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Putting Dissidents in Danger
As it turned out, “Glasnost” and other dissident voices were undermined in the aftermath of this episode. But the blame belonged not to the Center and its leaders but to vanden Heuvel and Coogan’s own recklessness.
A “New York Times” investigation conducted less than a month after the appearance of the “Nation” article revealed that Coogan had discussed their as yet unpublished piece with Iona Andronov, a Soviet journalist with the hard-line “Literaturnaya Gazeta,” and even provided him with an advance galley.
Subsequently, Andronov — widely believed at the time to have been a KGB operative — smeared Sergei Grigoryants, the well-known publisher of “Glasnost,” and other dissidents as “stooges of Western intelligence,” citing documents provided by Coogan during an interview. (Coogan admitted to “discussing” the piece with Andronov and tendering the galley, but claimed the interview was a fabrication.)
Then, three months after the publication of their piece, vanden Heuvel and Coogan’s journalistic and ideological follies were subjected to an extended critique by Joshua Muravchik, writing in “Commentary.”
Muravchik showed that the link between Yarim-Agaev’s Stanford proposal and the Center’s actual purpose and programming was tenuous at best, and charged that vanden Heuvel and Coogan deliberately ignored documents that made this abundantly clear.
In response, vanden Heuvel and Coogan took to the famously contentious letters pages of “Commentary,” accusing Muravchik of misrepresentation, bias, libel, and the like, and once again underlined their claim to have been motivated by concern for the welfare of Soviet dissidents — even though their having discussed the article with a hard-line Soviet journalist and suspected KGB agent was by then in the public record.
Muravchik retorted with a devastating letter of his own. Vanden Heuvel and Coogan feigned concern for the dissidents, Muravchik wrote, when “it was they themselves who furnished the Soviet government with the very accusation that they claim[ed] to fear!”
Even more damning, however, was a letter from none other than Grigoryants, “Glasnost’s” embattled publisher. “It would be tragic if Glasnost was silenced as a result [of the Center’s activities],” vanden Heuvel and Coogan had warned in their original article.
Well, here was Glasnost’s own publisher, writing that “the article in the Nation … has brought us nothing but trouble.” Indeed, “[e]ven now [in November 1988] Miss vanden Heuvel and Mr. Coogan’s materials are still being used in the USSR for badgering the independent press.” And what became of Glasnost after vanden Heuvel’s courageous “exposé?”
“The campaign ended in the destruction and robbery of the editorial offices on May 9, 1988, from which we have still not recovered.
“We have also not managed to find new office space, and trying to put out issues from tiny private apartments has slowed us up doubly.
“If there were once 200 copies of the journal circulating in Moscow, today the situation is such that Glasnost is practically the only publication in Moscow which people are afraid to copy and distribute, so great is the threat of persecution and arrest.”
So much for the theory that one can protect dissident voices by accusing them of aiding Western agendas.
Sad Episode All But Forgotten
For men like Bukovsky, Yarim-Agaev, and Grigoryants, these dark moments would soon give way to a brilliant democratic dawn — one they actively helped usher in, the efforts of their detractors on the Western left notwithstanding.
Vanden Heuvel, meanwhile, has likely all but forgotten this sad episode from her early career. Hence she can so coolly dismiss a figure like Lech Walesa as a “hubristic” individualist.
A few minutes after her original tweet, vanden Heuvel came back with another update, this one more deferential toward her subject’s stature and moral legacy:
“Lech Walesa as leader of Solidarity was remarkable historical figure/But where is humane spirit of Solidarity today? That we need 2 seek/find,” she wrote.
I would suggest vanden Heuvel look to Iran’s courageous pro-democracy activists, including those in the Persian diaspora, who have consciously taken up the spirit of Walsa’s movement.
Alas, “The Nation’s” editorial line in recent years has consistently framed “Iranian exiles” as misguided stooges of hawkish agendas — rather than good faith advocates for an undeniably just cause.
Some things just do not change.
Sohrab Ahmari’s writing appears in the “Boston Globe,” “The Weekly Standard,” and “Commentary,” among other publications. The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
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