Interview with Tair Tairov, Moscow, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
TAIROV: What has taken place in August is a result of several factors. First, and foremost, of course, is internal development, internal economic development. People, the new young generation. And of course they are a generation in the dark. They have been disappointed, both with Communists and with the Reformers. For five years, there are still reformers. They have been waiting patiently five years, and nothing has happened. But they have been also very much influenced by, let us say dissidents, by Western democracies.
M: Who has been?
TAIROV: Intellectuals. Mostly intellectuals.
TAIROV: But partly [sophistication] gave some chance for the the people to be very well informed about democracy already. So I think that people at large were mature for some sort of a change. But undoubtably the change would not have come by way of initiative. The change has come partly because the people at the top have been educated both from inside from outside. They knew that they’re in deadlock. They had to take some measures to change that. And Reformers aside, like Gorbachev was, he was technical Reformers, he believed in reform, evolution. But he couldn’t manage this, of course. So here the society was not ready. He would never dare to make anything, given that society won’t change. He didn’t know what kind of a change society wanted but everybody wanted more change.
M: How do you know he bought that?
TAIROV: Well I know very well because not only — it’s not a secret. From the moment he came to power, he started — that he wants change.
M: Yes, but he wanted change. Likhotal says that yes, he wanted change, and he started it, but he didn’t do it with the idea that the society wanted change. He didn’t even have any idea that society wanted change.
TAIROV: No, Likhotal was mistaken. Society wanted to change and in political line, it was Andropov who wanted change. He made several proposals to Politboro and, it is known to make some changes.
M: What kind?
TAIROV: Economic change, social change. To make a breakthrough because we are backward. They didn’t know what to do, where to start from. They wanted to bring down [one of them] too much. And many were bureaucrats. They wanted to cut down arms expenditures. They wanted to negotiate into [CAMB] for some degree.
M: That’s not an answer.
TAIROV: Well, it is. Listen. There’s an answer. The Politboro wanted a change. And they knew that these changes that wasn’t willing to change can slow the people because people were fed up.
M: How did they know that?
TAIROV: KGB gave information from all over the country. KGB was very important. That people want change. They think that they are, that it is clear. And they have to change as soon as possible because they were crazy. Their motivation was for rapid change had events of Solidarnosc. It has already happened in a few areas in Ukraine. There were wildcat strikes.
M: There were?
TAIROV: Yes. Unauthorized.
M: At what point?
M: No, at what time?
TAIROV: It was, say the late 70s. It was late 70s. They had more and more underground activity and workers. There was an effort to assassinate Brezhnev, as you know. So they hate that otherwise they would kind of a Solidarnosc movement and they wanted to be ahead of this. And they knew where they inform Soviets to the KGB.
M: How could I prove that point?
TAIROV: You could talk to some ex-KGB people. They will tell you. Because it was not just that it had been an idea of an intellectual. Gorbachev was too primitive to push this idea. Give us [all republic feel good], but he knew that society wanted some change. For Gorbachev said, if you don’t do this, something will collapse. Look at Solidarnosc. Like at disarmament. Look at the riots in the prisons.
M: My feeling is that Russia is not Poland. That Poland happened because the Poles were ingovernable. You just couldn’t keep them suppressed any longer. But I don’t see that here. When I interview even dissidents, for the most part they say, ‘Well, I was willing to go out in the street and maybe get myself clobbered, but I don’t… I tried to protect. I didn’t tell anybody and I don’t want to implicate my family. I was afraid to.” Most people really were scared to share any of their misgivings. And I have talked to by now, dozens of people who said that they were officials or that they had good positions, professional positions, and they had their doubts. They had their problems with the regime. They didn’t like certain ideas, but they shut their mouth. They never complained. And, there was those people — most of the people who did stick their necks out got crushed or something equivalent.
TAIROV: You see, with Brezhnev, people were more and more arduous to talk loudly. If you take before he died, the year before he died. In every bus, in every underground, people would ridicule him, people would curse him, people would say, well ‘how long?’. It was a widely shared opinion that we were in deadlock. I remember those years. We were talking ‘moot’, as if it’s a realistic situation. We were all… I am sorry. [tape cut]
It was not officially allowed to criticize. You have some trouble. But not as much to be put into prison. But at least under the Brezhnev, you can not be, more or less be penalized. You can say yes, something is rotten. And I know. There has been over the ages of former KGB officers telling that there are thousands of information coming to the Centre Committee that people are unhappy. They want change. They feel that they are falling behind the Western Countries, in terms of technology, computers. Intellectuals knew very well that they were years and years behind in technology. Anyone would say that we are backward in technology. Space programs, it was clear that we were behind. Okay. There were electronics, we were behind. People were unhappy. We were behind in consumables. Everybody, even the non-intellectuals said how do bureaucracy knew? And there much more approaches, complaints, doubts about… The buzz was going on already. So, people who had to talk knew this. They tried to control. Any riot, or any underground movement against the Communist party. They tried to control a missile down this path of attack. We are glad that didn’t happen. But there were many illegal underground national organizations for the liberation. Does everybody know? In [Ispakistan] and the Baltics, there were really many nationalism underground organizations. They knew . KGB knew. Part of the time they would arrest people. And part of the time they would stay silent. [Trends] were nationalist, so it was not quiet. It was not a sleepy lethargic society. No, society knew. Very few people could travel abroad. When they came back, they could go and live in socialist countries. Some of them would go to capitalist countries, and they used to come back with different vision, or different…
M: Okay. Can you say that this was… A clearer sense here is that was the top and the intelligentsia.
TAIROV: That’s enough.
M: That’s enough?
TAIROV: That’s every enough. Intellectuals hit the critical mass here, the critical mass. Only party bureaucracy could not run, could not control the order to have the intelligentsia. Intelligentsia didn’t begin to know that was only enough.
M: Okay, I talked to Elena Bashkirova, about… who did public opinion polling during that time. And she said, that people who were dissidents were despised, were hated by the general public. That everybody who would meet, that the control of the mass media was sufficient to really convince most people.
TAIROV: It was sufficient to prove, to control, but it was not sufficient to function.
M: Well, when she asked people their opinions of the government, most people believed in the government, she says.
TAIROV: People pretend. People would answer you, but they wouldn’t tell us. Yes, people would say, ‘yes, we support’, but in reality, of course we don’t support. Officially, you would never say that. People used to receive the newspapers. There were no other alternative things that they would never try. It was all a joke. There is no truth in Pravda and there is no information in Izvestia.
M: Well, did anybody believe that dissidents were good people? The general population thought they were horrible.
TAIROV: Not general population.
M: As a matter of fact, I ran into, and this is a different question, so we can come back to this later. I interviewed some people, who, when I used the word dissident, I could see them cringe. They don’t like them to use that word. It’s still a bad word, an insult, which they had to avoid, the word dissident.
TAIROV: You see, the problem is that was very well managed from the top. That dissidents were always tried by the people. They tried polls to a social gun with a kind of traitors. You see, [they said] dissidents were betraying the motherland, selling the secrets, and they were trying to create such a bad image of them. The same they did for Sakharov, like baloney from the film, agent of imperialism.
M: He did?
TAIROV: Of course. Agents of imperialism. There are two of them: Sahkarov and Solzhenitsyn. You know. It was a very, very tricky, trap, you see. This is the worse that they be famous. So this is why. You had this large population who said, ‘whoa, they are bad people.’ But there was a deep layer of intellectuals, who used to read the dissidents or so-called resistance, or they might say, ‘Our sun is that?’. Intellectuals know, democrats… all the… This is a official_____, they read Solzhenitsyn, they read Pontinim, Maximiv, and they read all these people. The most popular singer, Vysotsky phenomena, all his songs, protest songs. That’s an example. All his songs are proper songs. And he was a god. He was idol. He was not acknowledged by the authorities. But is he family? Every russian would listen to Vysotsky. Is it an indication that people wanted a change? It’s a very simple indication. You go to the Crimea, you go to the Socia, you go to the Sobotz in Moscow — you hear Vysotsky. The whole 70s, Vysotsky singing and ridiculing everything in this society. It is a very clear indication that this fighter had been because years of support the government by way of Vysotsky. It is a very good example which proves my argument.
M: What I think is needed is somehow showing that in fact the KGB did make such reports and that they were identified in the conviction that the population wanted some change. Now, how can we do that?
TAIROV: Well, if I find how it was clear for IMEMO. I think that Glem, Bianaga Glem, well, you know, one of the main dissidents who has been sillier than the prisons. Not Glem, Bliverdiez.[I have no idea who these names refer to, but I must have understood at the time.]
M: Oh yes, I interviewed him.
TAIROV: You interviewed him? When, now?
M: No, three weeks ago, maybe.
TAIROV: He is the guy who you really you have to ask about it. He is sort of the same opinion.
M: Yes, but how would we get it straight from the KGB?
TAIROV: Yes, I don’t know. I don’t know. You have to ask some KGB people like Kalugin. Oleg Kalugin.
M: I didn’t think of that.
TAIROV: You should do him. You should try to interview him.
M: Well, it’s getting late, and I probably can’t do it. Because I’ll be leaving… how do I find him?
TAIROV: Sasha Kimholki. Because he is also people’s deputy.
M: He is?
TAIROV: Kalugin, yes.
M: He’s at the Moscow city council?
TAIROV: No, he’s in Russian Parliament.
M: Oh, okay.
TAIROV: His telephone number should be on the list. He should be accessible.
M: You think that’s what he would tell me?
TAIROV: I think so. If he was in KGB, he should know. Either he would prove or he would know. If it were my talks which I had with the KGB people about… not important, are people whom I used to meet during my years in the World Peace Council. Some of the KGB people were there as a resident. [Somebraun] He was a very well known KGB general, but anyway. He used to sell where the whole list started to think of years. We informed him that something like this in the party meetings. But yes, these things would not change. They were explosions with something like this.
TAIROV: The foremost task of the KGB…
M: [ … ]
TAIROV: Not only. It was his own [decadent] KGB. If this is a [recommended] of the KGB determined that look, people won’t change. As it was, they didn’t exist. It’s very trivial.
M: Well, what [Othosneiv] says is that he was pretty sure that people, that the KGB knew he was readings all these different white books and they prohibit to this. There’s a big circulation of them. Sometimes he said that people would take them and retype them just for their friends.
TAIROV: Yes, that’s right, that’s right.
M: Did you ever see any of those books yourself?
TAIROV: Once I saw one book, yes, but it was very secret. You could not take it. There was a top secret list of the people who could take it. Once upon a time one of them showed me one of his books. I think it was Popovia’s, either Amalrik or something. I don’t remember. He just showed me and I saw it but he didn’t give me it. He was afraid that I would take it and he would get in trouble.
M: Some [Galguni] the right book. I know the name but I don’t know who he is.
TAIROV: He wrote a book. Will Russia Survive Until 1984?
M: Oh, I see. Perfect.
TAIROV: And they didn’t say why but just that he was mistaken by six years. So maybe he was just […] by 1984.
M: I never saw the book. In fact I don’t know. It was written where?
TAIROV: It was written in France.
TAIROV: He was a dissident?
M: And he had already left?
TAIROV: And he left and he lived there in France. And he published a book called Will Russia Survive Until 1984? George Orwell and all this. Fantastic book.
M: Well I think that really the theme that I have been struggling with and that has to be sort of a way that this work is organized has to be a question of whether it was a response to pressure from below or whether it was one or two or a hundred bright guys who decided to do something because they believed in it, whether or not there was going to be any being pressure.
TAIROV: I think that you cannot make such a categorical distinction between… You cannot separate the category where things do. Of course there was a pressure from the underworld. But you could still go on without a change. And that’s the big question for these people on the top. Yes, there was a pressure from below, but for the […], you couldn’t change, you could continue as was before, yes. The question is how long could one continue? You could continue with all this big change. That’s true. Maybe a few years. Maybe another ten years. I cannot tell. You can continue. The society was not ready to riot, you see. Yes, there had been small riots. They could oppress it, could cool it down. But some, a few people took the courage to change. And it was thanks to mother nature that the same guys died constantly one after another. And [… ] and said look, we cannot continue because you know, this is evidence. Let us make a change, and they had agreed to make a change. Because he himself wouldn’t have done this change unless there was support from below. It was supported ? Yes, let’s have perestroika. Let’s change ourselves. Welcome to the revolution. It’s a good idea. Because we all needed a new idea. You see, this was an idealistic society, and ideological society, so I think that Gorbachev played a trememdous role in this. That he took the courage, nevertheless, to make a change. He could have simply said, okay, let’s continue, but change a little things. Don’t make this thing so bad, in Congress, he could’ve said, great, now we have a new five year plan. We will reduce bureaucracy, we will increase social expenses. He could have done this and he could have survived. Not out.
M: Can you show that… I guess we can’t show it very easily what would… I’ll look in a minute. I’m much more interested in my project than your project and I’m flooded. Can you show that Gorbachev was a preacher of this intelligentsia that was reading forbidden material and discussing it in the kitchen? Could you show that he read this stuff or talked to people who did? Could you show that he had any respect for dissidents or —if not dissidents, writers who were critical, artists and so on. Could you show that his thinking, was part of this, emerged out of it?
TAIROV: There is no doubt that Gorbachev has been reading all of this in literatures, except there is this thing in these white book…
M: Well there is that. How can we prove it? I mean, he’s never said he did?
TAIROV: It was… I am positive that he received all his books and distributed. He may have not read them, but when you see the book with such a title, intriguing, provocative, title, of course he must have read it. He must have received these books of which were are talking. They were distributed compulsorily to the members of the Central Committee. He could have read it. He could have not, but he was a member of Central Politburo and the central committee, so he received it. Local KGB, he has been a first chief of the communist party in this area. All local KGBs, at least one copy of the book was sent, and he was informed. You may say that he was not reading the books at all, which I doubt. I am sure he must have read all the books. He would never had said, “Yes, I read it.” No. He would have never said it. But I am sure that he reads all of his books, being intelligent man. At least he would take a good look because he was home all of the time, not out.
M: It sure would be nice to pin that down.
TAIROV: Yes. I don’t think that he the trans friends and intellgentia friends. He carried some contacts with his previous university fellows. From time to time, occasionally, he used to see them when he used to come to Moscow, because I know of them.
M: He roomed at one time with a guy who was a Czech dissident, or became a dissident.
TAIROV: Oh. Zdenek Mlynar. I know him very well.
M: You do?
TAIROV: Yes. We were not friends, but I met him many times. He was from Prague in 1968, like Youri Planakov. Mylnar was a lawyer. He started in the same class as Gorbachev in Moscow in the State university, and they had trouble doing law. Then, he joined backed. He was one of the authors of the Prague Revolution of ’68. He was the chairman of the legal commission of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia toward reforms. So I lived here in 1967. He visited and studied law. He came for a practising year in Moscow. And he was telling us that they were going to make these big reforms in Czechoslovakia. And I told him, Comrade Mlynar, Russia will never allow you to make all these things. And he said, no, it’s okay. We are going to go ahead. And then what happened in Czechoslavakia. And then he was exiled from Czechoslovakia.
M: To where?
TAIROV: To Austria. He is a professor at Innsbruck up to now. He wrote several books, including about Gorbachev. And.
M: In English? Is his book in English?
TAIROV: His book is [available] in all European languages. Zdenek Mlynar is his name. He has been to Moscow since then.
TAIROV: Yes, Mlynas? He is a very well-known personality. I met him all these years several times. Before I first started, before everything, I kept contact with him and recently when he was in Moscow I spoke with him. So he was one who was in contact with Gorbachev before Gorbachev came to power. In ’67, I think, Mlynar went to Gorbachev’s home in Stavropol. He told me. And he came to Stavropol, Gorbachev was party boss. So he continued. He was under the influence of Czechoslovakia. And when he visited, he said, look “Gorbachev, Michael, what kind of a guy Brezhnev is?” And Gorbachev said, “Well, this is a temporary person. We will change him later and replace him. It’s not the guy who will still run everything from the party. It was in ’67. He stayed 18 years. So Mlynar wrote about him recently, but he told me this story.
TAIROV: I don’t think he had that much of intellectual friends. He was part of the bureaucrats. Sometimes he used to meet intellectuals as well. He used to. He liked them.
M: I’ll tell you, the most interesting thing that I have discovered is this network of people who were in Prague around the World Marxist review. A number of people, and they were apparantly a sort of a clique, and they took care of each other afterwards. And according to some of these people, they were really the base thrust of the new thinking. They had it as worked out way before Gorbachev came to Prague. The question is, how did Gorbachev get plugged in with them? Would Mlynas been in touch with the Russian communists who were in Prague…
TAIROV: Not likely. But all those Russian Communists who were in Prague, they were the people from the International department of the Communist party. Being in Prague was a very privileged job, you see. They went to Prague. They defended communist ideas while they were in Prague. They were foremost Communist, Marxist, socialist, Leninist, whatever. They were privileged and they used to come to work to Moscow and work in Central Committee Communist Party in the international department, and when Gorbachev came, they were there. They wanted to know before anybody else, by the chance of having right to travel. So, not because they were to pay, they were just reflecting reality. All of them, they were cowards. None of them opened their mouths. None of them wanted to change. They wouldn’t listen. None of them made any brave step forward suggesting to change. They were all conformists, but when the first few changes came, they helped carry out the change because they were very well informed about… but it was not their idea.
M: Well, I heard one person say that they were the people who arranged Gorbachev’s elevation.
TAIROV: Oh no, no. All of it wrong. They had absolutely nothing to do with his elevation, because they are not members of the Central Committee. Only the members of Central Committee and the inner circle of Politburo had to decide elevation. When he was brought to Moscow, the reason why he was brought to Moscow, is something to do with Suslov. Suslov comes from the same area as Gorbachev or that part of Russia. Everyone who was the leader used to go out to Moscow, like Kulakov, like Suslov, like Andropov. They all went from the same area. He was already favoured by Suslov. Suslov wanted to make him First Secretary of Konstanlov, but in due time Gorbachev refused. So Suslov brought him! He was young, bright, comparably, not without two educations, legal and economic education. It was natural that he would be working here. But when Lenin died, the oldest one took his, when Lenin died,  then eventually Andropov took his place. And Andropov, Chernenko. The oldest, three old guys took his job. Then the question came after Chernenko, who do you choose? And there was some kind of struggle, internally, in the Central Committee, and a very small circle of Politburo. These guys had nothing to do. They are just consultants in their homes far behind Moscow. They were not the people who had anything to do with this. It was mere chance plus it was some logic, because they couldn’t elect anyone else. They have to elect someone young, because whoever they would elect died directly. Gromyko was one of them who had never been coerced. He had no hand [ … ]. Gryshin was corrupted. Romonov was drunk. He was the only bright guy. And Andropov wanted him to be the first secretary. It was a BBC film who showed that Andrapov even wrote a letter that he wanted Gorbachev to be chosen.
M: He did?
TAIROV: And his letter was not shown because his letter was taken by Chernenko. Chernenko, after he died, it was clear it was Andropov’s recommendation.
M: Okay, so there was no…
TAIROV: I think the other reason why he was elevated was that he was a KGB man, Gorbachev. He was an agent of KGB for many, many years.
M: How does this fit? How do you know this? How can you prove this.
TAIROV: I cannot prove, but I can feel it, and that…
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