Gorbachev Finally Achieves Dream of Living Under Communism
What the kindler and gentler Soviet tyranny actually looked like under Gorby.
Gorbachev’s death is being greeted with tearful pronouncements about his achievements and his legacy. His achievement and legacy was unintentionally bringing down the USSR. In between Pizza Hut commercials and awkward western speaking engagements by a former Soviet dictator with little ability to interact with foreigners, Gorbachev has repeatedly tried to modernize and revise his legacy.
The truth is that Gorbachev had been picked to manage Soviet decline, to fool the West into financing a Communist revival, that ran aground on President Ronald Reagan.
Here’s what the kindler and gentler Soviet tyranny actually looked like under Gorby.
We get out at the prison camp. Perm 35 is part of the chain of prisons, labor camps, insane asylums and frozen villages of exile where Soviet governments locked away those who opposed them in word or thought – sometimes for decades. No foreigner had been allowed into Perm 35 before.
The camp, named for the industrial city 80 miles away, became a hated symbol of the whole Soviet network of political imprisonment and torture through hunger, cold and isolation.
For all his time in power, Mikhail Gorbachev denied that the Soviet Union held political prisoners. But in the city of Perm, in a tiny hotel room with a large TV set, we watched Mr. Gorbachev as he told the United Nations that ”no longer are people kept in prison for their religious and political views.”
We knew that was not quite so. But it was a fine moment of history – Mr. Gorbachev acknowledging publicly the reality of the Gulag, and so of the existence of Perm 35.
We knew that before Mr. Gorbachev visited New York all the prisoners were freed from Perm 35 and other prisons who had been incarcerated solely under the infamous Article 70 of the Criminal Code. That sets the price for almost any kind of expression distasteful to the Soviet Government: 10 years of prison, plus five years of exile, usually in Siberia.
This column by A.M. Rosenthal, from an era when the New York Times still had liberal journalists willing to challenge leftist totalitarianism, lists the prisoners whom Soviet authorities were willing to expose to western journalists.
Then the colonel told us that as it happened, six of the men we knew were politically active and articulate had been hit by a sudden epidemic of grippe and were in the hospital and could not be seen despite our demands.
As we left one building a window in the hospital ward was flung open and somebody shouted: ”We want to see you.”…
We were informed we could not disturb prisoners at work by talking to them, so engrossed were they at their lathes and sewing machines. But we could see some we had requested, at the end of the day.
So we walked about in silence, except for two prisoners who whispered as we passed – it is a show for you.
Then, in an instant, the show ended. A prisoner bolted from a cloth-cutting room, right into the crowd of officers and visitors, and clearly and calmly said: ”I must talk to you. The K.G.B. will kill me, but I must talk to you.”…
Alexander Goldovich, a 40-year-old physicist, had a very closely shaved head. He told us he had tried to escape, in a tiny boat, to Finland and was picked up by a Soviet trawler. A roll of film showing ”negative scenes of Soviet life” was found in his boat, the authorities charged. He said sadly that it was true that he had had a roll of film, but all it had shown were pictures of his apartment in Moscow, which, he admitted, was very small.
Mr. Goldovich said there was some more food now, but that ”torture by hunger had been replaced by torture by cold.” He was a good Christian, he said, and could we possibly get him a Bible?
Ruslan Kentenchiev, a young Russian who had tried to escape the Soviet Union by contacting the American Embassy and fell right into a K.G.B. trap, walked in straight-backed and immediately said the men locked in the hospital sent word to remember them. Then he said coolly that the officers in that room would punish those who had spoken to us. He said Mr. Gorbachev wanted Western approval and that Western pressure had helped bring freedom for the ”Article 70’s.” He stood and said to the Americans: ”It is balm to my heart that you are here . . .” Then he left the room, erect, as if on parade.
Gorbachev will be praised for his courage. He was a weasel, despised by his own countrymen, who tried to run the same old gambit that the USSR had run successfully on FDR, JFK, and Carter only to find out that for the first time it no longer worked.
These men actually were courageous.
Goldovich was convicted in 1984, the year Gorbachev took power, he was still apparently being held in the camp in 1990. And was probably only released at the fall of the USSR. He now appears to live in Florida which I imagine is much nicer than Perm or New York City.
Rep. Chris Smith, who is still in office, and Rep. Frank Wolf, who isn’t, visited Goldovich.
“Goldovich had requested a Bible during the Rosenthal visit to Perm 35. He was denied one by camp authorities. We gave him a Bible and offered Bibles to any other prisoners who wanted one–all but two did. The Soviets assured us they would be allowed to keep them. Several times, he thanked people in the West for writing on his behalf. Asked whether there is any glasnost in the Perm camp, he replied, “No, not in the smallest degree.”
Gorbachev lied repeatedly and claimed that the USSR had no political prisoners.
You want to remember Gorby for something, remember him for the crowning achievement of a former Communist dictator being forced to shill for an American pizza place to get by. I can only fantasize about the day when our Communist dictators lose their sinecures and have to shoot Pizza Hut commercials.
Article posted with permission from Robert Spencer