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FP: Tell us about the Andropov phenomenon.
Buchar: The name of Yuri Andropov is almost unknown in the West regardless of his pivotal role in the transformation of the Soviet Union. The turning point in Andropov’s career was his transfer to Moscow (1951) where he was assigned to the party’s Secretariat staff, considered a training ground for promising young officials. As ambassador to Hungary (July 1954–March 1957), he played a major role in coordinating the Soviet invasion of that country. For Hungarians, he is a symbol of the terror that followed the Soviet intrusion. He deported thousands of Hungarians into Russia and executed hundreds. After returning to Moscow, he rose rapidly through the Communist hierarchy and, in 1967, become head of the KGB.
Andropov’s policies as head of the KGB were repressive; his tenure was noted for its suppression of political dissidents. He quietly, calmly and without sensibility incinerated the dissident movement. The deportation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the country, Andrei Sakharov’s exile to Gorky town, the wide-spread use of psychiatric clinics for dissidents, open-and-closed investigations – all of this was Andropov’s work. Andropov was elected to the Politburo and, as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s health declined, he began to position himself for succession, resigning his KGB post in 1982. He was chosen by the Communist Party Central Committee to succeed Brezhnev as general secretary on November 12, just two days after Brezhnev’s death. He consolidated his power by becoming chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (President) on June 16, 1983. Ill health overtook him by August 1983 and thereafter he was never seen again in public.
Andropov was the godfather of Russia’s new era of deception operations aimed at improving the badly damaged image of Soviet rulers in the West. Ironically, when it turned out that the CIA and the State Department had few details about Andropov—not even the name or fate of his wife—the press took whatever it could find. The press couldn’t admit that virtually nothing was known about this man: not the names of his parents, ethnic background, education, war service, preferences in music and literature, linguistic abilities or his ideas. We didn’t even know how tall he was.
The myth about Andropov as a reformer, progressive politician and humanist was created by Andropov himself with the help of his numerous loyal followers. Harrison Salisbury in The New York Times described him as “a witty conversationalist,” and “a bibliophile” and “connoisseur of modern art.” Charles Fenyvesi in The Washington Post passed along a rumor that he was partly Jewish. Soon there were reports that Andropov was a man of extraordinary accomplishment, with some interests and proclivities that were unusual in a former head of the KGB. According to an article in The Washington Post, Andropov “is fond of cynical political jokes, collects abstract art, likes jazz and Gypsy music,” and “has a record of stepping out of his high party official’s cocoon to contact dissidents.” Also, he swims, plays tennis, and wears clothes that are “sharply tailored in a West European style.” The Wall Street journal added that Andropov “likes Glenn Miller records, good scotch whisky, Oriental rugs, and American books.” To the list of his musical favorites, Time added “Chubby Checker, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Bob Eberly,” and, asserting that he had once worked as a Volga boatman, said that he enjoyed singing “hearty renditions of Russian songs” at after-theater parties. The Christian Science Monitor suggested that he has “tried his hand at writing verse-in Russian, as it happens, and of a comic variety.” Edward Jay Epstein wrote a great article about this back in 1983.
The only person I was able to find who really knew Andropov personally was Ion Mihail Pacepa and he described him this way:
“The leaders of the Warsaw Pact intelligence community, when I was one of them, looked up to Andropov as the father of the Soviet bloc’s new era of political influence designed to save communism from economic failure by making communist dictators popular in the West. ‘The only thing the West cares about is our leaders,’ Andropov told me in 1972, when the Kremlin decided to make Ceausescu a success in the West as a dress rehearsal for pulling off the same trick with the ruler in the Kremlin. ‘The more they come to love him, the better they will like us.’
It was as simple as that. Andropov came up with the idea to convince the West that communist rulers admired Western democracy and wanted to emulate it. ‘Let the gullible fools believe you want to perfume your communism with a dab of Western democracy, and they will clothe you in gold,’ Andropov instructed me. Once on the Kremlin throne, the cynical chairman of the KGB rushed his intelligence machinery into introducing him to the West as a “moderate” communist and a sensitive, warm, Western-oriented man who allegedly enjoyed an occasional drink of Scotch, liked to read English novels, and loved listening to American jazz and the music of Beethoven. I knew Andropov well. He was none of the above.
In the 1970s, when I last met Andropov, his elongated, ascetic fingers always felt cold and moist when he shook my hand. ‘We are replacing all those so-called professional diplomats, who do nothing but sit around drinking and gossiping with deep-cover KGB officers,’ he began. In his soft voice, Andropov laid out the historically Russian roots of his new technique, for he was a Russian to the marrow of his bones. Some two hours later, the KGB chairman concluded our meeting as abruptly as he had started it. ‘Our gosbezopasnost had kept Russia alive for the past five hundred years, our gosbezopasnost had made her the strongest military power on earth, and our gosbezopasnost would steer her helm for the next five hundred years’ he concluded, looking me straight in the face. Andropov was also a dependable prophet. Today, his gosbezopasnost is still running Russia.”
FP: Robert Buchar, we’ve run out of time for now. Thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. Let’s do a follow-up interview on this soon, to discuss the present day situation. Frontpage readers stay tuned. . . .
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