BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Pavel Palazchenko, what role did The Beatles play in your life?
Mr. PAVEL PALAZCHENKO, AUTHOR, "MY YEARS WITH GORBACHEV AND SHEVARDNADZE": The Beatles--well, they played a role because it was a time when I was growing up when The Beatles were becoming big, and the Soviet Union was also part of that trend. It was a worldwide trend. And the Soviet Union--even though, at that time, the Cold War was still on, the Soviet Union was part of the world. So I was one of those young people who were fascinated by The Beatles. I learned many of their songs by heart. Many of my friends also liked The Beatles. When I was at my school, the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, The Beatles were--well, all of us were The Beatles' fans.
LAMB: What did it do for your English?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: For my English--well, it did something, but I think that my school, the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, and the school I went to before that, a secondary school, where we had very good teachers; to some extent, my mother; also, later my work at the UN did probably a lot more for my English than The Beatles. But I'm still very grateful to The Beatles.
LAMB: What people in your life have you interpreted for?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Oh, I have interpreted for many people. I have interpreted for, of course, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, the principal characters of this book. I have interpreted for American presidents. I have interpreted for people like Rajiv Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, John Major. Also, when I was working at the UN, I interpreted speeches into Russian by people like Kissinger, Anwar Sadat, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus and a number of other people. It was a fascinating career, I would say.
LAMB: At what moment is it the hardest?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: The hardest moment, I think, is when you just begin that, when you really have to understand, become aware that you can do it. And I think that I didn't have any jitters, but suddenly--it takes a little time to really become confident that you can do it. It's not rocket science, but it's a difficult job, and not everyone can do it. I wanted to do it. I wanted to become a professional interpreter, translator. So I think that confidence came to me rather early, but still, it takes a little time to become really confident and to see that people are also confident that you can do it, that people trust you.
LAMB: Was there ever a time when you had a word wrong that left a meeting in some kind of a--not turmoil or something, but it changed the nature of a meeting?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. We all make mistakes. Obviously, there are some errors in very good translations and translations done in writing. Even there, th--there are errors and mistakes. Certainly, in interpretation, this is work that you do without preparation--well, with some preparation, but--but actually, you have to interpret, so to say, in real time. So, certainly, in interpretation, you do make mistakes. The question is: What kind of a mistake do you make? Do you make a mistake which just, you know, is easily corrected afterwards when you become aware of that mistake or you make a mistake which just makes the whole thing go askew? And that never happened, so far as I know. And I think that the fact that I continued working for quite a few years at that level of responsibility shows that, no, I did not make that kind of mistakes. Communication always continued without disruption when I was interpreting.
LAMB: What were the ground rules on your book at--which is put out by Penn State Press? In other words, what didn't you put in the book?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I wrote the book because I thought that there is something about that time that people should know more about. I thought that I had something to say. Penn State Press didn't put any ground rules on my book. I put certain ground rules on my book, and the ground rule basically was that I am writing about important times, about an important period in history, and I wanted to tell it like it was. I also wanted to tell it in a dignified and responsible why. So that was a basic ground rule applied to specific situations, applied to specific context. There were specific things that I wrote about in some detail or that I left out because I thought that that is unimportant or because I thought that, you know, if taken out of context, that could have been misinterpreted.
LAMB: Did you have to clear this with Mr. Gorbachev or Mr. Shevardnadze?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. No. Actually, of course, I wrote the book in English and, therefore, they could not read the book and, you know, correct whatever is wrong or mistaken in the manuscript. But the fact is that neither Gorbachev nor Shevardnadze, to my knowledge, tried to control what their associates or former associates are writing. It's the responsibility of those people who write about them to be responsible, to be mature.
Basically, they've written their own books. They have their own idea of what happened. They are prepared to discuss and defend what they were doing. If other people have a different opinion, so be it. I understand that that's their policy, and that's why they never ask their associates write books in Russian, which they can very well read. They never ask them to give them their manuscript for prior reading.
LAMB: Where were you during the coup?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I was in Moscow during the coup. It was the final couple of days of my vacation. I was supposed to report to work on the 20th of August.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: 1991, yes, d--on the day when the Union treaty was to be signed. So I--as I'm describing in the book, of course, I did not report to work because I didn't want to work for people who said that they, well, were the country's new leadership. I didn't want to work for them and, therefore, I didn't report to work. I spent that time in Moscow doing nothing particularly heroic, but certainly not following the orders of those people.
LAMB: But what was that day like? And how did you find out that there was an attempted coup?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I found out in the morning when my wife left for work and she said to me that there is something strange being read on the radio. I got up in the morning, I switched on the TV and the TV was--I think the TV at that time was showing someone playing some classical music. And on the radio--then I switched on the radio, and on the radio, they were reading that statement by Mr. Lukyanov saying that the Union treaty was a bad treaty; that, therefore, it needed to be reconsidered, etc., etc. Then they read the statement of--what was called the statement of the Soviet leadership, signed by the prime minister, who was a member of the coup committee, and some other people. And I immediately understood that what was happening was a coup against Gorbachev.
LAMB: How do you feel now when you go back to Moscow? What's the atmosphere?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, it's difficult to describe the atmosphere in Moscow in one word. Russia generally is making a very difficult transition to, you know, market economics, a civil society, a democratic society, and you can see that in Moscow. The transition is a lot more difficult perhaps than it should have been. L--but on the other hand, Moscow is a city which has a very dynamic and vigorous mayor. Moscow is also a place where practically the entire financial system of the country is focused, so Moscow has a lot of money for its development and, therefore, Moscow looks, I would say, quite good.
On the other hand, you see people like beggars and panhandlers in the Moscow subway. In other places, you see signs that quite a few people are not doing well. So it's a difficult transition and you can see that in Moscow, but it's a transition to a society that will be quite different from the old system, so to say, and--and there can be no way back. You can feel that. When you go to Moscow, --you can see and feel that there can be no turning back the clock for Moscow or for the country as a whole.
LAMB: Why do you think that?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I think that, certainly, a lot has passed since 1985. People have grown accustomed to free press, to freedom. They've grown accustomed to not being told what they should think, and that's a very important accomplishment. In moving toward a well-functioning market economy, we have not succeeded too well, in my opinion. But, again, it's too far from the old system for any kind of turn back to be possible.
LAMB: You say in your book that you took it hard when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia back in 1968.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yeah.
LAMB: Where were you then, and why was it hard on you?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, at that time, I was a student at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages. It was very hard, because I was learning a little Czech and I was reading the Czech press. I had some friends in Czechoslovakia at that time. I knew what was happening in the country, and I felt that what was happening in Czechoslovakia--it was really perhaps the great hope for not only Czechoslovakia but also perhaps for other countries and the Soviet Union. I thought that perhaps some kind of liberalization of the regime was possible and that Czechoslovakia was an example.
So the invasion was, to me, a very bad thing because I felt that it really cut off the--not just Czechoslovakia but also the Soviet Union from any possibility of moving in a more liberal direction. I thought that a kinder and gentler Soviet system was possible. And, to me, the invasion of Czechoslovakia meant that that kind of hope was no longer a possibility.
LAMB: How would you describe your own politics today?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: My own politics today, I would say, are pretty centrist.
this country, I would probably register as an independent; in Russia, I am certainly independent. I've voted in my own constituency for a person whose views on the economy and on some other issues I may not necessarily share, but I voted for him because he's a very strong voice for human rights and he's a very strong--he was a very strong voice against the war in Chechnya, so I voted for the man. I have no particular politics. I decide about who to support on the basis of a combination of factors, of a balance of factors. So I would say I would be leaning--in--my country, I would be leaning in favor of candidates who believe in a more orderly transition.
LAMB: Who do you work for now?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I work--I continue to work for Mr. Gorbachev. I also teach at Moscow Linguistic University, which is a successor to Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, which is my school, and I do some consulting work and, from time to time, I work here at the UN in New York.
LAMB: Just showed a picture of Ronald Reagan. I want to ask you some questions about individuals that we all know.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And let's go down the list and get your quick reaction to them. What was Ronald Reagan like behind the scenes?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, behind the scenes, he, I think, projected an image of a very friendly man, of a person who wants to deal and to reach some kind of an arrangement despite differences that were very obvious on the big political issues.
LAMB: What did people think of him before you got to know him? In other words, leading up to the summits and all that, what was his image in the Russian society after he made this evil empire state...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Right. It was very hawkish...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: It was very hawkish, and people thought of Reagan as someone--a formidable adversary, a very forbidding man, perhaps. Certainly, I did not expect, when I first--I had not expected to see a man of a very friendly and amicable disposition and, as it turned out later, of a person who was quite ready to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union and to stand by that agreement, to make it stick. So, certainly, that was not the initial impression.
LAMB: Was there a moment where you saw the atmosphere change between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No, I don't think so. The atmosphere in the beginning was perhaps one of some mutual suspicion and not the same kind of trust that developed later. But the change was gradual. And from the very start, it was my impression that both men were very willing to work at their relationship, to really develop a rapport between them and to make it work for their countries.
LAMB: What happened at Reykjavik?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Reykjavik was an event--a watershed in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. But even more, I think it was a psychological watershed, not just for our two countries but probably for the world, because it was in Reykjavik that, for the first time, the leaders of the two superpowers that had those mountains of nuclear weapons were speaking in terms not of propaganda but in terms of really possible scenarios and possible schedules about a world without nuclear weapons or with very, very few nuclear weapons.
They came to that vision from very different perspectives, but it was probably the first time that two leaders shared that vision, despite the fact that that vision was not shared by the military and diplomatic bureaucracy of either the Soviet Union or of the United States. So that was a very important watershed. I think that in, let's say, 20 years, perhaps, or--Who knows?--30 years or maybe 15 years, when there will be no nuclear weapons on the face of the Earth, people will say it started in Reykjavik.
LAMB: Did Mr. Gorbachev come to that meeting with a plan to zero out the number of nuclear missiles?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. His plan was for a very straightforward 50 percent cut in all categories of nuclear weapons. He also thought that the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons altogether was a worthwhile goal, that it was consistent with President Reagan's vision of a world without nuclear weapons but with defenses. Gorbachev thought that defenses were unnecessary in a world without nuclear weapons, but he shared the goal of a world without the nuclear threat. So his immediate goal, his immediate plan, was for a straightforward cut of 50 percent in all categories of strategic missiles and bombers, and that basically worked. With some adjustments, the plan was eventually accepted. It took some time to sign the treaty. The treaty was signed by Bush and Gorbachev in 1991, but basically, you can say that the plan worked.
LAMB: But you say in your book that there was a time when they were together that Mr. Reagan looked confused and didn't seem to understand what was really going on.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: There was a time when he understood himself that he needed more expert help. He never was much for details. He never was a man who wanted to get into those details. He had certain instincts, he had certain grand ideas, and he knew how to promote those, but the details were the domain of other people. And Secretary Shultz was a person on whom President Reagan relied a great deal, but certainly, it was Reagan who was president. It was Reagan who took the big decisions with, I think, a lot of help from Shultz. But you must give credit to Reagan for taking those big decisions, like the one about the INF treaty. So, yes, he was sometimes confused about the details, but I would not focus on that in speaking about President Reagan.
LAMB: Did you ever talk about the--the meetings with either Mr. Gorbachev or Mr. Shevardnadze after you'd leave them? When you would leave the meetings and get in the limousines and go away, would--there would be a conversation between you and these leaders?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yes, sometimes. Yes.
LAMB: Did they ever ask your opinion and what you thought?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I don't think so, but sometimes they made a remark or
which obviously called for some kind of comment. I mean, I thought that they were expecting a comment. And, frankly, sometimes I volunteered my opinion or my comments, so that also happened.
LAMB: Did they want to hear from you?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Not, you know, in--in the first years of my work with them, but then later, I think, yes, they valued my impressions; they valued, sometimes, my opinion.
LAMB: You talk in here--you create a couple of scenarios where you say that interpreters, translators, take on an air about them that--kind of a s--air of superiority that the leaders--you can explain this--the leaders that you're--you really understand what's going on and the leaders are kind of, you know, just apparatchiks or something. Explain all that. The...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: There are some people--there are some people in our profession who are very cynical--I would say overly cynical--about their leaders, about the political world, the political community, about diplomats. They believe that they understand everything a lot better than those leaders, than the diplomats, than the foreign ministers, etc., etc.
I always tried to avoid that air because I believe that it's very unfair to the leaders who have to operate in an extremely complicated, difficult environment, who have to take decisions, who have to take responsibility. I believe that it's unfair. I always sought to avoid that kind of attitude. Even though sometimes I thought that certain things done or said by a particular leader were unfortunate or perhaps mistaken, still, I always thought that it's very unfair to be cynical.
LAMB: You talk a little bit in your book about the history of simultaneous interpretation and translation instead of the consecutive. Explain the difference.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well...
LAMB: And where was it invented?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, the difference, of course, is that when you interpret simultaneously, you do it at the same time either using the equipment--the headphones and the microphones--or really while just sitting near your speaker, you do it at the same time. The real simultaneous interpretation, of course, is the one where you use equipment--the headphones and the microphone--and where the listeners hear you in their own little headphones, so that's the real simultaneous interpretation.
In consecutive interpretation, you basically allow the speaker to speak for a minute or two or sometimes five, sometimes more, and then you interpret what he has just said. Sometimes you take notes. Sometimes you just rely on your memory to interpret consecutively--that is to say, after the speaker. And those two ways of interpretation have, I think, right now, their own niche and their own advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage--the great advantage of simultaneous interpretation is that it saves a lot of time. It does save a lot of time, so it is used in international organizations, particularly in those international organizations where there are several working languages. There are now six working languages in the United Nations, and in the European community, there are 16 working languages, so only simultaneous interpretation can work.
On the other hand, in more intimate situations, when two leaders meet and talk and sit down together like we are sitting down now, it's a lot better, in my opinion, to use consecutive interpretation or semi-simultaneous interpretation, because there is no equipment; there is no need to have those mikes and headphones. And, generally, it's a lot better, a lot more intimate when you use that kind of interpretation in one-on-one situations, and a lot of the negotiations at the head-of-state level are one-on-one.
LAMB: Let me just show a little bit of videotape when you were here with Mr. Gorbachev when he did BOOKNOTES and you were doing the interpretation. I just want the audience to see what it looked like. See, on the screen, you are sitting in a booth and he was here in the studio, and you had the headsets on. Is--I--do--how much do you miss in those circumstances? I mean, how do you keep track of what he's saying?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, you keep track because the trick in simultaneous interpretation is hearing, listening and speaking at the same time, and that trick you learn. It is something that you can learn. Again, this is not rocket science. Simultaneous interpretation is now almost a mass profession. I mean, it's--it's not a profession that is--where people who work there are as numerous as, let us say, in law or in medicine, but it certainly is a profession where many people work and they can do it. So this is not something that's extraordinary. You have to learn. And, also, it comes with practice. The more you practice, the more successful you are at doing this.
LAMB: What does Mr. Gorbachev like, the simultaneous or the consecutive?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I have done Gorbachev in both modes, so to say, simultaneous and consecutive. I have almost become a kind of narrow expert on interpreting Gorbachev. So you can do Gorbachev--you can interpret Gorbachev quite, I think, well in both modes.
LAMB: But what does he like? One over the other?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I would say he is--he--well, he likes simultaneous when he speaks to large groups of people. He likes consecutive when he is in more intimate situations. He definitely values the saving of the time that comes with simultaneous interpretation.
LAMB: You discuss somewhat in your book that there was some differences of opinion between Mr. Shevardnadze and Mr. Gorbachev in the end. What's the relationship today?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Mm-hmm. Well, they certainly speak very highly of each other, both in public and, so far as I know, also in private discussions. They both, I think, give credit to each other for what they did. They were a good team. The fact that there were differences--and there were differences not only toward the end, but normal differences that happen when two very strong individuals work together at a difficult transitional period in history. There were differences, but I think that they did not exaggerate those differences.
And, certainly, Shevardnadze, in his recent interviews, spoke very highly about what was achieved in Mr. Gorbachev's time, particularly in foreign affairs, particularly in building new relations with the West and also in glasnost in allowing people free speech, freedom of religion. They were together on those issues. They were very much together in terms of their philosophy, and they're still very much together in those terms.
Of course, Shevardnadze today is the head of state of Georgia; Gorbachev is just a private individual. So there--is not the same kind of a relationship. But I just would like to repeat that, so far as I know--certainly, I know what Gorbachev's opinion is of Shevardnadze, and Shevardnadze has said publicly what he thinks about Gorbachev and what Gorbachev did. They have a lot of respect for each other.
LAMB: When was their falling out? When did they have a difference? Over what?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: There was not any one single issue. But as I'm describing in the book, Shevardnadze, at some point, felt that he was not receiving enough support from Gorbachev in pursuing his foreign policy--their common foreign policy. He also felt that the country was moving somewhat in a--in a conservative direction. He felt that the pace of reform was not as rapid as would be best for the country. And he felt that Gorbachev was wrong on a number of tactical issues in terms of economic and political reform.
So there were those, as I have said, I believe were noble differences. My own opinion is that probably everyone would have been better off if, despite those differences, Shevardnadze persevered and continued to work with Gorbachev. It was his decision to resign. I respected that decision. But as I'm describing in the book, I still don't think that it was the best decision under the circumstances.
LAMB: How did you write this book? And I notice you point out that it was actually finished in 1992.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Right. Well, it was finished toward the end of 1992. I wrote it without the benefit of a computer. I just sat down every morning and wrote a little bit in long hand just because I felt that I need to write the book, I need to tell people about that time. So I actually wrote it.
LAMB: When did you do all that?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, it--a--as I say, in the morning, mostly--I started I think...
LAMB: I mean--wha--you--before '92?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. I started, I think, in February 1992 and I finished toward the end of the year.
LAMB: Had you taken notes during--in other words, do you--do you keep a diary after you do some interpretation?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. I took very, very few notes. So I mostly had my memory to rely on. Maybe it's bad that I don't take notes, but, you know, one--one cannot change those things after perhaps one is 30. One cannot change one's habits. And I have never had a habit of taking notes. So it was mostly my memory and also perhaps some discussions with colleagues that I had to rely on when I was writing the book.
LAMB: Why did it take from 1992 to 1997 to get the book published?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, the book was accepted for publication in 1994. 1993 the book, I think, was looked at by a couple of publishers. I was not very active in--in pushing the book, in promoting the book. Perhaps if I did--if I had done so, perhaps the book would have been published earlier. So it takes--it took some time. But once the book was accepted for publication, it took a little time to work on the book. This is not a big publisher, so they cannot produce the book very quickly. But they did, I think, an excellent job for me in terms of improving the book, in terms of dividing the book into chapters, subchapters, organizing the material. So I'm very grateful to the publisher.
LAMB: The foreword is written by Don Oberdorfer. Is that someone you knew? Or did this...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yes. We met briefly when I was still in government, but then we met and talked and had a very good discussion in 1993 at a conference in Princeton. They had two conferences, one in '93 and the other in '96, about the end of the Cold War. The first conference was attended by people from the Gorbachev administration, on the one hand, and the Reagan administration on the other hand. There were people like Secretary Shultz, Ambassador Matlock and some others--Secretary Carlucci.
And on the Soviet side--the former Soviet side, we had former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, Mr. Chernayev, Mr. Gorbachev's assistant, who features very prominently in this book, Mr. Tarasenko, who's also in this book, and myself. So that conference was, I think, the brainchild of Don Oberdorfer and of Professor Greenstein from Princeton. So that's where I met Don Oberdorfer and he agreed to read the manuscript and to write this foreword.
LAMB: Will this book be published in the Soviet Unio--or in Russia?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, it would take me, I think, three or four months to work on the Russian text. It would not be exactly a translation. So I'm now thinking about it. I have to balance the various needs and requirements in terms of my time. I don't know yet. I've had expressions of interest from a couple of publishers about the book, so perhaps it will be published in Russia.
LAMB: You were born in 1949 where?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: There's a little place near Moscow, about 30 kilometers from Moscow, a little town where I was born and where I lived until I was 16 or 17.
LAMB: Your grandmother was arrested. What's that story?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Oh, well, she happened to be an old Bolshevik. She was never a kind of dogmatic Bolshevik, but she was a member of the Communist Party since before the Russian Revolution. And, of course, when you are a member of that party since--before the Russian Revolution, there's very little chance that you would not run afoul of Stalin. And probably at some point either she or some mentor or a person she was working closely with ran afoul of Stalin and, therefore, she was kicked out of the party in 1936 and was arrest in 1949 when one of those sweeps was taking place. And she spent six years in the gulag.
LAMB: When did you first find that out?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Oh, I mean, I knew that all the time. I mean, we were sending little packages to her. My mother and I wrote letters to her. We received letters from her. Her initial couple of years were in very difficult circumstances in the prison. Then she worked in a camp in the library because she was in bad health. So she was working as a library assistant in the prison camp. But, you know, it's not a vacation home. So I knew that.
LAMB: What impact did that have on you?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I think it had a kind of anti-Stalinist impact. I always instinctively was anti-Stalinist. I respected what Khrushchev did a lot more than many other people, including people whom I knew quite well and respected. I believed that, you know, the future of the Soviet Union would be the future of moving away from Stalinism. And probably that personal experience played a role.
LAMB: Wha--what--how would you define Stalinism?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I would define Stalinism as the belief that there is some kind doctrine, some kind of dogma that is good for the country; that one person is the repository of that dogma, that he knows the final truth, and that that person and his entourage can do basically anything in order to impose that dogma and to make that doctrine, quote, unquote, "a success" in--in the country.
LAMB: How would you define the doctrine of Mr. Khrushchev?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, the doctrine of Mr. Khrushchev was that if you just overcome or remove the worst manifestations of Stalinism--if you basically cleansed the Soviet system of Stalinism, then the rest of the system is OK. And if you just go the Leninist way, it'll be the best country in the world. He really believed that. And I would say that quite a few people at that time believed that. I would say a whole generation of Soviets--of Soviet people, at a certain point, believed in that kind of theory.
LAMB: Were you ever a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yes, of course. I was working in the foreign ministry, and for all I know 99.9 percent of the people working in the foreign ministry, certainly in the diplomatic positions, were members of the Communist Party. At that time it was a kind of an administrative necessity. But also, it was a--an organization that brought together people of very, very different views, of very different kinds of thinking. If you look at the people active in the politics today, most of them were members of the Communist Party in those years.
I'm not saying that by way of an apology. I'm just saying that at that time when 19 million people in the Soviet Union were members of the party, you could hope to succeed in certain occupations, in certain professions only if you were a member. And you also thought--some people thought that they could improve the party if they were members.
LAMB: By the way, I think you allude to this in the book, but do--when you go around the United States, do people recognize you from all the times we've seen you next to a Soviet leader over the years or a Russian leader?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yeah. People do. People do. And some of them come up and say hello and say something good and flattering and complimentary. People recognize me in the States, people recognize me in Russia. Some people want to talk. And in most cases I would say overwhelmingly people say good things and, of course, I understand that those are good things about Gorbachev mostly rather than about myself. I kind of--it's a reflected light, so to say. It's not my own light.
LAMB: How often do you come to the United States now? How of--how many days in the year do you spend in the States?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Oh, I don't know. I come with Gorbachev and he makes one or two visits to the United States every year in order to respond to at least some of the invitations that he receives from the various universities and groups and organizations. He comes a couple times or once a year. I come to work at the UN a year--once or twice a year. So I cross the Atlantic pretty often. I have my own system for fighting jet lag. So I do come often enough.
LAMB: How interested are the Americans in Mr. Gorbachev?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Oh, I think they still are and not just Americans. I think that even though it is said that Gorbachev is very unpopular in Russia, people in Russia are also interested in Gorbachev. They--ask--always ask me questions about him. People in America always ask me questions about him. I think it shows that he has not been overshadowed by any other figure. I think that most other people, you know, six or seven years after their resignation, they would not evoke that much interest. Gorbachev does.
LAMB: Have you ever thought of running for political office yourself?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: No. It had been suggested to me a couple of times, but I don't think that that's the best way for me to be useful to the society, to myself, to my family and my country. Again, I have to balance all those things. I believe that what I'm doing now is what I would like to do and what I would like to continue to do.
LAMB: You tell us in the book that in 1974 you married your first wife who was--name was Ludmilla. Is that right?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Correct.
LAMB: How many kids did you have?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: We have one son. He is 18 years old. He is at a university in Moscow. Now, of course, in my second marriage I have a daughter who is 10 years old, goes to school in Moscow.
LAMB: What do your children think of the system today?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, certainly my daughter doesn't think much about those things. She is very much into dolls and dollhouses and things like that and I think that's the way it should be; not yet into computers or things like that. She's not a very modern child, I would say.
So far as my son is concerned, he is 18 years old and he is of a new generation, of a very flexible generation, I would say. He adapts and adjusts to the times very well. And that's about what I would like to say because he's 18 years old and I would not want to speak for him.
LAMB: You said that when you first got into the translation business, the interpretation business, that if you weren't married, the system in Russia didn't think you were reliable.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Not reliable in terms of going abroad. Yes. That was...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, probably because they thought that you could be put in a compromising situation by a hostile intelligence service or some other organization. Again, I don't know what went into it, but definitely unless you were married, you could not accept a contract the--with the UN. I mean, the UN would offer a contract, would offer an appointment to you, but the Soviet government did not allow you to accept that appointment unless you were a married man.
LAMB: You talk about a ride in a limousine when Vice President George Bush was with Mr. Gorbachev.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Right.
LAMB: That was a turning point of some kind.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I think so. That was the ride when Bush was with Gorbachev going to the airport after a very successful visit in 1987. Of course, at that time Reagan was still president and the INF treaty was his treaty, it was his baby. Bush, however, played a role during the summit. He had a very good meeting with Gorbachev. But that meeting was, in my opinion, rather formal in terms of what happened. The more informal and very good discussion took place during that limousine ride to the airport to, I think--this was, I think, the Andrews Air Force Base, from which Gorbachev was leaving Washington.
Bush said a number of very important things to Gorbachev and Gorbachev responded, I think, very well. I think the relationship started then and they often reminded each other of that conversation.
LAMB: Did you know at the time that that was a turning point? Could you feel it in the car?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: To some extent, yes. Yes. I mean, you never know what is going to happen in the relationship between such big countries and how important the factor of trust would be in that relationship. But certainly I felt that they were beginning--they would be beginning. If Bush were elected, I thought that they would be beginning on a very good note with a lot of mutual confidence and trust.
LAMB: Do you think that Americans ever should have had anything to fear from Russia and the Soviet Union? You say in your book that Russia feared China. Should we have feared you?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Not to the extent that America feared the Soviet Union. I think the fear was somewhat exaggerated. I believe that as a result, the Cold War, and particularly the arms race, was a lot more damaging to both countries, to--to their economies, to the world, than it should have been. I believe that a more flexible attitude toward the Soviet Union and an attitude of less fear of Soviet military might could have worked better. It could have helped people who were inclined to start some kind of reforms and some kind of accommodation with the United States.
There were such people in the Soviet leadership under Brezhnev. Brezhnev himself I think had those ideas--Kasigan and others. But because of this hostility that really ruled in the relationship, the more conservative people and the more conservative elements within the leadership I think held sway.
LAMB: You, more than once, refer to Mr. Brezhnev as being senile or at least being viewed as being senile by your own people. Could you explain more of that?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, that happened after 1976 when he had a stroke. And that stroke really, you know, was very bad for his health and also probably for his mind. So I think that the best thing at that time that he could have done would have been to resign. He didn't do that, and as a result of his deteriorating health and his being shown on the TV all the time, people saw that. His credibility and his prestige among the people declined very, very substantially, particularly after 1979, after the invasion of Afghanistan and the overall deterioration of the situation in the country. People did regard him as senile. I wouldn't want to paint a caricature of Brezhnev. He was more complex than that. But certainly, you know, he probably made a mistake in 1976 after that stroke in not resigning and not leaving in a dignified way.
LAMB: General Akhromeyev committed suicide. You had some views in your book on him. Why did insiders think that he did commit--what was the reason for him committing suicide?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I think that so far as we can tell from his letter, from the letter that he wrote shortly before that, he really was shocked and distressed by what was happening after the coup, particularly when the Soviet republics started to declare their independence. He also probably thought that his own behavior during the coup when he did not disassociate himself from the coup and actually in certain respects cooperated with those people was not the best. So it was a real tragedy for him. He really responded in this way to what was the collapse of his universe perhaps.
LAMB: You mentioned Afghanistan and you also mention in your book that you tuned into the Voice of America...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Mm.
LAMB: ...to get news and information.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yeah.
LAMB: How often did the Voice of America impact the citizens of the Soviet Union do you think?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, very often. I think that the Voice of America, Radio Freedom, radio liberty and other Western radios, the BBC, in particular, were very important in getting the information for the Soviet people during the years when no free information was available. I mean, people learned about what was happening very often not from the Soviet newspapers or the Soviet radio and TV, but from those radios. So it was really very important, and frankly, I still think that Voice of America, radio liberty, are still quite important despite the fact that we have free press today. But it is still, I would say, rather immature free press, particularly the electronic media. They are very easily influenced by the powers that be, by the big monopolists that have emerged in the Russian economy today. So even today I believe that the Voice of America has a role to play.
LAMB: Nicholas Danolov, a name from our past, used to be a reporter in Moscow...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yeah.
LAMB: ...for US News & World Report...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Right.
LAMB: ...was told--we were told by you-all that he was a spy. Did you really ever think he was a spy?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I never said so. I don't know and I would like to think that he wasn't.
LAMB: I mean, do you---do your people think--did you--did they really think he was a spy or he was just a...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: That I don't know. I was not at that level of government where information--unbiased information about things like that circulated. I don't know. I would like to think that he was not involved with the intelligence service of any country in any way, but I don't know. I remember when Gorbachev was here in this country in 1992, Nicholas Danolov attended one of his talks and asked him a question about that particular episode. And I think Gorbachev responded very well that it's good that the times when things like that happened are over, were over, should be over. So that I think is a very proper response to--at this--at this time to what happened then.
LAMB: Of all the things you've seen, all the events you've attended and translated, what are the ones that mean the most to you when you look back on them?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I would say a couple of things. I would say the signing of the INF treaty because this is, even today, the only arms control treaty, the only arms reduction treaty that has been fully implemented, that has resulted in actual reduction of nuclear weapons. And I think that the signing of that treaty was really a very important watershed. It happened 10 years ago in December of 1987. And I do believe that it was an extremely important watershed event, probably underrated by historians.
LAMB: Where was it signed?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: It was signed at the White House here on December 9th, I guess, of--of that year.
LAMB: And you were there?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: I was there. Right.
LAMB: And you remember ho...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: It was a great day for me, yes, because I was--I was interpreter for the Soviet delegation during the first inconclusive INF talks in 1981, 1982. And that was--and '83. And that was a very frustrating experience. And the fact that after all this frustration, a reasonable agreement was signed, was--the treaty was concluded, the treaty was ratified, the treaty is now being implemented. I think that's--that's a great accomplishment.
I think also, you know, of the days that I remember--of course, I remember December the 25th of 1991 because that was Gorbachev's last day in office. That was the day when he talked on the phone with President Bush. So that, too, is very memorable. That conversation--it's almost etched in my mind. I still remember practically all that--that they said.
LAMB: What did they say to each other?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I mean, it's--in Gorbachev's book, to some extent it probably will be in Mr. Bush's book, but basically they said that they value what had been accomplished by the two of them and that they would stand by the--this cause of improving relations between our two countries, that they would, in whatever capacity, try to pursue and continue that cause.
LAMB: You do tell a story there where things could have really gotten off key between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It had something to do with the Bolshoi ballet and the private dinner at the dacha. What went wrong there? What was the problem?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, for some reason, the US security services that accompanied President Reagan decided that they wanted to check every person entering the Bolshoi even though that was, I think, probably the responsibility of the Soviet security. And that irritated the Soviet security people, that irritated Gorbachev because that delayed the beginning of the ballet performance to which the Reagans were invited. I don't think that President Reagan himself had anything to do with it, but there was some irritation, and at some point, there was a possibility that because of that, Mr. Gorbachev might decide to curtail some of the concluding events on that program, particularly the private dinner that they were supposed to have with the Reagans after that ballet performance. But eventually, perhaps, you know, with some prodding from me because I was there when I saw him very irritated, he decided not to cancel it and I think it was a very wise decision because it made it possible to end the summit on a very good note.
LAMB: What year was that?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: That was the summer of 1988.
LAMB: And were you at the dinner then?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Yes.
LAMB: And how many people are in the room at a dinner like that?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, that particular dinner, I think that it was Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev, Mr. and Mrs. Reagan and also the Shultzes and the Shevardnadzes.
LAMB: Was--were you the only interpreter?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: There's always an interpreter on the American side, too.
LAMB: What's it...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Always.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: At all--at all times, there was an interpreter from the Soviet side and from the US side.
LAMB: And you didn't want to rush out of a dinner like that and write it all down somewhere to remember every word that...
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: As I say, I don't have that habit. For some reason, I rely more on my memory. But I really would like to assure you and whoever that, you know, what I write is what I actually remember. I'm not trying to embellish anything and I'm not trying to skew and distort the whole thing for my own purposes.
LAMB: Do you have any other book in mind? Any other--do you have material that you still want to get out or did you get it all out in this book?
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Well, I don't think so. I think I've written about that time what I wanted to write. I've always been fascinated by linguistic problems, even though I've been in the political and diplomatic arena for a few years. I still regard myself as a linguist above all. So with a colleague, I'm currently writing a book in Russian about interpretation and about the differences and similarities of the two languages, Russian and English. So that is a book that will probably be published next year. It's not yet a very serious book, so I would probably want to continue that kind of research and to write about those things because I do think that they are fascinating.
LAMB: Pavel Palazchenko is our author's name. And here is what the cover of the book looks like. "My Years With Gorbachev and Shevardnadze." Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. PALAZCHENKO: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.