(Archived document, may contain errors)
THE LIMITS OF GLASNOST*
by Natan I must begin by telling you that I have known of The
Heritage Foundation for some time. For the last few years, on those
lucky days when I could read the Soviet press in the Soviet prison,
when I was not in the punishment cell, I saw many bad words about
The Heritage Foundation, and I concluded that it was a very good
organization. That is why I quickly agreed when it was proposed
that I m eet the people whom--I do not know if it is true or
not--the Soviet propagandists characterized as the source of the
most "reactionary" ideas of President Reagan.
Unfortunately during this short visit to Washington we have
received very sad news. Two days ago, Anatoly Marchenko, an
outstanding dissident- and member of the same Helsinki gro@p which
Yuri Orlov and others founded in 1976, died in the Soviet prison.
There is a parallel between Marchenko's fate and mine. He was in
the same prison as I. His unco mpromising position, a refusal to
talk to the KGB, a refusal to give up, was practically identical
with my position. He was on a hunger strike which continued for
some three months, approximately the same as my hunger strike of
110 days in 1982.
I know tha t I was very close to death; nevertheless, at the last
moment the authorities gave up and met my demands, which were very
modest: simply the right to write letters to my family. For more
than a year I could not write even one letter. And I recovered and
I could write letters. In Marchenko's case, however, the outcome
was tragic. Why did this happen? In my case there was tremendous
pressure on the Soviet Union and the campaign of protest all over
the world, to a great extent due to the efforts of my wife, a nd
also to the efforts of many other people who were actively
No Complaint. In the case of Anatoly Marchenko, we did not succeed
in organizing such a campaign. Maybe it is because of some personal
reasons, the uniqueness of the efforts of my wife . But, I think it
is not the only reason. In fact, Anatoly Marchenko was very well
known. After the release of Yuri Orlov he was definitely the number
one Soviet prisoner of conscience. His book, My Testimony, was very
well known in the West. But there wa s almost no complaint in the
I think one of the serious reasons for it was that Gorbachev has
really- succeeded in organizing an effective public relations
campaign to create an image. As a result, even the most liberal
people would agree that Gorbac hev, although part of the Soviet
system and therefore not about to make fundamental changes,
nevertheless wants more legality, wants to be more human, want to
be more close to the West, and therefore should be given a chance
by the West.
Natan Shcharansky is a human rights activist and former Soviet
prisoner of conscience.
He spoke at The Heritage Foundation on December 12, 1986.
ISSN 0272-1155. Copyright 1987 by The Heritage Foundation.
I noticed that this opinion is very strong when L was speaking to
the coffespondents--with all their sympathy to me personally and to
the cause which I was defending. Despite their desire to help, they
wanted not to belive that the state of human rights i n the Soviet
Union is much worse now, and that in fact Gorbachev is much tougher
on these issues than Andropov, Brezhnev, and Chernenko. Western
public opinion now is much more cautious in criticizing the Soviet
Union, because it wants to hope that by enco uraging Gorbachev, it
can have serious democratic changes.
And as a result, Anatoly Marchenko died in prison after almost no
reaction to his hunger strike from the world press. It was
different during my months of hunger strike, when heads of
government we re sending telegrams and protests, and when there
were demonstrations near Soviet embassies.
"crous New Iaw. Another example of Soviet propaganda success is the
recent emigration law. Soviet spokesmen in Vienna and in Reykjavik,
in private meetings and me etings with delegations of American
politicians, said that the new emigration law will make the process
of leaving the Soviet Union very smooth, simple, and quick. The
Soviets have succeeded in creating an impression that Gorbachev is
trying to make the p r ocess of emigration from the Soviet Union
more legal. But Jewish activists in Moscow think, and I agree with
them, it is the most dangerous anti-emigration step of the Soviet
Union since 1972 when they tried to stop emigration by taxes on
education. At th at time, there was strong protest and after six
months Moscow stopped using that law.
Why is the new law dangerous? Because unlike the old law, there is
no broad provision for reunification of families. It provides only
a narrow basis for reunification: wi th your children, or your
parents, sister or brother. That means that the overwhelming
majority of those people who already applied for visas cannot even
apply again because they do not have immediate relatives in the
West. And those who can apply (less t han 10 percent of the number
who want to leave) also can be refused on a variety of pretexts,
which have been placed in the law.
Important to Ptotest. We can see that there have been practically
no immediate protests against the emigration law from the Wes t.
And even more, opinions appear in the mass media saying that this
is one more demonstration that Gorbachev probably wants to make the
Soviet system more liberal. And that.is why __ - -- the real
meaning of this law was one of the main topics of my "@Y a im-5
discussion in Washington, in the White House, the State Department,
and in Congress. It is very important to protest now, when the
Soviet Union thinks that the Administration is very weak because of
the Iran case, and believes that Congress does not support the
It is very important to demonstrate that America is strong as
always and that Congress and the White House have the same position
on human i lits and freedom of emigration. 'Mis has been in fact
the direction of my e rts during all this week. I think that I will
stop now and answer questions.
Scnaw John Hcinz (R-PA): I would be interested in knowing what
it is that you have urged the Administration to do in order to give
our human rights agenda more visibility at this time?
Mr. I was explaining how important it is to send a clear message
to I the Soviet NOM that you in the United States are not deceived
by the new emigration law, that you do not accept it, and that it
can only harm the chance for reaching any understanding between
East and West.
For a long time, the Administration, and not only the
Administration, thought that the accent must be on quiet diplomacy.
While everybody agreed with me that quiet diplomacy cannot work
without a public campaign, it is frequently th ought that it is
better not to irritate Gorbachev, and that it is better to let him
save face and then make some concessions. But the only result is
that Gorbachev can conduct a very successful public relations
campaign. And the image of the Soviet leader and of the Soviet
regime has changed. Those now pushing for expanded trade with the
Soviet Union are not absolutely condemned by public opinion,
because public opinion has definitely changed in favor of the
And at the same time, the status of emi gration is the worst
since Khrushchev's years. Attacks against religious observers are
larger in scale, and attacks against Hebrew teachers are more
serious than before. And I think the time has come to start
condemning the Soviets publicly for that in th e U.S. Congress and
at high levels of the Administration.
Unidentified Guest: There is a substantial move to increase our
exchanges with the Soviet Union--cultural, scientific, educational,
and so forth. The President and Mr. Gorbachev reached this agreeme
nt in Geneva in 1985 and the Secretary delivered a speech in Los
Angeles last year, calling for massive increases in exchange
programs. I wonder if you would give your assessment of how these
programs might be used to effect a change in human rights perfo
rmance, if at all.
Mr. - . On the one hand, the Soviets have a very closed society,
where there is no public opinion, at least no public opinion which
can control their leaders, or can influence them in any way. On the
other hand, we have a society of free individuals. The S oviets use
the same terms for characterizing absolutely different
institutions. The Soviets do not need elections to the Supreme
Soviet. So why do they conduct their rubber stamp "parliament?"
Because they needed to show that they have the same institutio n of
a Parliament so the Parliamentarians from the Soviet Union and from
America can meet and discuss the same problems. The fact that
Congress in the United States is really independent from the
President and is elected by the people and the Supreme Sovie t in
the Soviet Union is simply a puppet of the Politburo is ignored
when these meetings are taking place. And in such exchanges, the
principal differences between the societies is forgotten. An
example is the disgraceful agreement between the American Bar
Association and the Association of Soviet Lawyers. On the one hand,
we have American lawyers defending individuals in courts of law,
while on the other hand, we have the people who help the KGB to
find quasi-legal processes to punish dissent. The real cou
nterparts to the American lawyers to meet in the Soviet Union are
imprisoned human rights activists.
It is the S* ame with the Western peace groups meeting the official
peace movement representatives in Moscow. I met with
representatives of the real S oviet peace movement--in prison--they
were my cellmates. My cellmate signed a letter to the Soviet
leaders, calling on them to declare Latvia a nuclear-free zone. He
was put in prison for anti-Soviet agitation. Is there any use in
such meetings? I think t h at they are absolutely senseless. But it
does not mean that there should be no contacts. No, there can be if
they are really effectively used. How? If Western peace activists
want to meet their Soviet counterparts, they should insist that
they meet with t he unofficial Soviet peace activists.
Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy: I would like to
follow up on the question about exchanges. It is assumed that the
Soviets would not accept conditions for exchanges. Is it possible
to have independent c ontacts? Is the situation open enough to have
independent contacts from the West to the East, outside the
framework of formal exchanges. . And a second question: you
mentioned that the Soviet Union is a closed society; what can be
done as part of the exch anges to open up a closed society?
Mr. Of course, these are two different questions. First question. I
was nofficially, during the last three years before my arrest, a
spokesman on the Jewish emigration movement and a spokesman for the
human rights group. It meant that I was meeting practically every
day not only with correspondents, not only with politicians when
they were coming, but with scientists, with students, with
sportsmen, with tourists. And we had a wide range of discussions.
Many Jewish refusen i ks, many dissidents had such contacts. Later,
in my criminal case, I could find the list of more than three
hundred American tourists alleged to be my criminal contacts, and
37 American correspondents who were also accused of being MY
accomplices. So it m e ans that the KGB of course never accepted
such contacts as legitimate. I think these two years of discussions
were much more important and much more successful than all those
contacts which are made every day on an official level by Senators
and Congressm en when they come to the Soviet Union. Their meetings
with top officials would only help the public relations campaign.
Now, what can be done to open up Soviet society? First of all, I
think that it is not simply a question of making the society more
open, and not simply. a question of support for the people who
suffer in the Soviet Union. It is in the fundamental interest of
the West to make the Soviet society more open. In the competition
between Western societies and the Eastern world, each of the sides
has its own advantages. In the West, because of the freedom,
scientific progress is much faster. The resulting technological
advantage can be used to defend the West. On the other hand, the
Soviet Union has very important advantages of its own. In a close d
society, it is impossible to detect what is happening. The people
have no control over the actions of their government, and the
society is very well organized around a very militant ideology.
That is why the idea of all arms control agreements is to limi t
the use of technological progress. It means that the West loses
part of its natural advantage. Such agreements would make sense
only if the Soviets lose part of their natural e
advantage: their society must become more open. That is why
linkage betw een arms control agreements and human rights is quite
natural. Whether Xou implement linkage or not, it exists. We must
insist that each time we have a serious greement in the military
field, or we have some important economic agreement, the price the
Sov iet Union must pay for this is to make its society more open. I
think that the Jackson Amendment of 1973 was very important example
of such linkage.
Claire Boothe Imce: May I? Just as an historical footnote, the
first attempt for exchanges that I remember was initiated by
President Eisenhower. He had a program, in which he did me the
honor to ask me to head, called "People to People." This program
was inspired by the same moral and sentimental motives that have
characterized the American body politic and C o ngress ever since I
can remember. The program was a failure, as you can well i a m
igpnpe and stopped, I think, as a result of the Hungarian invasion,
which rather d ointed people. After that, programs have
intermittently arisen. And I remember when I fir s t joined--that
was now over ten years ago--the President's Foreign Intelligence
Board. And an assessment was made especially not of the people to
people, or the cultural exchanges, but of the exchanges in the
scientific field. And'the finding was that on e very one of these
exchanges, we were, so to speak, suckered. What happened was that
our scientists would agree to go provided that scientists of a like
importance, and who had equal contributions to make, should also
appear, whether they came to the Unite d States or we went there.
Now, what ha pened, invariably, is that whoever it was they were
most anxious to see was indisposed. It was not that he was under
arrest, but he just did not show up. So the exchange of information
and ideas was largely what we c o ntributed in the way of hard
scientific news, and a sort of gentle massage from the Russian
scientists about how truth knows no boundaries. All the other
programs I have seen have suffered a like fate. I think the
difficulty is in getting Americans to und e rstand that their good
impulse is wasted. And that takes a good bit more doing than you
would think. Even where, as who knows better than you, the human
rights issue is attached to negotiations as a condition and is
signed by the Soviets, it comes to noth ing. So, I do not think you
can do more except keep reiterating to these people what a waste of
time and money it is likely to be unless it is pursued most
carefully by the State Department and by the White House.
Gary Thatcher, Christian Science Monitor: Will new
communications technology have an impact on Soviet society?
Mr. I know the Soviets have problems. On the one hand, there
were discussions during the last two years what to do, urgently, to
computerize the country, at least to some extent. On the other
hand, they have the problem of how not to let their population
obtain independent information. For instance, they are concerned
with what to do with direct T.V. broadcasts from space. But the KGB
knows how to cope with this problem, they now how to u se the
Western technology, which comes to them first of all for the needs
of the KGB and for the needs of military defense. And, on the other
hand, we see how the KGB is taking steps to increase the control.
Recently, for example, there was an additional clause to Article
Seventy. Where before it was not permitted to distribute
"anti-Soviet" books, leaflets, now it
is also video tapes, which means that you cannot now bring video
tapes from the West and show them to your friends if the tapes have
not officially passed censorship. Or, in some cities, which are
close to those areas where you can see T.V. from abroad, t h e KGB
and the police check for antennas. So you must not underestimate
the power of the KGB to keep under control hundreds of thousands of
people. They know very well, they have experience. The worst thing
that will happen for them is that they will have to increase the
number of camps. Now they have 5 million people in the camps. They
have the experience of having 50 million. So it is not such a
serious problem for them.
Guest- What is the current state of the dissident movement?
Mr. It is a real difficu lt question, because I went directly from
prison to the West. 'nere are many things which I do not know.
Let's take the most powerful, the Jewish emigration movement. I
mean the most powerful because it has not only a bigger number of
people involved dire c tly but also the most close contacts with
the West, information, materials, and direction. The main
institutions of this movement, like scientific seminars are
destroyed, closed. It is now a much bigger.risk to teach Hebrew,
because more people are arrest ed for this. Samizdat magazines like
Jews of the USSR are closed because one person after another is
repressed for this and now there are no more.
If you take dissident movements, there was the so-called
Solzhenitsyn Fund. It practically does not exist any longer because
all those who took the responsibility of distributing money to the
prison people are arrested. That is why such forms of public
activity which existed before my arrest simply do not exist.
It is even more true, unfortunately for all the ot her movements.
The collaboration between the non-Jewish, the Jewish, and the
others which I think was highest was when we created the Helsinki
group. I had very close contacts every day, for example, with the
Pentecostals, who of course were seriously opp r essed, and with
representatives of the Catholic Church. But now there is a problem
to have these contacts even inside every movement. That did not
exist in the previous time. On!y one movement continues existing,
thoufzh not openly, and that is the Jewish Fmigration movement. The
others are magy in despair, their leaders are imprisoned or they
are almost in an underground form.
And I think to a great extent the West has to be blamed because
they did not react adequately. The Soviet Union is constantly rais
ing repressions against everybody who was to any extent encouraged
by the Helsinki agreement. And the status is much worse than it was
before the signing of this agreement. Did the West recognize this,
could it not wait? The only real reaction was that th ere was long
sessions for years and years, without success.