Dear Mr. Koppel,
Your Nightline series, "Russian Revolutions," was riveting.
I watched and recorded every minute of it. The portrayals, in their particulars,
were accurate and disturbing.
Even so, when it was all over, I felt profoundly dissatisfied, for the
portrayal of "the New Russia" was incomplete, and for that reason
greatly distorted. Because I am told that "more people get their news from
ABC than anywhere else," I am also fearful of the consequences.
Yours was a portrayal of a Russia with an abundance of scoundrels and
villains "at the top," and of a population below that is depressed,
sullen, apathetic and in despair. There were few heroes in evidence in that
series, with the predictable exception of a couple of journalists.
As a frequent visitor to Russia with many cherished Russian friends, and as
the American editor and distributor of a Russian Environmental Newsletter, I
have a very different view of Russia. There are, in fact, an abundance of heroes
in Russia today who are little known to the American public. Nightline
could have remedied that unfortunate condition of public opinion, but sadly
chose not to do so. Instead, as is typical of our media, ABC assumed that a tone
of disparagement might be more appealing to the US public. And so my compatriots
continue to look upon the Russian people with pity and condescension, and upon
their leaders with contempt. All the while, there is much to admire. As a
result, the Russians, a proud people, are justifiably resentful about these
We are all familiar with the scoundrels, clowns and robber-barons –
Zhuganov, Zhirinovsky, Berezovsky. But who in the West has heard of the heroes:
Vorontsov, Kovalev, Soyfer, Pasko, Nikitin, Savushkin, Golets, Yablokov, Zabelin,
Kalugin? (The latter three, my personal friends and associates).
Perhaps, in the near future, Nightline may choose to complete its
portrait, with a celebration of the courage of the Russian reformers, and with
profiles of its authentic heroes. Dare we hope?
No liberal democracy can be secure and can endure without an independent
judiciary, and without a flourishing "civil society" of citizen-based,
independent associations. Both were totally absent in the Soviet Union, as the
courts were under the complete control of the Party, and all group activities
required Party recognition and sponsorship.
All that has changed profoundly during the past decade.
Last year, the Russian Security service was thwarted by the courts as
Grigorii Pasko, and Alexandr Nikitin were acquitted of espionage charges. These
were events of historical significance. The judges in these cases, respectively
Dmitri Savushkin and Sergei Golets, made their decisions with full knowledge of
the fates of jurists in the Soviet era who ruled against the Party and the KGB.
Notwithstanding this history, both Judges, in their rulings, cited Federal and
International Law, and listed the violations of these laws by the FSB. These
were acts of extraordinary courage that are unnecessary, and therefore unknown,
in American jurisprudence.
When Alexandr Nikitin was arrested by the FSB in August, 1998, the New York
Times wrote a commendable editorial in his behalf. News of Nikitin’s acquittal
last December was lost in the back pages of the Times. I saw and heard no
mention of it on any of the Network or Cable TV news programs.
As for civil society, there is a vigorous and productive effort underway by
ordinary Russian citizens to form civic interest and protest groups. One
organization in particular of which I am a member, the Socio-Ecological Union in
Moscow, is a federation of three-hundred citizen-based environmental
organizations throughout the former Soviet Union. The monthly Newsletter, The
SEU TIMES, which I distribute through my website,
reports widespread and frequently successful citizen action by ordinary Russian
citizens, against environmental abuses by international corporations, and by
government and military officials in the CIS.
Such reforms, by the judiciary and from the grass roots, desperately need the
"sunlight" of national and international publicity, and that is the
responsibility of the international media. Instead, we are treated with ABC’s
smug and partial reporting of "Russian Revolutions." My friends of the
Russian reform movement deserve much better. If the Western media persists in
its failure to report "the good news" from the former Soviet Union, we
will all pay a heavy price for it.
The "conservatives" never tire of telling us that Ronald Reagan
"defeated communism." What insufferable, arrogant nonsense! It
is as if the French were to tell us that Lafayette won the American Revolution,
without a word of acknowledgment to Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and all the
No, we were instead spectators of the fall of communism, which was defeated
by the people of the Soviet Union – Russians and others. Soviet communism was
overturned by the likes of Yevtushenko, Solzhenitzen, Sakharov and Bonner, and
the authentically "ex-KGB" General, Oleg Kalugin. And the success and
even the lives of all of these depended upon the young people who poured into
Manesh Square and placed their bodies in front of the tanks at Kalininsky
Prospect. Similarly in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Tiblisi, Kiev and
Vilnius. Credit also belongs to Mikhail Gorbachev, who began as a reformer and
was overtaken as his reform turned to revolution. And finally to Boris Yeltsin,
whose courage briefly shone before it eventually sputtered out.
The "Russian Revolutions" continue into an uncertain future under
the enigmatic President Putin, about whom my Russian friends and I are very
apprehensive. During these dangerous times, the agents of reform in Russia and
the former Soviet republics deserve the support and encouragement of free men
and women throughout the world.
They also deserve to be known throughout the world, to have their courage
celebrated, and to have their work publicized.
And that is your job.