View from Germany: “How I finished writing the President of the USSR …”

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The last General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, the first and only president of the USSR, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev celebrates his 90th birthday on March 2 this year. MK-Compatriot journalist Grigory Kroshin, who at one time worked in the editorial office of the Krokodil magazine, spoke about how he managed to interview the country’s first person in the 90s.

… It was at the First Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia, in May 1990. Just in those days, our people’s defenders were supposed to elect the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the new Russia. Everything turned out in such a way that it was supposed to be a recent party schismatic and troublemaker, and concurrently – the then people’s favorite Boris Yeltsin. Naturally, the entire party and government elite of the USSR desperately did not want such an outcome of the elections. Who needed an unruly Yeltsin at the head of the future parliament of Russia?

On the first day of this historic congress of the RSFSR, all the then union leadership arrived in full force: USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Anatoly Lukyanov, secretaries of the CPSU Central Committee, ministers. And, of course, an unprecedented number of accredited journalists – both ours (and the author of these lines) and foreign ones.

During a break in the meeting, Gorbachev and his retinue left the door of his box, and his entire team went to the foyer. Where the president was already awaited by the “sensation-hungry” journalistic fraternity.

At first, Gorbachev perceived the correspondents’ questions outwardly calmly, answered out of habit in a verbose, florid, but for the time being quite patient and affable. However, soon, after persistent requests from foreign journalists to comment on the tragic events in Lithuania on March 25, 1990 (with the intervention in the Lithuanian affairs of the OMON with tanks introduced by the Soviet authorities to Vilnius to counter the announced secession of Lithuania from the USSR), Gorbachev clearly began to lose his temper and patience … He turned red and suddenly, in mid-sentence, cut off one of the journalists who tried again and again to return to the events in Lithuania, and made a sign to his entourage to leave, considering the press conference over.

I, for the time being occupied with my dictaphone, albeit an uncomfortable, but still quite advantageous position in the immediate vicinity of the president, realized that it was high time for me to leave this whole company of colleagues and, if I was lucky, to lie in wait for the president on his way back to the box of the hall …

I ran in the direction of the corridor leading to the government box, standing at the corridor along which, as I calculated, the president was to return to the hall. And so it happened. Soon I saw the leaders of the country, Gorbachev, who had escaped from the clutches of the journalists and appeared from the foyer, next to him Ryzhkov and Lukyanov, and behind them the constant security in the person of the then chief security guard of the President of the country, General Medvedev, and several of his gloomy employees in the same black civilian clothes …

Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev. Photo by B. Kremer.

I, at first moment a little numb and somehow confused by such an incredible closeness of the leaders of the country and their fantastic availability, then, not realizing what I was doing, and not thinking about any protection, I separated from the wall and mechanically stretched out my hand with the dictaphone just a little whether not under the nose of Gorbachev passing by. To the President of the USSR …

Hello, Mikhail Sergeevich, – it took off by itself. And I was already carried away: – I represent the magazine “Crocodile”.

The group stopped, staring at me and seemingly not understanding what was happening: where did this bearded one with a tape recorder come from? The guards were also numb, everything was clearly not going according to protocol … Gorbachev was quicker to orient himself in the situation: he suddenly, looking at me, burst out laughing throughout the entire corridor. Also not according to the protocol …

General Medvedev seemed taken aback, still not deciding how to react to me. At the usual time, he would have acted routinely, “according to the protocol,” that is, as should be done with an uninvited interlocutor who broke too close to the first person of the state … But for me so far, it seems, there have been no injuries. And then, most importantly, I got a reliable “roof” – the President of the USSR himself became an active participant in our conversation, stopped with me and laughed for a long time:

─ Ah, Crocodile! I know him, this is generally my favorite magazine!

─ Are you our subscriber?

─ Yes, and for a very long time, since childhood! Is always. In general, I am a person disposed to humor. I am your regular reader. One day your editor asked me what my opinion was about meeting. – I must admit that I have never seen Gorbachev so relaxed in public, sincerely laughing. At the same time, he completely turned to me in this cramped corridor, completely turning his back on his then comrades-in-arms – Ryzhkov and Lukyanov, it became clearly uncomfortable: no one was interested in the chairman of the Soviet government and the speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR …

– Mikhail Sergeevich, how would you define the main task of Soviet satirists now?

─ The most important one?

─ Yes.

– The main thing, I think, is to preserve in people, on the one hand, a sense of criticality, and on the other, a sense of humor. As long as a person can perceive life with humor – he is a person, right?

─ Yeah, it’s hard now without humor …

─ Yes, yes, of course. In humor, the spirituality of a person is manifested. And this is the core on which a person is held.

All the calls to the meeting had already rang, and President Gorbachev was still standing, as if nothing had happened, talking with the Krokodil correspondent, laughing loudly and gesturing. At the same time, with a peripheral vision, to my horror, I noticed that the formidable presidential guard General Vladimir Medvedev, who was closely following us on the right, was closely following me. Rather, it’s not so much for me personally and not even for the President, but for my dictaphone, which was all this time next to … the face of the first person of the state. What if it’s not a dictaphone, but in general … a clockwork, and what if, God forbid, it explodes?

And another curious discovery of mine, from which everything went cold in me: as soon as I tried to move at least a millimeter with my voice recorder to the president, my body irresistibly rested on something simply iron, which did not allow me to approach. Then only I realized that it was the “iron” hand of General Medvedev, resting on my thigh and was there, it turns out, during the entire time of my conversation with Gorbachev …

─ Humor must be present, right? And even more so, now – I decided to play along with the president, the initiator of perestroika, – in conditions of pluralism of opinions …

─ Yes! And can you imagine how interesting it will be to show satirically, for example … two games ?! – And again he laughed loudly and infectiously, apparently for the first time imagining such an unbelievable thing.

Mikhail Gorbachev in May 1990 – the then sovereign master of a country called the USSR, the leader of the only directing communist force in Soviet society – it seems that even in a nightmare he could not have imagined such pluralism in which we can have more than two parties …

… Out of breath with my own success and anticipating the delight of my fellow journalists, I rushed to the editorial office, caught in the corridor the executive secretary running with stripes of the surrendering number:

─ Vladislav Georgievich, I just spoke with Gorbachev in the Kremlin.

Secretary, brushed me off:

─ Grisha, don’t talk nonsense, now it’s not up to you, you see – we are handing over the number, and you are with your jokes! …

─ Slava, I’m not kidding. What a joke here! I have just come from the Kremlin, from the meeting where Yeltsin is being elected, and there Gorbachev and his entire team, and me – you must understand! – I managed to talk with him during the break for the editorial office on a dictaphone. So what – to do in Gorbachev’s room?

The otvetsek rested his fixed eyes on me:

– What kind of Gorbachev ?! Did you talk to Gorbachev? With yourself? With the president?

A minute later the chief summoned me:

─ Grisha, is it true? Have you interviewed the president?

─ Yes, I’m so lucky. I just came from there, from the Kremlin, here is a tape recorder from a conversation.

The chief decisively pressed the selector button, immediately ordered to break the issue, which was to be published two days later, to remove the ready-made materials, and instead put my interview with Gorbachev. And he ordered me to urgently transcribe the dictaphone recording of the conversation and give it to him to watch.

I brought the finished text an hour and a half later to the editor-in-chief. He ran it in front of me and, satisfied, did not correct anything:

─ Thank you, Grisha. Well done. It worked very quickly! This is the first time in the history of the editorial office for the President of the country to give us an interview personally! Great! I sign in the room.

─ Thank you, Alexey Stepanovich, but … – I hesitated. – There is one strange thing …

─ What is it?

─ You see, during the deciphering, I heard that Gorbachev, it turns out, spoke to me with incomplete phrases, fragmentary, ending them in conversation with gestures, facial expressions, smiles, but I certainly knew exactly what he had in this mind. Well, in general, I had to … finish writing his phrases.

─ What ?! – The main one already suffocated. – To add Gorbachev ?! Do you understand, Grisha, what you said now? Does this mean that we have to coordinate the text with the President himself? And this, as you know, will take months. And we have to hand over the number the day after tomorrow! How do you imagine that?

─ Alexey Stepanovich, I mumbled. – But I was next to him, personally spoke with Gorbachev, I know exactly what he meant. In general, I am responsible for the accuracy of the text of his answers.

There was nothing to do, there was no time left for any agreements, and the chief obviously did not want to miss such a chance as an exclusive interview with the President of the country.

─ Okay, Grisha, on your responsibility. Well, mine, of course. Let’s take a chance.

We took a chance. They handed over my text to the room. The magazine was sent to Gorbachev’s secretariat. A few days later I was met in the Kremlin by the presidential press secretary Arkady Maslennikov and praised for the interview, saying that the president himself liked it …

A friendly cartoon from the author of the article – congratulations on the anniversary.

Grigory KROSHIN.