Magazine article The Nation

The Emigres Speak out; Is the Soviet Union Changing?

Magazine article The Nation

The Emigres Speak out; Is the Soviet Union Changing?

Article excerpt

The Emigres Speak Out

American publications rarely report that Mikhail Gorbachev'sreforms have thrown the Soviet emigre community into political disarray. The skeptics, who warn against succumbing to the allure of glasnost, continue to exercise an enormous influence on American perceptions of the Soviet Union.

For this special issue, we asked emigres working in differentprofessions and holding diverse political opinions to discuss whether the changes in various areas of domestic policy over the past two years suggest that a process of significant change is under way in the Soviet Union. Here we publish several of their responses--positive and negative --to recent developments.


It is quite possible that we are witnessing events that willlead to gradual democratization in the Soviet Union. It requires courage on the part of the Soviet leadership to promote such changes, and we in the West must be brave enough to believe in what they are doing.

But if Gorbachev's reforms are to succeed, the SovietUnion must abandon the myth of a unified society and deal with the reality of enormous social contradictions. The leadership must also adopt the principle of separation of power, both within the government and between the party and the government.

Valery Chalidze, along with Andrei Sakharov and AndreiTverdokhlebov, was one of the founders of the Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Union. In 1972 he received permission to travel to the United States and, soon after his arrival, was stripped of his citizenship. In 1979 he established his own publishing house, Chalidze Publications, for Russian language books. In 1985 Chalidze received a MacArthur Fellowship.


Andrei Sakharov and Margaret Thatcher see a significantchange in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union. I couldn't agree more. The problem, as I see it, is not whether reform is under way in Moscow but whether this latest attempt at political modernization is as reversible as previous ones. Remember Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1920s and Khrushchev's thaw in the 1950s. The first turned out to be a prologue to, if not a provocation of, a brutal counterreform; the second, the precursor of Brezhnevian paralysis. As a historian, I must point out that this has been the outcome of all reformist attempts in Russia since the 1550s.

What is different about the current attempt is that it takesplace in the age of Chernobyl and Star Wars. For the first time in history the future of humanity may depend on the fate of reform in Russia. It is, therefore, imperative for the West to understand the causes of the country's persistent failure at reform and to ask how the international community might help insure the irreversibility of the changes now occurring. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that American intellectuals, let alone American politicians, realize the importance of political change in the Soviet Union and its relation to the future of their own country.

Something is definitely wrong with the West's current approachto the issue of change in the Soviet Union. Perhaps that is the approach we should be discussing right now.

Alexander Yanov worked as a journalist and political commentatorin Moscow for twenty years until he emigrated, in 1974. He teaches Russian history and Soviet politics at the City University of New York. His book, The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000, will be published this year by Basil Blackwell.


I am convinced that the changes proposed by Gorbachevare not part of a public relations ploy for the benefit of the West but are attempts to invigorate the Soviet system. Yet the country's economic and political stagnancy, coupled with the system's long traditions of chauvinism and expansionism, create a danger that glasnost will benefit Soviet reactionaries rather than reformers. …

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