Interview with Wim Bartels, summer 1990
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Bartels: We have had about 20 IPCC meetings. It’s from November, 1981 onward. It could be interesting to see how we dealt with the East-West problems and how we analyzed them. So you could see progression in analysis of linking of the disarmament issue to the unilateral initiative approach, comprising not only arms control steps but also political steps and confidence building measures.
Most invitations we get are from the official side.
The topic of two conferences I attended was just how to create nuclear free zones in Europe or how to get rid of this or that type of weapon. My policy in general was: go everywhere and speak out. So I remember personally the first thing I said was, I only want to speak ten minutes and that’s all. It was in 1982. But when I arrived there, there were so many speakers from so many republics and everybody was entitled to speak. They said I could not speak for ten minutes. I could not accept that, so I left next morning in protest. Because it was a kind of political censorship. Some of us, however, thought that wherever you go is good, whatever you do is good as long as there’s communication. Finally we said, we have to get in touch with each other. So in November 1982 we formed IPCC as a group of politically campaigning organizations. That was one criterion. But we are independent from ideologies of the East and the West, and from governments, and from parties. We should find a common stand. Because we are often played against each other. We were consistent in saying that we also want to meet with independent people because it’s a clear way of showing that the three baskets of Helsinki are really linked for us. So we have been working on that. IN the IPCC if we invite people, we invite people of both sides, officials and nonofficials. And if nonofficials are not allowed to come, we ask officials to come but we say that we?ll have representatives of ‘solidarity? or partners of the nonofficials from the West. So we can solve this kind of problems. But with governments of Moscow, Budapest, East Berlin, you could not solve it that way. Then what to do? And we said, we should have the right to speak out. Then our partners living in the Eastern bloc countries, members of our network, should also be allowed to come. That was the case in Hungary. We soon had a partner in the IPCC from that contry. What’s more? Yes, I think we should at least have the freedom of visiting all the people who we think are important. And we should try and negotiate to those people at official conferences.
Spencer: When were you saying that?
Bartels: In 1984. That was a debate of 1984. And we were not always successful because some groups, also member groups of IPCC felt very much flattered. Say, the Soviet Peace Committee was saying: You are such a positive, constructive group, more constructive than Group X or Y or Z. And we?d like you to come and represent and so on. So it was always a hard work because you were played against each other. But I think in IPCC we found a common line and we also established this line during the so-called Athens conferences. They established a new peace organization (Keja deja) in Greece on an initiatve of PASOC. The thing is that before socialists came to power in Greece, there had been two types of peace organizations there: a pro-Soviet Peace Committee on the one hand and an anarchist type (students and Trotskyists) organization on the other. So when socialists came to power, they decided to establish their own peace organization. This new organization invited us to come to Athens where they held conferences with hundreds of people from different contries. They formed a preparatory group consisting of members of groups they considered to be decisive or, let’s say, the big ones. Those groups were: the Soviet Peace Committee, the GDR Peace Committee, the Czech Peace Committee, most of the time, and from the West, IKV, CND, the German Democrats, and sometimes a Spanish or an Italian group. And we were also negotiating there, because the Greeks liked that we were not pro-communists. But at the same time they would not allow any conflict with a state in Eastern Europe because they were established to sell, I would say, the Politics of Papandreou.
Spencer: But why would that have put them in with the communists?
Bartels: Because Papandreou thought they were a sort of a bridge between the East and the West and thought, short-sightedly, that they should establish good contacts between the independent peace groups of the West and the communist peace organizations of the East, the state-related, because Greece saw itself as a bridge between the East and the West, and had good contacts with Jaruzelski and with GDR and Romania and wanted to have the nuclear free Balkans. So they could not afford to deal with human rights issues because it would disturb their partners of governmental level in the East. And they put pressure upon us to do the same. So we have a lot of fights in Athens at the beginning and I have a lot of documents about that. Sometimes we got angry with ourselves because we talked too much about tactics. But we had to do so because otherwise we would have been played out against each other.
So finally it was 1986 when for the first time we said that the focus of IPCC was the new phase of detante. So we started to deal more and more with the Helsinki agreements than we did before. Before that, our main concern was anti-modernization demonstrations in Western Europe. But groups wanted to discuss politics with each other. But from 1986 onwards, you can say that the focus was the second phase of detente, which was how to revive the Helsinki agreements and how to put them into effect and what tactics and strategy we should use to do that, and to show that we were serious about that. You are from Canada and you will remember that we asked you to become a member of IPCC, not you but Ploughshares. And talking to you, I was happy because you too had problems with officials of Moscow-oriented groups. Then in Canada there was made a sort of a peace alliance where Bob Penner and others were active. and their attitude was, we are a big power, we are a big group, we should have good contacts with officials in Eastern Europe because, first of all, we have to avoid a nuclear war and later on we can talk about other things. This was a view I didn’t like. I didn’t see it this way. So when I talked to Bob Penner, I said, Okay, you can come in IPCC as a member. Because I realize, you may be an alliance, and you have full right in Canada to organize yourselves as you want. But I also want to invite a few participants of your alliance who had been in our group before that and who more clearly than you followed the overall IPCC effort to be clear about the interdependence between detente and human rights and economic cooperation and disarmament and security.
His answer was something like that: I agree with you but we have to be careful not to lose contact with Eastern European countries because if you take away the possibility of entering these countries for yourself, you have lost everything.
So the attitude of those people and Bob Penner was: first we should get rid of certain types of weapons and then we will take the next step. And our philosophy, as the philosophy of an organization which was established as a group of like-minded organizations and the bigger ones, was that those things should go alongside. Otherwise you don’t reach a result in any of these baskets.
Spencer: Yes, that’s interesting because I have never heard about this conversation.
Bartels: Oh, I’ve had this conversation both with Canadian and American groups, In the USA you had several organizations which had broader interests than just weapons. The same I felt talking with you. But other organizations were reluctant to deal with independent groups and dissidents because it could endanger contacts with really powerful circles of peace movements of Eatsern Europe. And that was basically a wrong view. For Americans more understandable than for Europeans because we had more contacts so we should have known better. Many fights during END conventions were expressions of policies which some organizations had already had and tried to convince others in the liaison committee to listen to them.
I’ve had once a talk with Pam Solo. She’s written a book on the American peace movement. She describes a lot of this controversy between technocratic campaigns and more diplomatic oriented campaigns. She describes discussions inside “Freeze” on East-West issues and dissidents as well. She links it to the European discussion because we always invited 4 or 5 Americans at the IPCC meetings.
Spencer: They didn’t come, did they?
Bartels: At the beginning they were fighting to come. The first three years we always had at least five Americans present. And then it slowed down because they had their own meetings. They didn’t have enough money to come. And also, many of them thought that we’d become too European. There was a difference in approaches but few of the Americans liked this approach. There were people like Pam Solo from the AFC and Kris Wing, also working for the AFC, and Bruce Burchard and David McReynolds. Sort of people who were particularly interested in East European issues. AT the beginning we had fights because our criteria were like this: we wanted a circle of like-minded and like-structured organizations, which were mass groups — i.e. groups that wanted to work with public opinion as broad as possible, which were focusing on one or two points in order to make some political impact, putting pressure on politics, working throug the institutions and non-aligned. Those were the criteria. We didn’t include ideological groups (pacifists, federalists) which were usually very small but had a kind of consistent line but were more oriented toward publications but not to become mass organizations. So in the beginning I wrote David and said that perhaps his organization was in itself an international group and I was looking more for big organizations like Freeze or Mobilization for Survival, whatever. And he didn’t like it. So finally we had to make a rotation system. We said that we could have five Americans, so if there are twelve organizations, please make up your minds among yourselves and have a rotation system. We had to do that because we didn’t want to have more than 25 people altogether, for our meetings were planning meetings, not speeches. And we didn’t have time and means to have long meetings. We really needed to do a lot of work and we thought therefore that there should not be too many of us. Most of the European countries were to be represented by one or two people only, representing their major coalition or their major groups. So at the beginning there were quite a few Americans but it slowed down in the end. But in order to revive the American-European cooperation we had our first IPCC meeting in Washington in 1988. Then Freeze and a few other organizations organized a speaking tour for us. So we were all put in the States. I was put in Texas and Massachusetts and we made four speeches a day and a tour of ten days or something.
Spencer: How did it go?
Bartels: All national peace organizations in the States wrote, I think half a year before, to their local organizations (brtanches) and asked them who they wanted to have from Europe. They were told that they could choose: it could be someone from Great Britain or from Czechoslovakia or from the Netherlands or whatever. We were talking on radio-stations, commercial or public ones. We were talking with the priests or Councils of Churches locally. We were talking with senators and congressmen from the district, sometimes with some students, etc.
But I am not so sure that we made a lot of progress then. Because all the Europeans were saying: we want you to help us to workin the political campaign to overcome the Cold War and the blocs. And the Americans most of the time didn’t know what the Cold War or the blocs were, or what the Helsinki agreements were. They were usually saying that they were fighting against nuclear ships or B1 or B2 bomber, so against very local things. Which was good, of course. But we wanted to have a more global alliance or peace groups sharing basic political views. At least that’s what I think. And I’ve been always pushing that we should talk, first of all, politics and have a new discourse, have anew way of taling about security. And only if you do this you can deal with the consequences — i.e. work for demilitarization and against buying new weapon systems. But if you start at that point, you can easily be cheated by people who would say: “OK, we give in,” but who would then create a new weapon system a few miles further. So we should demilitarize our minds as well. That was the basic discussion everywhere in Europe and in the States. But also, the basic discussion everywhere in Europe and in the States, but also teh basic difference between Rueopean movements and American movements, but with a lot of exceptions. Because inside the IPCC these groups which are not always in accordance with the majority and are weapons oriented. You can say this about CND in Britain or a group in French-speaking Belgium or the Norwegians. They also try to have diplomatic relations and exchanges. While th e other groups in the IPCC more stress the political aspect, the detente from below aspect. This was the spectrum inside the IPCC, I would say. And on the other side of the spectrum there were IKV and DND very clearly and the Danes, I would say. And also the Italians. Though they have never been very active. They were in the END but they were not in anything else. That was their choice. They are also organized locally and regionally. So it is always very difficult to phone the Italian Peace movement because you don’t know whom to phone. But as far as we got them in our meetings, they had a tradition of Euro-Communism. They were the first Communist part to become Euro-Communist and to establish a relationship wtih Solidarity. There are many Christian groups or many non-communist groups in the West. I am not speaking now about the whole bunch of Mowcow-oriented groups.
Spencer: IN Italy?
Bartels: Everywhere. IN Germany, in France, in Britain, also in Holland. We have one in Belgium. They are almost dead now but they were very active. And it was not always pleasant because the conservatives wanted to blame us for being hard on the Soviet Peace Committee to one of these other organizations. Though at certain times we had to be hard on the other organizations and say publicly that we didn’t like their preferences or their one-sidedness or their dependency. And they felt bad about that because we should have united as peace groups but that was not always possible.
Spencer: In their dealing with the officials, I just wonder if you can remember any of the encounters with the officials where was discussed.
Bartels: Oh yes, I think so. Now I speak on behalf of the IKV, not IPCC. I had been coordinating IPCC until 1989. Now it’s taken over by Belgium. IKV was asked in 1981 to be the first secretariat because we had a well-equipped office and an international secretary who happened to be me. So I could do the two things. But after having done it for eight years, I decided that somebody else should do it. We, I mean IKV, have been trouble-makers. In Moscow, in Hungary, in Warsaw. I can tell you long stories about that. Because most of the time it was our policy that we should bring our other friends, our independent friends with us to the meetings with officials. And we did it. Though they hated that. They knew that when they invited IKV, they invited trouble. Because they wanted as much as possible to sit around the table with more groups from their society.
In Moscow I went to the Trust Group meeting. I went there with some American women. ONe of them was Virginia Barron. It was late in the night when we went there, something like midnight. After long meetings we went to the Medvedkovs. It was then that I first met Olga and Yury. They called together 20 other people and then we came the next evening and we have a meeting with the whole of the Trust Group. And of course, the Peace people knew about that. They knew about that through the secret service. One day Yury Zhukov called me and asked me to come. WE have a long talk the day before, about two hours. We solved all the practical problems of a common project. And the next morning he invited me and said he wanted to speak with me. And what he told me was: You should not visit those undermining people, those homosexuals. Did I know that Medvedkov had had a wife before he had Olga? I said that I didn’t know even about my own board members and that I was not interested at all. They knew about what I had done before and they wanted to warn me.
But your question was whether we had fruitful conversations. I would say, not really, with the board members of the Peace Committee. They were all bureaucrats and were trying to kick back the ball which we were sending in their direction. But we always asked them to put us in touch with people from the Foreign Ministry, people from other ministries and researchers from IMEMO, from the USA/Canada Institute. IMEMO is an institue for world economy. Then you have the Institute for the World socialist system. And there’s this USA Canada Institute and there’s also the Institute on European studies. These people were more flexible; they were intellectuals, wanted to discuss things. So the Peace Committee more and more, on our request, brought us into contact with people who were interesting. So we had meetings with the under Minister of Foreign Affairs Petrovsky, or with Arbatov and his colleagues. Those were really good meetings. I think it was the discussions when we listed to each other’s arguments. I think that during the last few years the Peace Committee has been helpful in establishing contacts with journalists. Because all the time we were urging that we wanted to speak with the whole of the Soviet society. They came once to the Netherlands. It was a delegation of eight people. And among those eight people was Korotich. Shortly after that he became the head editor of Ogonyok, the most daring paper. One fo those who came then was Fyodor Burlatsky, who worked then for Literaturnaya Gazeta, and later became the head of the Human Rights Committee, and still later, the personal assistant of Gorbachev. [I don’t think that is correct about Burlatsky being Gorbachev’s assistant.MS] So there was a period from, I would say, 1987 to 1989 when the Soviet Peace Committee at least provided contacts with people that really mattered.
Spencer: Can you remember any of the discussions with those people, any issues?
Bartels: Oh yes.
Spencer: Were any records kept of any of those — or notes?
Bartels: I guess so.
Spencer: But the Soviets kept them, not you?
Bartels: Certainly the Soviets kept them. But we were writing afterwards too. When you have a visit it’s of course part of your work to write about it. And during those years we were ourselves news. So on return home we immediately went to TV or radio. And we wrote articles also. This can certaily be traced back in our archieves. WE paid ten thousand guilders a year for a press-cutting service, which sent u everything about what we had done. And I’m sure that talks like that are kept in the archives.
Spencer: Are they kept at the IKV or the IPCC.
Bartels: At the IKV office. We at IKV have also all IPCC papers. Although now the archives went to Belgium. But since we are a member we also keep the new papers coming in.
We have made a deal with the University of Amsterdam. They have a rather famous archive. It’s called the Archive of Social History. They have there most of the writings of Karl Marx, most of the papers of the world labor movements, and they want also to establish similar reputation in the peace movement. So they were eager to have our files and I think we have given them our files up to 1985. So they are now in Amsterdam. And those from 1985 onwards are in the Hague. I have told you that in the last issue of the Bulletin of Peace Proposals from Oslo there’s an article about the relations between peace groups doing East West work and Churches doing the EAst WEst work. IN the last five years or something, which also is part of the story, since IKV is a church-related organization, as you know. So there’s this ambiguity: We are an independent movement making its own policy and at the same time, we were established by the churches and we have talks with the churches twice a year.
I started to tell you that Pam Solo wrote her book. It’s on the American peace movement and is called From Protest to Policy. I like this book. When I was in the USA in 1988, I had dinner with her and she said, I once will write the History of the European peace movement. I was surprised. Why you? She said, Yes I have been attending IPCC all the time. Then I said, Why don’t we write it together? And her answer was: That’s what I am going to do. So we decided to get together later and fix the time when we can start.
All these institutes have similar names. One is called The Institute on Defense and Disarmament, another one the Institute on Security and Disarmament, the third one, The Disarmament and Security. Hers is in Boston.