Interviewer: Vladimir, can you tell me about your first job when you found out you were editing dis-information stories for the third world?
Vladimir Pozner: When I started working at Novosty Press agency I worked in a department that was called the Department of Political Publications. It was my first job as quote, unquote a journalist. I was given articles to edit, articles written in Russian, addressed to readers as I recall, some in Latin American, some in Indian. Frankly I found it rather boring. I thought — it’s my first — so I edited that and I really never knew where that was published and, I didn’t really think about it. These were pretty straightforward articles of a political nature. Until the day came when I left that department, I wasn’t really interested in doing that work at that point. I worked there for about two and a half years. I was offered a job in a magazine which I was much more interested in doing. About three weeks after I’d left that place I got a notice from the military recruitment center of the region where I lived, there’s one in each part of Moscow. They called me out, so I went there to find out what that was about, and they were re-registering me. The lady who was there asked me if I’d worked for the KGB. I said, “Of course not.” And she said, “What are you getting so flustered about?” I said, “Well because why would you ask me that?” She said, “Because your military dossier was sent to us by the KGB.” It was only then that I realized that this department was actually a KGB department. That was part of the Novosty Press I knew nothing about that. Maybe some of the people working in that department did know, but I was quite young and quite na?ve, and that’s when I began to understand that I’d been working in a department that produced dis-information. Later on I asked a few questions and it turned out to be true. I’d just like to make a point here that dis-information was not a specifically Soviet trait. I mean this was being done all over the world by, I think, just about every country that could do it. Inserting articles that were then signed by local journalists who were ready to put their name to these articles. Which obviously then played a role in the local political struggles going on I guess.
Interviewer: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of the third world for Communist propaganda? Why the rebels accepted it?
Pozner: I don’t know whether they were more susceptible to it. What I do believe is that the third world was part of the Cold War terrain. The Americans were there just as much as the Soviets were there. And I suspect the UK had it’s own interests as well. So I don’t think it was more susceptible; it was a question of where to spread the influence. There’s no doubt about it that the Soviet Union had an interest in spreading its sphere of influence, specifically in India, Pakistan and other South East Countries that were close to its borders. And, if possible, to help Castro in Cuba. To me its part of the Cold War, and I don’t think that it’s specifically that Communism had a better chance there than elsewhere.
Interviewer: You don’t think that Communism would have a better chance? Because people were poor and Capitalism is a more, well you know a greedy ideology, if you like?
Pozner: I think most people want money, yes; of course, Communism does offer, at least ideally to poor people, the idea of justice and everyone having enough. However it hasn’t worked all that well in the third world. I don’t think that it had. In fact, none of that propaganda really brought any kind of great dividends.
Interviewer: Can you talk about the sort of restrictions that you had to work under when you were a journalist?
Pozner: I’m a journalist now.
Pozner: (laughs) Maybe I wasn’t so much of one then.
Interviewer: Yeah, what was the sort of borders that you couldn’t cross? What were the restrictions you had to work under?
Pozner: I would say that basically everyone working knew what the restrictions were. There were certain things you could not write about. That could be seen as being anti-Soviet or detrimental to the interests of the Soviet Union, seen by the powers that were. You couldn’t criticize the Communist Party, you couldn’t criticize a member of the central committee, you certain couldn’t criticize the General Secretary, you could not criticize Soviet foreign policy — at least you couldn’t do it openly. You could write an article where, if someone could read between the lines, it would be clear that you were saying that this kind of policy was not going to produce good results. But, you had to be very careful how you did that. It was a rather narrow, very narrow street that you had to walk. And you knew what the confines were.
Interviewer: You didn’t actually have to tell lies, I think this is the thing that people don’t understand, but it’s more what you were not allowed to put in.
Pozner: Well, I think that that’s pretty much what propaganda’s always about. Intelligent propaganda is not a propaganda that tells blatant lies. It’s something where you try to show the good side of what your supporting and you don’t tell about the negatives, you only tell about the positive. So, there were many positive things to talk about in the Soviet Union, you know, guaranteed work and free this and free that and free education and free medical help and all true. What you didn’t talk about was the negatives that could be in fact connected to those same things. Because free health meant endless lines, meant doctors who were not adequately prepared, meant lack of medication, because too many people applied including people who were not ill. You didn’t talk about those things as much. You talked about the positives only, which is true, but it’s a half-truth, and then it makes it a half lie if you will.
Interviewer: Did you feel very uncomfortable about some of the things?
Pozner: Yes and no. There were some things I definitely felt uncomfortable about. Probably the most uncomfortable was in 1968 with the invasion of Prague and Czechoslovakia, and attempting in some way to justify that. On the other hand I was very dedicated, I was very much a pro-Soviet, pro-Socialist slash ‘Communist ideal’ was something I believed in. I realized that the West I was addressing really didn’t care about how we lived. All this business about oh, the poor dissidents and all that, that was just the same kind of propaganda. In fact they couldn’t give a tinkers damn about the fact that we’ve stood in line. They exploited that for a political purpose. So I always thought if I’m going to criticize my country, I’m not going to criticize it to the West. Or they’re gonna applaud and say — oh what a wonderful guy Vladimir Pozner is, because in fact they’re using me. If I want to improve my country, I’d better do it from the inside and not expect the United States or anyone else out there to come to help the Soviet Union. That’s not going to happen. I felt that I was between a rock and a hard place in many senses, because what do you do, I mean, how? What I did want to show people in America, because that’s where I addressed most of my commentary, was that we’re human beings here. We don’t have horns or tails, many of us support this system, many of us have in fact given life and limb for the system, and don’t think that we’re all waiting for you to liberate us. Yes there are dissidents and maybe they consist of one percent or two percent of the population. But you’ve had your dissidents and you don’t treat them all that well, Paul Robson being just one case in point.
Interviewer: Some people would call you a propagandist. What do you think of that?
Pozner: I think that would be absolutely right. I would also say that there was a wonderful American folk singer by the name of Woody Guthrie. He said for the five-year-old child who doesn’t want to go to bed a lullaby is propaganda. Yes, I certainly was out there trying to put the Soviet Union best forward. There is no doubt about that.
Interviewer: Can you just talk about Czechoslovakia and Hungary? Did that not ring alarm bells for you?
Pozner: When the Soviet tanks invaded Budapest in 1956, I was a student of Moscow University. I was one of 300 who was kicked out because we protested against that. But let’s not forget that in 1956 Khrushchev made his famous de-Stalinization speech. For many of us that ushered in what we thought would be a new dawn. This would finally mean that yes we admitted our sins that we’d done some pretty terrible things in our own country basically, and that now we had publicly admitted them which not many countries do. Things would now be much better and the ideal for which this country had suffered so much would finally be realized. So in that sense, 1956 was a combination of things.
Interviewer: Can you talk about foreign radio, short wave broadcasts how much influence did they have in the Soviet Union?
Pozner: You mean coming in?
Interviewer: Yes coming in, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe?
Pozner: I think the radio broadcasts that came in from the Voice of America, the BBC World Service, the Deutsche Welle, and then, of course, Radio Liberty, had a great impact. According to different statistics, but approximately 40 million people, 40 to 50 million people, listened regularly to those broadcasts for information. Some listened for some other things like jazz music that you have. But I think they had a very big impact especially on younger people, and especially, of course, on the intellectual community. It’s hard to measure but I remember that people listened and listened a lot. And it wasn’t easy because jamming was going on. You had to find the spot and the time when you could actually tune in. People did listen very, very much. This was Western propaganda as countering Soviet propaganda, and I feel it was done in a much more sophisticated way. Clearly the West, in particular the US and the UK, have a much greater experience in that type of activity.
Interviewer: How was it and why was it more sophisticated?
Pozner: I believe that there was much more of, well not everything is perfect in our country, a much more presentable way of saying we don’t have this and that. They were admitting certain faults so as to really make the point. That was never part of the way the Soviets worked. As a matter of fact when I began to do my regular piece for the Western audiences, for American audiences, I did just that. Because the West knew that you have to admit certain things to be plausible. So I would admit certain things that at first created certain problems for me. I mean, when I said that yes we had anti-Semitism, I mean how could you say that? Whereas in an American broadcast they would obviously say that Blacks have a difficult time, but “we’ve progressed a lot.” Then you get all the positive stuff. You begin by admitting that not all is perfect. In that sense it was a much more sophisticated broadcast.
Interviewer: Do you think that the jamming backfired? In that it created more curiosity?
Pozner: Don’t know. I really don’t know. I think that the jamming backfired in that it was extremely expensive. It’s economically absolutely beyond the means of the country. There was jamming all over the place and it wasn’t effective in the sense of, in Moscow itself say, the jamming worked. If you went to the outskirts of Moscow it no longer did. There was huge money invested in this and it really didn’t block it all out. So I think it was ineffective.
Interviewer: What about the Voice of Russia or is it the Voice of Moscow? Did it work?
Pozner: its called Moscow Radio. That was officially.
Interviewer: How did that compare? Did it have much influence at all in the West?
Pozner: I think that Moscow radio probably had more influence in third world countries than it did in the United States. Let’s begin with the fact that Americans don’t listen to anything except their own radio anyway. They’re not very interested in the outside world. How many Americans listen to short wave to begin with? And I don’t think that in Western Europe a whole lot of people tune in to short wave for information. Let’s not forget that the whole point was in the West, if you wanted to get information that was not establishment, left wing, you could get it, not so much in America but you could read Communist newspapers. It was out there for you if you wanted to make the effort. So, the broadcasts from Moscow weren’t such a big deal, as differing from say Africa or the Middle East, where there were more repressive regimes. Therefore you wouldn’t get the information. If you have a little short-wave set, you listened. Now people listened to the Voice of America, they listened to the BBC, but they also listened to Moscow Radio. And I think in that sense Moscow radio was not without certain effect in third world countries.
Interviewer: What you’re saying really is that America is very insular and not interested in the outside World. And that’s what everybody says about the Soviet Union. I just wonder if you could make that parallel that people say the Soviet Union knew nothing about the outside world?
Pozner: Well, that’s a whole different story. If we compare the United States and the Soviet Union, the fact of the matter is that the average Russian had a tremendous interest in the outside world that was blocked. He couldn’t get that access, but he wanted it. He read everything he could get his hands on; he tried to get through that jamming and listen. If there was a foreign movie, you had a line of people standing just to get to see it no matter what it was. There was tremendous interest. That information wasn’t blocked, at least not in the Soviet way. But people were not encouraged in the United States to go look for information outside of what they can get in their own little town. Forget about the United States, people are not encouraged to go read other things or go to other sources. They are very insular. There’s a long explanation probably to that, but there is no comparison in the actual interest inside that abides each of these representatives, if you will.
Interviewer: Can we go onto Nightline?
Interviewer: Why was your appearance on Nightline so effective? Why are Americans so insular and have this narrow view?
Pozner: The first time I went on Nightline was, I believe, in 1980. It had to do with Afghanistan. I went on Nightline because the American bureau chief here, ABC bureau chief, suggested to put on a regular Soviet instead of a dissident, or an American Sovietologist. Ted Koppel put me on. It was like out of the blue sky, a clap of thunder, because I did not look like a quote, unquote, Soviet, which was a propaganda image. You know I was supposed to be fat with a very strong Russian accent and all of that, and uncouth, and all of these things. And here was a man who spoke American English, who could talk to you in the psychology of that language on the same level, who was dressed like an American might be dressed, and that created a total uproar. After that I kept coming back, rather, they kept having me back on, because the ratings went up. As you know in America if the ratings go up, then they do it again and again. So there I was suddenly the spokesman for the Soviet Union without being an official, without ever having been briefed. Actually being a person Soviet’s didn’t trust. Not allowed to travel outside of the Soviet Union, not allowed to go on television inside the Soviet Union, but being used as a propaganda instrument because I was very effective.
Interviewer: Would you say it was a real shock for the Americans because they were conditioned by their own propaganda?
Pozner: Of course, Americans were conditioned to see a quote, unquote, Russian in a certain way. And this quote, unquote Russian was supposed to be short, fat, stodgy with huge eyebrows a huge chin, a strong accent, poorly dressed, and what’s more he couldn’t really argue a point. He would say, “Ze party has told us to do this,” so anything was a little bit off. Suddenly it struck people, and that was one of the weaknesses of American propaganda, in that sense it was not very sophisticated the way it portrayed Russians. Was not sophisticated at all. You could see that in all the Rambo’s and all of that.
Interviewer: What was the reaction to you being on Nightline? Some people sort of criticized you because you made them uncomfortable.
Pozner: Well, I made a lot of people uncomfortable, because the arguments that I advanced were quite logical, and therefore that made them uncomfortable. I mean up until my appearance most Americans had no second thoughts, yet here I was making points that were hard to argue against. It came up to the point when Nightline would ask for the State Department to furnish someone to rebut me during one of our talks and the State Department would refuse. Because they couldn’t find anyone to rebut me. There are a lot of people who’ve never forgiven me for that, for being too effective. It really did scare them a lot. You see, Brezhnev didn’t scare anybody, and Arbotov didn’t scare anybody because they fit the mould, and if they fit the mould, the propaganda mould, then you know that’s fine. There you go we know who these guys are, but here was someone who didn’t fit the mould and that was obviously something that scared not a few people.
Interviewer: How did you handle questions about Afghanistan? That was quite a difficult thing, I mean, the West jumped on that straight away.
Pozner: The West jumped on Afghanistan straight away and for good reason. Very soon I made a statement in an interview where I said that it was called a mistake. All thought the Soviet incursion as hell broke loose. I was taken off the air; I was not allowed back on for six months. I’d just begun to travel finally, and all my travel rights were revoked, and they never came back until Gorbachev appeared on the scene. For five years nearly six I was again not leaving the country. So I didn’t get to speak a whole lot about Afghanistan after I’d said my piece, and that was it.
Interviewer: Vladimir, can you talk about how the West jumped on Afghanistan and made it out to be the Soviet Unions’ Vietnam.
Pozner: The West jumped on Afghanistan for very good reason. It was proof positive, if you will, that Communism was on the march, and that Communism by force was going to take new territories, something that the West had consistently warned and spoken about. Of course the Soviet reason for going into Afghanistan is a whole different story that not many people have ever looked at. It was more like an attempt to say — look we’ve tried to get an agreement so that you will not install these medium range missiles in Europe. We’ve tried to get an agreement to sign SALT. You guys aren’t doing it. Okay, we’re going to show you a thing or two. The Soviet’s thought that it would be like a parade, they’d walk in, and it would be all over. Turned out to be the opposite, turned out to be the Soviet Union’s Vietnam in senses more than one, not only because they lost that war like the United States lost in Vietnam, but also the morale of the fighting man. And what it did to the country psychologically speaking is also very much what Vietnam did to the United States.
Interviewer: Can you talk about the similarities between Vietnam and Afghanistan?
Pozner: Obviously, when you compare the Vietnam War and the Afghan War there are many similarities. Both countries lost, and these are countries that are not used to loosing wars. Number 1, Number 2, both countries came to understand that these were not just wars. These were somehow dishonest wars and therefore, the armed forces were affected by the wars. And not just the armed forces, the people, the man in the street, so that psychologically, it was a devastating blow and that distrust, if you will, is still very much there. I think the attitude of the average Soviet and now Russian, towards the armed forces is colored by what happened in Afghanistan.
Interviewer: Can you talk about how the Soviet media portrayed it internally? I was told that at first they were just not able to report truly what was happening in the war in Afghanistan but then it was out of synch with peoples thinking, because by then they were already a bit cynical and didn’t believe the media.
Pozner: When the war began in Afghanistan it was portrayed as the Soviet Union doing its internationalist duty to come to the aid of the country. They asked for aid, and initially it was seen as a very quick thrust by the military that would end it all and everything would be fine. As the war dragged, it became clear that more and more people were dying. It also became clear that we were not being told how many people were dying. Mothers were not being told that their children had been killed, they were not allowed to bury then publicly. They were not allowed to do that. The truth about the war was being hidden from the population, and that gradually became public knowledge. I think that was another factor in eroding the belief system of the average Soviet. Now the Government was engaged in an unjust war and was lying to me, the average citizen, about what was going on there. And lying in the most horrendous way.
Interviewer: Did the image of America protesting Vietnam make Soviet people think they could protest?
Pozner: Soviet people never thought they could protest, because they knew that was terribly dangerous. Pictures, television pictures of protests in the United States, which were put on for a propaganda effect to show that the people of the United States are against this terrible war, Imperialist war that is being waged against the people of Vietnam, in one sense worked. But in the other sense backfired in that we looked at this, and said, “Yeah, they’re against the war, and they’re protesting, they don’t seem to be afraid.” Yeah, sometimes there are clashes with the police but it’s not the same thing. People here knew that if you tried to demonstrate, you were dead meat. You’d be arrested and sent off to some camp — some Gulag place so that basically there were no protests. Whatever protests there were, were from a small group of dissidents who were immediately whisked off, either put in an insane asylum or in a prison, and that was the end of that.
Interviewer: Do you think propaganda became less and less effective? Just because you can only hit someone so many times?
Pozner: Propaganda became less and less effective inside the Soviet Union, because you cannot tell someone “Oh, we have a lot of meat” when there is no meat in the stores. You simply cannot do that. I mean you can do it. I think that probably what was described to Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people most of the time and most of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time” applies perfectly. Yes, some of the people were fooled most of the time and still are, and most of the people for some of the time. But then, eventually, when what was being said totally did not correspond to what I would see. There was a wonderful Soviet joke about a man who goes to see the doctor. He wants the eye-ear doctor. He is told there is no such thing, you can go and see the doctor who examines your eyes and the one who examines your ears, nose and throat, but the eye-ear doctor, why would you want that? He says well because I keep hearing one thing and seeing something completely different! That is the reflection of propaganda no longer working.
Interviewer: Can you talk about the Bay of Pigs being a sort of propaganda gift on a plate for the Soviet Union, and how that then ripple effected into the terms of the World?
Pozner: Well, the Bay of Pigs was a terrible American miscalculation. Clearly it was a disaster from the military viewpoint. It confirmed that the Soviet Union had always said, that American Imperialism would use force against anything it saw as a threat. And there you saw this. It also showed that the people of Cuba were united behind Fidel Castro, supported their system, and that a united people were invincible. It also sent messages out to the rest of the world that this is the way America reacts to a system that it doesn’t like. It really did Soviet propaganda a tremendous favor, the Soviets could then sit back and say “Hey look, we’re not going to argue about this, draw your own conclusions.”
Interviewer: Can you explain how you belong to a system that withheld information from people? Can you explain why? In America a lot of people think that the Soviet people were just blinded, and that they were not getting information. They were totally starved of information. But it’s a lot more complex than that, isn’t it?
Pozner: The Soviet people were not getting certain kinds of information. The Soviet people were getting information that had been processed. That’s not to say that they had no information. The Soviet people were well-educated, knowledgeable people; I would say more so than your average American by a long shot. They knew much more about America than Americans knew about Russia or the Soviet Union. In fact most Americans didn’t even know the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union. They used the words without even knowing. But the fact of the matter is that there were certain kinds of information that were simply taboo. Even to this day there are areas of so-called closed information. For instance, if you want to go read what Lenin had to write in the last years of his life, you still need permission, which I find absurd, because the things that he wrote are explosive. This’ll be the old system, and this’ll be who Lenin actually was. I think that in Russia, traditionally, there has been a mistrust of the population’s ability to deal with information. Information has to be doctored; it has to be packaged; now, I don’t think this is only a Russian phenomenon. I don’t think there is anything such as “All right, here’s all the information.” Except maybe now with the Internet, there is this possibility of having information that is not really processed at all. Because in the West it is processed anyway. There are certain things that people in the West never ever knew. They came here and they said, “Oh well, we didn’t know that”. Well, why didn’t you? And you know there are people who have said, “Oh the sun shines.” Good lord, because all they saw on television were gray skies, which is also a way of handling information. All they saw were old people limping around on crutches. Then I appear on the screen, “Jeez, look at this!” So I would say it was always in all countries. But here there was a very clear ideological reason for not allowing certain information in.
Interviewer: Vladimir can you talk about the fact that Americans were producing propaganda? It wasn’t that propaganda is just a Soviet thing in this Cold War exchange. Both sides were doing pretty much the same things.
Pozner: Well, I would say that from the minute the revolution occurred in this country back in 1917, the West actively began churning out propaganda about the Bolsheviks, about the Reds, about the sharing lives, about all these things. The Cold War was really a propaganda war; it was not a hot war, in which all sides participated very, very actively. It was a struggle for people’s minds. That’s what propaganda is about. It was propaganda in both sides with all the vestiges of propaganda. I would not say that there was an aggressor and someone who defended. They were all aggressors. They were all trying to prove to anyone and everyone that they were right, their ideology, their ideals. That’s what they wanted to do, that was what humanity should want. Basically that’s that. You know it takes two to tango. Well for propaganda it takes two, but there were many more than two.
Interviewer: Americans always think that the Soviet Unions propaganda was much worse. They always say, well, you know the Soviet system would hide the secrets of Stalin. And yet it would immediately eject somebody like McCarthy who was a little bit extreme by comparison. Do you think that the Soviet propaganda was more extreme in a way?
Pozner: I’m not sure that Soviet propaganda effected people anywhere nearly as much as Western propaganda did, because I feel that Soviet propaganda was not specifically well done, in the sense of it didn’t really grab people as much. It did when the Soviet Union was seen by the West, and particularly by the intellectual West, as a New World, where everyone indeed was equal, where everyone did have a job. You know there were a lot of intellectuals that came over here in the 1930’s. Bernard Shaw, one example, came back with these wonderful stories of what was going on. Then propaganda worked because it was confirmed by eyewitnesses, or what have you. But I do think that, as the Soviet Union became a more and more repressive country, as Stalin became more paranoiac, if you will, and all of that, the propaganda worked less well. Of course, finally, Khrushchev admitted to what Stalin had done. In my view Khrushchev did it only for one reason, not because he had such a great heart, but because it was a way of solidifying his grip on power, by saying, “I’m here now, and Stalin was an evil terrible character.” I think that when that came out, that was a devastating blow to the people who had, in the West, fought for the good of the Union and actually had suffered many reprisals for being pro-Soviet, especially in the United States. That’s when Soviet propaganda began to loose its impact. To say it was more extreme than American or any other propaganda, I don’t think so. I think that all propaganda is always extreme. It hides certain things. I mean, you know you did not go out there. Today we find out that there were many things that were never told about experiments conducted on convicts, and sterilization projects and the atomic projects in the United States, and actually there were soldiers who were subject to radiation without their even knowing this was going on. This was never stated. So I think that in that sense, propaganda is always evil, it’s always extreme and its goal is get the thing done and who cares about all of these ethical questions. Basically for me that is what propaganda is all about, which is why it is such a terrible thing to do.
Interviewer: Do you think that propaganda is a tool of politicians or is it just ordinary people saying that? Is it the American people who pay the price in the end?
Pozner: I think that propaganda is the tool of governments, of power, and in the long run, it is average people who pay for it. I think that it is also a tool that can entice idealists who actually believe that it’s worth it. That okay, I’m not going to tell the whole truth, but this is such a wonderful thing that I am willing to do this, and then, hopefully, they come to regret it.
Interviewer: Do you think that propaganda is something that actually backfires against the politicians in the end? Going back to the reason that if you hit someone loads of times, it stops hurting. In the sense that if politicians keep on churning out, using propaganda both domestically and as a foreign policy tool, that in the end the people would just stop listening to politicians and loose all faith in politics.
Pozner: I think that we have seen a worldwide phenomenon that reflects the disillusionment of people with their governments, with the people in government because of the propaganda, be it here in Russia, or be it anywhere else. There is a sense of cynicism with the politicians, because of the propaganda that they put out, and then it turns out to be untrue. People are led to believe in something and they sacrifice for that and they give their hearts and minds for it, then they wake up one day and they find out that they have been used. I think that it’s a common phenomenon now; it’s all over the place.
Interviewer: Is it more extreme here because the people have suffered a bit more?
Pozner: Oh, I think that this loss of ideals is as extreme as it gets in Russia. Because, let’s not forget, that for decades the majority of the people in this country deeply believed in the ideals that were announced. Few countries in the world have sacrificed the way this country has for those ideals. Then there was a kind of epoxy glue with two things, it was the belief and, of course, the fear as well. These two things mixed together really held the country. Then, as gradually it began to dissipate, as the ideals began to disappear, as the fear also began to disappear what with a certain democratization of the Soviet system, especially when Gorbachev came up, but even under Brezhnev, it was no longer like Stalin. The whole thing began to crumble, precisely because there was no more belief and no more fear. So I think that now this is a country that has been taught a terribly, terribly, painful lesson. It’s not soon that you’re going to find people with any real political ideals in Russia. One of the real problems today, and when Yeltsin speaks about the need to find a Russian idea, something to bring the people together, precisely the problem is they’re not prepared to be brought together. They’re not prepared to give anything more. They’ve been lied to so terribly that they no longer have this desire to believe in anything except okay, one day at a time, and the devil take the hindmost.
Interviewer: Has propaganda effected or complicated your life?
Pozner: Propaganda certainly has affected my life since that’s what I did. And I did it for the better part of sixteen years. If I were asked if I regretted it, I would say yes, I certainly do. At least it affected it in a certain way when I came to realize I would have nothing more ever to do with it. I became what I am today; a journalist in this country who is respected, who doesn’t work for anybody, who cannot be called out on the carpet, and who says what he wants to say and has only one addressee, one interest, which is people who are watching the show or are listening to the radio show that I do. I’ve gone through propaganda, I know what it is, and I will never ever again touch it, no matter what. So it has affected me very very strongly, and it’s changed my life.
Interviewer: But you’re lucky, because you’re smart.
Pozner: I would say that I’m lucky.
Interviewer: Vladimir, can you talk about the American exhibition in 1959, what a good propaganda the public was?
Pozner: The American National Exhibition of 1959 was something that totally blew the average Soviet’s mind. It showed of course the best side of America. But it showed a realistic side. It wasn’t something that was invented; it wasn’t something from another planet, on the one hand, but for the average Soviet. It definitely was in a country where you had only shortages, where most people, the overwhelming majority, lived in so-called communal apartments, several families sharing one bathroom, one kitchen, where you had no modern gadgets. What was seen there was like it was from a different planet, and people grabbed everything that was available, every flier, every booklet, every batch, pin, every tin can, every can of Coca-Cola, everything. It was gobbled up by people who stood in line for hours to get in. The famous “Kitchen Debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon, in fact, confirms what I’m saying, because Khrushchev was saying “This isn’t an average American kitchen, this was propaganda.” He was reacting. It was so nice. You couldn’t allow your Soviet visitors to believe that Americans lived like this, because if they had kitchens like that, Capitalism was better than Socialism, simple as that.
Interviewer: How did Soviet media react to that? Was it a big threat to the authorities?
Pozner: Soviet media played down the exhibit, saying that “Yes, exchanges were wonderful, it was a good idea.” We were going to have our exhibit, and we did in the United States. It was an exchange as always. Always saying, “Don’t be duped, you’re being taken in, of course they are showing us only the best things,” that was the approach. So play it down, rather than play it up.
Interviewer: Can we go back to your first job of finding out that you were editing these information stories?
Pozner: My first job was with Novasty Press Agency in a department, which I later learned, was part of the KGB. I was a young man then, very naive; I came in, I was offered a nice salary. What I did was I edited articles that I really didn’t even know where they were going to be published. They were political articles about a situation say in India, or say in a Latin American country, and I edited them. They were written in Russian, and that was the end of that. Later I found out, when I left that department, that then these articles were sent to, I guess, the parties, wherever they were in those counties, and signed by local journalists. In fact this was dis-information. It was politically aimed at creating certain situations. When I left that department, I learned that I had been working for the KGB because of being called into the military assignment area and told that your dossier was at the KGB and now you are no longer there. I said I had no idea that I was with the KGB, but that’s how I found that out. So yes, I was disseminating. I was in a department that was disseminating dis-information.
Interviewer: Dis-information stories are quite clever though, aren’t they, because what they do is they sort of trick the enemy, if you like, with their own media?
Pozner: Well again, this is not a Soviet invention. The idea of producing a piece that’s then signed by a local journalist, or a local whoever, and published in a local paper is obviously a very clever way of getting across something that otherwise would be seen as coming from outside, and being foreign. This is you’re own person writing this in your own paper. So it had a much stronger effect. I’m sure that, again, this was a game that was played by everyone concerned. It wasn’t just the Soviets. I doubt very much that the Soviets ever invented anything in the area of propaganda that had not existed before. I don’t think they were terribly inventive in that sense.
Interviewer: One last thing, one of the big themes obviously of propaganda was the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war.
Pozner: In so far as the fear of nuclear war’s concerned, I think that probably Russians were less afraid of it than Americans. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Russians knew what war actually was, they’d gone through hell in 1941, ‘45. Second, there was never the kind of emphasis put on a nuclear attack as imminent. Children in this country were not taught to hide under desks for so called nuclear drills. There was not this hysteria. There was a very strong feeling that we should never allow war to happen again. We know what war is, we’re all against war, our government is against war. We are for disarmament, we will do everything, so that there not be a war. But there never was hysteria, as differing from the United States, and that’s a very interesting difference.
Interviewer: What about Star Wars? Did Star Wars have an impact? In a way Star wars was an idea, it never was a weapon. It’s an idea that did contribute towards ending the arms race.
Pozner: Whether or not Star Wars contributed towards ending the arms race is a question. The fact of the matter is, for the average Russian, Star Wars never was a danger. But for the Soviet scientists involved in that area, and I spoke to many of them, the concept of Star Wars was a very dangerous one because it was a concept aimed at knocking out the Soviet Unions ability to watch out for a foreign missile attack. It was one of the things that was worked into Star Wars. The Soviet side felt that it could be very dangerous. At the same time the Soviet side felt that there was no adequate defense against a missile attack that Star Wars could not work. I happen to believe that the whole concept that exists in the West, particularly in the United States, that Star Wars forced the Soviet Union to a kind of arms race it could no longer sustain. I think is totally wrong.
Interviewer: Do you think there’s an element of Reagan’s sentimentality and showmanship about Star Wars? You know, protect every American home.
Pozner: I think that when Edward Teller offered this vision to Ronald Reagan it very much fitted in to his “cowboy riding off into the sunset with the guns blazing” and all of this. It is a great idea, we’re gonna put up these, these shields, and the United States is going to be totally protected from the Evil Empire. It sounds great, and probably Teller could be very, very, forceful on this. The reality of it was and is that it’s still not possible to do, that when one missile can shoot 200 decoys among which only two are real warheads and the others are all decoys, there’s no way that you can stop this. So I think that in fact Reagan got caught up into something that was not a reality.