Valeria Novodvorskaya (dissident activist), 1990

Novodvorskaya, Valeria Spring 1990
Interviewer — Alexander Kalinin, on behalf of Metta Spencer

Alexander Kalinin was gathering data about nonviolent actions in Soviet Union. Interview is touching mainly the methods of their activity.

Tradition of nonviolence was existing in Russian culture. Maybe this can be explained by the irrationality of Russian mentality … Democratic Union is continuing the national tradition. We are not the first nonviolent supporters here and I hope we are not the last.

Q. Do you think that all the political problems can be solved using nonviolent methods?

A: Everything depends on the goals of the political struggle: if the goal doesn’t include establishing of dictatorship but the movement to democracy (because it’s impossible to establish democracy, only dictatorship can be established). In this case violence is useless because if the society is not mentally ready for democracy, one cannot force them to live according to democratic criteria and if people are ready for democracy, violence is not necessary; we have nobody to force (for example, a lot of KGB men told her that they would be very glad to live in democratic society but there is no such society yet, and they are paid high salaries now and have to fulfill their functional tasks) — the situation, when society is ready to democracy and violence is useless, could be observed in the Baltic republics, East European countries. Freedom must be inside you. It is impossible to conquer it by forcing somebody. The question of power can be solved violently but the coming to democracy is not the question of power, it’s the matter of changing orientation of mentality, consciousness.

Q: What stipulates the effectiveness of nonviolence?

A It’s possible to influence your enemy by moral superiority, but you cannot defeat him if you exceed him in evil deeds, revenge, or hatred. In our situation we have noticed many times being under investigation or being interrogated that the inspectors usually become confused, discouraged if you respond to them in this way. In 1986 when I was arrested according to Article 70 for leaflets, one of my inspectors refused to continue investigation, after our conversation he said that he is ashamed of doing this. He understood the essence of his activity. If I had been telling him, “You are a bastard, I don’t want to speak with you,” he would never come to such a conclusion.

The essence of civil disobedience is in opposition of higher culture to absolute barbarism and violence. Lots of persons can be influenced in this way.

Q: Do you know any problems that can’t be solved without violence?

A: Not all the problems can be solved, as a matter of fact. But if a problem can’t be solved without violence, the more so it can’t be solved violently. That’s why Democratic Union rejects the death penalty in its program. When Inspecotrs KGB during the interrogations asked us “What shall you do with us if you come to power?” (anxiously and ironically at the same time) we always responded: “We’ll set guard near your door to protect you from infuriated people” That’s why we were so discouraged by the following events in Rumania — I mean Ceaucescu’s execution. Democracy can soil itself this way. Actually, though we speak about existing regime very sharply in my public speeches I always say, “Though people who governed in this country are like Hitler’s criminals and during so many years the country was eliminating itself under their governing, at our Nurenberg process there would be no gallows. The only possible punishment is to ostracize them.” In our situation all the other means will lead to impossibility of democracy to exist. Even confiscation is not appropriate punishment because it woldn’t fit for a really free people. If we have normal market relations we’ll earn everything we want. No need to take away from these people their dachas, treasure, etc. got by robbery.

Q.: What methods of nonviolent actions do you use?

A: We are trying to organize civil disobedience — to teach people how to do it in any particular case: meetings, demonstrations, boycott against elections, demonstrative infringement of laws, which are not compatible with all-human categories; refusal to obey the law which is actually lawlessness; refusal to recognize the Constitution which is a code of laws for dictatorship. Economical methods also exist but now we are only planning economic resistance. We reject the censorship of our editions. For example we were offered to print our newspaper “Express-Chronicle” on advanced imported polygraphic hardware, but the articles must be censored. Certainly we refused (this edition is really bad; you can hardly read it.) We also don’t register our party because we don’t recognize registration in the form of permission. We can’t do it because it would be a kind of obedience. We souldn’t participate in the elections because if a candidate even has an anti-Soviet program but he is going to be elected to one or another Soviet; it is a kind fo cooperation with the ruling elite.

It’s very difficult to explain the idea of nonviolent resistance to people. Sometimes after our public speeches somebody wants to join our party and he says, “I want to join Democratic Union because I can shoot.” So we have to explain that we would never shoot. The situation is quite the opposite; rather, somebody will shoot at us. But usually after the explanations people accept nonviolence as an attractive version of struggle.

One can read about our demonstrations — that we throw stones or explosive devices or we are beating the militia. It’s a lie. We are armed only with leaflets and slogans.

Very often we are arrested because we don’t ask for the permit to hold a meeting, so it’s unpermitted and they can arrest the organizers and set to prison for a month (or 15 days or 3 months). During the process of arresting we don’t resist violently. We are trying to sit on the ground, refuse to go, try to protect the body from the blows of policemen’s sticks.

The program of Democratic Union on internal policy proclaims the world without arms. Transfer from the position of national security to the international security and undoubtedly elimination of military in prospect.

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