Sergei Grigoriants (dissident journalist), 1992

Sergei Grigoriants Moscow, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Metta: How did you get involved in this work?

Grigoriants: I spent five years in jail, 1983 to ’87. In ’87 I was released and I was included in the list of prisoners whom Sakharov was asking Gorbachev to release. In the beginning of the eighties we were publishing a bulletin where we were describing the human rights situation among the religious people.

MS: Is that how you got in trouble with the authorities?

Grigoriants: Yes. After that we published the newspaper Glasnost and now there is an agency called Glasnost and also a Christian Bulletin. We signed an agreement with [Gafton ?] College in London and we have negotiations with another college in New York.

MS: A college? Higher education?

Grigoriants: Research. Not higher education.

MS: And they are working on lobbying or that sort of thing?

Grigoriants: Yes.

MS: So you were in prison. You must have had relationships with other prisoners. How did you form your organization?

Grigoriants: _______ (says something we laugh about, but I can’t hear it.) We consider that our task is much wider, so the authors must be wider. We do have some knowledge of former prisoners, of course. And in ’80 ______ was also very close to being arrested. We were working together in 82-83.

MS: Your group is an organization? Or do you have subscribers? Or how does your work connect with other people?

Grigoriants: We don’t belong to any party or organizations. Just journalists.

MS: And you collect information about people whose human rights are in danger or who are working to expand human rights?

Grigoriants: We get general information and we have an analytical institute with Selyunin as the head of it. A famous Russian economist. Another one of them is an academician, a specialist in the field of ancient history. At the institute there are different kinds of people working. And diplomats. I am chairman of the foundation, which includes some structures, one of which is this institute.

MS: I would like to know more about that institute.

Grigoriants: We have been working for half a year already. We provide analytical research on different humanitarian problems, like economic, religious, cultural programs, and we get our orders from other organizations, Western or Russian, and we provide investigations. This cooperation between scientists and journalists makes the investigation more complete.

MS: Where is this institute located?

Grigoriants: Unfortunately, we still have bad relations with official structures like the KGB. Two months ago our office was destroyed. By the way, a Canadian movie-maker shot a movie about the murder of Kennedy and got several prizes. Now he is shooting a movie about the KGB and the destruction of our office.

MS: What is the relation of Mr. Selyunin to this institute?

Grigoriants: He is one of the principal directors.

MS: You say you have contacts in foreign countries?

Grigoriants: Our magazine was published for many years in France and the U.S.

MS: I would like to know about different networks of activists who functioned throughout the eighties.

Grigoriants: It was quite narrow. Members knew each other well. It was necessary, especially for journalists. We couldn’t get information if we didn’t know people personally.

MS: During the 70s and early 80s, you published this information where?

Grigoriants: It was like a variant of an information agency. We had three issues every month, and it was devoted only to human rights problems.

MS: How did you distribute it? How many copies did you publish?

Grigoriants: Several dozen. It served as a base for other publications that were much more popular, like Radio Liberty, Chronicle of Current Events. Some were really famous editions and Sakharov received every issue. They all received it. We sent materials through diplomats.

MS: And you have contacts now with diplomats. Can you tell me about that?

Grigoriants: It is much easier now to transfer materials.

MS: In the book I want to explore how your activities had an influence on the political culture and public opinion in a wider sense.

Grigoriants: There was no other information about these matters. A number of human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch based their information on the whole on the activities of their own organizations.

MS: Do you feel that pressure from these other world-wide organizations, such as Helsinki Watch, had any influence on government policies?

Grigoriants: Yes, they could slightly influence the Soviet government. Mostly not through their pressure, but they had influence on their own governments.

MS: I’m sure you are right. I would like to be able to show how that was true. Can you think of occasions when you had reason to believe that people, either in this country or abroad, actually affected policy here?

Grigoriants: Probably in ’73 there was a case when fifteen Jews were trying to leave the country and they ran away in an airplane. They were in jail, of course. The Soviet government had to release them from jail under pressure from abroad. And then they left the country. And in the case of Sakharov, the international community played an important role. The American Academy of Science demanded that the repression of Sakharov stop and the government stopped it immediately. The writer ______ (Vladimov???) was expelled from the country but he was not arrested, for he was the representative of Amnesty International. At that time, people in the Soviet Union were arrested for much more modest deeds.

MS: Did you know any people in academia or government or other high places who knew what you were doing and showed privately that they respected you, but wouldn’t stick their necks out enough to support you?

Grigoriants: Probably there were such people but I can’t remember any. We were really active after we were released from jail. In the Soviet Union, if you were in jail, it creates a kind of anti-social stigma. Therefore, we weren’t tracing each other. People who had responsible positions were very aware of this position and if they had contacts with people such as us, it would be very dangerous for them and they couldn’t afford it.

MS: When I ask people who had been in high positions in academia or the military how they changed their ideas over time, many of them said that privately they had questioned the regime and admired dissidents, but —

Grigoriants: That’s lies. . . .______. . . In the Academy of Sciences, only 4 or 5 people supported Sakharov. All the others signed the letters that blamed and accused him. And now they are telling of their democratic views. At that time they were afraid of their own letters. I was in Warsaw when they were discussing how it was during the socialist period. And an artist who was with me said, “Yes, we didn’t fight, but we thought!” (laughs)
He’s not a worker, he’s an artist.

MS: When I was here in 86 or maybe 85 I spoke in a meeting of SPC about the Group for Trust and the necessity of supporting them, and more generally about the importance of human rights in the West. The next time I was here I didn’t mention that in a particular meeting, and a man who was the Secretary of the SPC, spoke to me at a party afterwards and said to me, “You didn’t mention this issue this time. You should always mention this. It is very important.”

Grigoriants: And what was the next step?

MS: The next step was that I was deported, so I didn’t have another chance.

Grigoriants: I’m sure it was very difficult to distinguish the functions of the KGB and the SPC.

MS: yes. But how unusual was that? You said there was nobody who really supported you. So how unusual was it, the thing that happened to me?

Grigoriants: It is difficult to define why that guy talked to you. It could be that he tried to provoke you. Because the SPC was then and is now a very bad organization. They were supporting anti-government groups all over the world and at the same time they were destroying and eliminating the peace groups in the Soviet Union.

MS: So you had almost no such experiences yourself of people telling you privately something that they would not say publicly?

Grigoriants: Oh, there were such cases, but these people didn’t belong to the Soviet authorities. So of course, if you show that you dislike the Soviet regime, it will certainly destroy your careers, and will be counterproductive.

MS: But some people did?

Grigoriants: Certainly there were some people who talked and tried to write about it and actually they never killed the free mind and free thought in Russia. And those people who are talking now about democracy, didn’t dare to say anything at that time. They couldn’t have power if they had contact with me after I was released from jail.

MS: Mr. Selyunin was never in prison, was he? Was he supportive to you privately?

Grigoriants: We were not acquainted at that time.

MS: I am trying to find people who did not take risks themselves but who admired people like yourself, who did take risks.

Grigoriants: There exists the Solzhenitsyn Foundation. They get money from all over the country. The people who were working there were not prisoners. The fact is that they could gather money — lots of money — for prisoners. And when we were gathering information, we couldn’t get it except from political prisoners and of course we could get information from ____others.

MS: That is what I assumed, that there was a range of people who were not dissidents, who believed they would like to help you if they could do it safely.

Grigoriants: Okay, there were such people, but they never had power. One of those guys wrote several letters to Yeltsin. This guy was a son of a very famous ___, who was in service. Yeltsin was personally acquainted with his father and he even attended his funeral. But Yeltsin signed an order to arrest the son for listening to Radio Liberty and disseminating the information. We were in prison together.

Not long ago there was a liberal magazine. We published an article about a (Karpuchin?) who was a very liberal comrade in the KGB. They only knew him because he investigated them, and he arrested a large part of political dissidents and some of them wrote about him in their books, like Amalrik, in his notes about dissidents. Now this Karpuchin writes (for children??)

MS: But of the people who took no risks but who supplied information to you, do you suppose there are some who might not mind being contacted, whom I could speak to now?

Grigoriants: Yes, for example, you could contact writers.

MS: I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I would like to speak to 4 or 5 people who might not mind. Could I get telephone numbers?

Grigoriants: (gets up) …. Actually, they don’t talk about it just now.

(Incomplete interview. There is another part of a tape labelled Grigoriants (and part of the Skvirsky interview) but it is just one guy talking with animation and Julia laughing occasionally, not questioning him. The real Grigoriants is never so lively, always morose. So I think she has taped over the last portion of the Grigoriants interview.)

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