The Buried Past

Memoirs 1989)

by Andrei Gromyko
Publishing Company for Political Literature (Moscow), 2 vols, 894 pp., 3.80 rubles

Before me, as I write these words, lie the two handsome volumes of the official Russian-language version of the memoirs of Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, as published in 1988 in Moscow by the Publishing Company for Political Literature. In their entirety these memoirs run to nearly nine hundred pages, including some 180 illustrations, mostly snapshots of Andrei Andreyevich together with one or another of the many prominent world personalities with whom he was brought into contact in his long years as Soviet foreign minister.

Most of this material relates to the international scene of the post-Stalin period: its historical significance cannot be doubted; and this writer has no intention of disparaging it. To define that significance will have to be the task of someone more closely involved with the diplomacy of that period, either as a participant or as a historian, than myself. But there are certain aspects of Gromyko’s view of Russia in the Stalin period that strike the eye of anyone who, although himself neither a Communist nor a fellow traveler, lived and worked, either in Russia or in close contact with Russian affairs, during those particular years. And these aspects, for reasons that have still not lost all their relevance, might merit a word or two of comment.

Most of us who had the experience just mentioned tended to marvel over the two planes of consciousness on which the situations and events of that time could be—and were—perceived in Moscow. There was what I myself then liked to think of as the plane of reality, as revealed to any reasonably disinterested observer. But there was also the image of itself and its doings created by the Soviet regime and expostulated daily in a thousand ways by the Soviet press and the other outlets of the Party’s propaganda machine. So far removed from each other were these two versions of reality—or, if you will, of perceived reality—that the images derived from them appeared to be those of two wholly different countries. A considerable portion of the population, perceiving both of these images, learned, for good reason, to think in terms of the first of them but to speak in terms of the other. We foreigners, too, tried to hold both in mind and to identify the occasional veiled connections between them. But upon all of us, Russians and foreigners alike, this effort inflicted a species of double vision, in the light of which life had, somehow, to proceed.

In the years following Stalin’s death the sharpness of this disparity between what was pretended and what was real declined, to the extent at least that much of the officially cultivated image, its preposterousness now being evident to almost everyone, was no longer emphasized even where it could not be officially disowned; and now, in the days of Mr. Gorbachev’s glasnost, it is rapidly disappearing altogether.

This being the case, it …

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