In the current issue of City Journal, Claire Berlinski has an interesting essay on Soviet archives copied and removed from Russia by Pavel Stroilov and Vladimir Bukovsky. Berlnski describes the archives removed by Stroilov as copies of documents held by the Gorbachev Foundation.
Berlinski explains that when Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of archival documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation. In 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov.
Among the documents 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.” According to Berlinski, Zagladin was both an envoy and spy, charged with gathering secrets, spreading disinformation, and advancing Soviet influence.
The essay is a little long for easy consumption online, but it would be a shame to miss this 1979 glimpse of Joe Biden (and Richard Lugar) from Zagladin’s reports:
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.
Referring to Bukovsky’s long incarceration in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals, Berlinski comments:
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.
Bukovsky and Stroilov’s 2008 column “Biden’s secret diplomacy” includes a translation of the complete 1979 Zagladin report. The report forms a small part of the story Berlinski has to tell in her essay, all of which is worth reading.
I subscribe to City Journal, and the current issue is absolutely great, but my attention was drawn to Berlinski’s essay by RealClearPolitics.
UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh has more in “Of history, apathy, and the Soviet archives.”