Twenty years ago, the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to fall one by one -- so quickly that the coming months will be very dense with 20th anniversaries of great historic events. That was the final battle of the Cold War, where the Iron Curtain was finally broken, and the monstrous Soviet Empire ruined. Freedom triumphed in Europe at last. Or so it seemed. For the next twenty years have shown that that victory was not as final as many hoped during that momentous autumn of 1989. Once more, we are threatened by the surviving heirs of the Soviet monster -- from the KGB regime in Russia to Middle Eastern terrorists, to the leftist collaborators in the West.
How did the communists wriggle out of what appeared to be their historic defeat? The answer to that question may very well be found in Soviet secret archives, which show the 1989 events in a profoundly new light.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, who has smuggled thousands of secret documents of that period out of Russia. In a series of anniversary interviews, we are going to re-examine the events of 1989. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FP: Pavel Stroilov, welcome to Frontpage Interview. In our first interview, we discussed the events surrounding the Polish uprising. Let’s begin our second interview with the scandal caused by the recent London Times piece about the documents you discovered about Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders plotting against the unification of Germany.
Anatoly Chernyaev of the Gorbachev Foundation attacked you in his Radio Liberty interview as a ‘petty speculator over a great cause’. He said we should not believe your ‘provocations,’ but pay tribute to all those leaders for bringing down the Iron Curtain. He accused you of ‘vehement hatred of Gorbachev’ and misinforming the public about the access to documents in his archive.
What is this all about?
Stroilov: Yes indeed, it was very nice to hear from Mr. Chernyaev after so many years. He is an honest man in his own way. At least I know he has respect for historical truth and sincerely wants the archives of the Gorbachev era to be published. Thus, while attacking me personally, he confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The trouble is that he is still loyal and obedient to his liege lord Gorbachev; and Gorby wants something very different. He wants to select ‘good’ researchers to work with, he wants to select ‘appropriate’ documents for publication, and he wants to edit the archives before publishing them. In a word, he claims copyright on the history of his rule. He wants a history written by his own spin-doctors.
Of course, he is also under pressure from the Kremlin to keep his archive closed, even though Chernyaev denied this. A high-ranking person in the Foundation told me it was the Kremlin’s demand that forced Gorbachev to seal the documents in 2003. The most important parts of the archive are now inaccessible. Perhaps, they make exceptions for some especially ‘friendly’ researchers. But, as we have seen in my case, if you are not singing hymns to Gorby, if your view of history differs from that of his Foundation, you are immediately accused of ‘vehement hatred’ and excommunicated.
FP: So just how vehement is your hatred of Gorby?
Stroilov: I have neither hatred nor love for anyone, I am a researcher. Gorbachev for me is just a historical figure. In a way, I even like him, because he made the history of his times more interesting. His policies, his style, his personality gave it a flavor of a detective story. But if we analyze his huge impact on the world situation, we cannot help from coming to the conclusion that he played a very, very negative role.
FP: After reading all these documents – the transcripts of his talks with foreign leaders, the transcripts of his Politburo discussions, etc. – what is your view of him as a person?
Stroilov: Charming, cunning, treacherous manipulator. A man of conspiracies. Master of intrigue, horse-trading, and deceit. The late Alexander Yakovlev, formerly his right-hand man, used to say: ‘Gorbachev is the kind of a person who is lying even when he tells the truth’. I find this very perceptive. On the other hand, Gorbachev was not a particularly brutal dictator and tried to avoid unnecessary massacres, although they were in his job description as well.
It so happened that Gorbachev was the one who reshaped the world, and indeed, the imprint of his character on the modern world is enormous. It is no longer the world of brutal dictatorships and mass murders – they still happen, but seem rather out of fashion. Instead, we have a world of false democracy and false prosperity; a charming and treacherous world of horse-trading, double-crossing, and back-stabbing; the world of conspiracies; the world of lies. Gorbachev himself is long gone, but it is still the Gorbachev era.
Yet, it would be very superficial to attribute it all to his personal whims – he was not just a person, but the top functionary of the communist system. The regime had a job at hand and selected the best man for that job. In different circumstances, when the regime needed a ruthless murderer, it created Stalin; now that it needed a clever manipulator, it created Gorbachev.
FP: So, what was the point of his Perestroika?
Stroilov: To try and save the communist system from its crisis and immanent collapse. It was not Gorbachev’s own idea: as he himself admitted in 1988, some 110 Soviet think-tanks had been working on it since the late 1970s, when the communists finally realized that their economic base was not big enough for their global ambitions. So, they had to reform the economy and cut waste.
They had to improve relations with the West, stop the expensive arms race, get foreign loans, and create the right climate to advance their influence all over the world. At the same time, they were aware of the growing unrest in the socialist countries, where the dissident movements such as Polish ‘Solidarity’ became a serious threat to the communist regimes. So they had to invent a political maneuver to avoid further confrontation with their own people.
FP: What were they doing in East Europe?
Stroilov: They faked a revolution.
For some reason, for the past twenty years we have carefully avoided asking questions about the 1989 events in East Europe – although the whole thing seems rather mysterious. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a series of spontaneous uprisings by the people. On the other, we always give credit to Gorbachev for making it happen. Now, it cannot really be both: it was either the people’s revolt or Moscow’s plot. And the documentary evidence shows it was the latter.
Vladimir Bukovsky tells in the preface to the recent Hungarian edition of his Judgment in Moscow how he tried to extort the secrets of ‘velvet revolutions’ from Gorbachev’s former second-in-command Alexander Yakovlev. What was Moscow’s original plan? But Yakovlev denied everything: he told Vladimir that the Politburo never considered that matter, took no decisions whatsoever, and the whole thing happened like a bolt from the blue.
And here I have transcripts of Politburo meetings which show that there was a Politburo Commission for East Europe, created on 24 January 1989 and chaired by none other than Alexander Yakovlev. It was that Commission which drafted the plan of velvet revolutions for the Politburo’s approval – although, of course, the final decision is still hidden in one of the ‘special packages’ in the Kremlin Archives. However, the subsequent events speak for themselves.
FP: So, what was in their plan?
Stroilov: They had to remove the old Stalinist leaders in East Europe, such as Honnecker or Ceausescu, and replace them with Gorby-style clever manipulators. Of course, they could just appoint new leaders – and they tried it in some countries like Czechoslovakia (Jakes) and Bulgaria (Lilov). But then, everyone knew they were only new Gauleiters appointed by Moscow – so that kind of change would not really calm down the unrest. So, the Soviets had to use more sophisticated methods: Polish-style ‘roundtables’ on one hand (see our previous interview) and ‘velvet revolution’ performances on the other (e. g. in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania). A different matter is that it all went out of control: once you get hundreds of thousands of people to the streets, they will do what they want, not what you want. Thus, they broke through the Wall in Berlin, they elected Vaclav Havel president of Czechoslovakia instead of Gorbachev-backed candidate, and so on. The only place where it went as planned was Romania.
FP: But in the end of the day, it was a change for the better. Why, then, were Gorbachev and Yakovlev so keen on hiding and denying their role in it? If they overthrew the Stalinist dictators like Honnecker and Ceausescu, they should only be proud of that, shouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they take credit?
Stroilov: One obvious reason is the blood on their hands: after all, hundreds of people were killed during the 1989 events in Romania.
But there is also something else: the ‘velvet revolutions’ were only a part of a much bigger plan. Indeed, how could the Soviets fail to realize that any revolution, whoever starts it, is bound to get out of control? How could they fail to foresee that after an anti-communist revolution, even started by the KGB, those countries were bound to turn to the West? Of course they knew all that; so they had a bigger plan for Europe, which would allow to keep those countries in the Soviet sphere of influence. That was the plan of gradual unification of Germany and Europe in a socialist ‘common European home’ – but it also went wrong.
FP: Thank you for joining us Pavel Stroilov, we shall be returning to this fascinating subject in our next interview.