"Gorbachev's ""Glasnost"": Another Potemkin Village?"

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"Gorbachev's ""Glasnost"": Another Potemkin Village?"

March 20, 1987 16 min read Download Report
John E.
Senior Research Fellow

(Archived document, may contain errors)

571 I March 20, 1987 INTRODUCTION GORBACHW'S 'GLASNOST Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's alasnostl campaign raises important questions about the direction of the Soviet system. Is i t genuine, or is it a sophisticated effort to disarm domestic and foreign opponents without any fundamental change?

Glasnost' 1iterall.y means "opennessf1 and more generally is used by Gorbachev to describe what he claims is his plan for reinvigorating th e Soviet state and society. Glasnost' ostensibly involves greater frankness about Soviet social ills in the mass media, greater criticism of corrupt and inept officials, selective releases of prisoners of conscience, a cultural llthaw,ll and promises of l ldemocratizationll of the Soviet political system.

The new Soviet leaders would like the West to believe that their society already has changed drastically and for the West to respond by abandoning its generally tough and suspicious policy of dealing with Moscow So far, however, alasnost' has done nothing to warrant changing the basic tenor of Soviet-American relations. In the past Soviet leaders launched similar campaigns for domestic relaxation to purge the party and government of their opponents and to t ry to tap the creative resources of their society. Once the consolidation of power was completed and the society somewhat revitalized, the Kremlin would return to repression to safeguard the Communist Party's monopoly of power maintained that his policy o f peace through strength toward the Kremlin would strengthen the hands of "hardliners1' inside the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's alasnostl campaign proves these critics wrong.

Having met a firm American response to their expansionism and military build-up, con fronted with open American criticism of their massive violations of human rights, the new team of Soviet leaders apparently Since Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, his critics have I decided that without revitalizing their society and improving thei r Not until the average Soviet citizen is empowered to influence the Kremlin's international conduct, however, will the Soviet Union cease to be a predictably destabilizing factor in international relations. Not until there are substantial changes in the S oviet political system can the Soviet'Union become'a'reliabl'e partner So far, there are no indications that Gorbachev seeks these changes.

What he is changing is the Soviet operational style.

The Russians, after all, invented the Potemkin Village, the de vice used by Prince Grigoriy Potemkin during the reign of Catherine the Great in the 18th century to convince the Empress, who prided herself on her enlightened views and corresponded with such great sages of the French Enlightenment as Voltaire and Dider o t, that Russia was an advanced, changing society. Along Catherine's travel route Potemkin erected sparkling new facades to hide the squalor of impoverished Russian villages. Since then, the Russians have mastered the art of deceiving the outside world whe ther Gorbachev's alasnostl is yet simply another Potemkin village, a sparkling facade that hides the true nature of the Soviet state tarnished image the Soviet Union would lose its superpower status.

The question for the West is To expect the Soviet Union, after seven decades of Bolshevist rule, to transform itself into a full-fledged democracy is unrealistic. But there are a number of important steps that Gorbachev could take toward that goal, which would give the West greater confidence that he is sincer e about reforming the Soviet Union.

Westerners should use these steps as a kind of litmus test of the evolution of alasnost'.

The steps include 1) restoration of the right to form factions in the Communist Party on the basis,of varying ideological platfor ms 2) an end to the persecution of individuals for expressing their ideas and religious beliefs 3) an end to the severe limitations on Soviet citizens' right to travel abroad 4) an end to the jamming of foreign broadcasts 5) publication of books critical of Soviet communism as a system and 6) an end of the government monopoly on publishing 2Without such changes, Gorbachev's alasnost! campaign will remain only another Russian Potemkin village.

Gorbachev can begin to change Soviet history profoundly.

With these steps Gorbachev various phases I s campaign for alasnost' combines of the 70 years of Soviet politica features from 1 history.

Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, used the term crlasnost! in 1919, while looking for the meanf to rei n in the communist bureaucracy he himself had created. From 1921 to 1927 the Communist Party, led by Leninls successors (after his death in 1924), retreated from the extremist economic and cultural policies of the first years of the Soviet regime. The pur p ose of this alasnostl was to create a breathing spell for the society exhausted by the Russian civil war (1918-1921). These policies included condoning some free market activities, allowing the existence of various art groups and private publishing houses , as well as reducing the use of political terror. Once the Soviet economy and society had recovered somewhat from the revolutionary excesses, Stalin launched his political terror to strengthen his personal power and that of the Communist Party.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union.in 1941, Stalin gripped by panic, addressed his subjects in a speech as !!brothers and sisters and somewhat relaxed his policies of oppression. The Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to reopen some of its churches. The g r eat Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, vilified before the war, was invited to publish one of her patriotic poems in the Communist Party daily Pravda. Once the war was won, however, the clock was set back terror resumed, and the cultural climate was frozen, wit h Anna Akhmatova again vilified for her !!decadent verse 1964, used criticism of Stalin and of the Soviet secret police to Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1. The pattern of periods of liberalization followed by return to repr e ssion can be traced even in pre-Revolutionary Russian history: the liberal early years of Tsar Alexander I in the beginning of the 19th century were followed by increased repression in the last years of his rule and throughout the rule of his successor, N i cholas I; after the latter's deach in 1855, Alexander I1 instituted quite radical reforms, including abolition of serfdom and trial by jury, but the later years of his rule, as well as the rule of his successors Alexander I11 and Nicholas 11, had a distin c tly reactionary flavor 2. Cited in Radio Libertv Research Bulletin, 1987, No. 14 3weaken his opponents, and he permitted a considerable cultural thaw including publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsynls writings depicting life in Stalin's prison camps) to ov ercome the spiritual and political stagnation that had settled in Soviet society during Stalin's rule.

Khrushchev himself publicly criticized Stalin's terror and the atrocities committed by the secret police under Stalin. Khrushchev disclosed to the public (albeit in a self-serving version) some events that had occurred in the Politburo and'allowed'the presence of nonmembers at usually closed meetings of the Central Committee. He criss-crossed the Soviet Union and the world, pumping hands, making speeches, arguing in an attempt to demonstrate his I1openI1 style of government and to distinguish himself from the secretive, paranoid Stalin. Khrushchev alternated between brief periods of relaxation and lapses into more repressive policies until he was deposed i n 1964 by his fellow oligarchs, worried that Khrushchev was weakening the authority of the Communist Party.

GORBACHEV'S GOALS Gorbachev intends to use crlasnostl to achieve certain political goals.

Weakenina Omonents The policy of alasnost' encourages, wi th some significant exceptions (to be discussed below), criticism of Party officials for incompetence and abuses of power. This includes even such high officials as Ministers of the Soviet Union, Secretaries of the Central Committees of the Communist Part y in the Union Republics, Communist Party officials at the provincial, city, and borough levels. This helps Gorbachev to rid the Party and government machinery of late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's "old guard1' and to replace them with Gorbachev appointe es.

Example: Dinmukhammed Kunaev, the former Communist Party leader in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan and member of the ruling Politburo was fired from both posts this December and January respectively, following nearly two years of a mass media campaign against the corruption and economic failures in Kazakhstan. Currently a similar campaign is being waged against economic shortcomings and abuses of power in the Ukraine. There the obvious target is the last Brezhnevite in the Politburo, Ukrainian Communist Party leader Vladimir Shcherbitsky 3. While Politburo members Andrei Gromyko (aged 77) and Mikhail Solomentsev (aged 74 belong to Brezhnev's generation, they obviously have cast their lot with Gorbachev 4Controllinu the Bureaucracv Gorbachev is ,trying to use mass media criticism as a substitute for the nonexistent political opposition to prevent the bureaucrats from pursuing their self-interest rather than their duties.

Example: When the Communist Party officials in the Ukrainian city of Voroshi lovgrad used the -local KGB; the secret. police to .silence the criticisms of their failures by a correspondent of the Communist Party daily.Pravda, KGB boss Viktor Chebrikov printed a story about his order to fire the Voroshilovgrad KGB chief on the firs t page of Pravda. This was a gesture unheard of since Khrushchev's days.

Overcominu Alienation between the People and the Reuime A stream of mass media reports has been revealing major deficiencies in Soviet social life. These include drunkenness corruptio n, widespread abuses by law enforcement agencies, woefully inadequate health care, shortages of food.and consumer goods, the spread of drug addiction, inadequacies of the educational system nearly complete lack of decent care for retarded children, inadeq uate provision for old-age pensioners and families with many children.

After decades of official silence on these issues, Gorbachev apparently hopes that ulasnostl will reverse the alienation of the people from the regime and make the average citizen belie ve that by working harder he can contribute to his own well-being. Gorbachev said recently that material benefits from his economic policies cannot be expected in the near future. Thus, he can only hope that the crlasnostl will awaken the pgople's enthusi a sm and improve their notoriously poor work ethic Winninu the Support of the Intelliuentsia The spiritual stagnation of Soviet society has had a profound impact on its best educated and most creative members: scientists artists, writers, educators. The mor e outspoken.members of the intelligentsia such as writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vassily Aksyonov, theater director Yuri Lyubinov, film director Andrei Tarkovsky, musician Mstislav Rostropovich, and many others have been forced to leave the Soviet Union ; many more simply lost hope for any improvement and thus lost interest in the public good. The Soviet 4. Gorbachev made these remarks at a meeting with members of the Union.of Soviet Writers on June 19, 1986; they were not published in the Soviet Union, b u t notes of the meeting taken by one of the participants, were later published in the West. See Novoe russkoe slov Noyember 19, 1986 5. See Pravdq, February 20, 1987 5leadership needs to6mobilize the countryls intelligentsia and their creative potential. W hat the intelligentsia want is greater freedom of expression and less heavy-handed treatment by the Communist Party.

Gorbachev has made several gestures toward the intelligentsia A somewhat greater artistic freedom is now permitted, allowing some leeway fo r expression of political views. Example: Release of the film Rementance, a symbolic *and powerful tale- of Stalin s terror.

Open criticism of Communist Party bureaucrats' incompetence meanwhile, is meant to raise hope among the intelligentsia that their opinions would be more valued by Gorbachevls regime than by its predecessors. The recent releases of political prisoners, although primarily to impress the West, also were meant for the intelligentsia This is especially true of Gorbachevls telephone call t o Dr. Andrei Sakharov announcing his release from exile: as far as the West was concerned, it would have been enough simply to release Sakharov, but Gorbachevls gesture was apparently intended to signal his desire to end complete alienation between the in telligentsia and Brezhnev's Party leadership.

Emortinff Glasnost The crlasnostl campaign plays an important role in the Soviet public relations offensive in the West. This was explicitly admitted by one of the regimels most visible spokesmen, Georgiy Arbatov, the Director of the USA and Canada Instit u te. He told..the.January 1987 meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party that it was necessary to continue publishing materials sharply critical of Soviet domestic problems to convince the Vest that the changes introduced by Gorbachev are ser ious and genuine.

Fedor Burlatskiy, noted that the release of Andrei Sakharov from exile was welcomed llby the progressive circles" (a Sovietlumbrella term for political forces rangipg from radical left to I1peacel1 movements to liberals) in,the West. And, notes Peter Reddaway, the Secretary of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington: %he.biggest prize of,all--Mr. Sakharovls critical attitude towards President Reagan's SDI can now be exploited A prominent Sov i et publicist 6. See Peter Reddaway Mr. Gorbachev's Gambit," The New ReDublic, February 3, 1987 7. Vladimir Karpov Deystvovat Deystvovat' tvorcheski Literaturnava na zeta February 4, 1987 8. Fedor Burlatskiy Chego zhe vse-taki khochet Amerika?" Literaturna v a nazeta, January 14, 1987 6 i by the Soviet leadership to lend authority to its many-pronged campaign to kill this project I9 The release of 150 political prisoners was actively discussed by Soviet spokesmen with Western reporters, but greeted with silen ce inside the Soviet Union. By far the sharpest criticism of Soviet reality have been published by Moscow News, a newspaper printed in Russian and four fore'ign lan'guages' and circulatgd' primarily .abroad.

Moscow News printed the first and only account in the Soviet press of violations of the rights of religious believers in the USSR. It published a positive review of the film Repentance more than a month before Soviet domestic newspapers.

Trotsky as one of the successors to Lenin, albeit an unworthy one while the rest of the Soviet press continues the established tradition of not mentioning the two names together; moreover, it implicitly deplored the fact that Stalin had succeeded Lenin. Another publication primarily for foreign readership, New Times (p u blished in eight foreign languages as well as in Russian), criticized Leonid Brezhnfov by name--boldness not yet approached by the Soviet domestic press Moscow News described Leon LIMITATIONS OF GLASNOST Lack Of Institutional Chanse The greatest limitatio n of the alasnost' campaign is that it is rooted in the policies of one man, Gorbachev, and his several allies in the top echelons of the Communist Party competitive elections by secret ballot in lower-level Communist Party bodies is not a move toward genu i ne pluralism, but rather a device to ensure a better selection of Party cadres. The competition would be not between different ideological platforms, but simply between more and less personally popular Party candidates. In addition, Gorbachev plans to ret a in the higher Party bodies' right to veto any candidate elected at the lower level, making an election of a Party official with truly independent views -practically impossible Gorbachev's call for The top Party leadership thus would be assured of its ulti m ate control over all aspects of life, and it would be able to reverse-the policy of alasnost' at any time since there would be no institutional basis for expression of independent views 9. Reddaway, 9o.cit 10. Radio Libertv Research Bulletin, 1987, Nd.54, p. 4; Yegor Yakovlev Farewell,"

Moscow News, January 18, 1987; Alexander Bovin Memory: A Factor to be Set in Motion,"

New Times, 1987, No. 5, pp. 9, 10 7No Real Weisht to Public Opinion Thus far, the ability of the Soviet public to influence the decision s of the bureaucracy is questionable at best decision to scrap the project that would have reversed the flow of the great northern rivers in the European and Siberian parts of the Soviet Union for irrigation purposes is often cited by the regime as an exa m ple of its..bowing to .p ublic p ressure But .an .extensive campaign by scientists and cultural figures aga,inst this project began a decade ago in the mass media. This means that it was opposed by some even within Leonid Brezhnev's leadership and is not a n example of the impact of genuinely independent public opinion on government policy The recent Repression of Dissidents The announced release last month of 150 dissidents from Soviet prisons does not mean an end to the repression of those seeking freedom of expression, religion, and emigration. Indeed, ulasnost last month did not prevent a mob of men, who appeared to be KGB agents, from savagely beating demonstrators in Moscow demanding freedom for Jewish dissident Joseph Begun. It is possible that Gorbac h ev could begin using the Polish model of repression, harassing dissenters constantly by loss of employment, short-term detentions and fines. This would soften the Kremlin's image of brutality, while still effectively preventing the creation of any large-s c ale organized opposition people across. the Soviet border by limiting nongovernmental travel which includes official tourism, to those with immediate relatives abroad and giving the government broad powers to deny travel visas on vaguely defined grounds I The new law on emigration effectively bans free movement of Jamminu Western Broadcasts The Soviet mass media recently have carried short articles by, or interviews with, Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, former U.S.

Ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatr ick, Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Kenneth Adelman, Haward Sovietologist Professor Richard Pipes, and other prominent American critics of Soviet policies. While this is an improvement, it is not unprecedented: On April 16, 1953, after St a lin's death, the new Soviet leaders sought to improve U.S.-Soviet relations by a1low;llng Soviet newspapers to print a speech by President Dwight Eisenhower publications is quite limited. The average Soviet citizen, subject for decades to propagandistic d i stortions of reality outside the The impact of such 11. Mikhail Heller and Aleksandr Nekrich, UtoDia in Power (New York: Summit Books 1986 p. 519 8Soviet borders and unable to travel to the West, is not swayed by a short statement of alternative views, al ways accompanied by a Soviet rebuttal, usually longer than the original contribution.

The Soviets thus far are determined to prevent an uninterrupted flow of information into the Soviet Union. While they have stopped jamming Russian language broadcasts of the BBC, they continue to block broadcasts of "the 'Voice- of *AnierLca in' the 1anMa'qes of the peoples of the Soviet Union and actually have intensified jamming of Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe broadcasts.

ProBaaanda of Hate Toward America While t he Soviets have loudly denounced February's ABC miniseries Amerika as llhate-mongering,lg Soviet mass media continue to pump out massive doses of disinfonnation designed to incite hatred toward the United States. Example: Soviet government-run newspapers " report" that the AIDS virus WBS developed for biological warfare purposes by the U.S. government. Example: The Soviet journal New Times reported that Jessica Savitch, the NBC-TV newswoman killed in a 1983 auto accident, was "murdered1' by WIA agents" and A merican I1Zionistsl1 for narrbting a documentary portraying unhappy Soviet emigres in the U.S. Example: The Soviet government daily Izvestiva in January accused the U.S. government of murdering 918 members of the People's Temple in Guyana (who in reality committed mass suhcide) in 1978 to prevent them from immigrating to the Soviet Union.

No Glasnost' on National Securi'tv Issues The alasnost' campaign has not spread to the issues of Soviet international conduct. The Soviet citizen is still kept in the dar k about the real size of the Kremlin's defense spending. No criticism of current Soviet foreign policy is permitted in the mass media.

Soviet forces in Afghanistan are portrayed as saviors of the Afghan people, not invaders. Soviet brutalities in Afghanis tan, confirmed by the United Nations and Amnesty International, are summarily denied The 12. See Literaturnava Pazeta, October 30,1985, p. 14 13. Boris Antonov Who Killed Jessica Savitch," New Times 1985, No.37, pp. 28-30 14. Andrei Itskov, SShA: 9 18 zhe r tv politicheskogo terrora," Izvestiva, January 30 1987 9A CHECKLIST FOR GENUINE GLASNOST Genuine alasnost' could lead to profound changes in U.S.-Soviet relations. The test of such alasnost' is: It could be considered a real change in Soviet-Ameri'can'rel a tions only if 'and when Soviet citizens obtained the ability to influence the Kremlin's international conduct. The first steps in this direction would be the 10th Congress of the Communist Party, banning formation of factions in the Party. Within the fram e work of a one-party.sgstem barring the extremely unlikely emergence of a multiparty system in the USSR), only permission to establish factions with varying ideological platforms.within the Communist Party itself can provide a genuine foundation for a mode s t freedom of political debate 2) An end to harassment of Soviet citizens for criticizing Communist Party policies. Abolition of the USSR Criminal Code Articles 70 and 190, which deal with "anti-Soviet propaganda" would be a sign of genuine change if new C r iminal Code articles did not replace them, or if other means of harassing dissenters were not employed (for instance, imprisonment of dissidents on fake criminal charges beatings by "unknown1t thugs, and denial of jobs 1) Abolition of the 1921 resolution ' *On Party Unity," adopted by 3) Release of all prisoners of conscience from prison ani exile 4) A thorough reform of the Soviet judicial system, including trial by jury, which should be independent of the judge, and the right of citizens to sue government 'officials. The idea of trial by jury has been floated in the Soviet press, and the right to sue government officials is in theory provided by Article 58 of the Soviet Constitution, but there is no actual law for its implementation. 15 5) Cessation of the jamming of all foreign broadcasting .in the languages of the Soviet peoples 6) Significant relaxation of restrictions on foreign travel for emigration, family reunification, and family visits, as well as for professional purposes and tourism 7) Publicatio n of literary works at odds with the communist orthodoxy, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulaa Archhelaao and Vasily Grossman's Evervthina Flows and Life and Fate 15. See "Pravo sudit Literaturnava aazeta, January 21, 1987, p.12 10 8) Ending the governme n t monopoly on publishing. Under the New Economic Policy in the 19208, publishing cooperatives were allowed to operate. Currently, the Kremlin is moving toward permitting some nongovernment cooperative activity in certain services. This move could be broad e ned to include publishing activity CONCLUSION Mikhail Gorbachevls alasnostl campaign thus far has only scratched the surface of the Soviet totalitarian system. It may be no more permanent than previous Soviet flirtations with reform, or it may be nothing m ore than.another Potemkin Village. The Kremlin.is trying hard to convince the West that these few tentative steps toward a more open society indicate a fundamental change in the character of the Soviet political system. From this Moscow hopes to obtain a Ilsofterll Western line in arms control negotiations and relaxation of controls on the export of modern technology to the Soviet Union.

The Reagan Administrationls policy of peace through strength has worked. It has prodded Soviet concessions on arms contr ol, and it certainly has not prevented (and probably has encouraged) Gorbachevls ulasnost' policy. As alasnost' unfolds, therefore, the U.S should continue to pursue those policies that have led to these recent heartening developments.

Soviet history teac hes that periods of relaxation always have been followed by a return to repression. Only changes empowering Soviet citizens to affect the Kremlin's international conduct, such as freedom of political debate, should permit the U.S. to revise its hard-learn e d methods of dealing with the Soviets. It is too early to know whether such changes are coming. Until they actually take place the United States should continue Reaganls realistic and successful 1 policies rather than engage in a dangerous chase of illuso ry hopes.

Mikhail Tsypkin, Ph.D.

Salvatori Fellow in Soviet Studies 11 -


John E.

Senior Research Fellow