The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

IS THE KGB ON THE RISE IN MOSCOW? AUGUST 1985

Yet another political actor comes into view in this snapshot: the KGB. In
this instance, the KGB stepped out of the shadows to challenge Gorbachev's
new initiatives, including the new openness, or glasnost. This was the first
of many clashes in the uneasy relationship between Gorbachev and the
KGB--a relationship that will reappear in snapshots to come.

The latest issue of Kommunist, the main mouthpiece of the Central Committee, featured an article by Victor Chebrikov, a Politburo member and the chairman of the KGB. Chebrikov's article sent a clear signal to the USSR, as well as to the rest of the world, that, as far as the KGB is concerned, there will be no change in the harsh, conservative program that has been in place in the USSR since the late 1960s.

Cherbrikov's main argument was that any criticism of the current social and political order must be the result of "foreign influence. . . . and the interests of foreign intelligence services and anti-Soviet centers." Thus, the KGB chief refused to acknowledge that any opposition, no matter how mild, might be motivated by patriotic sentiments or a desire to improve Soviet society. Chebrikov went so far as to declare that anyone who dares "disseminate rumors about the imperfections of socialist society" is propagating "imperialist slander."

Of course, Chebrikov's characterization of political criticism and dissent contrasts sharply with General Secretary Gorbachev's efforts to increase openness and encourage criticism in all spheres of Soviet life. In fact, the need for greater openness, or glasnost, was the dominant theme in Gorbachev's report to the Central Committee in April. Even the editorial in the issue of Kommunist that printed Chebrikov's article applauded the increasingly critical atmosphere in the country and praised the incisiveness and accuracy of many recent social and political critiques.

It is certainly no coincidence that Chebrikov's article comes at a time when Soviet newspapers, with some prodding from Gorbachev, have intensified their criticism of high party officials. Recent articles have painted a gloomy picture of the level of corruption among regional leaders, as well as of their immunity from prosecution. One article, for example, which reported on a meeting of a regional committee in Kazakhstan, detailed the existence of a "hunting lodge" (a brothel built into a resort) used "primarily by the first secretary and his guests."

Several possible explanations exist for the divergence between Chebrikov's article and the critical atmosphere created by Gorbachev's speeches,

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