WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 -- Vladimir Bukovsky has written a richly detailed, heavily documented account of how the Soviet Union aided Palestinian militants, Latin American revolutionaries, and even America's Black Panther movement.
Based on materials unearthed in Russian archives, "Judgment in Moscow" also discloses Moscow's clandestine efforts to manipulate public opinion throughout the West.
The book has been published in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Bulgaria. Leading historians of communism call it "fascinating," "stunning," and "a massive and major contribution."
But, six years after the first French edition appeared, you still can't buy an English translation. Random House sought the rights in 1995, but dropped the project a few months later. A small British publishing house, John Murray, secured the rights, but never printed the book.
To Bukovsky, it's nothing short of "political censorship."
Bukovsky has a good deal of experience with repression. Born in Moscow in 1942, he spent most of his 20s and early 30s in Soviet prisons and mental hospitals, charged with possessing forbidden literature, organizing demonstrations, and other political crimes. In 1976, when he was halfway through a 12-year sentence, the Soviet Union released him in exchange for a communist jailed in Chile.
Bukovsky completed his education, earning degrees from Cambridge University in England and Stanford University in California, and wrote "To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter" (1978) and other books. He now lives in Cambridge.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Bukovsky got invited back to Moscow. Russian communists had sued President Boris Yeltsin for banning their party, and the government wanted Bukovsky to testify about the party's sordid past. The dissident said he would come only if the secret Soviet archives would be unsealed for purposes of the case. The government agreed. So Bukovsky spent some six months of 1992 poring over secret Politburo and Communist Party Central Committee documents.
Using a laptop with a handheld scanner, he copied thousands of pages. Nobody tried to stop him, though many of the papers are festooned with such prohibitions as this: "Photocopying or making notes from minutes ... (or) making any reference to them in oral or written form, in the open press or other publicly accessible documents, is categorically forbidden."
These secret papers, dating from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, form the core of Bukovsky's book.
The manuscript (Bukovsky gave UPI the first chapter) demonstrates that communist, socialist and anti-Western movements around the world, some peaceable and some violent, weren't as home-grown as they seemed. If, to borrow the phrase of another communist leader, a thousand flowers bloomed, Moscow was surreptitiously providing the fertilizer.
Documents show, for instance, that the Soviet Union was arming one of the most notorious militant leaders of the time, Wadia Haddad. One of the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a radical Palestine Liberation Organization faction), Haddad reportedly originated the idea of hijacking airliners to win attention for the cause. His troops included Carlos the Jackal.
In 1974, Haddad told Moscow about his "prospective program of sabotage and terrorism." Besides attacks in Israel, he envisioned "actions against American and Israeli representatives" in Greece, Iran, Ethiopia and Kenya, but he needed KGB help to procure the necessary "special technology." A memo from KGB head Yuri Andropov to President Leonid Brezhnev recommends giving Haddad "a generally favorable response," notwithstanding the Soviet Union's "opposition to terrorism in principle." Brezhnev concurred.
A year later, Andropov reported that the Soviets had shipped 50 submachine guns, 50 handguns (10 with silencers), and 34,000 rounds of ammunition to Haddad. "The covert delivery of arms was carried out in the neutral waters of the Gulf of Aden at night, with no direct contact, and with full observance of secrecy by an intelligence-gathering vessel of the Navy of the USSR," the memo reports. "W. Haddad is the only foreigner who knows that the arms were supplied by us."
Another 1975 arms shipment to the Middle East, this one to Lebanon, included 600 submachine guns, 50 machine guns, 30 anti-tank weapons, 3,000 hand grenades, 2,000 landmines and 2 tons of explosives.
"By the mid-1980s," writes Bukovsky, "the Soviet Union was training at least 200 Lebanese thugs per annum."
Moscow trained and armed Latin American Marxists even as it denounced the United States for aiding those who opposed them. In 1976, according to Bukovsky's documents, the Soviets agreed to bring 19 "comrades" from Argentina, El Salvador, Paraguay and Panama to Moscow for special training in "party security, intelligence, and counterintelligence." In 1980, El Salvador sought Moscow training for "30 of our young communists," some of them assigned to be "commanders of sabotage units." The same year, the Soviets agreed to deliver "60-80 tons of Western-manufactured firearms and ammunition from Hanoi to Havana, to be passed on to our Salvadoran friends."
According to a 1970 document, the Soviets also took an interest in America's would-be revolutionaries, the Black Panthers. Deeming the Panthers "a dynamic Negro organization which poses a serious threat to America's ruling classes," the document declares that the Communist Party of the USA "is attempting to influence the organization in the necessary direction." If the radical movement thrived, it could help "distract the attention of the Nixon administration from pursuing an active foreign policy."
In addition, according to Bukovsky's manuscript, the Soviets worked to manipulate foreign opinion. They gave thousands of tons of paper to congenial newspaper and book publishers, subsidized foreign publishers by spending millions of dollars on their publications, and covered the operating deficits of communist bookstores in the United States, England, Israel, Belgium and Australia.
In 1979, half of Soviet trade with Spain went through a firm whose president was helping arrange publication of a book by Brezhnev. Moscow correspondents of friendly foreign periodicals received free housing, telegraph and telephone service, travel, medical treatment and access to resort facilities.
Bukovsky also documents dealings between the Soviets and American media companies. A 1966 memo reports that the ABC network hoped to produce a TV special on the daily life of a Soviet factory worker, with Soviet authorities to exercise prior approval before it could be shown on U.S. television.
A 1967 memo seeks authorization to sell "one of the largest American television corporations," not further identified, the rights to Soviet documentaries on Vietnam, which would be incorporated into an American program and broadcast "on propagandist and economic conditions favorable to us."
According to a 1979 memo, Francis Ford Coppola met with a Soviet representative in Cannes to discuss a joint Soviet-American film on disarmament. Coppola said the project had the endorsement of President Carter.
"If agreement is reached," the memo reports, "the Soviet side will reserve the right to exercise control over the ideological and artistic content of the film at all stages of its production."
The Soviets also worked in other ways to strengthen the disarmament movement. One target in the early 1980s was the international Palme Commission, whose members included former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former British Foreign Secretary David Owen.
"Despite agreeing generally with the Soviet point of view on many issues," the committee's Soviet delegate wrote, "such members of the committee as C. Vance, D. Owen, ... and a number of others tried (in the commission's report) to avoid wording which would be an exact repetition of Soviet terminology, and explained in private conversations that they are (wary) of accusations that they are following 'Moscow policies.'"
The Palme report strongly urged "multilateral arms reductions."
Fascinating stuff -- so why can't you buy the book? Troubles arose over the commentary and analysis that Bukovsky interspersed with the extracts of documents.
Bukovsky's Random House editor, Jason Epstein, didn't return a call seeking comment. From correspondence that Bukovsky provided, it appears that Epstein believed the manuscript was too quick to accuse particular individuals of doing Moscow's work.
"It is possible to have sympathized with the peace movement in good faith, as thousands of people did, without assuming either treachery or cynicism on their part," Epstein wrote. He wondered if the document concerning the Palme Commission might reflect an underling's "boasting to his bureaucratic superiors" rather than subversion.
He wanted Bukovsky to follow up on various matters, too. Did Coppola make the film on disarmament?
"Mr. Coppola is an important figure in the United States, as you know, and a letter or phone call from you to him would settle the matter. ... Your implication that Coppola agreed to Soviet censorship is, in the absence of further research on your part, potentially libelous under American law," he wrote.
Epstein also discerned a "strongly anti-American bias," reflecting Bukovsky's conviction that the United States should have taken far stronger actions against the Soviet Union.
In response, Bukovsky accused Random House of trying to make him "falsify history," and added: "I will never accept any political censorship, and anything even remotely resembling it can only provoke my extremely negative reaction. Due to certain peculiarities of my biography I am allergic to this form of relation between a publisher and an author."
That letter extinguished Random House's interest in the project. John Murray, a small British press, then agreed to publish the book in partnership with the American company Regnery Publishing. John Murray announced the book in its catalog and hired attorney Martin Soames to vet the manuscript for libel. But Soames judged it "one of the most defamatory books which I have read since I became a solicitor," replete with such "wildly intemperate" criticism that the manuscript might simply prove unpublishable.
Some of Soames's concerns seem excessive -- to avoid litigation, he recommended that Bukovsky document his assertion that John Le Carre writes "bad spy stories" -- but many others reflect the relative ease with which libel plaintiffs can prevail in British courts.
Bukovsky dismissed the Soames letter as "rubbish" and sought a second opinion from his longtime friend Peter F. Carter-Ruck, author of a respected treatise on libel. Based on the manuscript's first 50 pages, Carter-Ruck concluded that "with modest amendments this work can be made reasonably safe." He added that he had encountered similar "timidity" some four decades earlier, when working to bring about the British publication of another Russia-born author's work. In the end, though, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita "was successfully published and we faced no proceedings."
But John Murray didn't move forward with the British publication.
"We can't," says Murray's Grant McIntyre. "The problem is potential libel --it's an absolute killer."
He hopes, he says, to transfer the project to another British publishing house that has expressed interest.
Regnery Publishing had planned to sell the British books with Regnery covers in the United States. "Without them, we couldn't do much of anything," says Alfred S. Regnery, president of the company.
And there the project stands. John Murray still holds the English-language rights, says Bukovsky, so "I'm in a kind of limbo."
While the manuscript was under consideration at Random House, two leading Sovietologists vetted it. Harvard's Richard Pipes called it "a fascinating work which demolishes a few more myths prevalent in the West about the Soviet Union and the Cold War." Some of the revelations are "stunning." Robert Conquest of the Hoover Institution deemed the book "a massive and major contribution," though he agreed with editor Epstein that the criticisms of the United States ought to be toned down: "My main qualm is that these passages will attract the main attention, and damagingly distract from the other highly valuable material."
John Earl Haynes, a political historian at the library of Congress and the co-author of "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America" (1999) and other works, read Bukovsky's first chapter at UPI's request. The documents, Haynes said, "are extremely rich. ... No other source has produced so many high-level Soviet documents on these covert matters for the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s."
Documents, Haynes added, need an explanatory text to place them in context and explain their significance. "Bukovsky does this, and does it very well, although he does not do it in the way I would. But then, he isn't a professionally trained research historian and I'm not an astoundingly brave Soviet dissident and a Gulag veteran. It is only natural that he would write with a different voice from that of a historical scholar."
What to make of all this?
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as Bukovsky points out, public opinion in the West has flipped. Twenty years ago, those who accused Moscow of manipulating world affairs often got charged with recklessness, paranoia, or McCarthyism (Bukovsky himself endured more than a few such accusations). The Soviets, it was said, wanted peaceful coexistence, nothing more.
Now that the Cold War is over, documents such as Bukovsky's significantly discredit the peaceful-coexistence viewpoint -- yet those who espoused it suffer no stigma, no loss of reputation. Instead, the revelations get shrugged off as old and unsurprising news. (In an illustration, Francis Ford Coppola's publicist declined even to ask him about the document suggesting that the filmmaker planned to submit to Soviet censorship. "That was what, 30 years ago?" she said.) In many circles, it seems that allegations of Soviet skullduggery went from the scandalously unspeakable to the tritely commonplace in a single leap.
From Bukovsky's perspective, many Americans just don't get it. The Cold War was not merely "an obscure quarrel between the 'Russians' and the 'Americans,'" he said in a letter to Epstein, but rather "an ideological confrontation between communist dogma and democracy." In the former Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe, communists and former communists still hold power, and "their accomplices in the West are still very much a part of the establishment."
And, as his personal history attests, Bukovsky cannot abide being pushed around by the establishment -- any establishment. In writings and interviews in recent years, he has likened the European Union to the USSR, contended that feminists are heeding "a Marxist strategy," and pronounced the American ban on in-flight smoking "a violation of human rights." Once a dissident, always a dissident.
"Judgment in Moscow" would be an important book, historian Haynes predicted, but not a universally popular one. "Large sections of the academic world and the media world ... will either attempt to ignore the book or treat it with condescending disdain," he observed. "The New York Times will probably not approve. That is the price of saying what Bukovsky is saying, and I don't know of any way around that."
For now, though, what Bukovsky is saying can't even be heard.