Richard Deats (Fellowship of Reconciliation), 1991

Interview – Richard Deats July 11, 1991
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

MS – Why don’t you just tell me when you started going I suppose mostly to the Soviet Union but you’ve spent time in Eastern Europe haven’t you?

RD – Right.

MS – So when did you first start this?

RD – I first started in 1982, I went on the Volga Peace Cruise I represented FOR and that was in July of 82. In June of 82 just before the big march here in New York there was a tiny announcement in the New York Times that a trust group had been formed. It was just like four sentences, I tucked that away in my thinking knowing that I was going to the Soviet Union next month and I was able to get the name of the leader of the group, Sergai Natovrin. So when we got to Moscow there was a steering committee for the peace groups, it was a large group of us that were going and there were about 12 of us from the different groups that were steering committee. So when we had our first meeting in Moscow I said everything ought to be open and there was a group that had started and I thought I was going to go visit them and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join me and there was this big discussion that followed. Most of the people didn’t think it was wise to visit them they thought it would get the Peace Cruise in trouble, it might jeopardize the Cruise. But Howard Frazer said, well I think if he wants to visit them fine, we aren’t going to do it as a group but that’s his business and that’s OK with me. And I said if anyone else wants to go, but no one did. But the next day Carol Kramer who was representing The Nation Magazine, said I’d like to go with you. So anyway we went to the apartment of Sergei Batovrin and my heart was about to jump out of my breath, I was so worried about the KGB, and that kind of thing was still very controlled. There was no one home, so I left my card under the door. When we came back at the end of the Cruise I went back and knocked on the door and Sergei’s wife answered and said Sergei was taken to the mental hospital. He was accused of being deranged or something to start this peace group. And the art exhibit they had put up in the apartment had been confiscated, and he’s still today trying to get that art back.

MS – Does he know if it still exists?

RD – He doesn’t know.

MS – I don’t think he’ll ever get it back do you?

RD – No he’s been trying for several years. Anyway so his wife told the story, she didn’t know much. Sergei had grown up, his father was a diplomat, he had spent time in New York City so he spoke English very good. But she had an English Russian dictionary and so we struggled talking and she told us what the situation was and later Sergei said this was the first time they had had anyone frome the west. It was a great encouragement to them that someone knew about them. And on subsequent visits which were every year and then when we started taking more groups over which was the next year 83, we always made it a point to visit the Peace Committee and the Trust Group and let both groups know that we are visiting the other. Neither thought it was a good thing in the beginning but our stature from the beginning was we’ll seek to reach out to anyone who’s interested in Peace and the world community and we’re not going to judge the motives. I remember long discussions with the Peace Committee staff people and the first year their response was Oh they don’t exist, they don’t exist, we are the Peace in the Soviet Union. And every year I go back to the Soviet Union I ask these questions and the next year their response was, there is a trust group but they’re hoodlums, they’re just trouble makers. Finally after a few years they began saying, after Glasnost started, let them do their thing and we’ll do ours but we’re very different and you need to understand that. And then finally at one of their big Peace Committee gatherings about 4 years ago, Borovik, who was the head of the Peace Committee or someone who was in the Peace Committee said, well let them have a representative speak and that was sort of the first time that the official group had let the trust group make a statement for a Peace Committee gathering. So it was a long way from the initial meeting, but we really had meetings going every year and we simply made it a point to try to visit dissidents and officials, government and church people, Peace Committee, frienship society and just try to break down these terrible barriers. And one of the things that we found was that on both sides there were these enormous barriers and that there were groups from the west that would only go to the official groups, they wouldn’t dare get near a dissidents apartment or do anything controversial. Then there were others who would only relate to these and totally refuse to visit the Peace Committee or the Orthodox church, who were officially sanctioned. And we felt that we were going to break down the barriers in the various groups and in our own movement. It was often very difficult because there would be very deep suspicions and you would be discounted if you related to one or the other, depending on the group. One time I got a call from a Russian who quoted the president of the International League for Peace and Freedom…

MS – Ian Ballentine?

RD – No Carol, a Californian, Carol Pendall. Do you know Carol?

MS – There’s a Karen, Carol I don’t know.

RD – Well anyway, right before one of my trips, she wanted to thank me for continuing to go to the trust group. And she said we really can’t do that because we’re really very strongly related to the Soviet Committe, but I’m glad that FOR has this role and we support you.

MS – Why did she think that they couldn’t?

RD – I think that they were for so long, they were really one of the pioneers of going over there in the darkest days of the Cold War. They were having things with a particular Soviet Committee and I think they felt that they had built up these really good relationships, exchanged delegations and they didn’t want to jeopardize this. I think that was the feeling of a lot of people back then that you just shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize your opportunities to get in and relate to these groups. In the long run that’s what’s worked for them. For example National Council of Churches group sent one over when they were given instructions on going in, they were told absolutely don’t take anything in your luggage like a copy of Newsweek Magazine or New York Times, because that will be confiscated, they don’t want you to bring in that kind of thing, don’t bring anything in that can cause contravercy. Whereas our approach was don’t court trouble but also try to have your own inner integrity. And if you want to take in some literature in to people, if it’s confiscated it’s confiscated, if it isn’t then you have an opportunity, for example the writings of Tolstoy are news stories about dissidents or anything that can help people more aware of the total picture. I always encourage people to do it and to know that there might be, like on one trip when we went in we had 20 Russian bibles, and because we were going to visit a Baptist church we were going to take them bibles because they just couldn’t get them, and they got confiscated between Helsinki and Leningrad and yet they were eventually delivered.

MS – They were?

RD- Yes they were.

MS – And did they have the names of the recipiants on them?

RD – No we didn’t have the actual names of people, we were just going to take them to the church.

MS – I see, so they did get them?

RD – Yeah they did get them. Another time we had some songs, some were confiscated, some were released, most were released. We just figured even if the KGB gets some of this stuff it will be good for them.

MS – Did you ever get in trouble?

RD – The closest I’ve got to it was after one of the visits with the Trust group, we were leaving by train to Prague from Moscow and they all came down, this was the first group of them the trust group, the older group…

MS – By the way Olga is one of my co-authors. [That was a plan at the time.]

RD – Yes you told me that, anyway they came to the train to tell us goodbye and when I shook hands with one of them, they put a role of film in my hand and I just put it my pocket and he said this is a declaration we had made and we want to get it to the west, if you give the film to Sergei he will develop it, enlarge it and take it from us, and if we could get it to him. As I took this we looked in the car we were getting ready to enter, there were some men watching that fit the perfect KGB stereotype, and I was really apprehensive. So when we left the Soviet Union and passed the border into Poland, the women who was checking luggage, opened our compartment and she looked straight at me, and she wanted me to open my luggage, and when she did she said film, camera. So I got out all my film, my camera and the roll they had given me was smaller than all of my 35mm film so it was obviously different. So she took all of the films and the camera she put all of this literature on top of it and she said come with me. I was the only one they took off the train. They took me into this examiniing room, so the guy sitting behind the desk took my bag and asked who I was and what we had been doing. Well he saw all of this literature and a lot of it was from Peace Movement. I told him we were in the peace committee and the friendship society and so forth. And he looked at this literature and he didn’t even get to the bottom of the suitcase and he turned to the women and scolded her for bringing me. I don’t all know what transpired…

MS – Did you know any Russian, what they were saying?

RD – I just picked up that he was scolding her and why did she bring me in. And so I got back on the train and everybody clapped. That was sort of the closest…

MS – But the incriminating roll of film was there?

RD – It was there, I thought it was better to have all the rolls together than one separate, because if they were found separate it would look more suspicious and that was my closest brush. There were times when I could tell I was followed, but I was never stopped from doing anything. I always have my visa, I’ve been stopped 13 times, and it’s always sort of amazed me that I was able to skin my knees everytime.

MS – You’re going again in another few weeks?

RD – Yes.

MS – What is this mission again?

RD – This will be visiting Lithuania, the ministry of foreign affairs, the policies on violence they are trying to develop.

MS – Now in terms of your discussions, lets see if you were starting in ’82, it must of been that the dual track policy, well anyway the Euromissiles and all that would have been the topic of the day. These meetings were all, the Soviet peace committee invited westerners to this first meeting that you were talking about?

RD – The first one that I went to involved the peace groups, but the peace committee they were the sponsers there and they did get people to go on the boat and they hosted us in the cities and they were really the central sponsor and also the friendship society and you know the kind of, and they really did bring top flight people, but it really was more the friendship. I went to a number of those yearly, where we met, many gatherings for a conference. I went to a number of those kinds of meetings and then FOR headed a number of what we called “Journeys of Reconciliation” where we simply felt that it was critical to get as many people as possible going into the Soviet Union, meeting people in all walks of life, having open free discussions and just experiencing the reality of this other country and we did that year after year in journeys of reconciliation.

MS – Now how were the rest of the people on those trips?

RD – Well we would advertise the journeys through fellowship and in journals, so they were really first come, first serve. The people were almost entirely peace activists, a lot of FOR folks but also others from Quakers and others who simply wanted to participate in this kind of experience.

MS – And there were quite a number of Russians you would meet, I mean official people who would be along with you?

RD – Yes, what I would do in planning would be to arrange with the Peace Committe and the frienship committee and the friendship society, the Russian Orthodox church, you know thanks for coming and could we meet them in this city and this city and then we would have a guide that would do the ordinary tourist things. And then I would always encourage people to go off on their own to go on the subway to go to a market and to really make it an opportunity just to have experiences. And often times these were the best things, the unplanned things, where someone was taken out for coffee, discussions that were totally unplanned. Because particularly in the early years there was a great deal of worry of rooms being bugged and meetings being set up and teachings being under surveilance. Our attitude was even if we are under surveillance, just speak to everyone and just don’t worry, trust and things will work out and they did.

MS – Did you often at the beginning have a feeling that the people who were talking to you, who were not members of the trust group or any unofficial organization were speaking to you with their eyes so to speak, was there any sense that what they said officially was not necesarrily all they wanted to say?

RD – Yes and no, some of them were true believers, and I think the most frustrating thing in the early 80’s was that you always got kind of these canned answers that you’d find difference of opinion that you’d find about domestic issues relating to foreign policy. The US was the villain and their politics were all right and theirs were all wrong, it was bad because it was all canned and so simplistic. But certainly there were people who you would find did have another side and it was a one to one meeting, out on the deck of the ship or out in the park, you could pick up another side. Of course that increased enormously since Glasnost.

MS – Yeah I was wondering, you went just about every year, so you almost have a kind of scale to measure it on. When did you first begin to find that people were saying things that people weren’t saying a few years before?

RD – Well I’m really dating around 1985,86 when Gorbachev’s first discussion about Glasnost. In fact when it was announced we organized a delegation, and the Peace Committee said if you’d like to come over and study Glasnost and Perastroika would you like to arrange this. Yes and so we took over 10 people and that was the focus everywhere we went whether it was flour collective or the tractor factory or the big dam in Volgagrad or the Kindergarten in Baku, everywhere we would talk to people about this. It was really very exiting and we were beginning to get diversity of opinion. And particularly the criticism of the central authorities, it was as this isolated weight was being lifted. There was really enormous optomism that this was going to make tremendous difference very soon and economically it would benefit very quickly, of course now it looks very gloomy. But 85 86 that’s when we began to see the difference. The same in the Peace Committee they began to be much more vocal.

MS – Can you think of some names of people who you had some conversations with who were in the Peace Committee at that period?

RD – Well Michael Shein. The editor of 20th Century Peace, Goliath. He to me is one of the most remarkable, 20th Century Peace was the first publication to publish anything in socialism and they really got in trouble, but Goliath I remember in one of my early discussions with him, we had a delegation visiting and we were in his office, this was probably in 84,85, and I ask him about the trust group and he was so impatient and he said I don’t care they’re just trouble makers. But now I find him one of the most perceptive, one of the most in the spirit of what Peristroika is all about. And 20th century Peace has really become readable, it used to be just as boring as Moscow News used to be, and it’s really one of the best. It’s just been amazing, I think, I don’t know what happened to him.

MS – Isn’t he still in?

RD – He’s still there, but I mean in terms of him internally, he’s about my favorite person in terms of peace movement anyhow, the most likeable person, like Shein ought to be.

MS – I don’t think I know him, I may recognize him if I see him.

RD – And of course a lot of the people who were there have gone so its not really the same, the situation is really very different. Promoting the dirty peace news I was working entirely with the Ukranian peace movement…

MS – I knew that in this trip they were working with him but I didn’t know that there was a specific reason I just thought it was because we were going to the Ukraine.

RD – One of the things that’s happened is that all of these various peace committees have asserted their own Ukranian or Estonian or Georgian self and they resent control in Moscow. But anyway I think Michael Shein he’s probably a long time player and I respect him pretty much. But, the editor of 20th century Peace, in terms of articulating…

MS – Last summer I was in Tallinn, the END meeting and I think I may have also mentioned Tair Tairov, who was the secretary of the World Peace Council for 7 years in Helsinki and then he quit and came over. It wasn’t that simple, he basically started speaking out and he lost his job. He’s now the chairman of a coalition of Peace Organizations called Civic Peace and do you remember Tair— are you familiar with him?

RD – I certainly know who he is, I am not sure that I have met him.

MS – He is now in, he’s a coordinator of this thing and last summer in Helsinki, until then they were trying to make a deal so that the meeting would be this year in Moscow and they wanted to have the Peace Committee and the Independant groups host it jointly. So there was an interview in the kind of daily newspaper that they printed for the conference in which there was both Tair and Andrei Melville who were interviewed, do you know Andrei Melville?

RD – Yes.

MS – Well I always thought highly of Andrei Melville, I had met him here in Toronto years ago in about 82 or 83, something like that, well it wouldn’t have been 82 but it could have been 83,84. He seemed very democratic to me and so he was saying in the interview that he had come to work with the peace committee but he was pretty pessimistic and it wasn’t easy. So but they agreed to work together on this summers conference so and then by September or so Tyer quit the committee. He said he couldn’t work with them and there was nothing new possible there. That was pretty ominous.

RD – Our last delegation to go under their sponsorship was last November and because I had a lot of contacts and I was able to accomplish what I wanted to do, but their sponsorship was just disastrous, everything it seems like didn’t work out.

MS – You think on purpose?

RD – Well partly. We were supposed to go to Estonia and we didn’t get to go.They cancelled it at the last minute. And the day after we got to Moscow they sent us to Tashkent and it turned out that the Tashkent Peace committee is just like the old peace committee; it’s pre-Glasnost out there. And our young translator was involved in this and they found out they were old time people and they were going to keep us away from the university and they simply had tourist things set up for us. They didn’t want us to meet any students or any people or anyone. And we just abandoned them and did our own thing. They were furious. I told them we didn’t come as tourists. It was very clear it was a group of nonviolence teachers and we wanted to talk about nonviolence and the peace committee has agreed to this and they sent us out to Tashka with really nothing planned. We were able to develop things with students before, but we were totally on our own.

MS – What sort of thing did you develop?

RD – Well I had a number of names, contacts and we simply part of our group we divided up, part of our group went out to the university and looked up the names we had. The people were very excited, they felt very isolated out there and they don’t have that many visitors, and they opened up classes to nonviolence training. The next day people showed up and there were various groups there. For example we discovered the nationalists group there, the popular front. We had them right across from the front of our hotel and their main focus was environmental because of the terrible things that are happening with the Aral Sea starting up, salt storms, blowing the salt all over the country and so forth. They were very interested in talking about how you build a movement to deal with a Parliament that is totally unresponsive to people’s needs, the old line communist. And the fact that there situation is so isolated and disempowered. We put them in contact with other groups and they set up things so we could meet with various groups and talk about nonviolence and tell them what was happening in other parts of the Soviet Union that they didn’t even know.

MS – Oh that’s interesting.

RD – So we felt like it was really very important.

MS – Now do you speak enough Russian to do anything directly or do you have your own interpreter, how did you get around the fact that you’re dependent on them for interpreting?

RD – Well we found, I feel terrible. I cannot communicate in Russian, just phrases and words, almost like survival Russian. We often take someone with us who knows Russian, we find, like in the universities, there will always be a few english speaking people. And then we got to Moscow, Deluca, nonviolence, translations and they set up a workshop for us and 50 people came for a 7 hour workshop. We went out to the open university in Moscow there was a workshop there and then there were these conflictology group. Part of our group went to universities, we got a lot of us divided up and 3 would go here and 4 would go there. So we were at the seat of our pants. The great thing now is that every place we go people are open and eager for new ideas and nonviolence seems to something that helps to point them toward democracy. So they want to find out about it, the visions of King and Gandhi and those are really fascinating and they’re beginning to discover Tolstoy and the pacifist thing. They want to find out their own heritage of resistance and pacifism.

MS – By the way you mentioned Deluca and I wonder if you have an adress or something because I, or it’s all right because I can get it through people that I know. I called Gail Warner the other day and said that I would like to talk to her at length and especially get down the names of some people to see and so on. Did you know that she has cancer?

RD – Yeah, is she worse or…

MS – I don’t know she just said that it had recurred and that she isn’t really up to talking. She’s going into the hospital and she said she hoped that when I got back she’d feel better and be able to talk.

RD – That’s probably why she didn’t return my call because when I got back I called her a couple times and she has Lymphoma which is the worst form of cancer I guess, and it had been in remission for about the past year.

MS – No I didn’t know.

RD – But anyway that’s a really good group and they set up this workshop for us.

MS – Maybe before we break it off I can get the adress of somebody I can contact from you if you have it for Deluca. I guess the other thing I wanted to explore with you is I hear a lot of people say, when I interview them, that when western peace people started talking about non-provocative defence that they were getting good reactions from officials military people and so on. That this, not immediately at any rate, but pretty soon they began to feel that there was an interest there and people were taking up their ideas and running with them. But naturally I would assume that pacifism would be a whole different kettle of fish. Can you compare the way they would treat people who are really committed to nonviolence with the way they would treat say Michael Harbottle of Generals for Peace. Can you say anything about how you would be treated differently, I’m not saying that you personally or that there’s any personal thing but the ideas might have a different level of acceptability.

RD – Yeah I think it’s pretty predictable, the whole kind of thing that Gene Sharp talks about of nonviolent national defence. The exciting thing about the Soviet Union now is that everything is up for examination and that they really are looking for new ways which is so different from here where there’s this arrogance. Whereas there there is recognition that things are really going sour and their really examining the past 70 years and where they’re going to go from here. I think that they see enormous cost, more over there than here, that the military expenditure all of their creativity being focused on the military and it just about sucked the rest of society. And so the idea that there would be another way of defending yourselves and that security has more to do with your inner strength and the world is learning that there are ways of defence that’s based on people not weaponry, I think this does make sense to a lot of people. And depending on who I’m talking with, I can talk along this line but then I also for example this Tolstoy network and religious people and kind of new age people, when you talk about Tolstoy, he’s kind of spiritual, killing somehow violates that sacred gift that we all have. There is a receptivity that we all have, I think it’s sort of like here you can talk on a pragmatic level with certain people and they’re responsive. But the kind of pacifism that’s pretty daunting for a lot of people.

MS – What always struck me more, I guess I can’t really speak about Russians in a categorical way but I remember spending a good bit of time in Poland and Hungary and seeing the reaction of people who were, well I understood they were peace activists in some sense, people in freedom in peace and so on. And often found that the word pacifism just stuck in their craw. They would say they certainly weren’t pacifists, but I would say you’re the best example in the world of anybody I know who’s a pacifist. So there was always a big discussion of that and I gather that that’s a fairly common thing throughout the Soviet Union too. Most people we would think of as certainly disarmament activists if not really promoting, well for example I had a visitor here a couple months ago who’s working very strongly for a law for conscientious objection in the Soviet Union, but they don’t say that they are pacifists. Can you clarify the way people you know use that word.

RD – Well I still think that there is and enormous misunderstanding when people here the word pacifist they think of passive in doing nothing and simply submitting to people. I find it nearly always necessary to define what you’re talking about because it puts off people so much, it’s just, it’s like the word love. It has a popular connotation, but it doesn’t convey its inner strength and power, and so I don’t usually begin by using that word but I try to lead up to it to define what I mean by it.

Side 2 of tape

MS – You mean you don’t use the word pacifism right off?

RD – Well not right off, I kind of build up to it. Simply because people react sharply and close their minds its difficult to get them to, it’s just kind of an approach. The exciting thing that I find is that in the past for example when I would raise the question of Tolstoy, he would be dismissed as a bourgeois philosopher, great novelist but as a philosopher he was bourgeois. But now there are people who are studying Tolstoy, his religious and philisophical writings are published widely and there’s real interest in him and they realize this is part of our heritage. He was forgotten and they are trying to recover the revolutionary heritage, saying what do we have in our past that was sort of forgotten over the years. And this is part of it and Tolstoy really looms large on the people.

MS – I received notification of this foundation of this Russian Peace Society, which seems to be, I mean the very fact that they call themselves the Russian Peace Society not the Soviet in case there’s a kind of a, well there’s a nationalistic element to it, I can’t put my finger on it but somehow they’re trying to find the Russian soul. They make a lot of Tolstoy, and when you tell me about the Tolstoy society I assumed that that was the same thing but evidently you’re talking about something quite different.

RD – Yes, different. There is a Jewish editor of the Tolstoy society in Riga and they have about a thousand people on their mailing list. They’ve got a newsletter in Russian, it comes out 3 or 4 times a year. I’ve been sending them articles and stuff and a lot of it they put in there. They are very much trying to build up an awareness of Tolstoy. These are people who consider themselves Tolstoyan, so it is different from this Russian Peace Society. One of the things that I think we’re able to do is we go in there and sometimes put people together who don’t know about each other. I met with this Russian Quaker, a woman in Moscow…

MS – I don’t believe I know her name.

RD – Well she’s a history teacher, a professor, an eminent writer.

MS – Let me see — I think it starts with an I, I’ve got something written down in my book right here, if I can find it, Ilukhina,Ruzanna?

RD – No this is the woman in the Peace Society who’s kind of the organizer of it. This other woman, I don’t have may notes, well anyway she’s a writer and she discovered Quakerism in her study of English history. Just went to the library and got an encyclopedia and started studying and became a Quaker. [He means Tatiana Pavlova. I have an interview with her.]

MS – Is that right and are there no other Quakers there?

RD – There are a few they have a weekly meeting at her flat and she is working with this Russian Peace society with Quakers and Baptists and others. They’re trying to get away from Soviet, they’re really trying to recover kind of the pre-Soviet treasures and values that they have.

MS – How does this translated politically, or does it at all? I suppose I could ask the same question for North America, how do Quakers vote or do they even think in those terms. But are you talking about something that’s primarily spiritual quest and a group of people who are supporting each other in that, or are you speaking of people who have political programs and in ways that they would like to see their government function?

RD – Well I think it’s primarily a search for values, I think it is primarily a spiritual quest, but it has definite implications for a kind of society they are building and that’s why for example they the Quakers have not tried to help the Russian Peace Society to get started. But I think the primary motivation is really values. I think Tolstoy Society is the same thing, but they are also very interested, one of the editors of the Tolstoy society, I’ve sent him a lot of books on civil disobedience and Gandhi and so forth that he’s requested. So I’m really interested in the renewal of Ukrainian society, so I think it’s kind of a secondary concern. It’s kind of a multilayered, they realize there’s so many layers they’re going to have to restructure their society and that’s this tremendous movement to spiritual things now.

MS – Yes, someone a couple of days ago told me that, I don’t know where Gorbachev was but somebody asking are you religious? And he said, well of course. I hadn’t heard that before, have you heard that?

RD – Well I haven’t heard that response but I did hear about his grandmother getting him baptized, him having a very religious heritage.

MS – There’s a group that I know, I think I mentioned this guy who’s trying to get the law for concientious objection enacted. He’s on the Moscow city council, he’s, you might have even met him, Alexander Kalinen, you know him?

RD – Yes.

MS – Oh good. He’s been working very hard on a law on concientious objection. And he went to Yeltsin and Yeltsin came out in favour of it. Did you hear about that?

RD – No.

MS – Yeah that was, well his wife was here, Sasha’s wife Julia was staying with me for a few weeks. She had told me that Sasha had gone to see Yeltsin, they were both very down, very discouraged and hopeless. Then Yeltsin said in his statement that one of the things was that they were going to try to work on legitimating concientious objection and alternative service.

RD – Well we have circulated that petition and tried to get signatures to help. Janet Riley, I don’t know if you know her, she’s from the Quakers US USSR committee. She brought back this petition from Sasha and we circulated it last summer and got quite a few signitures. We’re trying to get the support from the west.

MS – Good so there must be I think he must have identified with the Quakers a little bit, but…

RD – Incidently I suppose you don’t do this but I think Olga’s pilgrimage would certainly be interesting because I know when we first started visiting the Trust group, words like vigourous and pessimist and so forth were pretty strange to them. They didn’t know much about this broader spiritual context. What they were doing was sort of began inventing independent peace work on their own. And we started thinking looks, every year or two we met, we just filled their apartment with posters, books literature, they just read all this stuff and I’m sure other people did too. It would be interesting for them to tell their story.

MS – That we will do, yeah and in fact one of the things is,I hope well she’s told her story in a way. She wrote a long piece when they first got to Ohio, which was published in the Merchand center quarterly and it’s a very interesting piece, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. It’s almost magazine length, it’s a full piece.

RD – Oh really?

MS – Yeah and we’ll use that as a part of the ingredients for the book. But in addition she’ll have further reflections and try to trace some of people she knew to see what has happened with them and how ideas have moved along.

RD – You know one of the little interesting stories from the original trust group, the Jewish doctor…

MS – Brodsky?

RD – Brodsky, I came to be pretty close to him. And last time I saw him before he was arrested, you know he said he was going to be in a lot of trouble, he supported the west and he was sent off to prison. And when I got word that he had been arrested, I understand he had a friendship with people in the Soviet mission in New York and the first secretary there, we had had dinner with him, so I went to see him once and what we were doing was working on forbidden faces, posters of Soviet people, so I got him talking about this it was a very affirming kind of thing, he loved the project. And before I left I mentioned that Brodsky was in prison and he had been charged with attacking the police, and he was a surgeon and he would never do anything to jeopardize his hands because he’s a surgeon, the fact that he would attack someone is just too hard to believe. Anyway I told him this story, and he didn’t know who Brodsky was and promised he would look into it, and then at the end of the visit I said how’s your family and his face just became kind of ghost like and he said my daughter has cancer and I don’t know if she will live. And he said some doctors said there’s nothing we can do for her. So I said I have some friends who are doctors. Let me see what I can do. Well lo and behold, a Jewish doctor friend of mine knew someone. Well anyway the daughter came over and examined her and they operated on her and I thought it was a beautiful bringing together, just sort of serindipitous a Jewish doctor treating his daughter and I had gone over there in the hope of getting a Jewish doctor out of prison over there.

MS – How did she do?

RD – Well she had improved for a while, but I haven’t seen him, he was transferred over to Sri Lanka and I had lost touch with him. But at least it was one way, a wonderful experience the Jewish treatment of his daughter.

MS – It would be interesting to find out the outcome of that, but anyway the story is a beautiful story. Did you ever talk much about nonviolence with people in official positions such as the military or foreign affairs?

RD – Certainly Peace Committee and the meetings we had like with like the US Canada society our delegations would always bring up questions related to this. And again I think it’s sort of Peristroika and Glasnost that as it progressed the openness and this thinking became more and more evident. In fact this new ethics and nonviolence center education and research in Moscow, they’re really proud of the philosophy department in getting it assigned to Moscow.

MS – Yeah I was invited to, they had a conference about 2 years ago I think. I was invited but I just couldn’t go.

RD – But it’s interesting because they said that that had really got them started and they had a conversations with various ethics professors from Poland and in the various republics. And they got very interested in nonviolence as they began to question Marx and other philosophical point of views. And Gandhi and Tolstoy was part of these.

MS – I had heard, is it hypocrical or is it true, that the Soviet Union is the only country that did not send anybody to Gandhi’s funeral?

RD – I don’t know.

MS – I don’t know where I heard that but it certainly is consistent with the fact that Marxism had no use for pacifism.

RD – Right, traditionally.

MS – So can you remember some of the people that you have had conversations with who seemed to have an moved toward an opening on these questions?

RD – Well certainly Anatole Goliev.

MS – The meeting that I remember going to in Moscow that we both attended was one where, I think it was the same meeting, but there were military strategists present. I remember Semeiko, who I think I’d made an intervention about accidental nuclear war, some research that had been done on accidental launching during a crises, what do you call these Defcon things. The man just about grabbed me as I was coming out the door, he was so intensely interested. I had a very good conversation with him, where I just had the feeling they were very very , they were listening very carefully. I was surprised at how receptive or how much they seemed to be listening, compared to conversations I had with my own members of parliament and people in government in Canada and, well I don’t live in the US anymore but I am a US citizen—a dual citizen. So I have seen some of the things that he has written since then, which reflect concerns about accidental nuclear war and a movement toward, at least an acceptance of the principal of reasonable sufficiency, they’ve been promoting that quite clearly. But that’s quite different from pacifism and I just wondered if you had any conversation which you felt that people were really interested in tactics of nonviolence?

RD – Well certainly that the tactics, the practice of nonviolence has gotten more and more of a hearing. And this trip last month to Lithuania where we met with the defense secretary and they have an explicit policy on nonviolent defence. But they still have a lot of questions because, well as some of the militia men in a workshop said, communists are not human. They just had such horrible experiences with them. You know Lithuanians being slaughtered, others being taken off to Siberia. They just have these terrible deep antipathies toward Russians, toward communism. But they are very very interested, they really are open. Again is so much more than we can find like in our US war college. They are looking to Sweden to Austria and to Norway and they are very worried because what if it doesn’t work. What we find is that they are eager and open and ready and trying to find another way. They recognize that the way of violence could just destroy all that they’ve worked for.

MS – so they would approach it from the fairly pragmatic posture?

RD – Yes, in my next trip I very much hope that I can meet with church people. The last trip was mostly government people. One of the bridges that I hope you can gulf there is the church people have fought for just maintaining the church after years of persecution. And there’s a lot of distrust over even if they appoint a nationalist, who were formally communist believers, you know there’s a tremendous gulf here. But if they’re going to have a nonviolent policy, it’s got to be by the people, that’s where the strength is people. And so I’m going back to see if there’s some things to add to this if you’re still interested.

MS – Yes I am, as a matter of fact I wonder if you’ve written stuff for Fellowship magazine or other places on this?

RD – Yes there will be a piece in the July issue which is probably in the mail now.

MS – You know I haven’t been getting it, I wonder if we can work out some sort of exchange?

RD – Sure.

MS – OK, what will I do to make that happen?

RD – Well let me make sure I’ve got the right address.

MS – Now another thing before I, I’ll arrange then, we’ll just put this down as an exchange thing and I’ll make sure that we send stuff to you. The group that I’m going with this time is doing something a little different. They’re going to meet with environmentalists and also to visit hospitals, we’re taking along medical supplies. I gather that there’s a convergence between environmental activism and peace activism. Is that your experience and were you finding people interested in using nonviolent direct action for environmental purposes? You mentioned people who were interested in trying to something about the Aral sea and…

RD – Yes I’m very definitely, I think that both have discovered that their strength is in themselves and that through the traditional tactics of nonviolence are able to further thier cause and accomplish their purposes. In the meeting we had with the Aral sea committee what I proposed to them was to have an international walk from Taska to the Aral sea to try to get environmental and peace activists from around the world and just force the attention. They say Gorbachev listens to Bielorussia and to the Ukraine because they’re Christian and western, but he pays to attention to us because we’re left wing and Asian and they really feel like they’re discriminated against.

MS – Do you think that’s true?

RD – Well I think there’s racism, I think there’s a sense of, in the western part that they tend to think of themselves in a different way then they think of emotional hot headed tribal people out in the steppes and central Asia. It does certainly feel that way, but in a way I certainly feel there ought to be an international walk and walk to the sea. I said remember Gandhi walked to the sea and I told them that story. And I have a piece of the Berlin wall which I gave to them and they were so excited. So maybe they can do something with that, but I think that this tremendous nonviolent movement that happened all over the world, we had all these resources, we just had the energy and the vision and the money to go to these places and do it.

MS – So far as you know they haven’t actually done nonviolent actions yet?

RD – Well at least they have been able to get organized and to publisize their cause. They’ve done it in a sort of rudimentary stuff. They say the Supreme Soviet is progressive compared to what it was.

MS – Are there some names that I should take down, I’m probabley going to be able to get all the names I want from Sasha, I’m going to be staying with them, but if you know somebody I should definitely not miss in either Leningrad, Kiev or Odessa, I’d be glad to take it down.

RD – Well in Kiev there is a young man who’s a member of the Tolstoy society, who hopes to be a translator, he’s been translating a lot of our stuff to Russian, his name is Vladimir Kiselev, and his nick name is Dick. He knows about the cruise because I had told him about it and we had hoped to get Petkoy on this cruise to do all this training, but didn’t, anyway his phone number is 295-7253, and he would be a very good person to talk to. He’s just finished his studies and his English is really good, he’s steeped in Tolstoy.

MS – I bet I know who he is, I’ll bet anything. I’ve had a guy from Kiev who’s been studying English there and he’s just now graduated. He stayed with me last summer and the previous summer and he’s brought a lot of other people including his brother over, his brother stayed with me about a month last summer. He was telling me about somebody in his class who’s really interested in Tolstoy and I’ll bet you it’s the same guy.

RD – Do you know Nadia Borova in Moscow?

MS – No.

RD – Nadia Borova, she also has cancer. She has done amazing work, she began with the Peace Committee but it was too confining for her. She’s done a lot as a peace activist. Peace child, all kind of stuff, her focus is on children. Her number is 330-9950. Her husband is a deeply alienated artist, a very angry man, she’s a very beautiful sweet powerful women. Gail Warner writes about her. There’s a really wonderful women at the Navianovsky monestary which is at the corner of the Russian Orthodox church, Nina Dabrova. She’s been on a couple FOR exchanges, she’s a very close friend of mine. She’s, in terms of the Russian Orthodox church, a very good person to talk to. Her office number is 234-0006, extension 777, and her home number is 432-1996.

MS – In Moscow, do you know anybody in Odessa?

RD – I don’t.

MS – Well OK, that’s going to keep me busy.

RD – When you’re in Moscow be sure and go across the street from the KGB headquarters, they’ve got a monument there to all the victims of Stalin. The memorial society which is trying to build a memorial to the victims put this there last November, it’s really a powerful symbol. It’s directly across the street from the KGB, be sure you see it.

MS – OK I will.

RD – Have a great trip.

MS – You’re going to be over there, you’re going to be in Lithuania?

RD – Right.

MS – Well I hope it goes very well for you, and we’ll cross paths some time in the fall maybe.

RD – OK, great Bye.

Audio file

Apple and smartphone-friendly audio link: here

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