Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Robert Buchar, an associate professor and author of the Cinematography Program at Columbia College in Chicago. A political refugee from former Czechoslovakia, he is the producer of the documentary, Velvet Hangover, which is about Czech New Wave filmmakers, how they survived the period of “normalization” and their reflections on the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989. He is the author of the new book, And Reality be Damned… Undoing America: What The Media Didn’t Tell You About the End of the Cold War and Fall of Communism in Europe. The book is based on a documentary feature he is currently working on, The Collapse of Communism: The Untold Story.
FP: Robert Buchar, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about how communism still poses a danger to the West, despite the “collapse of communism” in the 1989-1991 period. This is all connected to the plans of deception that were engineered by Yuri Andropov.
But first, tell us a bit about how the communists won in Eastern Europe after WWII, as an understanding of this is crucial in order for our grasping the deception and threat we still face today.
Buchar: Thank you Jamie for inviting me.
The public today is living totally out of the historical context, especially young people. Brainwashed by our education system and media, they can’t place any historical event in context. For them, being a part of today “now” culture, the past doesn’t exist and they accept any information for its face value, no questions asked.
As you infer, it’s hard, if not impossible, to understand the danger of communism today without looking back how communists won in Europe after the WW2. When the Soviets were liberating Europe in 1945, it wasn’t just the Red Army pushing Germans out of occupied countries. With the Russian army came the invisible “army” of NKVD officers and agents bringing along people with false identities. Stalin’s goal was to export the communist ideology to Europe and to establish permanently communist regimes in all countries where the Red Army put its foot down.
FP: Czechoslovakia is a good and tragic example.
Buchar: Absolutely. The first thing the Russians did in 1945 was take over the interior ministry and immediately establish the STB, the new secret police. They also created the well-armed Peoples Militia and started indoctrinating the public in order to promote socialism.
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” became the ethos. Shared wealth, housing for everyone, no unemployment, free healthcare, free education, no private property, government will run everything and take care of everybody, that was the lie. Two and half years later, in February 1948, the communists staged the coup d’état, overthrew the democratic government and installed the dictatorship of the proletariat. No wonder that the new President of Czechoslovakia, Klement Gottwald, was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (1921) and a secretary of the Comintern (1939-1945). He immediately nationalized the industry and collectivized farms. In the purges that followed, the opponents of the regime were sent to prisons, labor camps, or executed. During the following 20 years, hundreds were executed, 4,500 died in prisons, 327 were killed when attempting to cross the border, 205,486 were sentenced to jail, and almost 200,000 defected. No number can reveal how many people were interrogated, barred from jobs, or education.
One should also pay attention to how the following leaders were selected by Moscow. The next president was Antonin Zapotocky, co-founder of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Capo in Sachsenhousen concentration camp during WW2. The Netherlands unsuccessfully demanded his extradition for participation in execution of Dutch citizens. After his death in 1957, he was replaced by Antonin Novotny, communist party member since 1921 and Capo in Mauthausen concentration camp 1941-1045. And we can follow this pattern even after the so-called fall of communism. Not to many people today realize that socialism, or communism—whatever we call it—leads only to corruption, lack of productivity and ultimately lack of morale by promoting unmotivated and lazy people.
FP: Ok, let’s move on. There is a common perception that Gorbachev’s Perestroika began with him, but it was actually planned long before that with a devious plan behind it, right?
Many people believe that the foundation for the Perestroika was the so-called Novosibirsk Report in April 1983, which was leaked to the Washington Post later in August. The author was Tatyana Zaslavskaya, a Russian economical sociologist from the USSR Academy of Science in Novosibirsk. Mikhail Gorbachev discussed this report in the Politburo and it’s believed it initiated the Perestroika.
However, documents Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov obtained and according to testimony of others I interviewed, suggest that preparations started much earlier in the 1970’s under the leadership of Yuri Andropov. After I published my book, And Reality Be Damned, Rudolf Hegenbart, the former chief of the 13th Directorate of the CZCP Central Committee, wrote to me: “I am reading your important book and I must agree with most of your assumptions. When I was studying in Moscow in the 1970’s, most of what’s in your book we were lectured on then.” Hegenbart was supposedly charged with coordinating foreign disinformation operations regarding Charter 77. After the fall of communism, he was threatened by Havel’s people that he would end up on the bottom of Slapy Lake if he would ever talk.
Anyway, according to Bukovsky, Andropov was the father of all changes, even before he became the General Secretary in 1982. Most of what Gorbachev was trying to implement was theoretically worked out under Andropov in different think tanks patronized by either the KGB or Central Committee. Economic issues were worked out with the help of some Western economists of leftist persuasion. It all happened in Austria. Andropov was also engaged in the training of the next generation of communist elites. We still have some politicians prepared under Andropov. The West never really understood what was going on in the Soviet Union.
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… .