YY: If I talk about Khrushchev, I could not to [but] talk about his successors - I mean, about Gorbachev, about Yeltsin - because all of them, they have something in common. All of them, they were children of very poor families, and they hated bureaucracy, they hated oppression, and at the same time, three of them, all of them, they were Party apparatchik(s), Party bureaucrats. And I admired Khrushchev when he, as a child of poor family who suffered not only under the landlord, but under the Stalin's bureaucracy too, he was accusing Stalin to being killer. Khrushchev was the first man who officially said it, and I admired this [in] Khrushchev. But Khrushchev was a Stalinist in the same time; it was inevitable dualism. Yeltsin is the same. Yeltsin was a Party apparatchik, but he was a child of very poor family; he was sleeping in the very cold barrack and trying to work up himself, he was embracing God during his childhood, according [to] his memoirs; and in the same time, Yeltsin many times behaved... before perestroika he behaved very rudely, attacking intellectuals in Urals. When he got instruction to explode the house when Tsar was killed, he did it as an obedient Party apparatchik. And I think that inside Khrushchev there were torments of conscience, because he was involved in Stalin's crimes, he was one of Stalin's closest aides, especially in the last years. I hope some torments of conscience were inside Yeltsin too, and inside Gorbachev - because Gorbachev('s) father was arrested, his uncle was arrested, and this was inevitable dualism. And how one Stalinist could be anti-Stalinist at the same time? But that is Khrushchev's character: very paradoxical. That's why I admire this... his... on his grave [a] little monument by sculptor Neizvestny, when he express this dualism in Khrushchev's character. But generally I could say I am very grateful to him. He was sometimes rude; he apologized, being retired. Of course, it's easier to apologize when you are retired, but he did it. I could forgive him many things - his rudeness, his lack of culture - for his great achievement when he opened the gates of the prisons and concentrations camp [sic] and so many people began to come back.
INT: What effect did that have on you, the fact that... the infiltration of people over the years in the Fifties, and on other people in society?
YY: They began... We didn't know whole truth, and they began to open for us truth, piece by piece.
INT: When you say "they", could you say "the people who were released from the concentration camps"...?
YY: The people who were released from concentrations camp, they began to open truth piece by piece, and of course we knew something, but we couldn't imagine that over 20 millions people were arrested during Stalin's purges. You see, over 20 millions people were killed in the Second World War, and we killed... we arrested the same number of people. We lost 14 millions of people, and if we survive as a great nation, that's miracle. It was self-genocide.
INT: So when you were a young man and you began to discover this, you heard it first hand from people who'd been through the concentration camps. What effect did that have on people of your generation, this revelation of the truth from them?
YY: First of all, it must not to be repeated in the future, first of all. And only way it's to completely strip mask from the Stalin. But it was one mistake of our generatio, very typical for my generation, because we began to discover the truth about Stalin, but we didn't know all truth about Lenin: we idealized Lenin because we didn't know many documents wwere hidden in archives. And so we were fighting against the shadow of Stalin with the name of Lenin, and we didn't understand at that time that... Stalin was, unfortunately for Lenin, his very faithful disciple. Because, for instance, we didn't know at that time that Lenin was a man who signed first degree [sic] about the first concentration camp for political prisoners in 1918. We didn't know that Lenin, not anybody else, he was accusing Stalin [of] being too soft, too liberal. And when we began to discover this truth, when we... We didn't know that Lenin was behind the decision to kill Tsar's family, we didn't know that Lenin was signing many notes, secret notes to Cheka, which was first name of KGB, to Dzerzhinsky, to be pitiless, to hang some peasants, to hang some so-called burzhuis, bourgeois, and even to put these so-called burzhuis on the battlefield as human shield covering Red Guards, which is... was crime itself. So... and now I understand. I couldn't, of course, say that Stalin and Lenin were equal [sic] figures, but Lenin was really... Stalin called him his "father", and our generation [of] writer(s), we called Stalin a traitor who betrayed Lenin's ideals. It was not true: Stalin was realizing Lenin's ideals, Lenin's ... he was fulfilling Lenin's instructions. But it's late discovery of our generation.
INT: So just to go back to Khrushchev again: there was a dualism which enabled him to, on the one hand, go for freedom, and on the other hand he was a bureaucrat. Now... in 1963, after the abstract painting exhibition, he then turned against abstract artists, and reinforced social realism as being the doctrine which should apply. Can you describe what happened then, and also how you felt about this, whether you felt this was a tightening up that was happening?
YY: We have one funny joke: that the encyclopaedias of the future will be written about Khrushchev: a part connoisseur of the time of Mao Tse-tung. Of course, Khrushchev didn't know what it really means, socialist realism. It's not Borilov's definition of the socialist realism; it's very innocent: it's realistically to reflect life and its revolutionary develop(ment). I'm sorry - even Mr. Shakespeare, according to this definition, could be called a socialist realist. So, but it was just club, this definition, in the hands of Stalinists, of bureaucrats. And Khrushchev was talking about socialist realism, he was not thinking about the art. He was forced - how he said to me, being retired - that he was forced by some hard-liners to wave with his fist a little bit over the heads of intellectuals. It's true that no one have fell down from their hands - that's true. And it's very typical that after his death, Khrushchev's family ordered a monument to his grave to Ernst Neizvestny, to sculptor who was insulted by him personally. And it was typical [of] his thaw to [take] one step forward, two steps back, because he was frightened, because liberalization began to overtake his mind, himself, and he was trying to restrain it. Above all, he was accused... it was a conspiracy against him, because some people, even in Brezhnev's times, it was almost prepared one document about rehabilitation of Stalin, and only because many intellectuals - among them some writers, some scientists - they signed collective letter, many famous Russian people, this rehabilitation was stopped. Also, even when Gorbachev came in the power, it was a very decisive moment when we had anniversary, 40 anniversary of our victory over fascism; many veterans were sending to Gorbachev letters asking to call Volgograd again Stalingrad. And I remember how... and Gorbachev was... how uncertain he was during his speech at...
INT: Yevgeni, you said earlier that later Khrushchev apologized to you. Can you tell me what he apologized to you for?
YY: He called me... (Clears throat)... once when he had a birthday. He was completely abandoned, almost by everybody, except his family. I sent him postcard with my congratulations for his birthday. He was terribly touched. He called me back, he invited me, and he apologized. He said, "I ask forgiveness, your forgiveness, your colleagues', writers', about my rudeness (..?..). I know that I was unbearably rude, and I was very ashamed for a long time. And I understood that I was wrong even when I was screaming at you." And I was so surprised, because I thought he was absolutely sincerely furious and he is screaming at me, crying at me because he doesn't like what I was saying. And I asked, "Why, if you understand that I am right, why you were crying at me?" And he said, "That's why I was crying [at] you, because I felt that you were right." And he said, "But you know, please don't be involved into politics - that's the dirtiest kitchen we could imagine. Because I was doing it only because I was accused by some hard-liner(s) that I am too soft with the liberals." That was his explanation.
INT: Now can we move on to Daniel and Siniavsky, the trial of Daniel and Siniavsky? Can I ask you first of all, what was your reaction to it? And secondly, you've described it as a provocation. Can you tell me how it was a provocation?
YY: Do you use such a word like "snowball"?
YY: Sometimes it's like snowball which goes...
YY: ... it's snowball?
INT: It snowballs, yes...
YY: How you call it - snowball?
INT: Snowballs, yes, snowballs.
YY: When they were...... Two Russian writers for a long time were publishing their works in the West, pretty anti-Communist short stories, articles, under the pseudonyms Abraham Terts and Daniel Arzhak. And KGB was getting mad trying to find their real names. And when they found these names... and according [to] some very good source, which was Robert Kennedy, he said to me what their names were given here in America to our KGB...
INT: Sorry, could you just repeat that...?
YY: OK, I'll repeat it...
(Request to YY to lean back)
YY: During many years, two Soviet writers, under the pseudonyms Abraham Terts and Daniel Arzhak, were published their pretty anti-Soviet, anti-Communist works in the West. So KGB was getting mad trying to find their real names. And so, when they caught two people - they were Siniavsky and Yuri Daniel - they immediately organized trial. And I understood that this trial will be snowball and will have many dissidents processed. Because during Khrushchev's time we didn't have any kind of trials, dissidents' trials. And when I came to America, I talked to Robert Kennedy - it was 1967 - in his New York flat. He invited me to his...
(Interruption - technical problem)