The Paradox of Aleksandr Podrabinek

10 October 2012

By Andrei Kovalev

Aleksandr Podrabinek has published an article on entitled “Sent by Putin” in which he justly, as I believe, substantiates the idea that the Russian government controls the opposition and states that “the infiltration of the opposition by the secret services and attempts to manipulate it are unavoidable.” 

Podrabinek is also certainly right to claim that “the biggest threat to the opposition is not the informants […], but those who try to influence the decision-making process. […] These can even be among the leadership of the opposition movement." 

However, with all my respect for Aleksander Podrabinek, I cannot agree with the historical basis he puts forward for what are not even guesses, but statements of fact.

Podrabinek believes that the cause of the defeat of the democratic reforms at the beginning of the 1990s were the infiltrators sent by the authorities. Among them he ranks Anatoly Sobchak (I cannot say anything about him as I have never met him), Boris Yeltsin (a substantial part of my recently published book “A View from Behind the Curtains of Russian Politics” is dedicated to him), and, what is totally unfair, Aleksandr Yakovlev. I believe it is my duty to speak up for Yakovlev and his associates.

In the above mentioned book I gave a fairly detailed account of the anti-system dissidents and of Aleksandr Yakovlev, to whom the country is endebted for the truly democratic reforms. In order not to repeat myself, I will give only one example – but the one that Aleksandr Podrabinek can identify with. After all, Podrabinek became a political prisoner because of the research he carried out into Soviet punitive psychiatry.

As a direct participant in the liquidation of punitive psychiatry in the Soviet Union, I can verify with full authority that the initial impulse for this complex long-term operation was given by Eduard Shevardnadze, member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, in the winter of 1986-1987. At that time I was working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I was asked to implement the Minister’s instructions. I can also testify that without the help of Yakovlev’s staff who were acting directly on his behalf, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not only have been able to receive all the necessary information but would not have been able to contact with those at the head of the Soviet system of psychiatry. And without such contact, no reform would have been possible.

For fairness’ sake, it must be said that our collaboration with the Central Committee did not last long – only until Shevardnadze decided that this work was too dangerous and gave orders to keep it in strict confidence from all other staff in the Ministry, to say nothing of other organisations.

But without active support from Yakovlev, the dissidents would not have been released from psychiatric hospitals, the specialised psychiatric hospitals would have stayed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Soviet psychiatry would not have undergone the reforms carried out by the most “prominent nomenclature communists”, their associates and colleagues.

There is an abundance of such examples. It is just that not many people know about them, and even fewer people remember.

At first glance it may seem paradoxical that some members of the Soviet “nomenclature” and diplomats were working together in the same cause as the famous dissident Aleksandr Podrabinek. Obviously they were using different methods to achieve the same goals Podrabinek was advocating. But Podrabinek was not aware of this of course.

Without such people as Yakovlev, democratic reforms simply could not have happened.

Painting everyone with the same brush is a harmful habit. This is what the Bolsheviks did. It is all the more harmful because, as John Fowles has correctly pointed out, the past rules the present.

It is wrong to draw a parallel between Yakovlev, Yeltsin and Sobchak – they were far too different, the one from the other. Such blunders only serve to undermine the conclusions of Podrabinek’s article, which otherwise are undoubtedly correct.

And the true reasons for the failure of democratic reforms were in a different dimension – the one that Podrabinek writes about: the activities of the secret services. Along with corruption, as well as the backward mentality of those who were considered to be reformers – their lack of knowledge and understanding of history, law, economics, and in their pathological rejection of the very principles of democracy and a law-governed state.

The paradox of Aleksandr Podrabinek’s article lies in the fact that while he builds his arguments on a partially incorrect historical foundation, he provides an accurate account of the current state of affairs.