeches are invariably reminded by our audiences that we could not give such speeches in the USSR unless we were authorized to do so by officials. This objection cannot be refuted and, by remaining unanswered, it is often taken as sufficient grounds for increasing NATO’s nuclear “defense” capability. In view of the growing danger of accidental war, I expressed my hope that, whatever the Soviet objections to grassroots movements may be, they will take advantage of an existing opportunity to adopt a flexible attitude toward one such group and thereby allay anxiety in the West.

For, in addition to the huge Soviet Peace Committee, there is a small but significant independent peace organization that calls itself the Group to Establish Trust. Its brave members are experiencing some repression, perhaps directed by the official Soviet Peace Committee, even though they do not criticize government policies, but simply work independently to build confidence and mutual trust between East and West.
While their independence is considered deviant in their country, it is invariably reassuring to Westerners who hear about it. Indeed, my main point in Vienna was that the Sovet Peace Committee ought to celebrate the emergence of this autonomous peace movement, not repress it, if only because its existence is such a powerfully moderating influence on public opinion in the groups that we Western peace activists seek to persuade. I am not sure whether Soviet officials took my message seriously or not.

In Moscow, both before and after the Vienna meetings, Dr. Joanne Santa Barbara and I visited some of the core members of that independent organization, the Group to Establish Trust. We were profoundly moved by these conversations, which lasted a total of almost 8 hours. Although most of these core members are professional people who have lost their jobs or suffered even more serious punishment for their peace work, they are not vindictive but they actually praise the (official) Soviet Peace Committee for the excellent work that it is doing. Instead of viewing their own organization as a rival, they urge Western peace activists to find ways of working with both the official group and their own. They have not criticized any government nor made any specific military recommendations, but confine their activities to supporting contacts that would build trust between the superpowers.

Thus The Group to Establish Trust has organized several public events, such as exhibitions of posters and paintings promoting peace. They regard people-to-people contact between East and west of immense importance. Accordingly, they have written an open letter to President Reagan asking for civilian flights to be established between the U.S. and USSR. They call for regular cultural exchanges, and especially for the exchange visits of large numbers of children, who should live for a time with families on the other side of the iron curtain. They are keenly interested in promoting joint economic endeavors between East and West to replace jobs that will be lost when the military industrial complexes of the two sides convert to peaceful production.

One member of the Group to Establish Trust is now living in New york and spreading the word about the Group’s work. He is Sergei Batovrin, a man who is fluent in English and who can be reached at 1793 Riverside Drive, Apt. SB, New York 10034. phone: 212-304-1943.

For further information in Toronto, I can be reached at home at 789-2294. I can also provide information about the broad range of activities sponsored by the Soviet Peace Committee, including photographs of demonstrations in which (according to their own estimates which were confirmed by the Group to Establish Trust) some 50 million Soviet citizens participated during one week last year.

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