Part II of Rob Prince’s behind-the-scenes look at the World Peace Council’s dealings in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. See also Part I, May 1992 and Part III, August 2011.
It is highly unlikely that when he visited Helsinki from Moscow in September of 1991, Oleg Kharkhardin, a Soviet Peace Committee (SPC) representative, did so to pick mushrooms.
If he arrived in the Finnish capital at a fine time weatherwise, it was a curious one politically. The Soviet Union had entered a transition period, just after the August 20 abortive coup attempt. The demise of the USSR would take place only 2 few months later.
Shortly before, at about the time that Kharkhardin re-emerged into a position of power; the SPC had somehow engineered granting the WPC a sizeable “one time financial gift” of unknown proportions-but believed to be at least $2 million (see Part One in the May-June issue, pg. 16).
Kharkhardin tried to slip in and out of Helsinki, if not secretly, at least quietly. He’d come to replace his long-time nemesis and SPC bureaucratic competitor; Vladimir Oryol, in the latter’s post as Soviet Secretary to the WPC. This goal quickly achieved, he tried to assess the WPC’s financial position for the coming period in consultation with WPC Executive-Secretary Ray Stewart of New Zealand.
The state of the WPC which Kharkhardin discovered in Helsinki can only be described as bleak. If not for the “one-time” gift, placed into a fund managed by a small and still unknown group of confidants dose to both Kharkhardin and Ray Stewart, the WPC would simply collapse.
Apart from the interest payments the fund produced, the WPC had virtually no income. Hardly any of its supposedly 145 “member organizations” had paid their dues and the total paid subscriptions of the WPC’s two publications was less than 50 and not likely to increase. The WPC staff, cut from nearly 60 in the late 1980s to 4 or 5 now, would probably be shrunk down to Stewart himself.
Furthermore, the WPC’s President, Evangelos Maheras from Greece, was becoming increasingly irritated by the way the Helsinki office, and the organization as a whole, was being run. He resented being kept ignorant of the organization’s finances, a situation which made him look more like a figure-head than an active president.
Admitting that many of the WPC’s “member organizations” existed only on paper, he seemed increasingly uncomfortable with his figurehead role.
“I have not a full knowledge of our economic situation” he wrote. He continued with what in any organization—other than the WPC—would have been a rather extraordinary revelation:
“I have read in the Liaison Office’s report (i.e. Stewart’s) that there is a fund deposited in the Bank, the interest from which provides an income for the WPC. I don’t know how this fund was created, how it functions and how long it will exist.” (WPC Executive Committee Minutes, Resolutions, Reports. Berlin, 8-9 February, 1992. Appendix 13.)
If the current financial situation continues, Mahares concluded, the WPC will probably have to close shop in Helsinki, a move that, from what I can tell, will not produce a wave of national mourning in the Finnish capital.
Despite the infusion of Soviet fluids just prior to the USSR’s collapse, the WPC appears to be on its last leg, although it could indefinitely continue in a state of suspension. Inertia, habit, psychological dependency, lack of direction, fear of the unknown in the post-Cold War era, and that last dose of Moscow Gold (see Part One) will keep it hobbling along.
The attendance of the February Berlin WPC Executive Committee suggests an organization with some international potential, at least on paper. Looking good on paper has always been most important to the WPC.
It might not have built any peace campaigns of substance for nearly 20 years, but the WPC had some interesting participant lists. It wasn’t that difficult to give away free tickets and hotel rooms to people who were mostly just curious to see what the WPC was about. In fact the list was an end in itself, an absolutely vital element in WPC bureaucratic survival. The key was how well the list played in Moscow at the International Department of the Central Committee. Here insulated bureaucrats tried in vain to evaluate a peace movement they had never seen or experienced, based upon lists of participants-and on the good word of Oleg Kharkhardin or Romesh Chandra, who made the rounds there.
An interesting “list of participants” reinforced the widening gap between reality and the fantasy that the world’s peoples “stood by” the WPC, which in turn stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Leonid Brezhnev and the USSR. That little bit of political schmaltz was the grease needed to open the hard currency spigot to enable the money to flow into the WPC’s Helsinki bank accounts.
But now there is no more Soviet Union; there are no more insulated Moscow bureaucrats from the Central Committee’s International Department to bribe, cajole, or influence. Now the WPC participant lists are just a list of people from different countries who have been under the false impression that they were the international peace movement. Generally speaking they represent narrow forces close to dying communist parties or countries that no longer exist.
Let’s put to rest the ideological rationale to which some WPC advocates still cling: its potential as an international peace organization with broad contacts in the Third World, which supposedly constitute its “unique character.” Certainly the idea of international peace cooperation that entails strengthening the ties between peace movements in advanced industrialized countries and those of Asia, Africa and Latin America deserved serious consideration.
Over the years, Third World countries and social movements did join the WPC—mostly as one of a number of avenues to reach Moscow. The essence of the WPC ‘s role was as a kind of brokerage house for the movements wanting ties with the USSR. The USSR funnelled these movements through the WPC, making WPC events colorful affairs, if nothing else. Unfortunately, it created an illusion that was not matched by reality. Little tangible peace work resulted beyond the usual statements of solidarity.
Many things and people might have changed in the world, but Oleg Kharkhardin isn’t likely to be one of them. Those familiar with the World Peace Council know that Kharkhardin was no stranger to Helsinki’s Lönnrotinkatu 25-the WPC’s headquarters. In the post-USSR period the Soviet Peace Committee has become the International Federation of Peace and Reconciliation (IFPC) and Oleg Kharkhardin has become the organization’s “first vice-president”
The IFPC claims that 35 organizations are affiliated to it, but only one is known for certain—the WPC. IFPC is housed at the same Moscow address —36 Prospect Mira—as the SPC, and it is staffed by the same staff. Although permitted to function in the post-USSR era, according to informed sources —the former Soviet Peace Fund (now the Russian Peace Fund) has been consider-ably slashed.
This horse isn’t quite dead yet. These people remain entrenched and in power in the new IFPC—an indication of how cleverly some former Soviet bureaucrats have been able to ride the waves of change. Their agencies more or less survive, with their bureaucratic power intact, merely changing vocabulary and political masks at critical intervals.
Recently in an interview in The Nation, noted Soviet expert Stephen Cohen made some telling remarks which help explain the political survival of the world’s Oleg Kharkhardins. Cohen commented on the degree to which the “old elites” of the former Soviet Union retain considerable power in the new situation. They have, in fact, consolidated their hold on much property and wealth and no new elite, no new class forces have yet emerged to challenge the authority of the apparatchiks. (See The Nation, March 2, 1992, pgs 260-261).
It turns out that such questions are of more than academic interest. The Yeltsin government in Russia would like to know more about this situation as well. Shortly after coming to power at the end of 1991, the Russian government sent a team of investigators to Finland to probe the CPSU-SPC-WPC connection. Specifically it was interested in the transfer of fluids from the former CPSU to the West through the WPC just prior to and after the abortive coup that attempted to restore the CPSU old guard to power in August, 1991.
Unfortunately they returned to Moscow empty-handed. Relevant Finnish banks, claiming to respect the confidentiality of their clients, refused to discuss the WPC’s Finnish financial dealings with the Russian investigators. The secret fund, which supports the lion’s share of the WPC budget—as well as decades of the organization’s questionable financial dealings- remains shrouded in mystery.
The documents in the archives of the International Department of the former CPSU—as well as the ample records of the relevant Finnish banks—have yet to yield their secrets on this score. It remains for some enterprising team of Finish and Russian research journalists to pursue the matter.
After receiving so much adverse publicity in the 1988-1990 period, the WPC leadership was interested in leaving Helsinki for a safer and more obscure haven from which to conduct its operations. There were speculations and many open suggestions that the organization would soon leave the Finnish capital. It would relocate in Athens, under the protective wing of the Greek Communist Party, which seemed somewhat interested.
According to informed sources, that move did not take place, nor is it likely to. The reason is quite simple. The Greek laws on banking confidentiality are different from those in Finland. The Greek banks could not assure the WPC the kind of confidentiality that it has enjoyed since the late 1960s when it first moved to Helsinki. Better to retain a low profile in Finland and keep its bank records secret rather than risk financial exposure—the WPC’s version of a fate worse than death.
Rob Prince was U.S. Secretary to the World Peace Council from 1986-1990.
Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1992, page 20. Some rights reserved.
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