Reformer: `Tell the Truth'

THE following are excerpts from an interview on Nov. 3 with Maj. Vladimir Lopatin, the leader of young officers promoting military reform. He is a Soviet people's deputy and the deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Committee on State Security.

I was born and raised in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk. My mother raised four children alone. Our family was very poor and the main problem was to find a means of subsistence.

Books were an important source of my education. I grew up to be a romantic person who didn't know much about the crucial realities of the world. I was trying to emulate Pavel Koryakin, the hero of a book by [Nikolai] Ostrovsky, ``How Steel was Forged.''

All that prompted me to draw up an ideal plan of life which I tried to implement. I would join Komsomol [the Young Communists] at 14, get an internal passport at 16, join the Communist Party at 18, and go into military service....

In 1977, I enrolled in the Air Force Academy in Kurgan and graduated with honors. I was trained as a political worker for the Air Force. I liked to work with people. Since I got the right to choose and since I was interested in the sea, I choose the Naval Air Force.

I joined Komsomol at 13.... At 16, I had gotten my internal passport, and at 18 I became a candidate member of the Communist Party. When I joined my first regiment, I was still a romantic and an idealist to a degree. And I still am.

My friends were asking me to put away my rose-colored glasses and to look at real life soberly, but I still believed that the problems and difficulties I could see were temporary. I clung to a popular slogan at that time - to live better, we must work better.

Among my subscriptions I received two magazines - the Science of Communism and [the satirical magazine] Krokodil. One journal showed me how things should be and the other what we have in reality. Over time, I came to understand that problems in life were related also to bad leaders and that we needed change, beginning with our administrators.

If, after a long time, theory cannot be translated into reality, then instead of trying to change reality to match the theory, we should change the theory. In 1986, at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party, the slogan was raised to speak the truth. I was still a romantic and believed that slogan was sincere.

So one day I addressed my words of truth to a meeting of the Northern Fleet air base. I told them that they only sign orders and then send commissions to check their compliance. I believed this interfered with combat efficiency. I also said that the data the general used to write reports were obsolete and that new reports were written by shaking the dust off old ones and putting in new names.

As a result, instead of getting a promotion, I was moved to the Vologda region. My salary was cut twice - from more than 600 rubles a month in Kola to less than 300.

My stay in Vologda region improved my sober approach to real life. In 1987, I believed the center [i.e., Moscow] wanted perestroika [restructuring], that the grass roots were supporting it, but the middle level of bureaucrats was applying the brakes.

As I was trying to convince my colleagues it was permanent and serious, I was also changing my position a little. In 1988, a bill on elections was adopted. I was nominated [for election as a People's Deputy] by four military units and after three months of campaigning - I was competing against 12 other people - I won election.

My position at that time was that the party governed society and the crisis that hit the party also hit society. And that the sickness of society should be cured first within the party. At that time, like many Russians, I believed in a nice and kind czar who may come down one day and make the proper judgments. I believed someone should tell the truth to the people who ran the country about the society and the Army because apparently they didn't know it.

But the more I learned about the levels of the party and state bureaucracy, the more disillusioned I got.... On Dec. 8, 1989, I attended an all-Army meeting of officer deputies from the stage of the Central Theater of the Soviet Army. The generals wanted to deal with the 17 officers who had signed the first program of military reform.

When I was on the stage, a general approached me and talked to me in rude expressions, said that he would never shake my hand, and that he would denounce me from all corners. I asked him his name - he said he was Gen. [Albert] Makashov, commander of the Volga-Urals District. I asked him: Weren't you the general who was reprimanded by the minister of defense [on May 22, 1989] and stood silent? He said yes. Then I told him: You are brave enough to deal only with majors and I will tell everyone about that.

Then I realized that these generals are links in one and the same system ... which penetrates not only the military but all walks of life. And then I defined the system that I believe puts the brake on perestroika as the tripartite military-industrial union on a party basis.

The higher you go, look at this system, the more you see that the only principle of its existence is placing loyal sycophants into key positions. When your boss is pushy and you react with silence, any effort of some subordinate to defend his human dignity is called ``disobedience.''

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