Thursday, May 21, 2015

Harry Gilmore and the Yugoslav Desk (1974)

Harry Gilmore passed away on April 23 (his Washington Post obituary is here.  As Yugoslav Desk Officer back in 1974, he was my very first boss in the Foreign Service, when I was marking time between language training and going out to my first assignment in Belgrade.  He was a great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor and an infinite reserve of common sense.  We bumped into each other periodically during the remainder of our careers in the Foreign Service, but I never worked directly for him again.  I'm sorry I didn't. Here is an excerpt from my draft memoirs on my time on the Yugoslav Desk in 1974. 

After spending Christmas vacation at home in San Clemente, I returned to Washington to work for few weeks on the Yugoslav Desk, which at the time was part of the Office of Eastern European Affairs.  Harry Gilmore was the Yugoslav Desk Officer, and as I had no known skills, he put me to work as one might an intern, organizing filing cabinets, doing Xeroxing, and other tasks of a pretty menial nature.  In the process, I also got to read a good bit of the cable traffic coming from Belgrade and to brief myself in on my future job as half-Political Officer, half-Ambassador's Aide.  Harry was a very genial soul, and very easy to work with.  He eventually rose to the senior ranks, and was our first Ambassador to Armenia from 1993 until 1995.

I also did a couple of minor human rights projects with Judyt Mandel, who at the time was a Junior Officer working in the office.  Judyt had a natural interest in human rights, having been born in 1948 in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp (her parents had been inmates of the original concentration camp), and she threw herself into her work.  She proved to be an invaluable colleague, if on occasion a trifle disorganized.  I served several tours with her, including one rather memorable one in Moscow from 1989 until 1991. 

Finally, I took the opportunity to meet and talk with Dick and Sharon Miles, who were back from Belgrade.  Dick, who had workedwith Vernon Jordan in his pre-Foreign Service life, was extremely impressive.  He and Sharon seemed to know everyone and everything about Yugoslavia.  In later years, we would become fast friends, serving together in Washington and in Moscow, and keeping in touch through our entire careers. 

While my time on the Yugoslav Desk was generally very pleasant, not all my encounters with Department staff were friendly.  One day, Harry gave me a last minute task to copy an entire briefing book for John Baker, our EUR DAS, and so I hurried down the corridor and got to the copier just before a few of the more senior secretaries walked in, and I proceeded to monopolize the copier for the next fifteen minutes or so.  In those days, there were usually only one or two copiers on each corridor of the Department, and they did not have the automatic collating and sorting functions we take for granted now.  Because of this, the local secretarial corps got rather possessive about their Xerox machines, and weren't happy with the appearance of interlopers, particularly Junior Officers like myself.  As time went on, and I continued copying away, the secretaries got pretty ticked and began talking among themselves.  Eventually, one senior secretary disdainfully asked who I was and what I was doing.  I explained it was a last minute project for the DAS.  “Well, that's PPP,” she commented -- shorthand for “Pretty Poor Planning.”  Suitably chastened, I hurriedly completed my project and dashed down the hall.

A couple of days into my tenure, Harry decided that I needed an office of my own, and as none appeared to be available, I suggested that I clean up one of the deserted corridor offices that, while it had a desk, was also stuffed full of papers that nobody else seemed to want.  Harry agreed, and so I got to work cleaning the place up.  After a day or so, the office looked pretty good.  Its most significant distinguishing feature was a six-foot tall map of Albania, so Harry dubbed me the “Albanian Desk Officer.”  This was quite a good joke, as we had not had relations with Albania since the beginning of the Cold War.  Little did any of us know, of course, that after the fall of the Soviet Union we would have an Embassy of several hundred people in Tirana, and that the country would serve as one of our principal military support bases for the air war in Kosovo in March 1999, a war in which I was to play a significant part as head of the Kosovo Implementation Office.  Time has a way of changing everything.

As part of my honorary Albanian Desk Officer duties, I occasionally had to scramble down to the language unit to get an Albanian document translated.  It was my first encounter with the State Department's linguist corps, and it was a memorable one.  I found that there was no one in Language Services who knew Albanian, but that there was one interpreter who was willing to give it a try.  The interpreter, a career civil service employee whose name I never learned, was very old; his hair was white, his glasses coke-bottle thick, and his skin the color of translucent parchment.  He had the air of someone who had spent his entire career indoors, sitting at his desk.  Nonetheless, he had a twinkle in his eye as he warmed to his new challenge.  “I know all the languages around Albania,” he said proudly, “just not Albanian.”  Slowly, like he was working on an Acrostic, he pieced together the translation from snippets of this and that until finally, after about fifteen minutes, it was complete.  I was impressed.  In later years, I came to realize just how lucky the State Department was to have such talented people working for it.  I came to know quite a few Russian interpreters during my career, including Dmitriy Zarechnyak, Bill Hopkins, Kyrill Borissow and Peter Afanasenko.  They all had phenomenal interpreting abilities, putting my years of study in the shade.  I don't know what we would have done without them.

One of the last events of my brief tenure on the Yugoslav Desk taught me a good bit about what it meant to be a personnel manager.  One of the Desk's Civil Service secretaries had just gone into the Foreign Service, and was about to go on her first secretarial assignment overseas.  John Baker, who was the Deputy Assistant Secretary in EUR at the time, came down to say a few words at her farewell office party.  I remember thinking, “I wonder if I'll ever be able to speak that well?”  The chief thing I took away from my experience on the desk was that they were a close-knit community, people who really cared for each other.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

50th Reunion Class Speech – As delivered 
May 1, 2015

[ad lib on crashing tables and chairs]

-- It’s great to be back at MICDS, and I’m particularly happy to see so many here from the Country Day Class of 1965.  By my count, more than half of us who graduated fifty years ago are present today.  That shows, more than anything, how loyal our class is to MICDS.  One thing I have also noticed: I see my classmates all looking around at each other, and I know exactly what they’re thinking: “Why is it that I FEEL so much younger than my classmates LOOK?”  It’s the same story for every class.

-- The Class of 1965 was the last class to start at the Old School back in 1957.  And, as many of you know, when Country Day was built, it WAS way out in the country.  But by the time our class started there, nearby Lambert Field had grown so much that this was no longer the case. I can remember Wally Cole, our very patient math teacher yelling at the top of his lungs, trying to teach us the basics of decimals and fractions as Voodoo Jets roared overhead on full afterburners. [ joke about noise in the auditorium being somewhat higher than Voodoos on full afterburners]

-- Back then, our wise benefactors, who included the McDonnells and the Danforths, decided that the best thing to do would be to move Country Day right next to Mary Institute.  This was an inspired idea.  [We, the Class of 1965, were the first class eighters to start at the New School on Warson Road in 1958.  It looked very different back then.  Most of the trees were not yet planted, the grass had not yet grown, and Danforth Chapel was one of the more impressive buildings on campus.  Now of course, Danforth is gone, having been replaced by the state of the art McDonnell and Brauer STEM facility.]

-- Many of us representing the Class of 1965 today did a full eight years at Country Day School, and I think that for most of us those years were some of the most enjoyable of our lives. [They were also eventful.  As students, we lived through some of the worst periods of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, and of course, many of us were at Country Day when our Headmaster, Mr. Pynchon, came to the student Dining Hall to announce with great sadness that President Kennedy had been shot.]  

[-- While much about Country Day and the world around us has changed since then, there are a few things that, thankfully, have remained the same.]  In particular, then, as now, we were blessed with a group of dedicated and talented teachers, some of the finest in the nation.  More than anyone, they deserve our highest praise. [ad lib on our Russian teacher, Mrs. Danett, present at the reunion, in her nineties, one of our greatest teachers]

-- Our teachers did an outstanding job. But at the end of eight years, I can’t say that we were the most scholarly bunch ever to graduate from Country Day.  Of course, we all went off to college – Dean Webb saw to that -- and we also had our share of future achievers.  But what most distinguishes the Class of 1965?

-- One thing I do remember is that, more than almost any other class, we had a lot of fun – we truly enjoyed our time at Country Day.  [If you glance at our Senior Class photo, you will see a pretty solid-looking bunch, but if you look a little closer, you will see who we really were.  A lot of us are wearing Country Day hats, or staring off in the wrong direction, or laughing and joking with each other – doing anything except posing seriously.  That’s who we were then, and that’s who we still are now.]

-- The Class of 1965 was also known for one other thing.  We were VERY good on the athletic field.  Whether it was on the tennis court, where our esteemed Reunion Chairman, Spencer Burke, was king, or on the basketball court, where co-captains Eddie Barad and John Mackey, held sway, or on the baseball and soccer fields, we were a force to be reckoned with.  But it was on the football field where our true class identity came through.  Led by our team Captain, Dave Perry, we were undefeated in the ABC League, and in many cases, unscored upon as well.  And while many of us weren’t all that good at mathematics, as our teachers Mr. Werremeyer and Mr. Stickney would attest, there were two numbers that we all understood perfectly well: 20 and 6, as in Country Day Football Rams 20, Burroughs 6.

-- So that’s our class – a bit rough and tumble, but successful in the end, and also very grateful for the opportunities that eight years at Country Day gave us.  And that leads me to the business part of my speech, the announcement of the Class Gift. I’d like to call on Tim Smith, our chief fundraiser, to give us a report on how well we’re doing in achieving our pledge goal. [Tim gives a short report.  Note: the pledge goal for the Class of 1965 has been exceeded, and we are now over $125,000, with more pledges coming in. About 40 classmates have made pledges, with about 25 more yet to be heard from.]

-- In conclusion, I’d like to thank all of you being here today, and especially those members of the Class of 1965, and I hope we will all see each other at many more reunions to come.  Thank you very much. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a time to honor those who have served, are serving, and will serve in our nation's armed forces.  In keeping with this tradition, the following is a brief history of my own family's service, which began in the Revolutionary War, and has continued to the present day.

The tradition of military service is very strong in the Schumaker family.  Members of my extended family have served honorably in the military at least as far back as the mid-18th Century.  My 4th Great Grandfather, George Shoemaker, served in the Fairfax Militia in 1758 and, during the Revolutionary War, in Captain Baxter's Company of Rockingham Militia.  Non-patrilineal ancestors, such as my 5th Great Grandfather, Nathan Fish, served under George Washington, as did my 4th Great Grandfather, Samuel Logan.  During the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, most of my direct ancestors were farmers and clergy, and, with the exception of the Turners, appear not to have entered military service.  This changed, however, with the beginning of the Second World War. 

My Father
My father, Fred L Schumaker, 
served as a Captain in the Army Engineers from 1943 to 1946.  He designed topographic models of Pacific Islands, including one of Iwo Jima, for the Marines to use in invasion planning.  My Uncle Joe Matthews also joined the Army during the war, serving as an Infantry officer in the Pacific Theater.  My Uncle Jack Flowers served in the Army during the Korean War, and my Uncle Shirley Dean Flowers was an Air Force pilot for much of the Cold War.

Over the years, the family has also endured its share of sacrifice.  During the Civil War, my Great Grandfather, Frederick Samuel Turner, fought for the Union.  He was captured by the Confederates, but survived the war and lived to the ripe old age of 77.  His brother, my Great Granduncle, George Butler Turner, was not so lucky.  He could have bought his way out of the Union draft by paying $300, but he volunteered instead.  He was killed at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863, but not before leaving a detailed chronicle of his military experiences in hundreds of letters sent back to his parents. 


Ned Dybvig
Perhaps most tragically, my cousin, Ned Turner Dybvig, was killed in action in Vietnam.  Ned was a talented artist and an athlete, and a graduate of Cornell.  He was in top physical shape and highly intelligent.  He was an outdoorsman and skydived for fun.  He was drafted, and joined the 101st Airborne in 1967.  He was killed in a firefight near the ancient capital of Hue in April of 1968. 

Finally, of course, I was also drafted into the Army in October of 1969.  I served for four years, somehow making it through Basic Training at Fort Ord without being "recycled," taking Russian for 15 months at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and then serving for three years at the White House Communications Agency.  My experience in the Army set me on the path to a Foreign Service career.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

KGB Survelllance, Embassy Moscow 1977

With the renewal of some aspects of the Cold War, articles are once again appearing describing the increasing harassment and surveillance that our personnel at Embassy Moscow are experiencing.  None of this, of course, is new, but we still have some way to go before the treatment of our diplomats descends to the levels it reached under Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and especially Stalin.  Here are my own memories of my first few days in Moscow back in July of 1977, which included my first encounter with the KGB.

George Kennan once wrote that “The Moscow police…are instructed to view with suspicion diplomats found to be anywhere except in an automobile, in a museum, or at the Swan Lake ballet.”  I quickly learned the truth of this statement from firsthand experience.  On one of my first evenings in town, I was invited to a party at Kutuzovskiy 7, one of the huge apartment complexes across the river from the Embassy.  K-7 was mainly populated by foreigners, and closely guarded by the Soviets.  Since it was close by, I struck out on foot from the Embassy, figuring I could walk the distance in twenty or thirty minutes.  It was dark when I started out, and I soon lost my way.  I found myself walking in the middle of a small park in the direction of the Kutuzovskiy Bridge, when suddenly I realized that a couple of cars were shadowing me.  Both were black Volgas, and clearly official-looking, with rather unusual antennae sticking out of their roofs.  One Volga stopped about fifty feet in front of my position, the other in back.  I pretended not to notice and just kept on walking until I was able to find a sidewalk and get back on track.  I later learned that the KGB tailed most people when they first arrived, in order to determine the pattern of their activities.  Usually, once they had decided that the new arrival was no threat, they would stop the surveillance.  In my case, overt surveillance stopped after a very short while.

I was far from the only American under KGB scrutiny.  Just a few days later, on July 15, 1977, the KGB picked up another Embassy Officer, Martha Peterson, at the Krasnoluzhskiy Bridge, and accused her of servicing a dead drop for a Soviet agent.  The incident was hushed up at the time, but became public in June, 1978, in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of Soviet spies in the United States.  Izvestiya published a picture of Martha sitting defiantly next to our very dejected-looking Consul General Cliff Gross, with spy paraphernalia spread out before them.  Izvestiya even accused her of being an accessory to murder, which was a complete falsehood.  Martha later wrote about her experiences in her memoir, “The Widow Spy.”

The KGB liked to promote the impression that it was all-seeing and all-powerful, but even the massive counterintelligence assets maintained by the Soviets did not have enough resources to follow everybody.  They stayed on obvious targets, of course, like Gardner “Gus” Hathaway, then Moscow Station Chief.  Gus reported that most of the time he was more escorted, than followed, by a flotilla of minders.  Such activities were a waste of time, however, since others were doing the real field work.  For example, one of my contemporaries, legendary Case Officer John Guilsher, seemed to be able to evade Soviet surveillance when the need arose.


In later years, I came to realize that KGB physical surveillance came in many forms.  There was the invisible cocoon, which I was in when I first arrived in Moscow, that could collapse in on a target with frightening speed, and then there was the lockstep surveillance that was endured by obvious targets like Gus, or by those the KGB felt needed some corrective harassment.  And there were many stages in between.  I experienced many kinds of physical surveillance during my Foreign Service career, and, at least when the KGB was behind it, things were done very professionally.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The "Star Wars" Premiere, Spaso House, 1977

Most recently, the Russian Ministry of Culture designated "Star Wars" as a classic film recommended to Russian viewers http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506015.html .  At the initial showing of "Star Wars" at Spaso House in 1977, however, this was definitely not the prevailing attitude of Soviet officials invited to view the film.  Glad to see that times have changed, at least in this small respect.




The Star Wars Premiere.


In mid-1977, our PAO Ray Benson received an offer from Jack Valenti, who at the time ran the MPAA, to show a great new first-run movie at Spaso House: "Star Wars."  Neither Ray nor Ambassador Toon were fans of Science Fiction, but they took Valenti's recommendation, and a few weeks later, the movie arrived in Moscow.  In those days, it was very difficult to get Soviet officials to come to Spaso House, but a first-run movie was a sure draw, and so on movie night quite a few members of the Soviet Government, including relatively high-ranking officials in the MFA such as USA Desk Director Komplektov and Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko, were in the Spaso Ballroom awaiting Moscow's first view of the George Lucas hit.  The movie played without intermission, and I was enthralled.  I thought it was great!  Looking around me, however, I noted growing looks of disapproval appearing on Soviet faces, and looks of horror on the faces of Ambassador Toon, and, especially of course, poor Ray Benson.  The problem was not with the production values of the film, which were good for the time, or with the plotline, which was intentionally scripted like a comic book.  The problem was with the villains of the piece.  It seemed like all the bad guys, who eventually wound up getting blown away by their own wonder weapon, wore costumes alarmingly similar to Soviet Army Commissars, or Nazis, or a combination of both.  It was clear to the Soviets in the audience (no doubt suffering from a guilty conscience) who the bad guys were meant to be.  Ambassador Toon apologized for the "quality" of the film, saying he had no knowledge of its content before it was shown, but the Soviets were not mollified, and many walked out.  I wonder if this was where the Soviets originally developed their visceral animus towards Reagan's "Star Wars" policy (knowing them, I'm sure they would have hated it anyway).  The one hopeful sign was that the younger Soviet diplomats in the crowd, and of course our human rights contacts, just loved the film.  Be that as it may, it was a long time before Ambassador Toon had another "movie night" at Spaso House.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

KAL007

Unfortunately, the destruction of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine brings up terrible memories of the shootdown of KAL007 in 1983.  Let's hope that we get to the bottom of the MH17 tragedy faster than we were able to in the case of the Korean airliner. 


KAL007, September 1, 1983.
The day after KAL007 was shot down off Sakhalin, the State Department formed a task force to deal with the inevitable Consular issues arising from the shootdown.  I worked on the task force for over a week, talking with and consoling relatives of the 269 passengers and crew, many of whom were Americans.  We all suspected the worst: that the Soviets had cold-bloodedly shot down a civilian airliner in full knowledge that it was not a spy plane.  Subsequent release of the flight tapes in 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union, revealed that the Soviet shootdown of the plane was a paranoid mistake, but in the immediate aftermath, the continuing denials by Soviet Marshal Nikolay Ogarkov, particularly his press conference on September 9, proclaiming that KAL007 was a spy plane, enraged everyone on the task force, and we were all looking for ways to retaliate. 

One immediate thought that came to mind was to deny Aeroflot landing privileges in the United States.  Aeroflot had previously been threatened with a suspension of its landing privileges in the U.S. when, in contrast to KAL007, which made an innocent navigational error, Aeroflot planes actually did divert their flight tracks out of New York so that they could overfly the U.S. submarine base at Groton, Connecticut.  After several such incidents, we told them to stop or they would lose their flight privileges altogether.  Aeroflot did stop, but by then events had overtaken the whole fly/no fly controversy, and a decision to stop Aeroflot from landing in the U.S was inevitable.  The first immediate result was that Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko's visit to the UN in mid-September was cancelled, since he refused to fly on anything but Aeroflot.

Gromyko Gets Snubbed.
The following year, the Department decided to allow Gromyko's plane into JFK on an exceptional basis so that he could attend the UNGA.  He flew in on September 19, 1984.  Unfortunately, it was not the greeting ceremony that he or the Soviets were expecting.  Primarily for security reasons, his Il-62 was guided to the most remote area of JFK, so far away that the rest of the airport was out of sight, and it took almost ten minutes to get there via back roads from the main terminal.  In order to impress upon Gromyko just how ill-favored he was, it was decided that the U.S. side should greet him on arrival at an insultingly low level.  It was in that manner, therefore, that I was delegated to be Gromyko's official airport greeter.  Gromyko's Il-62 taxied up to the parking area and the entire Soviet brass lined up in protocol order all the way up the landing stairs and a considerable distance out onto the tarmac.  I was there with the FBI and a couple of USUN officials at the far end of the line.  Gromyko stepped out, greeted all his high-ranking cronies, and began looking around for the highest-ranking American.  He eventually found me at the end of the line.  Looking even more like a cold fish than usual, and sporting his usual grimace that rapidly turned into a frown, Gromyko gave me a limp-wristed and somewhat clammy handshake as I welcomed him to the United States.  He never bothered to look me in the eye.  Then he and his minions loaded themselves into the first limousine and trundled off.  My FBI escorts thought it was all very funny, and so did I.  I would not see him again until Codel O'Neill visited Moscow the following year.  By then, fortunately, US-Soviet relations were changing decisively for the better.


In late 1992, a few months after I came on board ISCA (the ex-Soviet Desk), I found myself off to Moscow again to discuss a familiar subject: KAL007.  Despite repeated Soviet claims that they had never recovered the Cockpit Voice Recorder and Digital Flight Data Recorder from KAL007, we long suspected that they had, and were covering up the fact because the “black boxes” would provide a conclusive refutation of the bizarre Soviet assertion that KAL007 was a spy plane.  We suspected it would also prove conclusively what many already believed, that KAL007 was shot down in international waters.  With the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Yeltsin Administration, the logjam on many long-held secrets began to break, including KAL007.  On October 15, 1992, Yeltsin handed over the black boxes to South Korea.  However, the tapes were either absent or unreadable, and the resulting hue and cry led to a hurried call for negotiations to turn over the original tapes to ICAO.

Talks to negotiate the handover were held on December 8-10 at the Osobnyak in Moscow, a site I knew well from my last tour in the Soviet Union.  The negotiations, which were led on our side by Jim Collins, and on the Russian side by Presidential Administration head Yuriy Petrov, Deputy Defense Minister Kondratyev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov, dragged on interminably, even though everyone knew what the ultimate outcome had to be.  Around 9pm on December 9, with everyone getting very tired, Jim left me in charge to work through the final details with the Russians, as well as with local diplomats representing Korean, Japanese and other victims of the crash.  The negotiations continued at a snail's pace, with a number of Russian players from the security services interposing all kinds of frivolous objections.  I remember in particular Tatyana Anodina, a chain-smoking general who represented Aeroflot -- she was especially hardline.  Fortunately, others, like Interstate Aviation Committee head Rudolf Teimurazov were anxious to come to an understanding, and we eventually achieved final agreement at about 4am the next morning.  Last minute changes in the document were viewed with some misgivings by the Japanese and Korean delegations, but as the changes were not substantive in nature, they decided to go along.  The signing ceremony took place that day, and the handover was scheduled for January 8, 1993 at ICAO headquarters in Paris.

The following month, I flew off to Paris to witness the handover.  Janet Speck, the desk's civil aviation officer, accompanied me.  We were met at Charles de Gaulle airport by the local FAA Representative, who proceeded to take us on a tour of his favorite bars and restaurants while complaining incessantly that he was tired of “being stuck in Paris for the last nine years.”  Janet and I, who had been stuck for years in considerably less pleasant locales, could scarcely refrain from bursting out laughing.  The fact was, Paris was a complete paradise.  All my previous visits there seemed to have taken place during heat waves, with no air conditioning in the hotels, and fights literally breaking out in the streets.  This somewhat cooler and gentler Paris was a definite pleasure to visit.  Our hotel, the Maillot, near the Arc de Triomphe, was strictly two-star, but quite pleasant as well.

The next day, Janet and I, and about fifty other officials from all over the world watched as Yeltsin's chief of staff Yuriy Petrov handed over the tapes in a ceremony at ICAO's modest headquarters building. A preliminary analysis revealed the tapes to be intact and in good condition.  Later detailed analysis would reveal that most of our suspicions about the Soviet cover story on KAL007 were correct.  The plane had flown off course due to an error in setting the autopilot, which had been programmed to fly the great circle route and not a specific set of waypoints that would allow it to skirt the Soviet border.  At no time were the pilot and crew aware they were being chased by Soviet fighters.  A few mysteries remained, but the biggest ones were solved, ten years after the fact.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Valeriya Novodvorskaya (1950-2014)

+      

Valeriya Novodvorskaya passed away on July 12, 2014.  I met Novodvorskaya for the first time in front of Embassy Moscow during the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in March 2003.  She was one of the more reasonable and likable Russians I ever knew. Strangely enough we were on opposite sides of the issue.  I was officially supporting our Iraq policy, while privately being against it, while she was actually leading one of the few Russian demonstrations in favor of the Iraq war. 

                                                                                                                       
                                                       
                                                        U.S. Embassy Moscow

                                                                                                                                    
                                  Russia Update: Thursday, March 27, 2003  

                                        No. 040 Reporting from Moscow


                            Turnabout is Fair Play: For Once, a Pro-U.S. Demonstration

On Thursday afternoon, followers of two miniscule political movements, the Trans-National Radical Party and the Democratic Union, took their turn to demonstrate across the street from the Old American Embassy Building.  In contrast to nearly everyone else, however, the twenty followers of Democratic Union leader Valeriya Novodvorskaya (Note 1) and Radical Party leader Nikolay Khramov (Note 2) actually demonstrated in favor of U.S. actions in Iraq. 

• A pro-American demonstration, for once.  There were only 20 of 
them, but I suppose short help is better than no help at all.
The day started off normally enough.  At noon, about a dozen LDPR volunteers and half a dozen "Working Russia" supporters took up their customary positions at Novinskiy Bulvar 18 to conduct an unsanctioned protest against the Iraq war.  The Communists (Note 3) were once again absent.  Around 2:00 p.m., however, the Radical and Democratic Union supporters arrived and began putting up their banners.  LDPR and "Working Russia" were miffed: first, because the competing demonstrators were outnumbered by cameramen from the local TV stations, and second because the militia came up to the unsanctioned demonstrators and told them they would have to leave.  The LDPR protesters did so quietly, but the more fanatical "Working Russia" types hung around outside the barriers and hurled insults at the Radicals and Democratic Unionists.  On their way out, a couple of LDPR protesters turned to one Radical and asked snidely, "Who paid you to do this?" to which the Radical replied, "Who paid you?"

With the situation under firm police control (there were lots more of them than everyone else put together), the Radicals and Democratic Unionists got their show on the road, unfurling banners that read "There is no peace without democracy," and "No to Saddam."  While giving TV interviews at a mile a minute, Novodvorskaya stood with a sign around her neck that said "America is fighting for humanity, including Russia."  Other demonstrators, including Khramov, carried American and British Flags or Radical Party banners.  Both parties also passed out "manifestos" that stated their support for the United States and the United Kingdom, and condemned all those who had conducted anti-American and antiwar protests, and thus given Saddam Hussein false hope.  The demonstration broke up peacefully at 3:00 p.m.



Outside the narrow confines of Novinskiy Bulvar 18, antiwar demonstrations have continued in other parts of Moscow as well, though not with the same pace and fervor as in the first week of the war.  On March 25, Gennadiy Raykov's pro-Putin "People's Party"  (Note 4) conducted an antiwar protest on Slavyanksaya Square.  About a thousand people watched as ten demonstrators dressed in camouflage uniforms covered a large globe with the American, British and Spanish flags as other demonstrators yelled out "Occupiers!" and explosive sound effects reverberated through the square.  The American/British occupiers were then "ousted" by other demonstrators, who carried placards proclaiming "Stop the Expansionist War in Iraq" and "What Goes Around Comes Around." (Note 5) Another demonstrator bore a placard with a picture of President Bush.  Unfortunately, the demonstrators had also thoughtfully painted a beard and a white cap on the picture to make the President look like Osama bin Laden.  The placard included the caption "Terrorist Number One."  In keeping with the demonstrations run by pro-Putin organizations, the protest meeting appeared to be well choreographed and lacked most of the inflammatory rhetoric that characterizes LDPR and Communist Party protest meetings.

Outside the capital, other anti-war demonstrations were also held.  In Vladivostok, Independent State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov and the People's Deputy Club led a demonstration paralleling that of the larger "People's Party" demonstration in Moscow on March 25.  American and British flags were burned, and passersby were asked to kick a dummy representing an American soldier.  Cherepkov, who is known for his eccentric behavior and his short-lived but successful term as Mayor of Vladivostok, is very popular in Primorye's capital city but is unpopular almost everywhere else in the Maritime Province.  He has taken numerous trips to Baghdad in recent years, and has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Iraq.  

While Cherepkov and his supporters were protesting, a group of veterans in Vladivostok was making trouble in its own way by preparing a legal complaint against President Bush for presentation to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal.  The veterans were apparently unswayed by arguments from media representatives that the Tribunal was created only to consider war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and maintained that they would demand that the Tribunal consider their "case" against the President for his war crimes against Iraq.  Apparently, folks in Vladivostok have nothing better to do these days.

Interfax also reported that on March 25 there was a large antiwar demonstration in the city of Cherkessk, the capital of the heavily Moslem republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia.  According to Interfax, the demonstration was organized by local youth groups, including the Republic's own Commission on Youth.  Reportedly, over 5,000 students marched down the main street of Cherkessk to Lenin Square and then to the Republic Government building, where they chanted anti-U.S. slogans and held up protest signs.  Organizers said that actually more than 15,000 participated, but in all likelihood the protest was far smaller than the 5,000 originally estimated by Interfax.  Virtually no one in this country can count, and when they do, they are prone to guess high.

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Note 1. Valeriya Novodvorskaya.  Novodvorskaya is a well-known dissident from the Soviet era.  Born in 1950, she first came to the attention of the Soviet authorities at the age of 19, when, as a student at the Maurice Torres School of International Languages, she organized an underground student group calling for the overthrow of the Communist regime.  She was convicted under the all-purpose Article 70 (anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda) and sent to a mental institute where she was "treated' for schizophrenia.  After her release from psychiatric detention, she helped publish and distribute samizdat materials.  In 1977 she was one of the founders of  the "Free Interprofessional Union of Workers" (SMOT).  As a result of her political activities, she and other SMOT activists were repeatedly sent to psychiatric hospitals for additional treatment, and she was convicted for dissident activities in 1978, 1985 and 1986.  In 1988, she helped found the Democratic Union, a human rights group, and took part in numerous unsanctioned protests against the Soviet authorities.  In May 1991, she was jailed for seeking the overthrow of the Soviet regime, but then released on August 23, following the failure of the hardliner coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, Novodvorskaya continued her human rights activities, succeeding in earning the ire of Russia's new rulers.  In 1996, she was charged under Article 74 ("incitement of public discord") for her strident anti-Government statements on Chechnya.  In July 2000 she participated in a demonstration protesting the raid on Media-Most, the crown jewel in Vladimir Gusinskiy's financial empire, calling it an "anti-Semitic act" and comparing it to Kristallnacht.  Novodvorskaya has also endeared herself to the FSB, calling it "our Gestapo," and she has urged people to oppose President Vladimir Putin since he is a "butcher, murderer and fascist" who is "carrying out a genocide of the Chechen people."  In 1995, one of Novodvorskaya's friends characterized her as a perpetual revolutionary, and cites this as the reason why she and so many other dissidents of the Soviet era have been unable to adapt and prosper in the New Russia.  For additional biographic information on Novodvorskaya, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valeriya_Novodvorskaya 


Note 2.  Nikolay Khramov.  Some bio information, but not much, is available on Nikolay Khramov at the Trans-National Radical Party's website: http://www.radikaly.ru.  Often the site is blocked in Russia.   

Note 3. Communists.  KPRF officials have explained to media representatives that they have decided to continue their protest "by meeting with constituents," rather than by standing across the street from the U.S. Embassy.  

Note 4. People's Party.  Raykov's party controls the 53-member "People's Deputy" faction in the State Duma.  The faction is one of the centrist groups that make up the pro-Kremlin coalition in the Lower House. 


Note 5.  What Goes Around Comes Around.  This is the nearest I can get to the feeling expressed in a very colorful slogan "Как Иракнётся так и откликнётся."