Washington D.C., May 23, 2008 - Today, the National Security Archive publishes its third installment of the diary of one of the main supporters of Mikhail Gorbachev and strongest proponents of glasnost during the perestroika period in the Soviet Union — Anatoly Sergeevich Chernyaev. This section of the diary, covering two key years of history, is being published in English here for the first time.
By 1987 Chernyaev has become a member of Gorbachev’s inner circle, a close adviser the General Secretary relies on for drafting his speeches, writing his book on perestroika, and often for baring his soul and sharing doubts and concerns about the speed and the direction that the reform is taking. Even though Chernyaev’s position focuses his responsibilities on foreign policy, the diary shows how deeply involved he was in developing the ideas of perestroika in philosophical terms, and in applying them to Soviet domestic political structures and ideology. He is especially vocal in his encouragement of openness and freedom of the press.
At the start of the year, Chernyaev gives a brief overview of how the policy of glasnost has been changing the Soviet press, which becomes truly free and vibrant in this period, with many previously banned manuscripts finding their way into scholarly and literary journals. The speed of the reform process picks up with the January 1987 Central Committee Plenum focusing on “cadres” — the Communist Party’s personnel policy. In spring 1987, Chernyaev is very busy preparing materials for U.S.-Soviet negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces, (resulting in the landmark treaty signed in December 1987), as well as Geneva and Reykjavik which leads to his “neglecting” his diary for a time.
The summer entries give a glimpse of Gorbachev’s uneasy reaction to the flight of Mathias Rust, the young West German pilot who landed his small plane near the Red Square after evading the vaunted Soviet air defense systems. Eventually, Gorbachev uses the Rust incident to conduct a profound purge of the military leadership, removing those who are known for their opposition to the reform, including Defense Minister Sergei Sokolov.
In fall 1987, virtually all of Chernyaev’s attention is given over to preparations for a seminal event — the Central Committee Plenum commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. These preparations involve addressing some of the most painful spots in Soviet history — Stalin’s purges beginning in the 1930s.
The year 1988 begins with another important Plenum — this time focusing on school reform. The February party gathering addresses fundamental ideological issues head-on within the framework of discussions on the teaching of history in secondary schools and in institutions of higher education. Chernyaev notes attacks on glasnost at the Plenum, which later culminate in a famous letter by Nina Andreeva, a teacher from Leningrad, published in the conservative newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya in March, which in turn provokes an intense discussion and a drawing of lines of disagreement within the Central Committee. Gorbachev openly challenges those in the leadership who side with Andreeva’s Stalinist version of Soviet history, and he later gradually removes practically all of these individuals from the Central Committee — including Vitalii Vorotnikov, Yegor Ligachev, Andrei Gromyko, Mikhail Solomentsev, Viktor Nikonov and Viktor Chebrikov.
The first half of 1988, as reflected in the diary, is devoted to preparations for the 19th Party Conference of June 28-July 1, which becomes the main turning point toward political reform and democratization in Soviet society. Chernyaev’s diary perceptively captures all the difficult debates over these issues within the leadership and among the drafters of the theses for the conference. Assessing Gorbachev’s performance there, Chernyaev notes his bold and consistent speeches, but also his inability to deal effectively with voices of the opposition, including Ligachev on the right and Boris Yeltsin on the left. Afterwards, during a trip with Gorbachev to the Black Sea, Chernyaev works on implementing the decisions of the conference — primarily drafting proposals for a radical reform of the central party apparatus, which is eventually carried out at the September 1988 Plenum of the Central Committee.
Chernyaev is also involved in drafting arguably the most important Gorbachev speech of 1988 — the U.N. General Assembly address announcing drastic cuts in Soviet conventional forces in Europe, which makes it clear to the East Europeans that the new Soviet leadership is serious about not resorting to force to maintain Communist political control in the region. In preparing the speech, Soviet reformers must overcome emerging opposition among the military brass, who make every effort to prevent deep unilateral cuts in Soviet armaments, and are especially adamant in resisting the withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe. Specific figures and other content from the speech have to be kept secret, even from other members of the Central Committee, practically until Gorbachev’s departure for the United States.
These diary entries cover the two most successful years of Soviet perestroika — the years when Gorbachev enjoyed immense popularity both at home and especially in the West, and before the conservative opposition to reform began to coalesce, leading eventually to the coup of August 1991. Beneath the surface, however, these processes were already beginning to rock the reformers’ boat, and Chernyaev, subtly but precisely, notes the first signs of this agitation in these pages.
The Chernyaev Diary was translated by Anna Melyakova and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.