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2021 Documents in Review: Anatoly Chernyaev’s 1981 Diary

December 15, 2021

The National Security Archive is bringing 2021 to a close by revisiting our most significant postings and the documents behind them. This week, we are looking back at The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1981, translated and published in English for the first time in our May 25, 2021, posting, The Chernyaev Centennial.

The posting was published on Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s 100th birthday and features the first English-language translation of the Chernyaev diary from 1981. Chernyaev was a trained historian, a combat veteran of World War II, a deeply literary member of the Moscow intelligentsia, and a high-level Central Committee official. Chernyaev also served as the national security adviser to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev from March 1986 through the end of the USSR in December 1991. From 1971 through 1991, Chernyaev put his most candid thoughts into his diary, written almost daily.

Today’s document, the 1981 diary, was written while Chernyaev was deputy director of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, and provides remarkable insights into the Brezhnev era at a crucial turning point – the first year of the Reagan administration. The diary sheds special light  on one of the most critical issues of the year: whether or not the Soviet Union would invade Poland to suppress the Solidarity movement. To Chernyaev, one important exception to general secretary Brezhnev’s inability to govern was the Soviet leader’s strong preference not to intervene militarily in the Polish crisis. Ultimately, the Soviet Union did not intervene, and this is now recognized as playing a central role in the end of Soviet rule in Poland in 1989. In perhaps the most remarkable passage from the 1981 diary, Chernyaev remarks, “if the Sovietologists and Kremlinologists’ fantasy came true and they got to be a fly on the wall at a session of our PB [Politburo], later nobody would ever believe this ‘fly.’ They would think he is fooling them or has lost his mind.” 

Chernyaev donated his diaries to the National Security Archive, where they have been translated and published into English. Nearly every English-language study of the late Soviet period has quotations from Archive translations of Chernyaev’s diary

Check back next week for more!

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