RED FILES/PBS Press Tour – Pasadena, August 1, 1999
Thanks for coming. My name is Mitchell Johnson, and I'm president of Abamedia and the series producer of RED FILES, and it's a tremendous honor for me to be here today with our two distinguished guests who really helped make our series possible. First I'd like to introduce–I guess you'll see them better in a moment–Olga Korbut who's here in the room–stand up please if you will; that'd be great. She's, of course, a gold medal winner at the Olympics, and she's the first athlete to be inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Secondly, Dr. Sergei Khrushchev. He's an internationally renowned historian, space design engineer, and author. And, of course, I think we all know, he's the son of the late Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, and I think we also saw, maybe two or three weeks ago, he's now an American citizen, which is fairly amazing when you think about it. It was about four years ago that I set foot for the first time in Krasnogorsk, the Russian State Film and Photo Archive, and this archive is the main repository of nonfiction films for Russia and the former Soviet Union. It has over 200,000 reels of 35mm film; it has over a million photos. And, as a filmmaker, it was kind of like being a kid in a candy store. And, from that initial trip four years ago, two initiatives have grown with the support of public television and our partner, Devillier Donegan Enterprises. First, RED FILES–and that's why we're here today; and secondly, Russian Archives On Line, which seeks to bring this amazing audiovisual resource to the World Wide Web. And that effort is being encouraged by UNESCO, and will also premier on PBS On-Line as a part of RED FILES.
We're about to show you two clips. Let me say briefly the following. There are four programs, and they were created by some tremendous filmmakers in England. One is William Cran, who is a many-time Emmy-award-winning filmmaker, Greg Barker, and Liz Dobson. One of the films is Secret Victories of the KGB, and it will, really for the first time, tell the full story of how American KGB agents, Lona and Morris Cohen, along with the physicist, Ted Hall, stole the atom bomb secret. It's a pretty amazing story. Secondly, there is Soviet Propaganda Machine, and this features Vladimir Pozner, who covers the U.S.-Soviet propaganda war, and especially the devastating impact that this propaganda war has had on the Russian people.
The other two programs feature our guests. Olga Korbut is in Soviet Sports Wars, and that details four tragic stories of Russian athletes; and secondly Dr. Khrushchev in The Secret Soviet Moon Mission, which chronicles the amazing race for the moon by the Russians.
So, without saying anything else, why don't we go ahead and roll the clip reel and we'll see segments from the two films that I mentioned. Thanks.
Question: Ms. Korbut, hi, right here in the middle. Did you–it talks there in the clip about you being seen as difficult--about being seen as revolutionary. Did you see yourself that way at that time, or you were just trying to do something the best way you could and discovered that maybe people didn't want you to do your best?
Olga Korbut: You know, first of all, I was born in gymnastics, and everybody asked me how I'd come to gymnastics. My answer is, I was born. When I was born, I was going to gymnastics. And I always create in gymnastics with my coach. He brought me one element during the training/practicing is born not into man. We're always creating, we're always looking, we're always finding, you know. And, of course, government didn't like that, because I, as I said in the film, I destroyed everything with trying to think, trying to do anew. This is why now why we need to change gymnastics, because we don't have a star for whom we need to follow. This is very important in gymnastics.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, over here on your left, a little bit over to your left. What are some of the most significant ways in which the Soviets were able to deceive the Americans during the Cold War?
Dr. Khrushchev: You know, when we talk about all these races, competitions, in the early teens, it was not real competition between two technological fields–even space, even, it was no real competition in the missiles. It was no gap, because gap on the American side. The main competition with this country was in the production of meat, butter, milk per capita, which was what my father told at that time. And the biggest achievement of course of the Soviet Union in this race in the technological, this space you're talking about, it was the launching of the first satellite, because it was at that time, Korolev was not well known. It was one among maybe dozens of other cube designers, who designed, who presented their ideas, but nobody knew how it would be successful. Just he did it before with all his race, it was his own race with Americans, but he also didn't know what happened, because he expected that Americans would launch the first satellite Jupiter, the first successful launch in July 1957, and then he wanted to launch it before the October 4th, because on October 5th, it was the meeting of the geophysical committee, and he thought that Americans would report about their successful launch, and he pushed the people to do it one day before this meeting of this committee. And then it appeared--it was on the report of the Americans of the preparations for the launch. And then, after that, of course, he became the most famous secrets person in the Soviet Union–it was much easier for him to do everything.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, back here. I think 20 years ago, if any of us had known we'd be sitting in a room with television critics talking to you in your capacity as a participant in something called RED FILES, we would have just laughed. What do you think your father might have said?
Dr. Khrushchev: What say?
Question: It's so remarkable that you're sitting here talking to a room full of American critics in your capacity working on this film and as an American citizen. What might your father have to say?
Dr. Khrushchev: Oh, you know, it is this question, which, first of all, we are not talking about science fiction movie, when you can move one person from one period to the other, back in time, forward in time. My father lived in the Cold War. I lived in the Cold War. At that time, I designed not only spacecraft, but also cruise missiles and ballistic missiles which targeted the United States, because we thought that our society would be more successful than Americans. But, from the other side, in the Russia move to the market economy, I can explain why it had to be moved in this way; not because America wanted Cold War; he was pragmatic, maybe he would support. I don't know–it's individual. But he never tried to push me to do what he wanted. When I married, he did not like my first wife, but he didn't tell no. When I divorce, he told me nothing, that he didn't like divorce. When I want to go to work as his design, as I understood later he wanted me to go to another one, he never told me, "You must do this." This was my decision.
Question: Did he ever talk about the space--his plans for space or anything at home?"
Dr. Khrushchev: Yes, we talked . . .
Question: During the early days, I mean?
Dr. Khrushchev: No, we talked with him all the time because, after ‘58, I began to work in that field. So, I came, and usually he walked after his working day for an hour. Everybody in the family could join him, and talk about everything they want, or only listen to him. So, what I did, I told him what was we did, what were there, what I read in the news about American plans. But, in the early, but, you know, when we are talking about centralized society, sometimes it is a very different and wrong picture in the United States. And I am sometimes joking, yes I am agreeing with centralized Khrushchev-designed missiles, airplanes, engines, cars, because he gave them all. It was a strong competition. It was not only car alone. There were three very strong groups, very competitive. And so his plans, really, was the agreement with his designers, with what they proposed.
Question: What I was really wondering was, on the day that the satellite went up, the Sputnik went up, what did he do? Was he excited? Did he jump around?
Dr. Khrushchev: Well, yes, he was very excited. I was with him. He was in Kiev. He just sitting in the room of this size after the state dinner. It was late in the evening, with the Ukrainian officials, and they chat about the Ukrainian events and what are they chatting like is all the satellites business. They tried to squeeze some money from him, and he tried to find out it helps if he gives this money or not. And, later in the evening, the door opened and his secretary put his head in the door, "Mr. Khrushchev, you have a telephone call." And, of course, I knew before that the Sputnik had been launched, so only me knew that, what, why the secretary just asked him to go to the other room. It could be only one call. Nobody others. It would have meant some big disaster. Then he went out, and then he returned smiling. And we know that everything happened as he stopped to talk about all these things. He begin to talk with these people about space, about missiles, about Korolev. He told us everything top secret. And really these people was not too much interested. They tried to just shift him back on the discussion about funding, not about space.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, a question at the back of the room. There was a slightly ironic piece, I think on national public radio, a week or two weeks ago, when you became a citizen, I believe. I wondered, did you find that it was ironic that you became an American citizen and what, how long have you been here and what have you been doing, other than you've been writing, living here? Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Khrushchev: You know, when we're talking about this, it is very interesting to me, all these processes that researcher, because before I never understood how deep still Americans are living in the Cold War. Because when we're still living in the Cold War, it's ironic because I am the son of the leader who was just was a leader opposite side. Now I here and citizen. I have defected. You've won me, and you've won the Cold War. Some people would told me . . . But reality is very different. The Cold War is over. No, I never defected. I really never immigrated here. I was invited to Brown University years ago. I spend eight years, until they decided that I comfortable to work there. And I applied for the citizen because we decided, with my wife, that we'll live here, but it's no problem now. Before you can live on the one side of the Iron Curtain or another. If you just decided to change your side, you're a traitor, for both sides. And now, it's, you can buy tickets and go visit children. My children are living there, so I don't see any irony. But it is very interesting.
Question: But, are you lecturing at Brown, are you writing, are you touring and speaking on subjects like you're talking about today?
Dr. Khrushchev: No, I am at the Tom Watson Institute for International Studies. It's a research institute related with Brown. I have one seminar in Brown where we're teaching about the current situation in the former Soviet Union. I am writing the books. I just finished the book which is entitled Creation of Super Power, about my father and Cold War. And I tried to explain of misperception, misunderstanding, and how it was there on that side, how decisions had been made. And it will be published by Penn State Press next winter. And same time in China and Russia. And I now planning about another book and we're planning to translate in English full version of my father's memoirs. And also, I am lecturing around United States everywhere, so if you will want to invite me, please do this.
Question: Mr. Khrushchev, right here. I'm wondering, if you could give any advice to President Clinton about improving relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, what advice would that be?
Dr. Khrushchev: Well, first of all, all advices which could be done to the President Clinton must be done before 1993, because . . .
Question: No, I mean, I mean now, post Cold War, to improve . . .
Dr. Khrushchev: No, no, in 1993, it was also post Cold War . . .
Dr. Khrushchev: But, in this time, the advice would be, you have to understand, that now nothing really dependent from United States. And the very strong anti-American feeling there, you have to try to be aside, not be involved in the day by day activity there. Last polls show that it is 78% of the Russians, all over the country, not only in Moscow, have more or less anti-American feeling.
Question: And what advice would you have to improve relations between the Soviet Union and China?
Dr. Khrushchev: Soviet Union and . . .
Question: and China?
Dr. Khrushchev: Russia and China? United States with . . .?
Question: I think you asked between the Soviet Union and China?
Question: Yes. For Russia.
Dr. Khrushchev: No, Soviet Union. But Russia and China have good enough relations. And I think they try to use both sides. And, you know, it is two big countries, and China may be the future Super Power. So, they, each of them had their own interests, and I think that it will be very important that these interests will not be directed against the West because when the diplomacy is working for, like it's working now, it is very easy to create new opposition and new, how to say, standing on the opposite sides of the East and West.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, way in the back here. Two indelible images from my youth was (a) your father at the United Nations, addressing the United Nations and banging his shoe on the table, and the other, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both of those images, to me, meant the possibility of no tomorrow. What were your perceptions of those two events of history?
Dr. Khrushchev: But when we talk about these two events of yesterday, it was a part of the Cold War behavior in which both sides tried to show that they were equal. America was much stronger, so it was much more difficult for my father to show that he is equal. And when he was made this, maybe not very appropriate, thing, banging his shoe, it was just a fluke to happen here. It was his answer to the Americans over flying the Soviet territory, because in reality, when the U2 had been shot in the May 1, 1960, and then the Paris Summit blew up, he told if West don't want--America don't to talk with me, I will bring all them world leaders to American territory and we'll there discuss our problems. It was just it was began this meeting, famous meeting United Nations in October the same year, when all the leaders came there, and then, after that, President Eisenhower had to agree this. So, maybe he decided he will answer Americans in this way. Maybe it was not understanding of the American procedure. And second, when we're talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis, you know, really it was more crisis in America than in the Soviet Union because it was the last step in the pushing the West to accept the Soviet Union as equal. And, if you are equal, you have to defend all your clients or your allies, even threatening with a third World War. And here, I don't see any difference in the behavior between his deployment of the nuclear strategic missiles on Cuban territory and Kennedy, who talked in Berlin. Soviet invaded here the third World War, but the crisis was created, in reality, what I wrote in my book, was misperception, because he never understood how Americans will behave. Not President, not politicians, but the other Americans who all their history, lived in safety because there was just separated by the ocean. So the mood of the time was not on the political intention, but technical capability to reach their territory, and so they also hidden by the media, they were ready to die but to push these missiles out. And then they began, both sides, worked in a very different environment. But they solved this problem, and I will tell this in different way. It was first crisis in the Cold War when both leaders trust each other, that way that they sought, that they could solve them through the secret exchanges of their letters. The first time in this Cold War we exchanged letters at last found some agreements. So it was the thick of the Cold War, and it, on the other side it was turning point of the Cold War from Crisis, to more peaceful development.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, now that you are an American citizen, will you vote in the election, the presidential election?
Dr. Khrushchev: Now, it is not really related with RED FILES, but I will tell you what I'm thinking. I don't know because, in Soviet Union, you had to vote, but during the Brezhnev times, it became easy, and for last 20 years I did not vote. And whiles I vote in 1990 for Yeltsin, and he's great, he's known, the election of Yeltsin created disaster in Russia. And still my wife blaming me. You vote for this guy, I never. So I think, would I vote here second time, will be it for good or not? But I have yet one year to think about it.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, going back to the Cold War question, another famous incident, of course, with your father is that we will bury you. Do you feel that that incident between your father and then vice-president Nixon was as much truly, purely about politics, or was it also possibly about personal antagonism?
Dr. Khrushchev: It was not really personal antagonism. My father did not like Nixon. He thought they were big politicians and after it was human toward Yeltsin or toward Nixon as the president. Both of them were tough and they just discussed with all these things–both of them, by the way, thought that they won on these discussions, including kitchen debates. And we'll talk about this famous expression, and whether really it was created by the propaganda, because it was not during his debates; it was not during debates with Nixon–not in United Nations, not anywhere. It was one interview, very peaceful, when he tried to explain one more maybe time to American crew when sooner or later, socialists would dream, Capitalists would die, then we are buried, and you will have to join us. But you know when you work in this war–it was just real war–you just got beginning and the end; it was the best expression. When I came again to live in my peaceful area in Cranston, and next month when I knew my neighbors better, they said, you know the famous expression, we just woke up every day with such rough words–"I'll bury you." This worked well. But really, when he came to his visit to the United States in 1999, his first question was asked, and he's plain as me. And that was, each press conference they asked him the same question until, in Los Angeles, he became furious about this, and he told people you asking me this questions and I don't think that you journalists are so stupid, so you trying to provoke me.
Question: Mr. Johnson, I wondered if I could ask you about these archives which seem spectacular treasury? In order to tell your stories, though, you need more than these images and pictures. You need the stories, the facts that go behind the stories that they illustrate, or that you're using to illustrate. Do you also then need access to the KGB files and the American Intelligence files on all these stories that allow you to then use the archives to illustrate them?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, uh, exactly so. The initial research is done mostly with text. In fact, Steven Leibman is here today, and he is the head of development for our company. It is really some of Stephen's initial deep background work, both in the film archives and Russia and in text archives, as well as on the Internet and other ways, we developed our stories. And then, once we brought the film makers into the process, the other film makers, then, of course, they got--you were on the ground in Russia, and doing interviews with people who were still living from these various stories. So, it was a combination.
Question: Do you have to pay in order to get access? Is there a fee to use the archives?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, in essence, it's almost like any archive here. You can go, anyone in this room can go to Russia, to the archive and pay a basic, relatively small daily rate to look at film on a flat bed editing machine, or look at the photos. And then if you want to license the use of the photos or the films, then you pay a standard license fee, just as you do in this country. What we plan to do is eventually create a electronic process, so that one doesn't have to travel to Moscow any more. And, of course, this depends on bandwidth and other issues, but, in essence, we plan to bring this archive to . . . And, really, it'll be available freely, without charge. Except if you want to use images for a commercial purpose.
Question: Does that mean you have some sort of joint venture with the Russian government?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, our company is their trade representative, so we, in essence, do what they can't do very well. Archivists and librarians aren't necessarily the best marketers of their materials, and, plus, they don't really have much of a concept about the western marketplace. So, we, in essence, go out and promote and market the materials and negotiate the license arrangements, and then wire transfer money to the Russian State.
Question: Question in the back of the room here. Most of us here know that the Cold War is over. But I wondered from Olga and Dr. Khrushchev whether--what your reaction is when you turn on the TV, maybe in America, and see on Nightline the head of the KGB, the deputy head of the KGB, spilling everything, telling everything. What's your reaction? I mean, are you amazed as we are, or are you used to it by now?
Speaker: Are you surprised to see now, like the former head of the KGB, on American television telling, I guess, their former secrets?
Speaker: Is this a difficult thing for you? A strange thing? Or are you used to it? Maybe Olga should speak first.
Olga: I think that KGB is not disappear. They are still alive, and they are working. They just telling you they are not any more KGB. They are. This is my opinion.
Dr. Khrushchev: Now, when you're talking about the former KGB, I'll say directors like to see this road when they're telling his story. It's also a sign of a more democratic society because they get to tell everything, what they, not they want, what they allowed. The same here, if you look in the classified papers, and I think you look in them, you will find there two letters in the top of the page then three letters in the middle of the page, and there, and they just crossed out with a black color. So in many cases the same, they playing their own games. But, when the game is over, we are talking that it is no KGB there. Now, it's everything going down. The peak of democracy was during the Gorbachev time. Now it's going dead there when now it come to Moscow, they're just bugging my telephone the same way it was in the Brezhnev time. And they try to set up more and more control, and I think that maybe this next year, the new, possible election of new Russian president, there will be many surprises in Russia.
Question: For both of you, can I ask how old each one of you is?
Dr. Khrushchev: How old?
Question: How old?
Olga: I am 44. I am born 1955.
Dr. Khrushchev: I am much older, twenty years older, 64.
Question: Okay, and, you started to touch on this, Dr. Khrushchev, are you worried about the future of Russia? Do you think about that? Do you still have a lot of attachment to Russia? Or, are, perhaps especially you, Olga, are you just so angry that you don't really even care any more?
Dr. Khrushchev: No, of course I worry about everything. It's my Russian nature. My children are living there; my grandchildren are living there. We're here only with my work. We came here really thinking we will spend here one year and then return. Now we're here for eight years. And the second, it is, the focus of my research and the transition from the centralized to decentralized society, and working on this is Brown every day and watching Russian TV–we have direct access to the first channel–every day, I'm reading Russian newspapers and very worried. I think that the situation there, structurally, and maybe psychologically, very close to what happened in Russia in the 1907 to 1970. The just selfish rule of one group of people to the control over the state by the family. And you know, translating literally, it would be Mafia. And they're just ruling country in their own interest. And it cannot be very long. Some, it can be finished in the peaceful way by replacing Yeltsin by somebody more reasonable, or in the much worse way. I even don't want to discuss the second possibility. So, I am very pessimistic about everything.
Question: Ms. Korbut, can you answer that question as well? Do you worry about the future or do you care?
Ms. Korbut: Uh, I am worried about my family because I still have a father and three sisters and brothers-in-law and my nieces over there where I was born. And, you know, and I can't say a lot of things right now and even near after because I still have relatives there. I'm scared; I'm afraid what will be. We don't know. This is country we don't know.
Speaker: I was told we have time for two more questions.
Question: Ms. Korbut, you really did start something. I remember how electrifying you were in Munich, and you started a whole generation of little girls, I guess all over the world, in gymnastics. Did you have any idea at the time that that sport would ever become that popular? And, growing up, as a child in the Soviet Union and in the gymnastics program, did you have any choice of whether to stick with that or go on? Were there times when it was frustrating and you wanted to leave, but you couldn't?
Ms. Korbut: Okay, first of all, I never had a dream I will be so popular until now, this is for twenty-five years. And everybody my age, older and younger, remember me. Thank you very much. And, you know, I became a star overnight. I wasn't ready for that. And, one more thing . . .when I came back to Russia after Olympic Games in 1972, I didn't feel that. I felt that when I go to United States, of course, to England, Australia, Germany, I smell from the public how they like me, they love me. And, I am really appreciative of that. And, now, you know this is a feeling very strong for me and I keep it like my brilliant diamonds. Now, this is very, I am proud tonight.
Question: At what age did you start in the Soviet program, the sports program?
Ms. Korbut: What age I'm start? Training? Serious, when I was eight, twice a day and my theory was, I need to be best, not first, not Olympic champion, the best. I never dreamed I will have a four gold medals. For me, this is not nothing, but it's not important. It's what I did that's important. This is, was my mission, to bring you and you to follow for twenty-five years, twenty-seven years. Now we need to change. And I know how. This is not a short deal that we need. This takes probably five, ten years, to change the beauty of gymnastics, from not very young women. We need to return women's gymnastics to the gym.
Question: Dr. Khrushchev, I'm sorry. This question is probably going to be very pessimistic. But, what is your assessment of the dangers of loose nuclear material now with the break-up of the Soviet Union?
Dr. Khrushchev: What?
Question: There's been, there's been considerable reporting in the American press that there may be dangers of . . .
Dr. Khrushchev: Nuclear?
Question: Whether sales of nuclear weapons on the underground, or, you know, various renegade factions, the army, having nuclear weapons, and . . . Is this an exaggeration on the part of the American press, or is there some serious danger?
Dr. Khrushchev: No, it's really difficult to answer because really I don't know too much about this, as nobody know, because in 1993 Yeltsin eliminated independent committee that had the control of this fusion. It is now military control everything, and they report everything in order. But, you know, we know that military selling now everything from machine guns to aircraft carriers. Second, all the storages of nuclear materials are over-filled with them because all these weapons just concentrated in Russia before the restoration of the Baltics and Ukraine and Kazakhstan in caucuses. So, I, from my understanding, much less safer than it was during the Cold War. From the second, it not easy to use it. It is just overrated it how you can bring the nuclear weapon that's really big, then, how you can just initiate it, and begin this, explode this. Of course, the threat about these nuclear suitcases, and I have, I really believe that they could exist. But, what we can do? It still not happened, but I think these suitcases is the real threat because nobody will launch any missile against somebody. It's too complicated, too much control. But if you will buy or sell this suitcase, if they existed, to some terrorist, everything can happen.
Question: Ms. Korbut, where do you live in the United States right now?
Ms. Korbut: I live in Atlanta, Georgia, for eight years.
Question: And, and this is to both Ms. Korbut and Dr. Khrushchev, up to you left, I'm sorry. Do you regularly go back to Russia, or not?
Dr. Khrushchev: Oh, oh no, not regularly. I am visiting Russia, when I have to do something, mostly presenting my books. My wife is going there regularly once or twice in a year. I prefer to invite my children here because they're busy, you know, I spend months, it was in May, and April and May there, it was the presentation of full draft of my father's memoirs we came and published there. I saw my sons two or three times, all the time they're busy so we go today, not this evening, next evening, next week. It's the same like here. Everywhere they're busy. So, when they're coming here, they're living in my home. I know that each morning they will come for breakfast.
Question: Okay, Ms. Korbut?
Ms. Korbut: I agree. A lot time I was in the Minsk. Four years ago, I didn't recognize my country. I didn't recognize my friends. And, when I, last time I brought a donation, or whatever, to help victims of Chernobyl, and I saw how everything was in black market, and I stopped to do that, and I invite here everybody. I mean, uh, my relatives they been every year here and you know, this is better for me, better for them, to be my guests in my home in Atlanta.
Question: Would you like them, would you like your family to immigrate to the United States?
Ms. Korbut: My family? No, they don't want because they are older than me and start new life with nothing, without language, without system. This took for me three years to understand everything, but I came here to work. I was invited to work in a gym, and, you know, they don't want. I am glad to be a citizen, and this year or early next year because for me, it's easier to travel. I don't need a Visa. Like that.
Speaker: Okay, I'm afraid we are out of time, but Olga Korbut, Dr. Khrushchev, Mitchell Johnson, thank you for an excellent panel.
© 1999 Abamedia, unless otherwise indicated.