Vitaly Goldansky (led Soviet Pugwash), 1992

Academician Vitaly Goldansky — interview in Moscow June 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Spencer: I have been told that the revolution was entirely from the top, that these [disarmament] discussions made no difference, and that public opinion made no difference. I have also had people take the position that Gorbachev would not have done anything so bold if he had not been pretty sure that public opinion had moved to a degree that they would have accepted reforms.

Goldansky: No, I don’t think that he was sure that he would get support from the majority, therefore this is partly the reason why he moved in a very hesitant way, just moving back and forth — one step forward, two steps back. And in fact, he met tremendous resistance. And for some people, the resistance was based just on his reforming, and other people were opposed because they believed that the speed of these reforms was too low and we are therefore very undecisive. And this is always the destiny of reformers that there is tremendous resistance from both sides. And that’s what happened to Gorbachev. Now, I’d say, that at the present time the rating of Gorbachev is low enough because many people condemned him, not only for what he did, but also for everything that happened after he was removed. So, right now the popularity of Yeltsin is less than it was several months before. But still it is much higher than the rating of Gorbachev. So I would say that his fate can be called tragic.

MS: Gorbachev’s or do you expect Yeltsin’s will also be?

Goldansky: I’m afraid that that also can happen. Because I believe that at the present time the situation is very unstable and, contrary to the situation before the putsch, when it was just action of group of the people, and this group (although high ranked) were still the group that —- and now, contrary to that time, it is a kind of mass movement, and that’s—

MS: You’re thinking of this Red-Brown coalition?

Goldansky: Yes, that’s what I am thinking about. I don’t think that this Red-Brown coalition has the majority of the population of the country, but they are growing and their forces are rising. We know examples from history when not only a majority took power, but also —if it is well-organized — then a minority took power. We know this. It is just like Mussolini in Italy, for instance. And although Hitler got his power in a legitimacy way (he was promoted to the position of Reichs Chancellor by the President) but if we look for the dynamics of the growth of votes for Hitler, then it was really a fast growth. And there was a time, just a few years before he took power, when they made fun of him and said “This is a clone and he never will be head of the states, it’s ridiculous.” But it happened. But now I would say that the present situation is tremendously dangerous just because the hard liners are well organized, although they are still not in the majority.

MS: You are talking about hard-line people in the elite, not the people in the streets.

Goldansky: No, all of them —lumpens in the street and their spiritual leaders, both.

MS: Some things puzzled me about Gorbachev’s last year. I understood that he was not his own man for a good part of that last year — that he had been told that he would be removed from office by the hardliners if he didn’t cooperate. And that he was under duress— that they had him and all his team by the throat. I have heard from other people that he was, nevertheless, really cooperating with these people. To me, the question is, which way is it? I have even heard people say that he deceived himself — that he had to cooperate and therefore he came to believe in what he was doing.

Goldansky: I think that both are correct. Certainly he was blackmailed; that’s clear. But maybe he was hesitant and one of his points was that — I remember that I asked him. I was quite unhappy about his behavior for almost one year. I was his strong supporter and I was a member of the Congress, a people’s deputy. I remember that I was the first one who spoke in favor of his immediate election as a president at that Congress. There were many who believed that the president should be elected by popular vote, but after that, starting from the spring of 1990, I was quite unhappy about his trend toward the rightists. (You understand that the definition of rightist and leftist is quite different in our countries.) But anyway I believe that it is correct that he was under strong pressure, but still he could resist if he would be willing. But he believed, probably, that he would rescue himself by concessions. He believed that concessions is the best way of peaceful continuation of his reforms. And among his tremendous mistakes was that he continued to be the Secretary General of the party. Certainly it was a dramatic mistake, a blunder, and this is just a feature of human being— his human feelings. He couldn’t stop his quarrels with Yeltsin. That was very dangerous and that was certainly the mistake. I remember when Yeltsin was first elected as a chairman of the supreme Soviet of Russian Federation, Gorbachev certainly was in favor of other candidates and he even made some nasty remarks about Yeltsin and he supported as tremendously reactionary a man as Polozkov. And that was the beginning and the continuation of this line. And certainly, one tragic mistake was that after the 500 day program was developed by Yavlinsky and Shatalin and it was treated as a joint program of Yeltsin and Gorbachev, then in September of 1990, Gorbachev promptly, quite suddenly, unexpectedly, he dropped this program. That was a very dangerous, harmful concession to these hardliners because if all the economic measures of that program had started at that time, now the situation would be much better. But he was afraid of doing that and the most difficult problem was to separate, to detect when this a concession and when this is his own line. Therefore, different people give different estimations. That’s quite clear. Then the next important concession was in November. In November there were two sessions of our Supreme Soviet, one after another. And in the first session he gave a very indefinite speech, just without any definite description of his political line. And the following night he was pressed strongly by these hardliners and the next morning he announced a new line. Soon afterward he dropped Bakatin, substituting Pugo, then he took as his Prime Minister Pavlov, so practically everybody who was in the future the leader of — and the election of Yanaev as his Vice-President, was absolutely stupid and dramatic. So at that time I have published several articles criticizing the new line. And in particular that was clear when Shevardnadze resigned. Shortly before that, at end of November, 1990, it happened that I had to go promptly, without preparations to the United States, and it was quite difficult to get a ticket. So I was obliged to find some way to go and I called Shevardnadze, because he was going to the Security Council meeting. When he learned that I was also going to the United States, he immediately invited me to fly with him, and we spoke a lot of this flight to New York. He expressed his concern about the situation. He didn’t tell me that he would resign, but I sensed that he was uneasy. Three weeks later, on the 19th of December (we took the flight on 28 November ) then 3 weeks later at the extraordinary congress meeting and he resigned. And then I took the floor and I expressed my deep concern about the resignation of Shevardnadze. I compared his resignation with the dismissal of our Foreign Minister, Litvinov, in 1939 and that was the sign of complete change of our foreign policy from the cooperation with Western democracies to the treaty with Hitler. And I compared these two events. Gorbachev was quite unhappy about that. He mentioned in his response my name and he said that it is wrong to treat it in this way. But in fact it was really so. And I asked Gorbachev privately, speaking eye to eye, why this shift to the right. He told me, the power moves to the right together with the society. That was quite an important answer because it shows that his movement toward the right was not only forced. The answer gives you both side. “Together with” the society can mean that it was forced by the society. But it can mean that this is because the power understands the mood of the society. In this way there continued until the spring of 1991.

MS: When you spoke with him did he make it clear that he was trying to find a way to wiggle back in the other direction? Or did he sort of indicate that that’s where he would be located for a while?

Goldansky: We didn’t talk about that. I was very sad. And then, starting from the beginning of the spring, his trend changed and he moved closer to Yeltsin. After the election of Yeltsin as President of Russia, I began to think that maybe the situation would change for the better.I’d better say after the beginning of the so-called “Novo-Ogorevo” process. The attempt to find a Union Treaty. I connected my hopes to the Novo Ogorevo process that it will succeed, and even we had some personal conversations and he was insulted by me.

MS: He was angry with you? In your mind, had you insulted him?

Goldansky: It is something very special because we live very close together. He lived in house number 10 [Kosygin Street]. My house is number 6. And I am director of the institute which is number 4. And in our institute we had always the poll stations when there were general elections. In March of 1991 we prepared for the referendum, and at that time we were also preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our institute. The building is very old; in fact, it’s a historical building. And in all these general elections he voted here in our institute. And as director of the institute I met him every time and we talked to each other. In March we got a promise from our builders that they will repair the building. And I asked therefore not to arrange at that time the elections in the institute. And Gorbachev accepted that as a sign of my non-wishing to have him at the institute. He was offended very much and I remember that then when I learned that (I was told by _, the President of the Academy) then in five days I changed everything and he voted here. But I felt that he and particularly Raisa, his wife, that they are insulted. When I told to Raisa that we’ll send you the invitation to come to the jubilee of our institute, she said very sarcastically, “Oh, you’ll even send us invitations!” Then, within a few days, Primakov told me, “Look, I advise you to send a letter to Gorbachev because several days ago he spoke to me and he told me, ‘Oh, I liked Goldansky so much and we were so friendly, and now he doesn’t want me to vote in his institute.’” And when I sent him the letter I explained again that this is a misunderstanding, that it was not my undesire to have him here, I explained again the situation, but then after I explained everything, I said that indeed I was quite unhappy about some steps you are doing the last time and I hope and pray to the Lord that everything is all right and that your line, your perestroika, will continue successfully. But if something happens and your are in a bad position, you are just deceived, then at that time you will see who are your real friends.

And then Chernayev, who is his friend, called and told me that Gorbachev was touched by your letter, and so on. And now at his Foundation he asked me to make one of the introductory speeches there, so now we are again on very friendly relations. But I would say that just one year between the spring of 1990 and the spring of 1991 I was disappointed very much and I think that the loss of this year was very harmful for the following events. If this year wouldn’t be lost, then the situation would be quite better.

MS: Likhotal told me that he believes, much as you did, that this was one of Gorbachev’s big mistakes, but he said that Gorbachev still believes that it was inevitable, that there was no other way.

Goldansky: No, I don’t believe so.

MS: In Oberdorfer’s book The Turn, some incidents are mentioned, such as a time when Gorbachev was negotiating with (I believe) Baker, and they had reached a deal and had shaken hands on it, but then a Col. Gen. Omelichev, who began accompanying the negotiators, having heard the deal that Gorbachev made, put so much pressure on him that within an hour or two he retracted this agreement. That was in May of 1990.

Goldansky: That could be. He was too hesitant at that time, too soft. He could be moved, he could be pressed easily. And he preferred to be pressed from the hardliner side, I think. And to some extent — he is very emotional, Gorbachev — and politicians should be more rational and less emotional. And I think that the emotional side of his nation was quite important in his quarrels with Yeltsin. And these quarrels with Yeltsin had very bad consequences.

MS: There was a time, I think, when they patched it up. I heard that Arbatov and Sergei Plekhanov played a mediating role and they had patched it up briefly at about the time that Yeltsin was to be inaugurated.

Goldansky: That was the time of the improvement of their relations, but then — that was what I said before, this Novo Ogoreva process. At the beginning there was some hope that this process would be successful. In this process, they were allies, but in the development of this process it was very slow and there were always controversies between different participants and it was quite difficult to find common ground between all of them. From the beginning of this Novo Ogoreova process I don’t think that Yeltsin had the idea in mind that they would break the Soviet Union. I think that that was not the plan before, but it was the result of great disappointment in the development of this Novo Ogoreova process.

MS: Gorbachev still believes, apparently, that he would have lost power if he hadn’t swung to the right and accommodated these people — the people who became the putschists later. If he hand’t accommodated to them, do you agree that he would have been removed?

Goldandsky: But if he wasn’t removed by putsch, then certainly he would not be removed by them. They did everything to remove him in August, but they didn’t succeed in that. They didn’t succeed because they underestimated the significance of Yeltsin and Russian power. Therefore, earlier he wouldn’t be removed. But he needed to have the united front.

MS: Time Magazine reported that in November, December military industrial people came and gave him a list of people to fire, such as Bakatin, and told him that if he didn’t do certain things by the time of the Congress, “there will be physical ways of removing you.”

Goldansky: Well, there can be ways of threatening him. I think that they really threatened him. But there is some situation when the political leader shouldn’t be threatened.

MS: No, of course he shouldn’t be threatened.

Goldansky: He shouldn’t be frightened.

MS: I have also heard people say, including Likhotal, that his capitulation at that time is what lost his credibility and the support of the intellectuals. And that he couldn’t get it back after that.

Goldansky: That’s right. It was a big disappointment.

MS: I have also talked with people like Elena Bashkirova, who does public opinion polling, and she said that his popularity went down on the basis of the grounds you have described — that he hesitated, backtracked, and didn’t go in a straight line. Do you think it would have been possible to accomplish a lot more in terms of everything from military reforms to the economic reforms that he hesitated on? Should he have proceeded with those and are they close enough to what is being done by Yeltsin now?

Goldansky: I think that they had to go this way. It was a tremendous mistake when they dropped it.

MS: And now, do you think that Yeltsin is proceeding as quickly as Gorbachev should have done at that time?

Goldansky: First of all, I should say that I cannot tell you that what Yeltsin is doing is always correct. No, not at all, from an economical point of view. But what I say is that at that time it could have been much easier to do that. Time was lost.

MS: His hesitation was not so much realistic as in his own character.

Goldansky: Yes.

MS: I think you are the most prominent person here promoting the ideas of Pugwash. How did the military and foreign policies that Gorbachev adopted, which may have been the only places where Gorbachev was decisive; he was decisive in his unilateral initiatives.

Goldansky: Uh huh.

MS: Would you say that he was listening to the peace movement? Was he listening to you? Was he listening to dissidents? Was he listening to people in the arts world who were sort of dissident?

Goldansky: No, I would say that he certainly listened to those people, but that was his own view. His own position.

MS: But how did he come to those views? Did he invent them. Say, his use of unilateral initiative instead of negotiation so often, was this something that he thought about as a matter of policy—because it’s quite different from the usual way of reaching an agreement with an opponent.

Goldansky: In his foreign policy he was much more decisive than in his internal policies. And that brought therefore, the results of his foreign policy, were much definite and this is just decorated by the Nobel Peace Prize, which was well deserved. But that is because, if his foreign policy would be as hesitant as his domestic policies, that wouldn’t lead to this result.

MS: Do you think that Pugwash had anay influence on his policies?

Goldansky: I wouldn’t say about direct influence but he knew about Pugwash and he has sent greetings to every annual Pugwash conference. He understood that, in fact, the Russell Einstein Manifesto was practically the proclaiming of the new way of thinking that he proclaimed later himself. I think that he felt the similarity and the close relations between these two approaches. But it doesn’t mean that he was under direct influence. Suppose that there was no Russell Einstein Manifesto, no Pugwash, I wouldn’t say that that would change Gorbachev’s policies.

MS: He would have come up with the same things.

Goldansky: That was the coincidence.

MS: Where do you think the influences on his thinking did come from, then? How did he come to the views that he held?

Goldansky: I think that simply because he was wise enough. He understood that we simply cannot survive this arms race. That the idea of parity in arms cannot be continued under the conditions when the national wealth of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was less than one quarter of the world income.

MS: About this business of verification — the seismic monitoring agreement. I think Frank von Hippel was involved in that. Can you tell me anaything about it? Were you involved in that?

Goldansky: Well, I know von Hippel quite well and I think that if we speak about the direct influence of scientists and their point of view, we can recall the important Soviet-American joint experiment on nuclear testing, just whether the nuclear tests can be detected or not. This was the seismological experiment, quite important. Then, there were organized two or three very broad meetings of scientists — not only Pugwash, but others — in the fall of 1987, then the first was the meeting in July of 86. It was devoted mainly to the problem of nuclear tests. That was the time of moratorium, and the idea to continue the moratorium was very popular. And as I remember Frank also was here at that time. Not only Frank but also Ted Taylor.

MS: I think some of my friends were here — Derek Paul, Eric Fawcett.

Goldansky: Yes. I remember, by the way, that I was the chairman of one of the sessions in July, 1986, and Eric Fawcett took the floor and suggested — that was one day before the end of that meeting — that we immediately invited Sakharov to come here from Gorky. I told him that this is an interesting idea which deserves attention. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything; we end tomorrow, but I think it should be taken into account and we should think about this possibility. And in December, Sakharov was here, but that was certainly not the step along this line.

MS: Did you do anything to try to promote that?

Goldansky: Yes. Starting from 85 or even earlier, we (Sagdeev and I). Velikhov had asked us several times to prepare a letter to Gorbachev, giving the arguments in favor of immediate return of Sakaharov to Moscow, And Sagdeev and myself, we had made many drafts of such a letter. Then the way of such letters was that we gave them to Velikhov, and Velikhov passed them, he went through Volsky and Yakovlev, and then finally to Gorbachev. And that have asked us to make another draft, taking into account this and this. So I remember that Sagdeev and I, during one year or even more, we made 5 or 6 drafts of this letter, trying to convince our leaders. It was not so easy because it was a special way of writing. It should be a kind of Aesopian language. You couldn’t openly describe anything.

MS: Aesopian as in fables?

Goldansky: Yes, yes. Try to find some arguments and describe these arguments in the language familiar to them. Otherwise, if you write something in another language, then they would treat this as anti-Soviet letter and it would not work. It was quite difficult just to explain that Sakharov should be brought here and at the same time, explain that this will be in favor of the Soviet Union and our country and so on and that it will not be treated as the result of pressure from outside, because they always very ambitious. They were afraid very much to show that they could be pressed from outside. Therefore you should describe arguments but without any direct notion it is in fact obligatory, that should be done because we have to go along the line of the world opinion.

MS: Sakharov never became very friendly to Gorbachev. I would say that his wife is even more hostile. She is one of the most hostile people I ever met in my life.

Goldansky: I don’t like her.

MS: I don’t either. But all of the dissidents or former dissidents I have met who were released from prison themselves, nevertheless had a feeling of hostility to Gorbachev.

Goldansky: Not all of them. But this is again the tragedy of Gorbachev because he couldn’t be —- (he goes to dictionary ). Inconsistent.

MS: I still don’t understand. Suppose I am in jail; somebody unlocks the door and lets me out and I don’t say thank you. That strikes me as incomprehensible. What had he done, while unlocking the door, that made it impossible for people to thank him?

Goldansky: First of all, they need to know why he opened the door. They didn’t understand sometimes.

MS: Do you understand?

Goldansky: Well, I told you that we prepared many drafts of this letter because we knew that purpose of this letter is to help Gorbachev. We knew that Gorbachev would be willing to do that. He needs some help in preparing a letter in language that can be understood and accepted by his colleagues in the Politburo. But you see, still Sakharov was maximalist. And there were also other dissidents who were maximalists. And while being certainly thankful for their own release, they demanded immediately other steps.

MS: Suppose he had done these other steps and had lost his position. Is that what they wanted, or did they completely discount the possibility that he might lose his position?

Goldansky: Well, I think — and we had even quarreled about that. For instance, in the last speech of Sakharov, the only name mentioned in his speech was my name and he disagreed. And that was just a tactical disagreement. That was the meeting of the so-called Inter-Regional Group in our Supreme Soviet. Sakharov at that time suggested that one should announce a warning political strike and also that it is necessary to announce ourselves as opposition. And I took floor and I said that I used to learn history. I like history very much. And from history I remember that when communists quarreled with Social Democrats instead of making united front with social democrats against Nazis, in fact that was useful for Nazis. They helped Nazis. Therefore, I said, I believe that what is suggested — this strike and the proclaiming of opposition — that that will be a gift to the rightist forces. And Sakharov said, in the last words of his last speech (he died the same night)—

MS: I remember.

Goldansky: He says, “And finally, what Goldansky has said — that this strike will be the gift to rightist forces, I disagree categorically.” So that was a disagreement in tactics. Therefore, when you ask me whether I approved the behavior of these people who condemned Gorbachev, I disagree with that. I think that leftist forces, from a practical point of view, made some mistakes. We had to keep much closer contacts to Gorbachev and try to understand each other in a better way. Therefore, in this particular problem, I think that in fact —. Sakharov was a great thinker, a great scientist, a great humanist, but not always a great tactician or great politician. I think that sometimes his tactical steps were maybe wrong.

MS: So I’d like to ask the role of IPPNW.

Goldansky: Well, Lown had very good connections with Gorbachev and I think that they have been very influential, so I can only appreciate the activity of IPPNW.

MS: I don’t have any IPPNW names. In Moscow there is Chazov. He was one of the co-founders. The chairman now lives in Siberia.

He called my attention to a reference to p 584 of Sakharov’s Memoirs, published by Knopf.

After our conversation, as I was leaving I asked him about his expectations for the future and he said he was very pessimistic. I told him about Likhotal’s prediction that Yeltsin’s government could change without looking as if it had been overthrown. He said that that’s not what he worries about so much as Naziism and that kind of dictatorship.

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