In surrendering to Gorbachev’s demands for a Moscow human rights conference in 1991, the American government shut its eyes on two key issues. The first is that the USSR will be able to hold the conference without changing the laws and practices that were responsible for past human rights abuses and that choked off surveillance from within by Soviet activists.

Washington has also chosen to overlook the campaign Gorbachev has been waging to turn back the clock on human rights and seal them off from outside intrusion. Though little noticed, this campaign would nullify the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the similar provisions of the Helsinki Accords. No one knows better than Reagan, as we shall show, how hard Gorbachev has been trying and how determined he is. Yet Reagan, in endorsing the Moscow conference, did not exact any promise to give up this “new thinking” or any assurance that Gorbachev will not use the Moscow forum to further his goal.

What Gorbachev has been proposing is a revolution—or, more exactly, a counter-revolution—in the sphere of human rights. On three major occasions during the past eighteen months, he has tried to sell an old doctrine under a new name to the world community. He calls it “freedom of choice,” or “freedom of socio-political choice.” But it is really the old and anachronistic dogma of absolute national sovereignty and noninterference in so-called domestic affairs. This has always been the Soviet response to human rights criticism, and remains the basic argument of all authoritarian regimes accused of violating the rights and liberties of their subjects. Gorbachev would turn the struggle for human rights upside down. Although he and other Soviet officials speak with several voices, the main emphasis in his statements is on guaranteeing not the right of individuals against state oppression but the right of each state to treat its subjects as it deems fit.

Oddly enough, though these efforts have been made under conditions ensuring maximum publicity, they have evoked little discussion, and indeed attracted little attention. Perhaps this is because they were presented as part of what appeared to be offers of greater Soviet cooperation in international affairs. Another reason may be that the cult of personality around Gorbachev has grown so great outside the Soviet Union that it fosters a tendency to overlook whatever he says that does not fit the mythic image of this energetic and gifted but often contradictory Russian ruler who has aroused so much hope at home and abroad.

Thus while he often talks in One World terms, his proposals on human rights would go far toward sealing off this topic from international criticism and pressure as matters—so he affirms—of strictly domestic jurisdiction. This not so new example of what he terms “new thinking” appeared in the lengthy appeals he made to the last two sessions of the UN General Assembly and between them at the press conference he called last June at the end of his Moscow summit with Reagan.

On the first occasion, September 17, 1987, in an appeal published in the pages of Pravda and Izvestia and addressed to the forty-second session of the UN General Assembly, Gorbachev presented his human rights doctrines as “new rules for coexistence.” On the second, at the Moscow summit, Gorbachev expressed disappointment because the American president had refused to sign a joint accord shifting the emphasis from human rights to the rights of nations. This would have affirmed the right of each nation to make its own “free choice” of domestic regime, and pledged both superpowers not to interfere with the internal human rights policies these choices entailed. When Gorbachev himself addressed the forty-third session of the General Assembly in New York on December 7, 1988, he not only argued that this “principle of free choice” was “mandatory,” but warned that its “nonrecognition” would be “fraught with extremely grave consequences for world peace.”

This sounded almost like a threat. The threat was not spelled out. Gorbachev escalated his tone and tried to elevate this “principle” into an international First Commandment. “Denying that right to the peoples under whatever pretext or rhetorical guise means jeopardizing even the fragile balance that has been attained. Freedom of choice is a universal principle that should allow for no exceptions.” Even in that forum, he offered no exception for the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although he did endorse the declaration toward the end of his speech. It is strange that such sweeping and contradictory language should have provoked no probing questions or challenge in the General Assembly. The delegates seem to have been rendered numb.

Gorbachev’s doctrine, if accepted internationally, would be a historic step back from the notion embedded in the United Nations Charter of a new world order based not on unfettered national sovereignty but on a new world law which seeks to safeguard certain elementary rights everywhere on the planet from cruelty and oppression.


This was the chief difference between the Charter of the United Nations and the Covenant of the League of Nations which preceded it. The covenant emphasized disarmament—not just that equivocal phrase “arms control” favored by the Pentagon—and the peaceful resolution of disputes between nations to prevent another world war.

The charter struck a new note. For the first time it added human rights to the international vocabulary. It sought to transcend national boundaries and mentalities, emphasizing the protection of human rights within nations, whether the rights of majorities or minorities or individuals. This change reflected the lessons of the Second World War, which demonstrated that internal regimes were not just a domestic matter but could themselves become a menace to world peace.

This amnesiac and unhistorical generation needs to be reminded that Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Japanese military dictatorship began by thought control at home. They gagged peace movements, stifled dissent, forbade a free press, and glorified war, turning their peoples into submissive zombies for aggressive leaders. The nightmare of the crematoria—and the other horrors of Axis occupiers in Europe and Asia—were still fresh in the mind of mankind when the charter was adopted and its new concept of crimes against mankind was applied at the Nuremberg trials. Need Moscow be reminded now that these fundamental changes in international law were intended to prevent a repetition of what cost the USSR alone some 25 million lives?

Three years before the General Assembly voted for its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the charter’s preamble affirmed human rights as a foundation stone of world peace, and the charter itself contained eight articles for their implementation.

This may be “history,” but history repeats itself in strange and unexpected ways. The sinister relationship between internal abuses of human rights and external policies is once again evident—and threatening to international stability—in the way the iron-fisted Libyan, Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi regimes covertly foster abroad the terrorism with which they subjugate their own peoples at home. It is not reassuring that all four of these regimes are led by grim charismatic Pied Pipers, miniaturized clones of II Duce and Der Führer. Should they be sealed off from human rights criticism on the ground that they represent a “social choice” or “freedom of choice”? When did they count ballots in a free election?

In these efforts to turn back the clock on human rights, Gorbachev has varied his arguments and his tactics. At one point in his first appeal, in September 1987, he startled the reader by seeming to throw in the sponge and accepting the basic premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This appears at the bottom of page 7 of the official Tass English translation. There Gorbachev suddenly said, “I agree: the world cannot be considered secure if human rights are violated in it.”

But this turned out to be a debater’s trick like that of the wrestler who throws his opponent off balance by an unexpected recoil. What follows this welcome admission is simply a bald effort to change the subject by changing the definition of human rights. This has been a standard ploy of Soviet propagandists in dealing with Western human rights criticism. I heard the same apologetics just a few weeks ago on CBS’s 60 Minutes from a Castro spokesman.

“I will only add,” Gorbachev added with what he seemed to consider great cleverness,

if a large part of this world has no elementary conditions for a life worthy of man, if millions of people have the full “right” to go hungry, to have no roof over their head and to be jobless and sick indefinitely when treatment is something they cannot afford, if, finally, the basic human right, the right to life, is disregarded….

The sentence was left unfinished, but the message implied was clear enough. He seemed to be suggesting that so-called human rights were of little importance when these more elementary “rights to life” were ignored. But who proposes to ignore them? Gorbachev never explained why there was any contradiction between striving for human rights and striving for peace and decent standards of living. Everywhere on the globe, the Soviet bloc included, the same activists strive for both. Sakharov has been the foremost leader and symbol of both campaigns.

Gorbachev’s argument will probably be a major theme of the coming Moscow conference on human rights. But in the context of the human rights debate, it could be diversionary, an effort to change the subject from the evils of authoritarianism to the “evils of capitalism.” This is what logicians used to call the tu quoque argument or in barfly parlance the “you’re another” clincher.


Without political or human rights it is impossible to struggle for wider socioeconomic reforms and for peace. The best witness against Gorbachev on this point is Gorbachev himself. In his own evolution as Soviet leader, Gorbachev has said many times that he soon discovered that economic reform of the stagnant Soviet system could not be brought about without political reform, without democratization, without a freer press, without giving the Soviet peoples a voice in their own destiny. He might have added, but didn’t, that the main obstacle was the new ruling class entrenched by the one-party system.

A dramatic example: How many Soviet and Afghan lives might have been spared, how many billions of rubles might have been saved for urgent needs at home if Sakharov instead of being exiled to Gorki by Gorbachev’s predecessors for criticizing the Afghanistan invasion—Russia’s Vietnam—had been allowed to lead a public debate to curb the headstrong military and bring about earlier withdrawal? Housing and hospital facilities in the Soviet Union were bled to keep that stupid and cruel war going. Now, in the wake of the Armenian earthquake, we learn that many hospitals in the rural areas of the USSR do not even have hot water! That is the price Soviet peoples paid for a secretive and undemocratic regime. Stale propaganda may try to play one off against the other, but in the real world political and economic rights are Siamese twins. They add up to human rights, which in the UN context includes both political and economic rights. The relationship is acutely visible in the third world, where so much of foreign aid is wasted by military dictators or stolen by the new native elites allied with them.

Gorbachev took a different tack on human rights when he met Reagan in Moscow last May. Gorbachev didn’t have to be a genius to know that there was no sense in lecturing Reagan (or Margaret Thatcher either) on the shortcomings of capitalism. As for trying to turn America’s homeless into an advantageous debater’s point, there was the danger that Reagan might whip out a three-by-five card explaining that the homeless were either rugged individualists who preferred sleeping in the streets or canny entrepreneurs saving the rent money for investment.

With Reagan, Gorbachev tried to reduce human rights controversy to a question of some individual “cases” which the Soviet Union has shown itself ready to resolve in bilateral negotiations. He seemed to prefer the word “cases” to the more usual Soviet term “mistakes.” The latter does imply, however faintly, that something was done wrong, though it still avoids any admission that this was a consequence of the authoritarian system itself.

The confrontation in Moscow was an odd bit of pantomime. Though Gorbachev likes to call himself a revolutionary, and is indeed a reformer, at least up to a point, he wanted Reagan to sign a joint accord freezing the status quo on basic rights and insulating internal abuses from international criticism. This proposed accord has not been given the study it deserves, although Gorbachev disclosed part of the aborted agreement in his press conference in Moscow the day the summit ended.

Gorbachev complained that when he first showed the text to the President (in Russian as well as English!) Reagan read it and said, “I like it.” But when they met again the next morning on the last day of the summit, Reagan, after consulting his advisers, had changed his mind. “And that,” an exasperated Gorbachev told the press on June 1, “is what we were debating this morning.” It is a pity their debate was not made public. Some day it may provide delicious tidbits for the historians on both sides.

Perhaps one reason Reagan first agreed so readily is that he is notoriously fatigued by fine print and the first half of the text sounds as uncontroversial as motherhood used to be. “Both of us,” the joint statement said,

proceeding from an awareness of the obtaining realities in the present day world believe that no problems in dispute are insoluble and that they should not be solved by military means, that peaceful coexistence is something that we resolve as a universal principle of international relations….

So far this was indisputable. Everyone would hope that no problems are insoluble. And no one would be so uncouth—or nekulturna, as the Russians say—as openly to suggest that they should be solved by military means, though Moscow just tried it in Afghanistan and Washington has been practicing it by proxy against Nicaragua. But then the fine print begins. The proposal went on to shut the door not only on military action but on peaceful political efforts to deal with human rights abuses.

The text continued by saying “…and that the equality of all states, non-interference in domestic affairs, and freedom of socio-political choice should be recognized as inalienable and mandatory for all.” That is the Brooklyn Bridge an innocent visitor from America was on the verge of acquiring.

The vocabulary seductively echoes a word hallowed by the US Declaration of Independence and the English Revolution of 1688 before it. The word is “inalienable.” But the Gorbachev proposal turned its meaning upside down, reversing its purpose and direction. The “inalienable” rights stressed by John Locke and Jefferson were the rights of individuals, not of governments. That citizens had inalienable rights implied an end to the divine right of kings and other autocrats. It was the answer to Louis XIV’s “L’état c’est moi.” That formula has also been the basic premise of Russia’s autocratic rulers from both Greats, Peter and Catherine, through Lenin and Stalin. Gorbachev would have made it a universal law to protect a plague of dictators, right and left, in today’s world. The inalienable rights of Gorbachev’s proposal were to become the rights of the states whose helms they had seized and not of individual citizens fighting to regain their basic freedoms. In the long historical perspective this is counterrevolution on a grand scale. From the same perspective, our Declaration of Independence reads like the original declaration of human rights. The faded phrases from our schoolbooks spring forth with a fresh sharpness and a reinvigorated relevance.

Jefferson and his fellow Framers sought to justify the overthrow of the onerous British yoke by affirming as “self-evident” that “all men”—men, not states—“are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights” and that “among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Locke’s phrase was “life, liberty and property.” Jefferson changed “property” to “the pursuit of happiness,” subordinating property rights to human rights and aspirations. Here Jefferson took a great leap forward and made the classic phrase as applicable today when used by rebels in Moscow and Beijing as it once was in Philadelphia.

The words in which the right of revolution were spelled out would be regarded as inflammatory in much of the third world as well as in the Soviet orbit from Hanoi to Havana. Governments derive their legitimacy from “the consent of the governed,” and “whenever any form of Government becomes destructive” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the “People” to “alter or abolish it.” This may be old hat to us. But try reading that aloud today in Pushkin Square.

It is a tremendous turn in the dialectic of history—to borrow a favorite Marxist concept—that the greatest revolution of the twentieth century would end up seeking to preserve the status quo, no matter how oppressive. The final irony is how easily Gorbachev’s sullen hard-line opponents could turn this against him. They see glasnost and perestroika as alien serpents in a Soviet paradise.

When the Declaration of Human Rights was put to the UN in 1948, the vote in favor was unanimous. But Stalin, despite a plea from Eleanor Roosevelt, who mothered it as the American delegate, led the Soviet bloc into abstention, along with South Africa and Saudi Arabia. South Africa abstained to protect apartheid; Saudi Arabia did so because the declaration outlawed slavery—it still had slaves in 1948. Stalin never explained why he abstained. It would have challenged his monolith.

Stalin’s hostile abstention set Soviet policy until the Brezhnev years, which in this respect were not wholly stagnant. At that time, 1976, the USSR ratified two major UN covenants intended to implement the Human Rights Declaration—the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Political Rights. These, as the titles indicate, protect the entire range of human rights, including economic rights. But under Brezhnev these obligations were ignored.

The human rights landscape in the USSR has changed dramatically over the last thirty-five years. The first mass outpouring of politicals from prisons and labor camps began spontaneously after the death of Stalin and continued under Khrushchev. Then the Gulag began to fill up again under Brezhnev. The two covenants Brezhnev accepted not only remained dead letters but his legal reforms became new, though milder, authorizations for repression.

The ferocious law against counter-revolutionary crimes, for example, was repealed under Khrushchev. But two products of the slow and sticky legal reform mills turned out to give the KGB equivalent tools against the outspoken—section 70 against “anti-Soviet agitation” and 190.2 against “anti-Soviet slander.” Both are so vague they invite abuse. And the prospect of their repeal grows dimmer.

Under Gorbachev the atmosphere was changed by the magic prospects of glasnost and perestroika, though no one, including Gorbachev, seems to know exactly what they mean. He has freed most if not all the political prisoners whose very existence he had sedulously denied. Every few months over the past few years—and again in Gorbachev’s address last December 7 to the UN—legal reforms have been promised to prevent future abuses. But the apparatchiks hate to give up the arsenal of future intimidation, and with Victor Chebrikov moved up in 1988 from KGB chief to head of the legal reform commission, the first products of the promised reforms are disturbing.

Dr. Sakharov complained in his Boston press conference on arriving here last fall that of the first two new laws, one restricted demonstrations and the other gave the police broader search-and-seizure powers. The more recent law on cooperative economic enterprises, a key item of perestroika, restricts this attempt to encourage a freer market. One provision strikes in particular at cooperatives that elude Party control by more or less “desktop” publishing of unauthorized books and periodicals. Glasnost is being reined in long before it can match the sweeping, though wholly fraudulent, clauses of Stalin’s 1936 constitution guaranteeing free speech and free press and of Brezhnev’s revised constitution of 1977. Vadim Medvedev, the Politburo’s chief ideologist, scolded Soviet editors on December 23 and warned them of new laws being prepared to make them more “responsible.”

The “democratized” new electoral laws now visibly perpetuate the Party’s power to rig elections. A varied multitude of unofficial organizations sprang up spontaneously under the warm sun of glasnost. These are the natural seedbed of democratization. But the Party sees them as a threat and they are excluded from the nominating process. Theirs but to do and da. Must Moscow remain the prize exhibit in the sad history of plus ça change?

Gorbachev could have marked his first appearance before the UN in December by announcing that, unlike Brezhnev, he was going to honor the two basic human rights covenants. He could have one-upped Washington by noting that the United States had yet to ratify these same treaties, though Jimmy Carter had signed them. If he had wanted to be even more dramatic he could have announced that the USSR would also ratify the so-called “Optional Protocol,” which is meant to add powers of enforcement to the Covenant on Political Rights, a protocol many nations, including the US, have been reluctant to endorse. But that would have been to take a different tack altogether.

On disarmament, Gorbachev in his New York speech took the kind of bold and unequivocal initiative the world has come to expect of him, offering a unilateral cut of a half million men in the bloated Soviet forces to get the new conventional arms talks moving again. This gives the new Bush administration an opportunity to cut our own overweight forces and that dismal deficit. But on human rights Gorbachev still wallowed in contradictions. At one point he seemed to be saying a sweeping farewell to authoritarianism. He told the General Assembly that “the idea of democratizing the entire world order has become a powerful social-political force” and even added that “today the preservation of any kind of ‘closed’ societies is hardly possible.” This was indeed refreshing and revolutionary language, and to many listeners it must have reflected the considerable gains that have been made in allowing freedom of expression, travel, and emigration in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev seemed, moreover, to have fallen in love with the word “universal.” He spoke of “universal human interests” and “universal human values.” He sounded like a new Woodrow Wilson when he said further world progress is only possible if we search for “a universal human consensus as we move toward a new world order.”

This would have seemed an ideal place in his speech to salute the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the product of just such “a universal human consensus.” But he didn’t. In the first part of his speech—the human rights section—the declaration seemed to be avoided like a dangerous pothole on his intoxicating joy ride amid so many universals.

Perhaps this was because the message did not quite fit the music celebrating universalism. He did not abandon, as one might have hoped, his proposed doctrinal barrier against outside meddling with human rights—each country’s “freedom of socio-political choice.” For the Soviet Union this clearly meant the “choice” of political system made seventy years ago in the Bolshevik coup d’état and one “ratified” by terror rather than plebiscite. Gorbachev said recognition of this sovereign “choice” by the world community was “mandatory” and “a universal principle which should allow of no exceptions.” So absolute national sovereignty on human rights was repackaged as a “universal principle” of the “new thinking”!

Gorbachev’s address reflected pique over criticism of Soviet human rights lapses. “Attempts to look down on others,” he told the General Assembly, “and to teach them one’s own brand of democracy, become totally improper,” and he added angrily, “not to mention the fact that democratic values intended for export often very quickly lose their worth.” This dig, from a leader who talks so constantly about “democratizing” his country, is puzzling.*

“What we are talking about,” Gorbachev went on, “is unity in diversity,” which requires accepting “freedom of choice.” But this is simplistic. The United Nations allows a wide range of free choice and many different varieties of capitalist, socialist, and so-called third-world societies sit side by side in the General Assembly. It allows far more diversity and freedom of choice than Moscow grants its own constituent republics and satellites; its motto seems to be unity and uniformity. But at the same time the UN by its Universal Declaration of Human Rights seeks to inculcate respect for what the French Revolution called “the Rights of Man,” irrespective of all borders. This is unity in diversity. It is civilization expanding. It is an effort to curb the violation of basic rights by oppressive regimes. When Gorbachev pleads for “free choice,” we have a right to ask free choice for whom? Their people? Or their rulers?

Sometimes Gorbachev’s speeches read like a collage of disparate drafts, apparently aimed at different audiences. These often seem to be hastily pasted or stapled together with little attempt to reconcile inconsistencies. Monarchs, like all authors, only more so, do not take kindly to the editorial blue pencil.

So it is with his UN speech. Suddenly in its later sections, amid pleas for third-world debt relief and campaign speeches about the cure-alls of perestroika, the UN Declaration and the Helsinki Accords are mentioned for the first time and endorsed, apparently with no reservations. In addition Gorbachev throws in a dazzling new proposal—that the jurisdiction of the World Court at the Hague with regard to human rights agreements should be binding on all states. This reversal reminds one of the Roman god Janus, who had two faces looking in opposite directions.

This is not an unfamiliar aspect of all political oratory, as we may recall from our recent presidential campaign. But it certainly leaves everyone confused about which is the real Gorbachev and where he is heading. It may be that the confusion is deliberate because he does not wish to be pinned down. Verbosity has its uses and in this quality Gorbachev will soon be catching up with Castro.

This particular reversal begins at the bottom of page 15 of the thirty-four-page UN English translation of the text. By page 18 he throws in the World Court. It may be easier to assess these protean complexities if one starts with a basic proposition. It is very hard to enforce human rights against the will of any state, and especially those like the USSR without an independent judiciary and bar. Publicity is the ultimate and only weapon. It depends on activists willing to risk their freedom and sometimes their lives to let the outside world know what is going on.

The World Court cannot entertain petitions from private citizens against their own or other states. It operates in the world of sovereign entities and has neither compulsory jurisdiction nor means of enforcement against a state that chooses to defy or ignore it, as the US did when it was accused of mining Nicaraguan harbors.

When the Helsinki Accords were reached in 1975 the framers recognized that their efficacy would depend on private watchdog committees. The Soviet Union would never agree to tolerate them and those who set them up there were soon jailed or exiled. The latest revision of the Helsinki Accords, just approved in Vienna, gives explicit recognition to their existence and won the Soviet signature. But in the meantime, as a second line of defense, Moscow has set up official watchdog committees of its own, and it might use these as an excuse to prevent the reappearance of independent monitors.

Such evasive maneuvers would be made much more difficult if the new Helsinki pact amendments, which became available as this article went to press, were honored to the letter and in the spirit. These amendments open the windows to fresh breezes, but much will depend on two factors. Will they be fully publicized in the Soviet bloc press? In that case they could inspire explosive expectations that might change the course of history. The other is that these amendments do not have the force of law but are “a declaration” which must be embodied in local legislation if they are to be the basis of legal rights enforceable in the courts of the signatories. Those legislative mills grind slowly and exceeding small.

Two of the new provisions are of immediate relevance to the crucial problem of monitoring human rights abuses. These amendments pledge the signers (1) “to publish and make accessible all laws, regulations and procedures relevant to human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and (2) “to respect the rights of their citizens to contribute actively, individually and in association with others to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The first opens a new can of worms. Ever since the dawn of the nuclear age and with it the national security state, the use of secret legislation, notorious in czarist Russia, has spread elsewhere, leaving black holes in the statute books of many other nations, including our own. It is good to have them put on the public agenda now. But an extraordinary measure of good-faith compliance is required to make that pledge meaningful. Otherwise searching for secret laws will be like trying to find black cats in a coal mine.

The second new provision, on individual and group monitoring of abuses, is most hopeful, though the term “independent” is missing and this may prove to be a loophole. In the past Soviet bloc authorities have proven themselves veritable Houdinis in wriggling out of what appeared to be foolproof legal restrictions.

In this regard the latest news from the three hard-line Warsaw pact regimes is not reassuring. Romania’s Ceausescu, with characteristic arrogance, said in signing the new accords that he would only honor them when and as he saw fit. This already seems to be the practice if not the candid policy of the Czech and East German regimes. The day they signed the accords they brutally suppressed human rights demonstrators in Prague and Leipzig. The Prague crowds were commemorating the Soviet invasion twenty years ago which smashed the promise of “communism with a human face.” In Leipzig the calls for “Freiheit” may have been the first of their kind since the 1953 East German uprisings. The iceberg maybe cracking up at last, but we must wait and see.

Of course Gorbachev could clear the atmosphere of suspicion by a single stroke. He could invite exiled activists like the heroic Soviet psychiatrist Dr. Anatoly Koryagin to come home and invite them to resume monitoring human rights abuses, with the promise of no interference by the police or the postal authorities. But that would indeed be a revolution.

January 19, 1989


How differently the Soviet Union celebrated Human Rights Day last December in New York and Moscow.

In New York, at the United Nations, the USSR’s ambassador, Alexander Belonogov, delivered a speech whose sentiments had not been heard in Moscow since they began to lock up Mensheviks, Anarchists, and pan-Slavist mystics after the Revolution. He actually quoted Dostoevsky, haedly orthodox writ for Marxist-Leninist ideology, as saying “there can be no harmony where there is at least one ruined and humiliated soul.”

Soul? This is quaint language for a Soviet official. He even concluded that the individual must be “the focus of the entire political process, ” on the principle “not the individual for the state, but the state for the individual.”

Who let this anarcho-Christian guru in, or out? Although he referred respectfully to Gorbachev’s speech at the UN the day before, as protocol required, Gorbachev uttered no such far-out heresies.

Was Belonogov’s address just hooch for foreigh consumption? Had it been delivered in Pushkin Square, the speaker would have been taken in hand by the KGB for restructuring. The proof lies in the way Human Rights Day was commemorated in Moscow. It was not the dawn of a new era. There was the traditional human right gathering in Pushken Square for a relatively few brave souls—surely the word may be said of them here—some three hundred in all, out-numbered by watchful police in uniform and plainclothes. The strategy of the demonstrators was the same as in past years—they carried no placards, gave out no leaflets, and made no speeches lest they be jailed for an illegal demonstration. As in past years, they confined themselves to lifting their hats as they walked quietly past the statue of Russia’s greatest poet and most illustrious nineteenth-century dissident. Even so, a few of their leaders were detained and held in jail for the fifteen days allowed to authorities to decide wheat charges to lodge against them.

The police finally let them go. The insidious nature of the tactics used by the activists created a thorny problem: Could they be charged with antistate agitation, or anti-Soviet slander, or even the lesser crime of “hindering public order” just for lifting their hats to Pushkin? Might not such prosecutions provoke hoots of derision from the outside world?

Still, objectively considered, the problem is a real one. Pushkin’s statue has been a source of subversive reflection for many years. Perhaps the police could take a leaf from their czarist predecessors. Twice they banished the poet to internal exile. Why not exile his statue, perhaps to Gorki?


This Issue

February 16, 1989