Tair Tairov was Secretary of the World Peace Council (WPC) in Helsinki 1980/85. He is now a member of the Presidential Committee of the Soviet Peace Committee (SPC). Jane Mayes, who conducted the interview, works with Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The interview says much about the END process and its effects on new thinking in the USSR.
July 1, 1988, Lund, Sweden
Jane Mayes (JM): You have suggested that changes are necessary in the SPC; do you think changes are also needed in the WPC?
Tair Tairov (TT): Absolutely. The WPC is also a product of the Stalinist/Brezhnevite structure and of the stagnation period. Undoubtedly there are some good people in the WPC, and there were good people in a good movement. Later it turned into a window show; the aim was to convince the Soviet people that everything is OK outside, that the whole world is with us.
But the WPC is bureaucratized and closed for ordinary people. It has spoiled its image very, very strongly. It is true that there have been attacks from the right-wing media on the WPC but it itself contributed to this image by being sectarian. I know from my own experience how much trouble I had when I supported the peace marches of 1981. I was told I was betraying the WPC by going on the Copenhagen/Paris march, by speaking on the same platform as Edward Thompson. So I think changes should take place in many aspects of the WPC, financial for instance. It should become very open on how it spends its money, how it fundraises. There is no harm in opening everything up. And of course there must be much more glasnost and democracy in the way it works -- conference after conference, seminar after seminar. But what are the effects of these conferences and seminars? What are the campaigns that come from them? What are the follow-up actions? The WPC is only a conference-building measure. There is no harm in conferences, but too much money is spent on them which should be spent in helping the Third World.
The WPC must change -- otherwise it will become more and more isolated. The spirit of the past is still prevailing. I feel sorry that so many people have left, or don't want to cooperate with the WPC, not because they don't like it, but because they find it is not proper to do so. They must have a good reason for this, and we must find it and get rid of it.
JM: What about the Communist International function of the WPC, its role in developing countries, bringing them to the international meetings?
TT: It didn't work as such. We have the journal "Problems of Peace and Socialism." Let the movements from developing countries come to these meetings, but what is the result, how are they involved? We need other forms of contacts between the peace movements, and we cannot do all these things without changing our methods. It is very positive that people have been coming to all these meetings, but it is not enough. They are negative and fruitless trips unless they are to meetings where they confront new ideas.
JM: Wasn't the WPC successful in establishing the anti-neutron bomb campaign?
TT: The anti-neutron bomb campaign wasn't to the credit of the WPC, but to the credit of its groups in the Netherlands, in Belgium and France; to national branches and grassroots.
JM: Most of the large movements of the cruise/Pershing II campaign were not WPC groups but were nonaligned.
TT: I was in the WPC in Helsinki since 1979 and I have seen that affiliated WPC groups did a lot for that campaign in the early days, when there was no broader movement, making publicity, making a positive contribution. As the broader movement developed, they joined it.
JM: Could changes in the WPC help "old thinkers" in the movement to keep up with developments in new thinking?
TT: If changes took place in the WPC, which I doubt, certainly it would help this thinking. The WPC remains authoritarian and hierarchical. People are very nice, but they are afraid to criticize. But the time has come to change; if you don't change, you lose the vision of the future. Such people are still waiting, but for what? For new commands, new instructions? They are going to have to change themselves -- this is the meaning of glasnost.
JM: Such people themselves say that CND's international policy is anti-Soviet. Do you think this is true?
TT: No, never. There are some people who wanted to keep a nonaligned identity and wanted to keep a distance between themselves and the U.S. and the USSR. I understand this, though I don't agree. These people have contributed immensely to the awakening of the peace movements in the West and that was the only way to do it. I'm very positive about the effects of the END movement in Europe.
JM: Do you think that the ideas of the END movement have contributed to the development of the new thinking?
TT: Absolutely. If it wasn't for the peace movements in the West, there would have been no new thinking at all. They nourished the idea of nuclear weapon free zones, of a nuclear-free Europe, of a nuclear-free world. Without them, Gorbachev would never have proclaimed the idea of a nonviolent, non-nuclear world. He knew that the world was already fertile. They created the historical arena in which he could go ahead. From my position in the WPC, I saw the new movements emerging, like CND, Women for Peace, the generals, the medical movement. Gorbachev has been watching this and thinking there is something developing in Europe which has never been seen before. You cannot go on pretending that SS-20s are different from cruise and Pershing II. This is a direct consequence of the peace movements' work.
I myself sent a cable to Moscow saying, Please, for God's sake, make an oath not to test for half a year. It's a no-lose game. we can't lose. I was reprimanded by the Soviet Peace Committee. They told me, "It's none of your business. No, we will not stop unilaterally." So I said, if you won't stop, at least don't test in August, 1985. Every year we test on Hiroshima and Nagasaki days. They said, "Tair, forget the unilateral moratorium, but we promise we won't test at the beginning of August." I sent another cable: "Please, thousands of people from Australia to Canada are waiting. Bruce Kent, Daniel Ellsberg, CND, SPAS are waiting. We have nothing to lose." I sent this two weeks before the moratorium was declared and I know it was read by all the top people, the Ministry of Defence, Gorbachev. When I read in the paper that Gorbachev had announced the moratorium, I felt that I was lucky that day. For me, that was a positive lesson of Helsinki. I had some position, through being in Helsinki, to convince the leadership. That is why I claim that these actions helped. I also worked out the slogan, "No to Nukes in Europe East and West" with Eva Nordland. The military in Moscow didn't like this slogan, but it opened a way for people in Moscow to begin protesting against our own nuclear weapons.
JM: But how did our ideas nourish the development of Soviet policies?
TT: I was really touched by the Copenhagen to Paris march. It was unique in human history. There was a ceremony in Paris afterwards at the Soviet Embassy, demanding that Reagan and Brezhnev support a Nordic nuclear free zone. I wanted to send a cable to Moscow; this was a historic event; new waves of protest will come. They told me the march is over, go home and forget it. But I was right. In the fall of 1981, there were demos all over Europe demanding the zero option. I sent the cable about the unilateral moratorium and people were so unhappy. But I was inspired by the process going on in Western Europe by CND, Greenham, and the others.
JM: Don't you think that if perestroika and glasnost awaken movements like this in the USSR there will be no control over what might happen?
TT: Of course, and we need such movements to change our mode of thinking. Happily, what happened in the USSR coincided with the growth of the peace movements in the West. It was a historical coincidence. But changes should have happened in the USSR twenty years ago.
JM: Did the peace movement affect foreign policy?
TT: The peace movements put forward new alternatives for East/West dialogue, ways of crushing enemy images. The END movement has played a role in this. It is the only forceful populist movement in Western Europe which really expresses the soul of ordinary people.
JM: Where do you think we should go next?
TT: We have to work out new long-term goals, a vision of the future, of world management, goals which include ecological problems, human rights problems, in order to broaden the borders of the END process beyond Europe. We have to bring in global ecological issues, nuclear dumping, etc., connected with disarmament and conventional weapons and keep the process going. We can't trust governments, which are made up mostly of bureaucrats. We are the ones who must control governments, not the other way around.
DISARMAMENT CAMPAIGNS is published from its office at Anna Paulownaplein 3, Post Box 18747, 2502 ES, The Hague, Netherlands. Tel. 070 45 35 66. Editor: Shelley Anderson. Editorial Staff: Renate Durnbaugh, Birgit Gaffney.