An InterNation Story: U.S. Fund for Soviet Dissidents
Coogan, Kevin, Vanden Heuvel, Katrina, The Nation
AN INTERNATION STORY U.S. FUNDS FOR SOVIET DISSIDENTS In recent months the independent Soviet journal Glasnot, created last July by a few former political prisoners, has become an important alternative source of news for the Western press. Glasnost's reports on dissident activity and protests have generated scores of news stories in the United States and Europe. The publication has also become a yardstick of liberalization within the Soviet Union. Just a week after the signing of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty in December, Newsweek reported that "Glasnost is like the canary in the coal mine. Should the bird be suffocated so, too, might the movement whose name it bears." Glasnost is a worthy publication, but it has a potential albatross around its neck, in the form of its U.S. distributor, a small New York-based foundation run by Russian emigres, the Center for Democracy.
The center received $15,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy in late 1987 to translate Glasnost into English and distribute it in the West. The link between the center and Glasnost is disturbing because, as documents obtained by InterNation under the Freedom of Information Act show, the center first received U.S. government funds through the N.E.D. in 1985 for a program that more closely resembled intelligence-gathering than human rights work.
An investigation of the center shows that, while using the rhetoric of democracy and human rights, it has conducted activities that recklessly endanger and potentially discredit dissidents and independent political activity in the Soviet Union--or so believe members of the human rights community, some Russian emigres (including former political prisoners) and even members of the N.E.D.'s own advisory committee on Soviet and Eastern European Affairs. They fear that the center's ties to the N.E.D. will exacerbate the Soviet Union's longstanding paranoia and propaganda about dissidents' ties to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Richard Pipes, former National Security Council adviser on Soviet affairs and an adviser to the N.E.D. on its Soviet-area programs in 1986, told InterNation that "the moment you start running such an exchange with Soviet scholars and other people you could leave yourself open to charges of doing intelligence work and you could hurt some people." Pipes added that the center "may have had the best of intentions, but the moment you start using United States funds, the K.G.B. can accuse you of working for the government."
Despite such qualms, the center was the largest recipient of N.E.D. funds in the Soviet area in fiscal 1986, receiving $200,000. During fiscal 1987, it received an additional $125,000. And in fiscal 1988, the center received $40,000. Moreover, it was an N.E.D. grant of $50,000 for a feasibility study that led to the creation of the center in the first place, in 1985.
The Center for Democracy's success with the National Endowment for Democracy is largely due to its founding member Vladimir Bukovsky, who came to the West in 1976 after spending eleven years in Soviet prison camps and psychiatric hospitals for his human rights activity. Today, Bukovsky is a leading member of the contra lobbying enterprise Prodemca. He was also one of the founders of Resistance International, an anti-Communist group that supports the Afghan mujahedeen. Prodemca receives N.E.D. funding.
Bukovsky found a strong supporter in N.E.D. president Carl Gershman, a former assistant to Jeane Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and, like Bukovsky, a member of the neoconservative Committee for the Free World. According to one well-placed source, the center "was Carl Gershman's program. He pushed it and got the N.E.D. board to fund it." Under Gershman the N.E.D., which was established by Congress in 1983 as a nonpartisan agency to promote American-style democracy in Soviet bloc and "authoritarian" countries, has been used to advance the Reagan Administration's foreign policy objectives. …