The Gorbachev Prospect

I became closely involved in the Soviet Union early in 1987 after Gorbachev summoned Sakharov to return to Moscow to “resume his patriotic work.” After extensive negotiations with Soviet officials, I set up a foundation called “Cultural Initiative” for the expressed purpose of helping the Soviet Union to evolve into a more open society. Its Board of Directors reads like the Who’s Who of glasnost. It includes:

Yuri Afanasyev, the prominent historian and rector of the Historical Archives Institute, who is a founder of Memorial, an organization created to rehabilitate the victims of Stalinism;

Tenghiz Buachidze, a philologist and chairman of the Georgian Cultural Foundation and former minister of culture of Georgia;

Daniil Granin, a writer and one of the founders of the Miloserdia movement to encourage volunteer work in social welfare;

Valentin Rasputin, a writer and environmental activist noted for his conservative pro-village sentiments;

Tatyana Zaslavskaya, a sociologist, head of the newly formed public opinion reasearch institute, and one of the first architects of perestroika;

Grigorii Baklanov, a writer and the editor of Znamya, the liberal literary and political journal;

Boris Raushenbakh, a scientist who is a leading expert on rocket control systems as well as a member of the Academy of Sciences, and a specialist in religious history and iconography.

The first five were recently elected to the Supreme Soviet.

The Cultural Initiative Foundation, the only organization of its kind in the history of the USSR, accepts applications directly from Soviet citizens, and the first forty projects that have been selected for funding give a sense of its approach. They include support for two oral history projects dealing with repression during the Stalinist period; an independent town planning group; a professional association of lawyers; a consumer group; the building of a cooperative for manufacturing wheelchairs; a summer school in England for Soviet sociologists; a training program for Soviet lawyers in the United States; a new Russian encyclopedia that will be compiled independent of government; and a number of research projects on subjects such as disappearing Siberian languages, gypsy folk songs, a study of the ecology of Lake Baikal, and so on.

My experience with the foundation has given me a vantage point from which to observe the evolution of Gorbachev’s new thinking, and the changes being made in Soviet society; and it has helped me to understand what Gorbachev is trying to achieve in international relations, internal politics, and economic reform.

I believe that his vision is clearest and most far-sighted in international relations—indeed, in the USSR the expression “new thinking” is usually applied to international politics. That is also where he can count on the most competent professional advisers, because Soviet officials who have spent time abroad are among the strongest supporters of his reforms.

Gorbachev’s primary goal is to break the isolation of the Soviet Union and to bring it back into the community of nations. His reasons for doing so are not difficult to understand. He recognizes that the Soviet Union …

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