Staunton, August 26 – The passing of Fillip Bobkov, longtime head of the KGB’s fifth chief directorate and persecutor-in-chief of Soviet dissidents, has generated a flood of memoirs about his pernicious activities; but what it should do, Aleksandr Tsipko says, is serve as an occasion to reflect on its lessons for Russia today.
“A counter-intelligence service which catches spies can do a lot for the state,” the senior Moscow commentator says. “But the so-called struggle with ‘the internal counter-revolution’ and dissent among the intelligentsia is not in a position to seriously stop the demise of the system” (mk.ru/social/2019/08/26/v-zhizni-eksbonzy-gkb-bobkova-byla-podlinnaya-drama.html).
To be sure, Tsipko continues, “without the KGB and without the fear which the fifth chief directorate of the KGB generated among free-thinking members of the intelligentsia, the USSR could not have lasted even for a few years as the history of perestroika showed.”
But Bobkov’s activities have an even more important lesson for today, the commentator says. “Authoritarianism sooner or later leads to the dominance of the siloviki; and the more the apparatus of force takes over the levers of power from the official, constitutional authorities, the more rapidly the authoritarian political system itself dies.”
“I know from my personal experience,” Tsipko says, “that the silovik Bobkov had much greater power over us, the Soviet intelligentsia than did not only the CPSU Central Committee but even Bobkov’s chief, Yury Andropov.” He gives the following example:
“When in January 1981, I returned to the USSR after working in the Polish Academy of Sciences at its invitation, I wrote a 30-page report to the Central Committee” about Solidarity. A copy went to Andropov who expressed gratitude for its contents; but another went to Bobkov who viewed it as “anti-Soviet” and began repressions against its author.
The commentator says Bobkov was especially angry by his conclusions that Solidarity-type movements would spread throughout the Soviet bloc. And he sought to limit Tsipko’s opportunities right into Gorbachev’s time. Indeed, Tsipko says; only with Gorbachev’s intervention did Tsipko get the chance to travel abroad, over Bobkov’s objections.
This shows, the Moscow commentator says, that “in a totalitarian system which the USSR was then, the supreme power of the ruling party and its leaders inevitably gives rise to the total power of the representatives of the force apparatus,” something that “opens the sluice gates” to arbitrariness by them against those they see as their personal enemies.
“It seems to me,” Tsipko says, “that in present-day and already post-communist Russia, when power in the country before our eyes is constantly shifting into the hands of the siloviki, there also exists the danger of the domination by the siloviki and of their interests over the interests of society.”
As a result, he says, what happened in the USSR may be repeated: “Power from the Kremlin gradually shifts to the Lubyanka, and a staffer of the reborn Fifth Administration of the KGB will decide what is permitted to an employee of the academy of sciences and what is not permitted.”
Tsipko says that he has “the seditious thought” that a scholar in Soviet times “at least in reports not for publication” could “say more than he can now in democratic Russia.” In 1981, he could say that Solidarity threatened the Soviet bloc; now, one of his successors would have difficulty saying the same thing about the Russian world without more negative consequences.
That this is the case, Tsipko concludes, doesn’t serve the Russian state. Instead, it has just the opposite effect, once again.