* “Cozying up to the UN comes with responsibilities for standing up to the liars, crooks and tyrants who seize every chance to exploit the institution. These days Washington shows limp interest in oversight, despite U.S. taxpayers providing roughly one-quarter of a UN system-wide budget now well upward of $25 billion per year.”
* UN’s ballooning $732m. Haiti budget goes mostly to its own personnel, not to earthquake-stricken Haitians.
* Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International just can’t help themselves as they step up attacks on Israel.
* Sarah Leah Whitson, who runs the Human Rights Watch section charged with assessing the human rights records of countries in the Mideast and North Africa, has a poster of “Paradise Now”, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, on her office door.
* New Soviet archive revelations appear to show Gorbachev believing anti-Semitic lies: Syrian President Hafez Assad: “Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.” Mikhail Gorbachev replies “But this is racism, combined with Messianism!”
(This dispatch concerns human rights.)
1. UN human rights policymakers now include Libya
2. Where’s Obama? Where’s Susan Rice?
3. Why are U.S. taxpayers picking up the tab?
4. Does Human Rights Watch care about human rights in Iran?
5. HRW and the glorification of Palestinian suicide bombers
6. Amnesty International just can’t help themselves
7. Why isn’t this the lead story in Western newspapers?
8. Russian government fantasies about Israel
9. A less favorable view of Mikhail Gorbachev
10. What the Soviet archives say about Joe Biden
11. “HRW: Their master’s voice” (By Benjamin Kerstein, New Ledger, May 4, 2010)
12. “A hidden history of evil” (By Claire Berlinski, City Journal, May 2010)
[The first part of this dispatch is a follow-up to notes 5 and 6 in this dispatch last week.]
UN HUMAN RIGHTS POLICYMAKERS NOW INCLUDE LIBYA
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
In a secret ballot at the UN General Assembly on Thursday, no less than 155 countries, representing 80 percent of UN members, decided Libya would be a superb choice and voted it on to the UN Human Rights Council.
Libya – one of the world’s worst human rights abusers – will join other countries that the UN apparently regards as bastions of human rights who already sit on the Council, among them Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba.
The Council, one of the most appallingly misnamed bodies in history, is supposed to be the UN’s leading human rights body. According to its own charter, it is meant to “promote and protect” human rights.
If the Council in its present form is the best the UN can do, God help all those dissidents and human rights campaigners rotting away in jails and torture centers around the world.
WHERE’S OBAMA? WHERE’S SUSAN RICE?
Just as the Obama administration declined to oppose Iran’s joining “The UN Commission on the Status of Women” last month (as reported here) so too Obama’s UN ambassador and close personal friend Susan Rice made no serious attempt to object to Libya’s inclusion on the Human Rights Council last week.
Writing on National Review Online, Anne Bayefsky reports that: “Susan Rice refused to divulge those states which the U.S. supported. When pressed, she said only that the Obama administration regretted some states on the ballot, but ‘I am not going to name names. I don’t think that it’s particularly constructive at this point.’
“Not constructive because, Rice suggested, it was no big deal. She described the countries on the Council as just ‘countries whose orientation and perspectives we don’t agree with.’ And she described the election as one which ‘yielded an outcome that we think is a good reflection on the potential of the Human Rights Council.’”
WHY ARE U.S. TAXPAYERS PICKING UP THE TAB?
Tom Gross adds: Susan Rice may blandly refer to Libya’s “orientation and perspectives” but here is what the 2009 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report revealed about Libya:
* Security personnel engage in routine torture and abuse of detainees
* They have the authority to sentence political opposition without trial
* The law sanctions amputation and flogging
* Women and girls may be detained indefinitely after having been raped
The Bush administration had boycotted The UN Human Rights Council, which was established in 2006, not wanting to lend legitimacy to this sham of an organization.
I still don’t quite understand why last year Obama decided to join the Council and then have U.S. taxpayers pick up 22 percent of the tab.
80 percent of all resolutions by the council concentrate on demonizing one state alone: Israel.
(For more background, please see: Does Obama believe in human rights? (and what that might mean for Israel))
DOES HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CARE ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN?
Where were the world’s leading human rights groups while Libya was being welcomed, one might ask. Well, last week New York-based Human Rights Watch was busy releasing its 7th – yes 7th report (this one comprising a whopping 134 pages and titled “I Lost Everything”) on Israel’s short defensive mini-war against Hamas in January 2009.
No doubt that will please Human Rights Watch’s donor base.
We’re still waiting, of course, for the sequel to HRW’s pitiful 19-page report on the Iranian post-election crackdown, which includes one of my favorite HRW gems of all time:
“Recommendations to the Government of Iran: Establish an independent and impartial fact-finding commission to identify those who ordered the crackdown on post-election protesters and those responsible for serious human rights violations...”
Hilarity aside, notice that there is no demand – as there almost always is in HRW’s Israel reports – for an international (read: UN Human Rights Council) investigation.
HRW AND THE GLORIFICATION OF PALESTINIAN SUICIDE BOMBERS
In an important new piece on HRW for The New Republic, Benjamin Birnbaum points out, among other things, that when he visited the office of Sarah Leah Whitson, the anti-Israeli activist who runs the HRW section charged with assessing the human rights records of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, “I noticed that a poster for Paradise Now, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, hangs on her door.”
Below in the “Full Articles” section I attach a piece titled “Human Rights Watch: Their master’s voice” by Benjamin Kerstein from last week’s New Ledger, referencing Birnbaum’s New Republic piece.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES
Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s UK branch is launching yet another exhibition in London in a few weeks directed against Israel’s security barrier.
The decision to hold the exhibition follows an event by Amnesty International last week on Israeli policy in East Jerusalem. That event was provocatively titled “Capital Murder” and made false claims that Israel has “ethnically cleansed Jerusalem of Arabs.” (In fact the population of Arabs living in Jerusalem has gone up considerably more quickly than the Jewish population since 1967 in part because West Bank Palestinians have moved to Jerusalem to take up the greatly increased personal freedom and economic opportunities afforded there by Israeli rule.)
Yet at the event Ben White, the journalist, Amnesty International activist and author of the book “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide,” described what was happening in the city as “a microcosm of Israeli apartheid”. White cited dubious United Nations statistics to justify his claim.
Krystian Benedict of Amnesty also announced last week that in October they will publish a paper on “discrimination against Israeli Arabs” and will launch a campaign on this (because there is nothing else happening in the world, according to Amnesty…)
Eric Lee, one of those within Amnesty International who is fighting to stop the organization being taken over and used as a political front by hard-left political activists, condemned the information presented by Amnesty International’s UK branch at their “Capital Murder” event as “contemptible lies.”
Lee also spoke out on behalf of Gita Sahgal, who resigned last month as head of Amnesty International’s gender unit over Amnesty’s links to supporters of the Afghan Taliban. “Gita represented all that was positive and progressive in the organization. With her departure Amnesty can more easily complete its transformation into a political front for anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism rather than an organization committed to human rights,” he said.
(Please use the search mechanism on this website to see past dispatches on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.)
Some students were outraged when in a speech last week the president of Israel’s prestigious Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya called B’tselem, the Israeli left-activist group (from which HRW and Amnesty International copy much of their information before further exaggerating it) “a fifth column” in Israeli society.
WHY ISN’T THIS THE LEAD STORY IN WESTERN NEWSPAPERS?
Major American papers, which supposedly care about liberal values, are (once again) strangely quiet about America’s failure to oppose Libya’s joining the Human Rights Council, presumably not wanting to criticize their hero Barack Obama.
But commentator Claudia Rosett, who like Anne Bayefsky is a long-time subscriber to this email list, writing in her online column for Forbes magazine, asks:
“Where in the makings of this travesty last week was oddly quiet U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice?
“For that matter, where was Rice when the misogynist rulers of Iran, murderers last year of peaceful protester Neda Soltan, won a seat last month – by acclamation, no less – on the UN’s commission for women’s rights? Where was Rice when Libya’s candidate won the presidency last year of the current General Assembly? At a UN so lacking in moral compass that all this counts for business as usual, the U.S. made no fuss. Washington went with the flow.
“… For America to swim along with this is not smart diplomacy. It is at best naive. It emboldens the worst violators of civilized norms, and further compounds the already alarming failings of the UN, a sprawling and opaque collective which lends itself to exploitation by the most ruthless and corrupt of its 192 member states.
“… But cozying up to the UN comes with responsibilities for standing up to the liars, crooks and tyrants who seize every chance to exploit the institution. These days Washington shows limp interest in oversight, despite U.S. taxpayers providing roughly one-quarter of a UN system-wide budget now well upward of $25 billion per year.
“The Obama administration may not look kindly on Fox News, but Rice would be doing herself a service to read a series of recent articles on the UN by Fox News Executive Editor George Russell. Russell’s recent dispatches have included the April 20 story, ‘UN’s Ballooning $732 Million Haiti Peacekeeping Budget Goes Mostly to Its Own Personnel’ (not to earthquake stricken Haitians).”
RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT FANTASIES ABOUT ISRAEL
Tom Gross adds: One reason this isn’t the lead story in Western newspapers is that Western liberal newspapers generally don’t care about crimes by “third world,” Islamist or far-left dictatorships. Below I attach a new article by the Istanbul-based, American journalist Claire Berlinski, from City Journal. She asks why the mainstream right has been willing to learn, absorb and record the horrible lessons of Fascism, but the mainstream left is still reluctant to do so regarding the crimes of communism.
The article is not directly related to the Middle East, but does have one or two illuminating anecdotes suggesting interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy.
Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place between then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:
ASSAD: To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .
GORBACHEV: I think so, too. . . .
ASSAD: Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.
GORBACHEV: But this is racism, combined with Messianism!
ASSAD: This is the most dangerous form of racism.
Berlinski notes: “One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.”
A LESS FAVORABLE VIEW OF MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
In other ways too, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the largely sympathetic one in which he is generally regarded in the West.
In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983. And these minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:
“Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.”
Gorbachev: “We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?”
And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending the April 9, 1989 massacre of peaceful protesters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi by Soviet troops.
WHAT THE SOVIET ARCHIVES SAY ABOUT JOE BIDEN
And what of the descriptions by Vadim Zagladin, deputy chief of the Central Committee’s International Department until 1987 and then Gorbachev’s advisor until 1991, of his dealings with the U.S.’s own current vice president in 1979?
Zagladin wrote at the time: “Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for ‘human rights.’ . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.”
(I am told by various reliable historians that Berlinski is unfair in her article in suggesting that Soviet scholars have been reluctant to explore the revelations in Bukovsky’s and other archives, and that her comments about Jonathan Brent, editor of the Annals of Communism series for Yale University Press are also unfair, and the “the notion that the Stroilov and Bukovsky collections are being willfully disregarded for some nefarious reasons is absurd.”)
[All notes above by Tom Gross]
WHITSON WAXES POETIC OVER HER “TREMENDOUS RESPECT AND ADMIRATION” FOR PRO-TERRORIST INTELLECTUAL NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Human Rights Watch: Their master’s voice
By Benjamin Kerstein
The New Ledger
May 4, 2010
Having just returned from being locked for almost an hour in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center mall while a surprisingly large robot fired three 12-gauge shotgun shells into a suspicious package, which was then disposed of by a man in a Kevlar body suit, I was not, I confess, in a mood to indulge those who make light of Israel’s security concerns. Shortly after, my feelings were compounded by reading Benjamin Birnbaum’s excellent piece in The New Republic on the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch and its treatment of Israel. It is doubtful that a better, or more important, piece of classic muckraking journalism will be published in the coming months.
The piece takes as its impetus the recent controversy between the organization’s staffers and some of its board members, in particular, its founder Robert Bernstein, who recently published a New York Times op-ed denouncing the organization’s attitude toward Israel. Its real value, however, is its exposure of the personalities behind the organization; the faces behind the impersonal reports and press releases that constitute the public face of HRW.
Perhaps the most fascinating and disturbing of these is Sarah Leah Whitson, who runs the section charged with assessing Israel’s human rights record, along with that of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. As far as one can tell, Whitson does not seem to posses any expert credentials in the field of human rights or the laws of war; her bio at the HRW website states only that she received degrees at Berkeley and Harvard Law School, with no indication of her particular field of study. What is certain is that she is a former corporate lawyer and professional activist who has apparently been a lifelong partisan of the Arab cause. Shockingly, and despite her sensitive position, which one imagines would require at least the pretense of impartiality, Whitson seems to make no secret of her sympathies. “As I stepped into her office,” Birnbaum writes, “I noticed that a poster for Paradise Now, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, hangs on her door and that two photos of bereaved Gazans hang on her wall.” Birnbaum then questions her about specific accusations of bias on the part of HRW.
“For people who apply for jobs to be the researcher in Israel-Palestine, it’s probably going to be someone who’s done work on Israel-Palestine with a human rights background,” she explained. “And guess what? People who do work with a human rights background on Israel-Palestine tend to find that there are a lot of Israeli abuses. And they tend to become human rights activists on the issue.”
This is one of those arguments which in more learned ages was called a tautology. It states, in effect, that HRW is biased against Israel because it is not biased against Israel and anyone who is not biased against Israel would be biased against Israel. That an argument such as this, which would once have been considered the prattling of inferior minds, spills so easily out of one of the most powerful staff members of a globally influential NGO is disturbing enough. That Whitson appears blissfully unaware of its inherent absurdity – that it is, in fact, a confession, and not a defense – is far more distressing.
Whitson’s obliviousness to her own prejudices appears throughout Birnbaum’s article. She uses the loaded term “Israel-Palestine” consistently; waxes poetic over her “tremendous respect and admiration” for pro-terrorist intellectual Norman Finkelstein (considered a Jewish antisemite by many in the Jewish community) and “his brilliant mind and generous spirit”; claims that HRW goes too easy on Israel because of “the harassment we endure,” presumably from pro-Israel critics; and defends Mahmud Ahmedinejad’s genocidal threats against Israel by claiming that Hillary Clinton had made a “very similar” statement about the “Iranian regime,” as though threatening to bring down a theocratic dictatorship were the same as threatening to exterminate seven million people. (Ms. Clinton stated that America has the power to destroy the Iranian regime if it attacks Israel; which is very far indeed from a threat of unprovoked genocide.) In any case, for a top staff member of one of the world’s most influential NGOs to engage in apologetics for the world’s most militarily powerful antisemite is, to say the least, somewhat counterintuitive.
Whitson is, unfortunately, not alone in her equivocations on behalf of Ahmedinejad. When Birnbaum queries HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth – whose rhetoric against Israel and HRW’s pro-Israel critics has been notable for its violence – on the subject, “Roth quibbled about the way the statement had been translated in the West – ‘there was a real question as to whether he actually said that’ – then told me that it was not HRW’s place to render judgments on such rhetoric.” Considering his willingness to render such judgments against others, Roth’s refusal to condemn a blatantly racist and genocidal statement from a head of state is, it must be said, vaguely horrifying in its implications.
Even more disturbing than this, however, is the fact that dissenting voices appear to be highly unwelcome in the inner circles of the organization. Over the course of Birnbaum’s article, several current and former board members and staffers – some of them, tellingly, refuse to be named – complain about a culture of silence and silencing disagreement within HRW, especially where the issue of Israel is concerned. One former board member relates that, having asked HRW’s former senior military analyst Marc Garlasco to address the Palestinians’ use of human shields, “Sarah Leah Whitson wouldn’t let him speak. She just put an end to that conversation. She said, ‘Well, in summation, I think we have to move on,’ or something, and I said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ you know?” Ridiculous, perhaps. Disturbing and, apparently, typical, most certainly. And, we should not forget, the founder of HRW himself broke with the organization over precisely this kind of behavior.
Birnbaum’s piece contains a great deal more along these lines, including Garlasco himself, who was junked from the organization after his obsession with Nazi memorabilia was revealed. Ironically, and perhaps sadly, Garlasco actually comes across rather well in the end, displaying an understanding of and expertise in military matters which is surprisingly lacking among his former colleagues. Nonetheless, one has to wonder about an organization whose most sympathetic member displays a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the detritus of the Third Reich. But the importance of Birnbaum’s piece is not necessarily in the details. Its greatest accomplishment is that it reveals to us something of immense importance: NGOs are like any other organization. That is, they are inherently political, inherently imperfect, and no better than the people who run and staff them.
That this is something like a revelation is, perhaps, unfortunate; but it is nonetheless necessary. For decades, NGOs in general and HRW in particular have been treated as a kind of vox dei, a “voice of God,” passing down their perfectly truthful and accurate judgments from on high. As Birnbaum’s article shows, however, the work of NGOs, as I think Bismarck once said of politics, is like making sausages: you probably don’t want to see how it gets done. But seeing how it gets done has, in fact, enormous value. It frees us from our own illusions and allows to develop a renewed and healthier skepticism toward groups and organizations that wield enormous and often undeserved power in our globalized and mediacentric world. The fact that these organizations are also unelected, unaccountable, and often hostile toward criticism or scrutiny makes such an attitude all the more necessary. Birnbaum’s article shows us that vox Human Rights Watch is nothing more than vox Human Rights Watch, and that the more we know about those who create and disseminate that voice, the more we are empowered to keep our own counsel about what it is trying to tell us.
“REMARKABLY, THE WORLD HAS SHOWN LITTLE INTEREST IN THE UNREAD SOVIET ARCHIVES”
A hidden history of evil
Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives?
By Claire Berlinski
In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology – nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle – led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.
For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.
Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas – political psychiatric hospitals – after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at bukovsky-archives.net, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”
The originals of most of Stroilov’s documents remain in the Kremlin archives, where, like most of the Soviet Union’s top-secret documents from the post-Stalin era, they remain classified. They include, Stroilov says, transcripts of nearly every conversation between Gorbachev and his foreign counterparts – hundreds of them, a near-complete diplomatic record of the era, available nowhere else. There are notes from the Politburo taken by Georgy Shakhnazarov, an aide of Gorbachev’s, and by Politburo member Vadim Medvedev. There is the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev – Gorbachev’s principal aide and deputy chief of the body formerly known as the Comintern – which dates from 1972 to the collapse of the regime. There are reports, dating from the 1960s, by Vadim Zagladin, deputy chief of the Central Committee’s International Department until 1987 and then Gorbachev’s advisor until 1991. Zagladin was both envoy and spy, charged with gathering secrets, spreading disinformation, and advancing Soviet influence.
When Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of these documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation, one of the first independent think tanks in modern Russia, where a handful of friendly and vetted researchers were given limited access to them. Then, in 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov. The key parts of the collection remained restricted; documents could be copied only with the written permission of the author, and Gorbachev refused to authorize any copies whatsoever. But there was a flaw in the foundation’s security, Stroilov explained to me. When things went wrong with the computers, as often they did, he was able to watch the network administrator typing the password that gave access to the foundation’s network. Slowly and secretly, Stroilov copied the archive and sent it to secure locations around the world.
When I first heard about Stroilov’s documents, I wondered if they were forgeries. But in 2006, having assessed the documents with the cooperation of prominent Soviet dissidents and Cold War spies, British judges concluded that Stroilov was credible and granted his asylum request. The Gorbachev Foundation itself has since acknowledged the documents’ authenticity.
Bukovsky’s story is similar. In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin’s government invited him to testify at the Constitutional Court of Russia in a case concerning the constitutionality of the Communist Party. The Russian State Archives granted Bukovsky access to its documents to prepare his testimony. Using a handheld scanner, he copied thousands of documents and smuggled them to the West.
The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists. Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason. The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm. The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.
Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War. The ‘commonly accepted’ version of history of that period consists of myths almost entirely. These documents are capable of ruining each of those myths.” Is this so? I couldn’t say. I don’t read Russian. Of Stroilov’s documents, I have seen only the few that have been translated into English. Certainly, they shouldn’t be taken at face value; they were, after all, written by Communists. But the possibility that Stroilov is right should surely compel keen curiosity.
For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983 – a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:
“Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.”
“Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?”
And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.
Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:
H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . .
M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .
H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.
M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!
H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.
One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.
There are other ways in which the story that Stroilov’s and Bukovsky’s papers tell isn’t over. They suggest, for example, that the architects of the European integration project, as well as many of today’s senior leaders in the European Union, were far too close to the USSR for comfort. This raises important questions about the nature of contemporary Europe – questions that might be asked when Americans consider Europe as a model for social policy, or when they seek European diplomatic cooperation on key issues of national security.
According to Zagladin’s reports, for example, Kenneth Coates, who from 1989 to 1998 was a British member of the European Parliament, approached Zagladin on January 9, 1990, to discuss what amounted to a gradual merger of the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. Coates, says Zagladin, explained that “creating an infrastructure of cooperation between the two parliament[s] would help . . . to isolate the rightists in the European Parliament (and in Europe), those who are interested in the USSR’s collapse.” Coates served as chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights from 1992 to 1994. How did it come to pass that Europe was taking advice about human rights from a man who had apparently wished to “isolate” those interested in the USSR’s collapse and sought to extend Soviet influence in Europe?
Or consider a report on Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, who led Spain’s integration into the European Community as its foreign minister. On March 3, 1989, according to these documents, he explained to Gorbachev that “the success of perestroika means only one thing – the success of the socialist revolution in contemporary conditions. And that is exactly what the reactionaries don’t accept.” Eighteen months later, Ordóñez told Gorbachev: “I feel intellectual disgust when I have to read, for example, passages in the documents of ‘G7’ where the problems of democracy, freedom of human personality and ideology of market economy are set on the same level. As a socialist, I cannot accept such an equation.” Perhaps most shockingly, the Eastern European press has reported that Stroilov’s documents suggest that François Mitterrand was maneuvering with Gorbachev to ensure that Germany would unite as a neutral, socialist entity under a Franco-Soviet condominium.
Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev – unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition – through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program. The minutes of the meeting between Gorbachev and the envoy, MP Stuart Holland, read as follows:
“In [Holland’s] opinion, Soviet Union should be very interested in liquidation of “Tridents” because, apart from other things, the West – meaning the US, Britain and France – would have a serious advantage over the Soviet Union after the completion of START treaty. That advantage will need to be eliminated. . . . At the same time Holland noted that, of course, we can seriously think about realisation of that idea only if the Labour comes to power. He said Thatcher . . . would never agree to any reduction of nuclear armaments.”
Kinnock was vice president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, and his wife, Glenys, is now Britain’s minister for Europe. Gerard Batten, a member of the UK Independence Party, has noted the significance of the episode. “If the report given to Mr. Gorbachev is true, it means that Lord Kinnock approached one of Britain’s enemies in order to seek approval regarding his party’s defense policy and, had he been elected, Britain’s defense policy,” Batten said to the European Parliament in 2009. “If this report is true, then Lord Kinnock would be guilty of treason.”
Similarly, Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is now the European Union’s foreign minister, was treasurer of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 1980 to 1982. The papers offer evidence that this organization received “unidentified income” from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Stroilov’s papers suggest as well that the government of the current Spanish EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Joaquín Almunia, enthusiastically supported the Soviet project of gradually unifying Germany and Europe into a socialist “common European home” and strongly opposed the independence of the Baltic states and then of Ukraine.
Perhaps it doesn’t surprise you to read that prominent European politicians held these views. But why doesn’t it? It is impossible to imagine that figures who had enjoyed such close ties to the Nazi Party – or, for that matter, to the Ku Klux Klan or to South Africa’s apartheid regime – would enjoy top positions in Europe today. The rules are different, apparently, for Communist fellow travelers. “We now have the EU unelected socialist party running Europe,” Stroilov said to me. “Bet the KGB can’t believe it.”
And what of Zagladin’s description of his dealings with our own current vice president in 1979?
“Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for “human rights.” . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.”
Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.
Bukovsky’s book about the story that these documents tell, Jugement à Moscou, has been published in French, Russian, and a few other Slavic languages, but not in English. Random House bought the manuscript and, in Bukovsky’s words, tried “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left political perspective.” Bukovsky replied that “due to certain peculiarities of my biography I am allergic to political censorship.” The contract was canceled, the book was never published in English, and no other publisher has shown interest in it. Neither has anyone wanted to publish EUSSR, a pamphlet by Stroilov and Bukovsky about the Soviet roots of European integration. In 2004, a very small British publisher did print an abbreviated version of the pamphlet; it, too, passed unnoticed.
Stroilov has a long list of complaints about journalists who have initially shown interest in the documents, only to tell him later that their editors have declared the story insignificant. In advance of Gorbachev’s visit to Germany for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stroilov says, he offered the German press the documents depicting Gorbachev unflatteringly. There were no takers. In France, news about the documents showing Mitterrand’s and Gorbachev’s plans to turn Germany into a dependent socialist state prompted a few murmurs of curiosity, nothing more. Bukovsky’s vast collection about Soviet sponsorship of terrorism, Palestinian and otherwise, remains largely unpublished.
Stroilov says that he and Bukovsky approached Jonathan Brent of Yale University Press, which is leading a publishing project on the history of the Cold War. He claims that initially Brent was enthusiastic and asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War. Stroilov says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from Brent again, despite sending him e-mail after e-mail. “I can only speculate what so much frightened him in that book,” Stroilov wrote to me.
I’ve also asked Brent and received no reply. This doesn’t mean anything; people are busy. I am less inclined to believe in complex attempts to suppress the truth than I am in indifference and preoccupation with other things. Stroilov sees in these events “a kind of a taboo, the vague common understanding in the Establishment that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, not to throw stones in a house of glass, and not to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man.” I suspect it is something even more disturbing: no one much cares.
“I know the time will come,” Stroilov says, “when the world has to look at those documents very carefully. We just cannot escape this. We have no way forward until we face the truth about what happened to us in the twentieth century. Even now, no matter how hard we try to ignore history, all these questions come back to us time and again.”
The questions come back time and again, it is true, but few remember that they have been asked before, and few remember what the answer looked like. No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state. (In his widely ignored book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika under Gorbachev, puts the number at 30 to 35 million.)
Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.
We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say – and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do – this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.