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Ron Radosh

The Berlinski Article: Some Detailed Answers

May 19th, 2010 - 12:12 pm

Tsypkin’s response has been edited only to embed the hyperlinks that he provided:

From Mikhail Tsypkin, Naval Postgraduate School:

“The article by Claire Berlinski, A Hidden History of Evil. Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About the Unread Soviet Archives? contains so many factual errors that it is totally misleading.

She expresses concern about unread Soviet archives and uses the example of Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, [who] “has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War.  He can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.”

The reality is quite different…

Ms. Berlinski refers to transcripts of nearly every conversation between Gorbachev and his foreign counterparts, ­hundreds of them, a near-complete diplomatic record of the era, available nowhere else. There are notes from the Politburo taken by Georgy Shakhnazarov, an aide of Gorbachev’s, and by Politburo member Vadim Medvedev. There is the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, ­Gorbachev’s principal aide and deputy chief of the body formerly known as the Comintern, ­which dates from 1972 to the collapse of the regime.  Leaving aside the fact that the Comintern was disbanded in 1943, when Chernyaev was a junior infantry officer at the Soviet-German front, the most important parts of the Chernyaev diary have been translated and displayed on the Web by the National Security Archives here.

The notes of the Politburo meetings, taken by Shakhnazarov, Chernyaev and Medvedev, which Ms. Berlinski believes to be hidden in the Kremlin archives, have been published in Russia as a book in 2006.  The diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev (from 1972 until 1991) were published in Russia last year.  The reason these books are not available in English is commercial: Translating and publishing them would be very expensive, while the reading audience would be very limited, since the experts can read them in Russian, while the number of non-experts likely to buy such scholarly books would be miniscule.

Ms. Berlinski also writes in anguish about the archives of the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovski. “These documents are available online at bukovsky-archives.net, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function.”

“I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes.  What is the real situation?  According to Mark Kramer, “almost everything in his [Bukovsky's] collection has been available in Fond [collection] 89 at RGANI [Russian State Archive of the Modern History] since late 1992. The 3,000 or so documents in Fond 89 were all microfilmed and are available at numerous libraries in the USA and elsewhere. Item-level finding aids with cross-indexing are available for the full Fond 89 collection.” [Personal communication, 05.16.2010.]

Documentation of some of the most despicable activities by the KGB during the last years of the Soviet system have been made available in English in such books as Michael Scammell, ed., The Solzhenitsyn Files: Secret Soviet Documents Reveal One Man’s Fight Against the Monolith (Chicago : Edition q, 1995) and The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov, ed. by Joshua Rubenstein and Alexander Gribanov (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005); moreover, the documents contained in the book on Dr. Sakharov are published in Russian and English on the web:

A massive collection of Soviet formerly secret documents, both in the original Russian and translated into English can be found at the web site of the Cold War International History Project; one can point to the outstanding collection of the documents on the war in Afghanistan online here.

The Cold War History Project at Harvard has displayed online many important documents from Soviet archives, including the top secret official History of the KGB, online at this URL.  True, it has not been translated into English, but for those linguistically challenged (as Ms. Berlinski is when it comes to the Russian language) one can recommend two exhaustive volumes compiled on the basis of exhaustive notes taken by the late KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin and ChristopherAndrew, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Basic Books (2005), and Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. (Basic Books, 1999).

Or just take the archive of the late Vitaly Kataev, a top ranking defense industry official in Gorbachev’s Central Committee; its unique documents have been effectively used by David Hoffman in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (Doubleday, 2009).  The National Security Archive has posted online English translations of important documents from the Kataev archive online here and here.

This list could be continued.  Ms. Berlinski appears to see some nefarious plot in the lack of interest in Soviet archives. I am afraid that her own lack of curiosity and seriousness in approaching this subject is a perfect illustration of this lack of interest.”

Mikhail Tsypkin

Associate Professor

Naval Postgraduate School

The above two communications should do much to shed light on the issues raised by Claire Berlinski re the availability of the documents held by Bukovsky and Stroilov.

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