I had asked about the group who had known each other in Prague, according to Mattison, He agrees that that network was important.
Skvirsky: The international magazine, World Marxist Review, was published in Prague. For example, Mr. Zagladin or Vogolazov [?].
MS: I don’t know him.
Skvirsky: He was the last secretary of this edition before the death of the edition some two years ago. Many of them were there. It was considered something like the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU. People worked in the Central Committee and then they went to Prague and worked with this magazine. They were very talented. Some of them were brilliant. They were very progressive sometimes. It is not surprising that Mr. Gorbachev invited some of them to his office.
MS: That set another train of thought going for me. Several times I have heard people say that for them, the questioning of the system or the regime began when they had conversations with foreign people. For example, one activist in Democratic Union said that he had attended some institution here that was mostly for foreign students and that the conversations with Poles and Czechs, etc. raised questions in his mind and started a process going for him. Obviously public opinion began to change privately. How often do you think that conversations with foreigners had anything to do with that process?
Skvirsky: Often. Very often. All the time. Because we were closed from the rest of the world and we could read something. It was hard to read foreign newspapers, you know, because foreign newspapers were received by libraries, which had closed departments for these foreign newspapers and foreign books. Ordinary citizens didn’t have access to this foreign press. They should have a special pass to have a chance to work in that department of the library and to read foreign press, so conversations were really very useful. They could help them to open their eyes and to see how foreign people lived, how they worked, what they had. So it was very useful and valuable.
MS: I read that there was also another side of it — that some of the foreign cadres were apprehensive about all this and didn’t want the changes to take place.
Skvirsky: They didn’t. Well, we know this from our own practice because we had a lot of students from the Third World. I worked with Ethiopians, African groups, and I know myself, they were opposing the changes here. They didn’t want to hear anything about perestroika, about the reforms. It was very difficult to explain to them that this is objective, it is inevitable. It was our fault because we did our best to teach them in this orthodox Marxist way, and it became more difficult to teach them, to open their eyes and show them the way things should be.
MS: What was your job in this institution two or three years ago?
Skvirsky: The institution had several departments according to the branches of knowledge. For example, the philosophy department or political economy department where the professors worked and taught foreign students. I worked for the department of the International Communist Movement. The full name was “Strategy and Tactics of the International Communist Movement.” A team of professors worked there and lectured to the students, many of whom were from the Third World. The students from France and Italy stopped coming here in the sixties.
Skvirsky: Because of their specific view and approach to world politics. So we had here Latin Americans and many Africans and students from Asia.
MS: These were guests or were they sent by their parties?
Skvirsky: They were selected by their parties. They were party activists — militant members. Some of them were members of the central committee and some worked on the Politburo of their parties, and we had a lot of General Secretaries of parties who were educated in this institution.
MS: How long did they stay here?
Skvirsky: There were different courses. Six months, one year, two years, three years.
MS: And you lectured?
Skvirsky: Yes, I lectured.
MS: On what?
Skvirsky: For example, “Objective Preconditions for a Socialist Revolution.” So I lectured for about two hours, explaining that socialist revolution was objectively inevitable.
MS: And when did you stop saying that?
Skvirsky: I stopped saying that when it became possible to stop saying that. We couldn’t express our own views, our own ideas. We could just explain according to the lines of certain principles which were invented from the top, from the central committee, the official ideologists.
MS: To me that is the most interesting experience. As a sociology professor I have never had anybody tell me when it is possible to change my lectures. What does that feel like to know that this is what you are supposed to say, and you know that you don’t entirely believe it, and that presumably all around you your colleagues don’t entirely believe it. Did you talk to them about that?
Skvirsky: Well, I don’t know. Sometimes. Well, the communist ideology is a terrible thing.
MS: I have never been marxist, even in the sense that Westerners are. I think I must be the only social scientist in North America who never claimed to have been Marxist. But anyway I am curious about the experience of having your own questioning going on. What would have happened if you had said something deviant?
Skvirsky: There would be different ways. For example, the students themselves could report it to the Dean’s office, or the Rector. If it became known in some other ways, it was very dangerous, very dangerous.
MS: Tell me about yourself and how your own processes were going on. Do you mind? Were you typical, do you think?
Skvirsky: Yes, I was very typical. I graduated from the Institute of International Relations under the Foreign Ministry. We were considered a very privileged institution where our diplomats were trained. I could know a little more than the average people in our country because I had some contacts with foreigners. But still it was difficult; it was considered to be dangerous to deal with foreigners in general. It was possible to deal with some selected foreigners who were considered reliable on official ideology. And after that institute, instead of going to the foreign ministry, I went to one of the institutions of the Academy of Sciences, and that was the Institute of International Labor Movement. It was an academic institution and I focused on the international trade union movement for my thesis and I published several books and articles on the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. That is a trade union international which unites trade union centres of a reformist orientation — not revolutionary but reformist. Social democratic trade unions. It was the main opponent of the World Federation of Unions, with which the Soviet trade unions were affiliated. The AFL-CIO of the United States was one of the affiliates of this trade union international. So I worked there at that institute for 12 or 13 years, and then I had a lot of ______ that institute — that institute was called the Institute of Social Sciences for the Central Committee. There were a lot of attractive things for anybody who worked there. It was possible to buy food, things — there was a special shop here.
MS: That institute was in this building?
Skvirsky: Yes, exactly, it was in this building. So, taking account of our food problem and other problems — money problems and so on — it was very attractive to work here. So I decided to change my job and came here. I was chair of the department on the International Communist Movement when I began working there. In comparison with other party institutions, with other ideological institutes, this particular institute in the Social Sciences was very progressive, because we had to deal with people who didn’t live here, who lived in their foreign countries and knew the world much better than we did. So we couldn’t simply deceive them, saying some nonsense. So we had to adjust our lectures to the reality, more or less.
MS: Yet they didn’t want what you told them?
Skvirsky: Aha, that was the final state. But at the beginning we had to adjust and to rely on reality and not just on the textbooks and manuals which were published in Moscow. And I must say, there were a lot of very progressive people working here — like Yury Zamoshkin, the sociologist, perhaps you know him. There were a lot of others. So the Central Committee could attract very progressive professors because it was very interesting for them to work here, not just to teach Soviet students in the old, orthodox way. I came here in 1983 and until recently, three years ago, I worked there as the institute existed. Then the institute was closed and was replaced by the Foundation of Social and Political Studies. It was last autumn, just after the putsch. So this foundation existed for three or four months and it was replaced by the Gorbachev Foundation. The previous foundation was dissolved and the Gorbachev Foundation was set up. The teaching was stopped a year ago and then they concentrated on research work in social and political studies and I became the head of the department of information. With the present foundation I am also head of the department of information.
MS: This is providing information to outsiders?
Skvirsky: Both. For example, we just prepared these summaries for our foreign partners.(He shows me a paper but I forgot to bring it with me when I left.)
MS: Is it largely economists or various kinds of social science?
Skvirsky: Various kinds. And in addition to this, we prepare daily information bulletins like that (shows example) for Mr. Gorbachev himself and his team. This is in Russian.
MS: As a team they have a project. Can you describe that?
Skvirsky: The foundation consists of some 4 or 5 research centers. One of them is the Centre for Social Problems. The other for Economic Problems, for Global Problems, and the next is for Prognostication Problems — something like that. So researchers from various academic institutions will prepare some reports, books, participate in seminars, and on the basis of this work they are going to publish books in the future — because we are only beginning. We were set up in the beginning of this year, in January.
MS: I noticed on television a few weeks ago when Mr. Gorbachev was in California. He said he would like to set up a branch of his institution in San Francisco. Is that a real plan?
Skvirsky: I think so. We have one branch in the United States.
Skvirsky: I don’t know — in New York City? — but we have. It is called the Gorbachev Foundation in the United States. Mr. Harrison is the president of this branch.(He means Garrison — Jim Garrison.)
MS: I didn’t know. Okay, back to you. Your stay in this building began as a labor economist, is that what you were called?
Skvirsky: It is difficult to say what I was — not economist, maybe a political scientist. We had a special branch of knowledge which was called International Labor and Communist Movements. It was a special course.
MS: What sort of attitudes and political beliefs privately did you arrive here with? Were you pretty convinced? Did you have serious misgivings about what you were doing when you began to work in this building?
Skvirsky: Well, even before I began to work in this building I could understand something and, to be quite frank, most of the people in this building lived in two worlds — one world was the official world that was recognized and supported by the party. And we had to share the views of the party. So that was one world. Most of us had our own private world, so to speak, where we could see things as they really existed, where we could speak to each other frankly and sincerely, surprised at what was going on in our country and what would be the end of this movement. But this was just a very narrow circle — only the people whom we knew very closely. We could share views. Something like that.
MS: I have even encountered many people who said they did not speak to their family about any of this.
Skvirsky: Oh, that is not true. That is an exaggeration.
MS: Maybe it is an exaggeration for people here, but I believe — well, one young man is staying in my house in Canada while I am here. He said that he did not tell his father.
Skvirsky: Well, my grandfather was a revolutionary. He participated in the assult of Zimni Palace in St. Petersburg, so he was a true revolutionary, but I could speak to him and explain to him our views, and I could argue with him.(laughs) He wouldn’t go to the militia or the KGB and report.
MS: So what did you find problematic when you began working in this building? What did you find difficulty in holding together as you lectured? What were the issues of coherence for you?
Skvirsky: There were some topics in our subject which were difficult to explain to the foreign students whom we taught. It was much easier to do with our students because our ways of education were very formal. When we teach our students, they do not think too much, they just try to repeat what was written in the manual, what was said by the lecturer. That was a tradition. If this is written, it is true. This is the final truth and you can’t and shouldn’t challenge it. This was our specific tradition. It was born very long ago. So from this point of view it was much easier to deal with our students. Now things have changed, but in the sixties, it was much easier to deal with our students. It was more difficult to deal with foreign students, as I have already told you, because they had their own experience in their mother countries and they knew things sometimes much better than we did.
MS: And I suppose they also knew you couldn’t punish them too much.
Skvirsky: (laughs). Yeah. We couldn’t.
MS: So that gave you a little more liberty. Were they segregated away from Russian or Soviet students?
Skvirsky: We never had Russian students at all. Specifically, it was a sort of segregation, exactly. And moreover, another student from our country couldn’t just come to this building at all.
MS: In fact, they didn’t know what was here, did they?
Skvirsky: No. Nobody knew. Nobody knew. It was like a special world. There were their own shops, restaurants, cafes, gymnasiums and swimming pool, and so on.
MS: My host here in Moscow is a member of the Moscow City Council so he is not ignorant about many things, but he does not know about the history of this building. He does not now know what it was. Why is that? Was it never publicized?
Skvirsky: Never, never!
MS: And to this day, most people don’t know what it was?
Skvirsky: Very few people, even now.
MS: But it could be a subject of an article. But it has not been written about?
Skvirsky: Well, a year ago a few articles were written and were published, but I don’t think that other people now are interested in this subject. We have so many problems.
MS: My host is like the ordinary Muscovites, I guess, who think that Mr. Gorbachev is a thief and a scoundrel, and that whatever goes on here has to have been done by large-scale larceny, that the present foundation must be a criminal enterprise done by embezzlement. What shall I tell him?
Skvirsky: There is only one source of our existence. This is the hotel. We live as a result of the existence of the hotel,
MS: Okay, good. So in the course of your lectures, you had difficulty explaining some aspects of Marxist ideology.
Skvirsky: Yes. I say that we, this institution, had to do something to accommodate our traditional orthodox view to the reality, and so in a way they changed from the official propaganda sometimes to make them more living.
MS: How did you get your instructions? How did you know what you were supposed to teach if it deviated from things taught to, say, the Soviets?
Skvirsky: We had a special textbook. We had meetings of the department and very often people from the Central Committee, from the International Department, came here and just instructed us about what is going on in the world and how we should explain this.
MS: Did you have the feeling that there was a sort of internal dissident community? You say that there was a realm where you could speak frankly to each other, at least to your friends. Did you have a sense that you were unique or did you realize that all around the country people were speaking privately on the same questions?
Skvirsky: Well, I think that in big cities it was like that. In Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities, it was like that. There were some communities which could discuss things frankly.
MS: But it was dangerous.
Skvirsky: Well, it was, but we could speak only to the people we knew.
MS: I am not sure how I would know. This must have been done by nonverbal communication. (We laugh).
Skvirsky: In the thirties and forties and fifties it was terribly dangerous. The habits of the KGB! But in the seventies and eighties, the atmosphere became a little bit more liberal.
MS: So, over time in this group you would collectively redefine situations to yourself. In your discussions with your friends did you reach any private ideology — your own interpretations? How would you characterize what kind of beliefs you had late in this process, say 1985?
Skvirsky: Many people discussed and tried to explain things in terms of the so-called global approach, trying to elaborate some comprehensive approach, but most of them, the majority, concentrated on the situation in our country, including the future of Russia and economic conditions, maybe foreign policy. They concentrated on things that were _____________. So that was really very typical.
MS: Did you believe, or did you have any notion at all that some kind of major changes or reforms might be in the works or might even be inevitable?
Skvirsky: No, we didn’t believe in that. We couldn’t imagine that somebody from the Central Committee, somebody from the Politburo would dare! We couldn’t believe that Mr. Gorbachev would be the man who would reform the whole country. What he did is, is so valuable that I don’t know how to value that.
MS: I certainly agree with you and I have great difficulty, and perhaps you can help me understand, why he is not valued more.
Skvirsky: Yes, the general attitude to Mr. Gorbachev in our public is very negative. Maybe this happened because most people hoped that the reforms would come about much sooner, more quickly. They hoped that Mr. Gorbachev would actually do what he promised to do and not just hesitate, as he did. So they expected more from him.
MS: Sitting in North America, the question has been to me all along: How much more could he have done than he did? How much more quickly could he have moved than he did? Did he not want to move faster?
Skvirsky: Difficult to say. Maybe he really wanted to do things much sooner and more quickly, but I am sure that it was terribly difficult for him to do this because of his entourage, because of the people who worked with him. People like Ligachev and some other conservatives. So maybe we are just discussing things and trying to blame Mr. Gorbachev but we shouldn’t do that because what he did was the only thing he could do, taking into account the situation in the Central Committee and the Party. It is so easy to blame him but it is more difficult to analyze the real situations, the real conditions, that prevailed at that time.
MS: Yes. And in your vantage point here, you don’t have more knowledge than most people about what might have been possible for him. You have no special knowledge about it?
Skvirsky: No, it is difficult to know. Maybe Mr. Gorbachev himself doesn’t know.
MS: One thing Mr. Mattison told me was that in November and December there were extraordinary pressures on him and that the right wing had him and his colleagues by the throat, and that many of the things that he did during that winter had to explained in terms of threats against his physical existence or his continuation as leader. I believed that and I still wonder if it is not true but I had difficulty, when he returned from the Crimea and didn’t say that. It was an excuse for what he did not do, it was an excuse for his appointment of some unsavory characters. But he didn’t take that excuse, so I couldn’t understand. Either he did what he did voluntarily or he did what he did under duress. I can’t see how it could be both, but some people think that it was both. This is a bad place to ask you such a thing and maybe you don’t want to speculate, but do you have an opinion?
Skvirsky: Well, to begin with, I must say that Mr. Gorbachev is a very closed man, although strange it might seem. Nobody knows what is going on in his soul, so to speak. He doesn’t mean what he says openly, his real views and his real tensions. So we shouldn’t rely just on his words because we know his views, changed his approaches, changed his attitude to the people, and so on. Sometimes he was even accused of trying just to adjust himself to the circumstances that prevailed at this particular moment. Maybe this is true, I don’t know. It is very difficult to judge and to say what he could do and what he couldn’t do. And could he do much more? It is difficult to say, but what we should take into account is the fact that he had lots of opponents who tried to hinder his reforms, who couldn’t even hear the word “market” or “market economy,” who couldn’t forget communist ideology. So he was surrounded by people like that. There were a few like Shevardnadze and Yakovlev and maybe somebody else, but the rest were orthodox Marxists. And I think it was very difficult for Gorbachev to work under these conditions.
MS: I am skipping around a lot, not pursuing a straight line, but let’s go back to the changes in policy or ideology. Let’s say, in 1986-87, when it became clear that something very extraordinary was happening, I don’t know how to interpret what you have said. I wonder whether you mean that it really was a revolution from the top, since you couldn’t imagine that your own views could ever be expressed or have an impact. Or, can we say that you think that certain people did have an impact?
Skvirsky: I think it was a combination of both. A revolution from the top with a revolution from the bottom. Because if there were not a solid foundation on the bottom, Mr. Gorbachev couldn’t carry out his revolution. So it was prepared. It was an objective condition.
MS: And you think he knew how widespread the doubts were?
Skvirsky: He did know that. Maybe not exactly but he had to know that.
MS: How do you think he knew that? If our speculations are right, he was in such a high position that nobody dared to tell him their questions.
Skvirsky: Well the thing is, only a very stupid man couldn’t see what was going on around him. That our economy doesn’t work, so to speak.
MS: The economy, that’s true. But it seems to me that the economy was handled last, it certainly wasn’t the first thing that was handled.
Skvirsky: Well, it is only natural. We couldn’t handle our economy without handling our political system first.
MS: They did in China.
Skvirsky: We could have some instrument to handle our economy.
MS: Okay, the decision, say, to withdraw troops, was based on economic considerations, you think? Saving money?
Skvirsky: No, I don’t think so. The decision was made because the whole world could see that this was just an invasion of Afghanistan, this was not — I don’t know how to explain it — this cannot last anymore because the whole world can see that the Soviet troops act like foreign invaders. And this cannot be considered an element of this New Political Thinking, as was proclaimed by Mr. Gorbachev.
MS: But new Political Thinking is what I am trying to explain. Why did he make such a dramatic break? Could he have continued another ten years the way things were going or were there pressures that made it intolerable to be considered by the rest of the world as aggressors?
Skvirsky: You know, Reagan called our country the evil empire.
MS: I think he was probably right, but his empire was just as evil.
Skvirsky: Yes. But our empire was also very dangerous. Very dangerous. And it was more safe for Mr. Gorbachev to begin with foreign policy. It could be done more easily. It had larger impact on the whole world community, and after that it was also a precondition for internal, economic reforms. To convince the foreign countries that we are not an evil empire, that we want to communicate with the rest of the world, that we want to live in peace with them. Then when we convince the people, we could carry out out economic reforms, our political reforms in the country and so on. So that was his approach, I think.
MS: You think that, early on, he really intended that approach? That he would begin with foreign policy and military policy and that then this would create political support for him so he could afford to make some changes internal.
Skvirsky: Yes. The internal changes are much more difficult than the external changes.
MS: Yes. I remember a conversation I had in, I believe 1986, with Jiri Dienstbier who I think will not be foreign minister of Czechoslovakia after last week’s election. He predicted that it was impossible for Gorbachev to succeed because of these bureaucrats. Would you have predicted the same thing?
Skvirsky: I think so.
MS: But obviously you took a stand at some point or I think you would not be in this room. (We laugh.) So how did that happen? How did you decide that this was going to be your approach?
Skvirsky: Well, it was so natural. It was not a revolution at all, it was done in a very peaceful way. I didn’t have to do anything, it was a natural continuation of the whole thing. It is not that, well, today I decided to change my views and do something different from what I did before. It was something very logical, very natural.
MS: He opened an opportunity for you to express what you had thought, and you experienced no discontinuity between what you had thought and what you were then allowed to say.
Skvirsky: So little by little, what I spoke privately became what I would say openly.
MS: And can you tell me about how you knew that you could say something for the first time?
Skvirsky: There were some landmarks, so to speak. I think the main one was in 1987, a famous plenary session of the Central Committee in January, if I am not mistaken, where Mr. Gorbachev declared his political reforms. This was a very courageous time when he said that pluralism in ideology can exist and should be supported. This was the first time, January 1987.
MS: And that actually made a difference in the way you could function, immediately.
Skvirsky: Well, not immediately, but within a few weeks or a few months the atmosphere changed radically. It was not 1985, it was 1987.
MS: Okay. 1987, you felt quite free. Tell me some of the things you might have said in 1987 that you wouldn’t have been able to say in 1986.
Skvirsky: What was said in 1985 or 1986 proceeded from the entire support of socialist ideology, the entire support of socialist choice. That was the framework: socialist choice and socialist ideology. That we should carry out a scientifically liberated socialist approach. A true socialist road, not the one that was taken by Lenin and Stalin, but a real socialist approach. That was the framework that was taken at that time. But in 1987 it became possible to doubt socialism as a whole. To doubt Marxism as a teaching for the working class, and not just to try to find out certain drawbacks and shortcomings as an ideology, or to challenge the ideology as a whole.
MS: Had you gone that far yourself, or did you change in that way only in 1987?
Skvirsky: It is difficult to say. This was a process. It was done more or less automatically. I don’t know how to explain, not to make a mistake or mislead you.
MS: No, you are not misleading me. I have talked to certain people, such as Sergei Karaganov, who said there were certain people from socialist countries, especially Hungarians, who were able to take some leadership in promoting new ideas. They couldn’t be discounted because they were comrades. How might that have worked? Can you think of any examples?
Skvirsky: Well, we shouldn’t exaggerate the influence of the foreigners. No, I think we should find the answers in our own country, in our own people, who could say things without anybody’s help. .. . The influence of foreigners was not fundamental, was not what decided anything.
MS: I don’t think he meant that, but he did seem to feel that they were genuine participants in the discussions here.
Skvirsky: Yes, sometimes they were. And of course what we should take into account was the spring in Prague in 1968, which was also a landmark for our intelligentsia, because they could see with their own eyes the true face of communism, this Brezhnev doctrine.
MS: Maybe we should go back to this World Marxist Review. The people who were there discussed it. Were you aware that there had been some discussion within that particular circle?
Skvirsky: Well, I could know that from their publications, from their articles, and from their reactions.
MS: I see.
Skvirsky: Their approach differed from the official one but in a way that couldn’t become a problem for their work in Prague and for the Central Committee. No. Generally speaking, they were more progressive than the rest of our ideological appratus department.
MS: And that was visible?
MS: Mr. Shakhnazaraov was one of those. Who else?
Skvirsky: Nearly everybody who worked for the International Department of the Central Committee, they were in Prague.____Generally speaking, all of them dealt with this international magazine.
MS: My main work is as a peace activist. I have spent a lot of time visiting people in the END movement, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and before that, people in Charter 77 in Prague and Freedom and Peace in Poland, and so on. And even here. I was deported for having friends in the Moscow Group for Trust, so I think that most of those people — the dissident community (it’s not a single dissident community but a number of networks that could not connect very much) felt they had no influence whatever. But I have talked with so many people here who listened to Radio Liberty and who read samizdat publications, that I thought perhaps the very existence of this community, which was so well known here to ordinary radio listeners, the existence may have been influential in itself, whether or not their ideas were accepted. Do you think that in any way the dissident groups had any influence on the events that took place?
Skvirsky; They did influence the events. I myself know from my own experience. When I listened to the radio to the BBC or to any foreign radio station which described the dissident movement in our country, which dealt with the trials of our dissidents. Most of my friends listened to this and knew the facts, knew the truth, more or less. We couldn’t read about it because we didn’t have any newspaper, but we could listen to it and we knew about academician Sakharov. We knew a lot about him. We knew a lot of people who tried to support him, and we knew a lot of people who tried to blame him. So, I’m sure this moment did influence the situation.
MS: Do you know how the decision was made or who was influential in bringing him back from Gorky?
Skvirsky: You mean by Gorbachev? No, I don’t know.
MS: I just yesterday interviewed a Mr. Grigoriants, who publishes a newsletter, Daily Glasnost. He was released from prison in 1987, I suppose by a direct order of Mr. Gorbachev, I don’t know. And as usual I probed to find that he has no gratitude whatsoever. The dissident community seems absolutely as hostile to the reformists as the general public, which I find bizarre. I cannot imagine being in jail and having someone unlock the door and not saying thank you. I can still visualize what I saw on my television in Canada, the interchange between Mr. Sakharov and Mr. Gorbachev a day or so before Sakharov’s death. There was real acrimony there. It was very unpleasant. I must go to see Yelena Bonner although I don’t want to. Can you help me understand why there is no gratitude?
Skvirsky: No gratitude for being released?
MS: Yes. No gratitude for the changing policies on human rights.
Skvirsky: I’m not sure that there is no gratitude.
MS: All right, take that encounter between Sakharov and Gorbachev in that meeting. Well, by then it was a whole different matter. It was about Atticle 6, it was not about the past, it was about the future. But I must say that human rights activists seem to be as critical as anyone else.
Skvirsky: But as far as Mr. Gorbachev is concerned, we should take into account that at that Congress meeting, he played a certain role. He played for the audience, by the way. His attitude toward Academician Sakharov was not his personal attitude, by the way. It was the attitude of the majority of the people there. He couldn’t afford having his own attitude toward Sakharov if he wanted to remain president. He had to accommodate and to adjust himself to the general situation because the general attitude of hundreds there was very [modest?] — I mean the attitude to Sakharov. It was something unprecedented to have a man like Skaharov speaking from the rostrum of the Congress and saying something about Afghanistan, about an invasion, and about other things. At that time it was maybe too early. Congress at that time was reactionary and conservative. The composition of Congress. They were elected from the party organizations. They were party bureaucrats, apparatchiks.
MS: I see. So you don’t take that as his own attitude? But Yelena Bonner is as hostile to Gorbachev as anyone can possibly be.
Skvirsky: Yes, yes.
MS: I can ask her, but why do you think that is so?
Skvirsky: I think that is not her attitude to Mr. Gorbachev personally but her attitude to Mr. Gorbachev as something that is connected with our system. Not to Mr. Gorbachev but to the leader of the party and the Soviet state. It is just a natural continuation of the attitude to Brezhnev, Andropov, and Gorbachev.
MS: Do you think that’s the explanation for the general population as well? I think of Gorbachev as a complete reversal of everything that had gone before. Now maybe as an administrator he didn’t make things happen very efficiently. I don’t know that. Maybe as an economist he had it backward. Probably! I can think of many things. Maybe as a military leader he was totally inept. I can think all of those things are true but I could never cease to be admiring for the simple liberation that he accomplished. And that seems absolutely untypical here. I don’t meet anybody here who sees things the way I do.
Skvirsky: Well, all dissidents, and Yelena Bonner, they could expect that Mr. Gorbachev could immediately stop any relationship with the apparatchiks, with the bureaucrats, could immediately stop the criminal activities of the KGB and other institutions, and could immediately take a new radically new road. But this could not be done. Nobody could do this and Gorbachev couldn’t do that either. So I think it was too much to hope from this.
MS: I interviewed General Serebrenikov yesterday and he is very critical of the fact that military reforms have not been carried out at all. He blames Mr. Yeltsin for the same reason, and I think he believes that anyone who was in command of the army could see to it that these reforms happened. Do you have any reason to think that that is so, that much more even now should have been done or could be happening?
Skvirsky: There are two things that should have been done. The first thing is land reform — the problem of agriculture. That is problem number one. And the second is the army issue, which is a very difficult problem because of the traditions, the decades of our army being a very privileged element of society. And there are a lot of conservative people among officers, among generals and so on. If we compare the views of the army people with the views of the rest of the population, they are much more conservative. That is why it is very difficult to reform the army. The same applies to agriculture — to our kolkhoz, our collective farms.
MS: They don’t want reform?
Skvirsky: They don’t want it. They prefer just to continue doing nothing and continue being beggars. They are used to this. They are afraid of changes because they would have to do something. They would have to adjust to the new reality and most of them can’t do that, objectively.
MS: So tell me about your future. What do you expect to be doing five years from now.
Skvirsky: It is difficult to plan for two months. This situation is not stable. What could happen to Mr. Gorbachev in two weeks, taking into account the general attitude to him. According to our television, the people who are now in Ostankino.
MS: No. I don’t know.
Skvirsky: Our former orthodox communists have surrounded the building of the Ostankino television station. It happened two ro three days ago on the holiday. They tried to make Yegor Yakovlev, who is the president of the television company, make it possible for them to speak publicly on television. They are going to come here on Friday, to have a demonstration protesting against Mr. Gorbachev.
MS: I have an appointment here to meet Mr. Likhotal at 5:00 on Friday. What do they want Mr. Gorbachev to do?
Skvirsky: They want him to be tried in court for betraying the motherland and the ideals of communism.
MS: How many people in the population do you think feel that way?
Skvirsky: Not less than 10%. I often go to the country and the attitude there is still more negative than in Moscow. They accuse Gorbachev for all possible mistakes and shortcomings and catastrophes.
MS: If they don’t like the government why don’t they protest against Mr. Yeltsin?
Skvirsky: They are also demonstrating against Mr. Yeltsin, but Mr. Gorbachev was the one who started the whole thing. So how can I say what I will be doing in five years?
MS: I have used your time thoroughly and with great pleasure. It is extremely interesting to get some sense of what it has been like. Do you have any tips for me about where to go next? My initial interest began with the sense that peace activists were listened to very carefully. For example, on the same trip when I was expelled, I had been told by an official of the Soviet Peace Committee that I should keep raising the question of human rights. I felt that there were some real influences that came from some of those discussions. My first thought was that military policy may have been imperceptibly influenced by these conversations. And then that dissidents in E. Europe formed a network and that there were chains linking the networks together. That there were people in the arts and academia who were in between, who linked these networks. Do you think I might be right?
Skvirsky: Yes, you are quite right, of coure. As far as the academic world or the art world was concerned, they were influenced greatly by dissidents, I think. They were the main element of society which was influenced by the dissident in the most degree. I think their influence was very substantial. Most of the dissidents came from either artistic circles, they are elites, artists. or they are scientists. It is natural that they were influenced by them.
MS: I also thought that Pugwash people had influence on the policy of reasonable sufficiency. And I know some people who were involved in the seismic monitoring thing.
Skvirsky: Uh huh.
Metta Spencer: And all sorts of people take credit for influencing the test ban moratorium. It is hard to know who had an impact there, but I think some people may have done so who were not officials. Do you have ideas of any other people I should speak to.
Yuri Skvirsky: It seems to me that you should speak to the widest spectrum of society. You shouldn’t concentrate on only one or two. The whole range should be represented.
MS: You said you had to be careful about expressing opinions. You didn’t talk about matters with artists or people in other communities.
Skvirsky: I don’t know actors or artists.
MS: Or dissidents, or peace people from abroad.
Skvirsky: They would have had very indirect influence. But you know, the attitude to the dissidents, in the country for example, not in towns or cities but in the depth of the Soviet Union, was very negative. They were called criminals, sick people, something like that. They were not taken seriously.
(On the way out, Skvirsky asks me when Mattison is coming. He tells me that a year ago these halls were full of hundreds of people. The building was built in the fifties. It has beautaiful green marble columns in the entry lobby. The wing facing Leningradsky Prospect is now a hotel.)