Disarmament Campaigns

By Disarmament Campaigns | 1990-02-01 12:00:00

Update on Soviet Peace Movement

Moscow, in November. The visitor is shocked by the living situation of the have-nots of Soviet society. Queues in front of groceries and clothing shops grow to incredible lengths; people rush through the streets to get their basic needs. In the evening, exhausted and sometimes apathetic men and women fill the underground.
On Arbat Street, an area reserved for pedestrians, an interested public gathers around painters, pantomimists, and speakers who make use of the new freedom, standing on a box and arguing the pros and cons of Perestroika, as if in Hyde Park Corner. However, not only pedestrians but also a lot of drunks gather on Arbat Street, as drunk people are numerous, compared to Central Europe. Fights between drunks, as well as serious, hateful fights seem terribly common-in the street, in the underground, in cafés, and even in the best restaurants.
The economic crisis, the rather depressive social climate, the risks of the ethnic conflicts and the concerns about the problems of the upcoming winter are the background of all talks to peace and environmental activists, student groups, and individuals. The following is an excerpt of an interview with Tair Tairov, former Secretary of the World Peace Council, who quit his job some time ago and became one of the leading persons of the independent peace movement, which he also represents in the END Liaison Committee.

Klemens Gutmann: In the last months, the last year, it has come out clearly: The most severe problems of the Soviet Union are primarily in the fields of ecology, ethnic conflicts, and economy-not in the area of disarmament. What is the role of the peace movement in the USSR?

Tair Tairov: I think the peace movement has never been only a peace movement; it has always been a movement for the humanization of modern society. It was a peace movement in the sense that it has taken up the nuclear issue as a priority because it was an essential threat to life. That's why I think the peace movement today should also take up some of the other priorities, such as environmental issues, and continue working on East-West understanding and human rights issues, which I think are still very valid questions. The necessity of linking the issues has had its reflection in the foundation of a broad peace coalition, the Citizens of "Mir", that is going to happen next month and have the participation of very different independent initiatives. The platform will have three priorities: peace and disarmament, human rights, environment.

Gutmann: For somebody from the West watching the USSR, it is shocking how unexpectedly fast the ethnic conflicts have grown and how strong and cruel they have become. How far does this concern peace activists here and probably direct their attention to inside the country?

Tairov: We are discussing what we could do in the peace movement. On one hand, we are tempted to do something to bring the different nationalities together. However, we are confronted with the phenomenon that we would have to bring together national movements that are for suppression. In the case of Azerbaijan/Armenia, for example, that is an unexpectedly quick and strong upsurge of hatred, an extremely delicate issue for a peace group. This is a reflection of accumulated energies not solved by Soviet power, and I believe that bringing these two nations together will be a difficult and painful process. This is a real challenge for the peace movement. Authorities have lost the momentum. Official peace movements are ignoring this reality completely. They are fighting for peace at the conference table in Geneva, Vienna, and Paris rather than in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Yerevan, Armenia.

We have been discussing a national or international nonviolent action or manifestation in the region itself, but we are also afraid of the shooting going on there. Sometimes it's like in Lebanon. Anyway, this is still a very serious challenge, but we haven't found the answer yet.

Gutmann: How does the Soviet-or let's say, the Moscow-public react to that?

Tairov: You can find interesting comments. Some say, "Let them kill each other because that's better for us." Others say, "They are non-Russians; what do we have to do with them?" Of course, that's not mainstream. Most of the people feel sorry for the victims, but I don't think there is much real concern, as it does not concern people personally.

There are many Armenians in Moscow, so there are actions, services, meetings around the issue and they have sympathy as a consequence of the Sumgeit massacre. Recently there are casualties on both sides; Azerbaijani villages are being wiped out. It is impossible to say who is who and who does what. It is simply clear that we have to stop it.

Gutmann: As to another aspect of the Soviet crisis, what is the peace movement's position toward the economic crisis? To what extent can peace groups touch such sensitive issues as the defence budget?

Tairov: This is not sacrosanct anymore. The Ministry of Defence is trying to present the figures of military expenditures; there are comparative studies of these figures. The issue is discussed by different groups, such as writers, economists, even on television. The economic crisis is deep, and one reason is the military expenditures. A lot of work is being done for conversion of military factories, and the Ministry of Defence has been speaking of conversion for some time. However, there are lots of technical and organizational problems. We know that the military has taken considerable steps to cut down the expenditures, and we know that there is some kind of public commission that monitors the East-West agreements, as well as the unilateral Soviet arms reduction in Europe. There are public monitoring initiatives that have started to watch this process and report on it. I think that, despite these measures of the military, this has not been enough and the results will not be obvious soon.

Gutmann: In a recent conference between Eastern and Western army officials at the Protestant Academy of Tutzing, West Germany, the military professionals came to remarkable conclusions: That it was indeed possible for an army to exist without a hostile image, that peace could not be assured by military means any longer, and that arms should become ploughshares! We do not know about the NATO officers, but do you think the Soviet officers are honest if they say that?

Tairov: They are honest. There is no alternative. The military has begun speaking about non-military thinking, the uselessness of arms for peacekeeping, that the military is no longer a factor of foreign policy. They have even concluded that military forces can not only be applied any longer but even are counterproductive. The more military you have, the less flexible your foreign policy will be. One of the new ideas is to have detente conferences between militaries.

Gutmann: What have been the concrete reactions of Soviet independent peace forces to the government's disarmament initiatives and the more open climate, and to the ethnic tensions and the economic crisis?

Tairov: More than a year ago, the most important independent group, the Moscow Trust Group (MTG) split into two parts. In pre-Glasnost times the differences between both wings had been covered by the pressure from outside and by the impossibility of carrying out a real public campaign. The more radical wing entirely opposes cooperation with the authorities and has made conscientious objection the main issue of its work. At present, probably 300 C.O.s are in prison (some say 3000), and there is growing public concern about them. Despite Gorbachev's disarmament activism, this problem has not yet been solved, although a law institutionalizing [civilian] service is expected to be discussed by the Supreme Soviet sometime next year.

The more moderate parts of the MTG do not oppose cooperation with official bodies and are interested in participating in the END process and cooperating with Western peace groups, [irrespective] of their contacts with state officials. However, Yury Krasnorutsky, a spokesperson of this part of the MTG, clearly states that the only substantial support received from the West has been from Finnish peace groups. Besides focusing on conscientious objection as well, this fraction wants to contribute to discussions around disarmament strategies and conversion of military production.

At present, the peace movement's main project is helping to give life to a coalition of independent peace forces called Citizens of "Mir." Making use of the fact that "Mir" means both "peace" and "earth," the coalition will help to broaden the basis for disarmament campaigns in the USSR. Citizens of "Mir" will have a platform and structure that will allow it to publish and widely distribute a magazine and provide publishing services to the member organizations that are supposed to create their own resources. Last but not least, it will help to pressure the government more efficiently.

The new peace platform will also receive support from the Foundation for Social Innovations (FSI), a fund that wants to stimulate all kinds of citizens' activities that help the environment and promote peace and international understanding. The organizations that support the FSI range from alternative writers and artists' organizations to well-established bodies like the study centre of Komsomolskaya Pravda. One of the most successful activities of the FSI has been an exchange program, not only for North Americans to visit the USSR, but also for independent Soviet activists to visit North America under the slogan, "Discover America."

The drafting of a declaration of principles for the Citizens of "Mir" platform is taking place these weeks. More information on concrete projects of the new movement and the cooperation between the platform and the FSI can be expected in the first months of the year.

DISARMAMENT CAMPAIGNS is published at Anna Paulownaplein 3, Post Box 18747, 2502 ES, The Hague, Netherlands. Tel.70 345 35 66. Fax 70 364 40 60. Editor Shelley Anderson. Staff: Janet Larmore, Jeremias Tucker.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1990

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1990, page 17. Some rights reserved.

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