From Brezhnev Doctrine to Sinatra Doctrine: Interview with Gennady Gerasimov

Article excerpt

The perpetually witty Gennady Gerasimov was the Soviet Union's foreign ministry spokesman during the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, and he famously labeled Soviet policy toward those events the "Sinatra Doctrine." In this lighthearted but informative interview, he speaks about the genesis of the Sinatra Doctrine label, Gorbachev's attitude toward the 1989 revolutions, the "Prague group" of new political thinking, and the lessons of Sinatra for Putin's conundrum in the "near abroad."

Demokratizatsiya: Tell us how the whole "Sinatra Doctrine" business came about.

Gerasimov: A friend of mine, I guess it was a birthday or something, gave me this coffeetable book about Ol' Blue Eyes written by his daughter. And only by chance, looking at the index, I found something which was a big surprise ...

   [Reading from book]

   When the Kremlin announced that it would not object if Hungary left
   the Warsaw Pact or if East Germany reunited with West Germany,
   Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov appeared on a
   syndicated TV program and said, "Frank Sinatra had a very popular
   song, 'I Had It My Way.' So Hungary, Poland, every other country has
   its own way. They decided which road to take. It's their business.
   And we watch, watch closely, but do not interfere." He called the
   new policy "The Frank Sinatra Doctrine." Said dad: "I'm honored to
   have my name associated with freedom of choice and people's dreams
   for a better life. I think it's marvelous." Vice President Dan
   Quayle said the Bush administration was encouraged by Mr.
   Gerasimov's comment, adding, "We hope that perestroika succeeds.
   But as they talk about the Frank Sinatra Doctrine, also remember
   the Nancy Sinatra doctrine in song--'These Boots Are Made for
   Walking.'" (1)

Demokratizatsiya: That's excellent. And just by chance? You know, I was talking with Pavel Palazchenko and I asked him the following. Nobody expected a party regional secretary from a small southern province and another party secretary from a small southern USSR republic to revolutionize the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. And yet they did. What happened? What was the source or impetus for the dramatic change in foreign policy?

Gerasimov: Very simple--Sinatra. Everything returns to Sinatra. What is happening today in Kyrgyzstan? Same thing. We want it our way. What happened in Ukraine? In the latest issue of this magazine [Novoe vremya, no. 10, March 2005], there's an article about the Bratislava summit. And look at this. The explanation refers also to the Brezhnev and Sinatra doctrines. It also appears in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Do you know who Carlos Fuentes is?

Demokratizatsiya: Of course, a Mexican hard-left anti-American writer.

Gerasimov: That is right, anti-American. He mentioned that "I would like to know when the Sinatra Doctrine will come to the Caribbean. If the Soviet Union is rejecting the Brezhnev Doctrine, then it's time the United States rejected the Monroe Doctrine and change it to the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine, and jump into bed with anyone."

This is to show that this Sinatra Doctrine, which was born by accident--it was not prepared--has taken on a life of its own. And in Bratislava, the question also was what to do with all these countries. You know? Let them go their own way. And if you saw Putin last night talking about the events in Kyrgyzstan, he said that we're going to support what they are going to decide. It's the same thing.

The bottom line of the Sinatra Doctrine is very simple--noninterference in foreign affairs. It was just a label that happened to be picked up, which I don't mind at all.

Demokratizatsiya: Yes, I wrote an essay on it a while back. But what is surprising was the lack of debate among Soviet elites to counter the Sinatra Doctrine. Why do you think that is?

Gerasimov: There was no debate in the Kremlin, because Kremlin and debate don't go together. …