In "The Kingdom of God Is Within You," Leo Tolstoy writes that "the rulers of the state always endeavor to involve the greatest number of citizens in the participation of the crimes which it is to their interest to have committed." The Russian who currently rules the Soviet state appears of late to be involving citizens less in violence than in its opposite, peace.
Through the renewal of the Soviet Peace Committee, an organization begun in 1949 when the Stalin years of mass murder confirmed Tolstoy's view, Mikhail Gorbachev is trying to restructure his country beyond whatever new shapings result from this month's visit to the United States.
The fellow Communist he has sanctioned to lead the peace committee is Genrikh Borovik. A 57-year-old playwright-novelist who currently has a show Off-Broadway -- a comedy called "Agent Zero Zero" -- Borovik knows the United States and the American character about as well as anyone here with him these past days in the Gorbachev entourage. In the 1970s, when he worked for eight years in New York as a correspondent for two Soviet news agencies, Borovik, his wife and two children twice drove across America. He has stories about everyone from Ernest Hemingway, with whom he went fishing in 1960 in Cuba, to Joan Baez, who welcomed the Russian in California.
A few days ago, I spent a morning with Borovik. He had come earlier from a meeting with Mother Teresa, who was in Washington for the spiritual summitry of receiving 14 new members into the Missionaries of Charity. Borovik, who speaks flawless English and is a gracious teller of stories, said he and the Soviet Peace Committee were Mother Teresa's hosts earlier this year in the Soviet Union: "We fell in love with her. We gave her an award -- the golden medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. She offered to give us four sisters (to open a convent). We agreed. We will bring four sisters to live and to help with orphans."
The Albanian-born nun has been one of scores of visitors to Moscow since Borovik took over the peace committee last April. Aeroflot has become all but a commuter airline shuttling Western peace groups invited by Borovik for seminars, exchange programs and such events as the unprecedented Leningrad-to-Moscow peace march this past June, in which 320 American and Soviet citizens walked. More than 40 delegations have been to the Soviet Union this year, a tenfold increase over 1985. While in Washington, Borovik invited Linda Smith, the president of Mothers Embracing Nuclear Disarmament, to visit Moscow to explore a way of opening a MEND chapter for Soviet mothers.
What's it all mean? Is this the start of the conversion of Russia that I, along with every other American Catholic, used to pray for at the end of mass 30 years ago? Then, or even 10 or five years back, anyone saying that the communist atheists in the Kremlin should be welcoming outsiders like Mother Teresa and Linda Smith would have been told miracles like that don't happen.
"It's like fresh air now," Borovik says. "I wouldn't say (of the pre-Gorbachev years) that we lived just in the dark years but there were difficult years and they brought us to stagnation ... The signals for change came from intellectuals. The whole change came from the party itself, with Gorbachev."
I was curious how Borovik was able to breathe as a writer during the stagnation. "I wrote mostly about international relations," he recalls. "I can tell you that I never wrote what I didn't want to write. Maybe I didn't say everything which I would like to say, but what I wrote was always what I believed in. I have changed some of my positions now because some things I just didn't know about."
That's a liberation many Americans now find themselves enjoying. Someone like Borovik appears, sprinkling his conversation with references to American writers like John Updike and Norman Mailer, and quoting Einstein on peace -- that it cannot be achieved by military force, only by understanding -- and suddenly we realize the irrationalities of past myth-fed, anti-Soviet hatreds.
"We are not an evil empire," Borovik said while walking through downtown on the way to the Soviet Embassy. "We are good people. We don't want to conquer anybody, whether it is Western Europe or the United States. We have our difficulties. We have our mistakes. We have plenty of problems. But I think the same is here in the United States. So let us speak about the future. Let's not blame each other for our former mistakes."
In the presummit months, Mikhail Gorbachev received hundreds of invitations to speak to American colleges and high schools. He ought to pass them on to Genrikh Borovik. Few Soviets know us better, and few are as intellectually sophisticated to be able to tell us gently that glasnost and perestroika are as needed by Americans as by Russians.