Andrew Nagorski

Stories by Andrew Nagorski

  • A Sharp Poke In The Back

    Give him some credit for trying to reinvent himself. Boris Yeltsin, the frequently cranky Russian president, proved he can also be . . . playful. Sort of. En route to his summit with Bill Clinton this week, Yeltsin held a press conference in which he summarily trashed NATO, America, Communists, his own prime minister and his supposedly pro-Western foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, whom he appeared to fire on live international TV. But his most startling performance preceded the interview. With cameras rolling, Yeltsin walked behind two women secretaries and, as he passed them, tweaked them between the shoulder blades. ...
  • Back To The Gulag

    Mart Niklus was a hard case. In the dark days of Soviet repression, he demanded independence for his homeland, Estonia--and for that served 16 years in labor camps known collectively as the gulag, or simply "the zone." As a prisoner, or zek, he fasted in protest and fought strip searches, earning stints in the shizo--cold punishment cells that broke many prisoners' health and spirits. When released in 1988, he smuggled out his striped uniform and wore it home. But with his battle won, he finds he can afford to be less combative now. Last week he joined other old zeks in a return to the Urals region near the town of Perm, 700 miles east of Moscow, where political prisoners languished for two decades. And when their bus passed a cluster of wooden posts and crosses in the little cemetery outside his old camp, Perm-36, he could no longer keep his emotions in check. "I know people who are buried there," he said, quickly wiping his eyes. ...
  • See No Evil, Hear No Evil

    Russia's hostage crisis had been bungled by just about everyone from Boris Yeltsin on down, and now it was time for recriminations. As Chechen insurgents returned to their homeland in triumph from the raid on Budyonnovsk, the Russian Parliament overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Yeltsin's government. "Today the whole country has become a hostage to adventurism and incompetence," charged Sergei Glazyev, who introduced the measure in the Duma. "We have a drunken president, a drunken people, a drunken country," fumed a Communist deputy, Viktor Ilyukhin. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the crackpot nationalist politician, claimed Western agents controlled Yeltsin by feeding him pills that "go fight to his brain." Yeltsin responded to all the complaints with what might be called the John Major gambit: like the embattled British prime minister, he told his critics to put up or shut up. Yeltsin said that if Parliament voted no confidence one more time, he might dissolve it, calling early...
  • Nightmare In The Pacific

    Most people were still asleep when the earthquake, measuring a powerful 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit Neftegorsk. Within seconds, the oil town of 3,000 on isolated Sakhalin Island turned into a giant sarcophagus. Block after block of five-story apartment buildings collapsed, crushing hundreds of residents. Huge concrete slabs and steel beams trapped many of those who survived in the freezing night air. Rescue teams worked 24-hour shifts pulling bodies from the rubble. Undertakers struggled to fit corpses twisted by rigor mortis into pine coffins. The survivors--among them a 55-year-old woman saved by her bathtub when it turned over, two men who went outside for a smoke and a 6-month-old boy cushioned by an armchair-all lost relatives and friends. At the weekend, when a weaker second quake hit without causing much more damage, medical officials estimated that the death toll would rise well above 2,000. "I think this is the worst earthquake ever in Russia," said First Deputy Prime...
  • A Toast To...What?

    Bill Clinton looked more than a little displeased when he emerged from his three-hour summit with Boris Yeltsin to answer questions last week. He was going to have to wing it; overzealous Kremlin security had bottled up the senior staff who were carrying his opening statement. Not that there was much to say. On substance and even symbolism, Clinton had been outmuscled. Yeltsin stuck to plans for selling nuclear reactors to Iran, remained hostile toward NATO's expected eastward expansion and ignored Clinton's pleas for a permanent ceasefire in Chechnya. As if to underscore the intransigence, Russian helicopters that day fired rockets into farmhouses in a Chechen village. ...
  • 'V' Is Also For Vulnerable

    He's a waffler. Voters aren't sure what he stands for. Most of his potential opponents in next year's presidential campaign think he's too soft on the other superpower. And few of his countrymen could care less about the meeting with his counterpart this week. Who is he: (a) Bill Clinton or (b) Boris Yeltsin? ...
  • 'Kill The German--Your Homeland's Soil Pleads.'

    On July 31, 1945, an ammunition dump left behind by the retreating German Army in the Sudeten town of Aussig mysteriously blew up. Czech militiamen and newly liberated civilians suspected sabotage by Nazi sympathizers -- and took revenge on German civilians. A mother wheeling her child in a carriage was clubbed to death; both were tossed into the Elbe River. Hundreds of innocent people died in wild gunfire. "This affair will sooner or later have to be discussed," warned a Czech official, "unless we want to be condemned collectively like the Germans." ...
  • Trying To Grab The Microphone

    The students were everywhere. Crammed around the speaker on the stage of the auditorium, occupying every inch of floor space and windowsill, while hundreds more shoved in from the corridors. For more than three years Mikhail Gorbachev has floated in near political oblivion in Russia, but he was treated like a star on his recent visit to Novosibirsk State University in western Siberia -- and he loved it. After fielding questions for two hours on everything from Boris Yeltsin's war in Chechnya to his own record and rumors about his wealth, the last leader of the Soviet Union was ecstatic abouthis reception. ""They were jammed in there like sardines,'' he exulted. ""This meansthat something is happening in people's thoughts, minds and souls.''This week marks the 10th anniversary of Gorbachev's rise to power, the beginning of the era of glasnost and perestroika, but much more than commemorations are in his thoughts, mind and soul. His trip to Novosibirsk left no doubt that he is eager...
  • The General Waiting In The Wings

    Ask Lt. Gen. aleksandr Lebed a question, and he usually gives a straight answer. Why has the Russian Army suffered such humiliation in Chechnya? "The soldiers don't know what they are fighting for," he says. The Chechens are "fighting like wolves for their homeland," he adds, and their president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, has been turned into "a national hero" by Moscow's bungling. Should Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev resign? "Absolutely," Lebed replies. But when the general is asked whether he has any ambitions to replace President Boris Yeltsin, he turns coy. "I love the army," he mutters, his gravelly voice dropping to an even deeper pitch. Is a military coup against Yeltsin possible? "Let's wait and see," he says. ...
  • A Tortured Legacy

    Even in the silence of the polish countryside, Auschwitz can not rest in peace. The name alone prompts instant recognition -- a shorthand for the criminal barbarity of the 20th century. If ever there were a place in which myth was unseemly and unnecessary, where fact could be left unadorned, it would be Auschwitz. For 50 years, that has not been the case.The list of myths and misconceptions about the largest Nazi concentration camp is a long one. Soviet investigators declared in May 1945 that 4 million people had died in Auschwitz, and the Polish Communist authorities stuck to this inflated figure until they lost power in 1989. Since then the number has been revised to between 1.1 million and 1.5 million, which most historians now believe is accurate. Until the Soviet blocfell, the exhibits at Auschwitz downplayed the number of Jewish victims, suggesting that their part of the total was smaller than the 90 percent figure generally accepted today. In the West, many erroneously...
  • Goodbye To The U.S.S.R.

    Ryszard Kapuscinski has experienced more than his share of traveler's nightmares during his Third World wanderings. The Polish writer recalls flying from Rwanda to Burundi in 1962 with an unlicensed pilot who had epilepsy, praying all the way he would not have a fit. In Sudan, he traveled on a plane with holes in the floor; in Angola, on a plane with not a single dial working. He has had to go hungry, and he has been afflicted by a wide array of tropical diseases. But nothing quite prepared him for the task he set for himself when the Soviet Union was collapsing: "to provide a bird's-eye view of the whole empire." It wasn't just the risks of flying in shaky planes or the days he spent stranded at remote airports, but nature itself that frightened him. "It's different than in Africa," Kapuscinski says. "When you are in Kolyma or Vorkuta and can't find any shelter for half an hour in 40 degree temperatures, you'll die." There were times, he admits, he was close to saying "I can't go...
  • 'What Were They Smoking?'

    After Marian Zacharski was appointed Poland's new intelligence chief last week, Interior Ministry officials hinted that his "extraordinary talent" rivaled that of James Bond. The only problem is that Zacharski worked for the other side. Under his cover as a Polish businessman from 1975 to 1981, he stole U.S. military secrets -- reportedly including plans for the Patriot anti-missile system and for the radar system for stealth bombers. Whether or not he was a direct KGB employee, his intelligence coups were a bonanza for the Kremlin. Arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Los Angeles court in 1981, Zacharski returned to Poland in an East-West spy swap four years later. At a time when Poland's leftist government has been furiously lobbying the Clinton administration for support in its bid for NATO membership, Zacharski's appointment stunned Washington. "What are they thinking? What are they smoking?" asked an administration official. "It's incomprehensible." President Lech...
  • Old Scars, New Squabbles

    Of all this year's World War II commemorations, the only 50th anniversary most Germans looked forward to was last week. On July 20, 1944, a top officer of the Wehrmacht placed a bomb under Hitler's conference table in an effort to overthrow the government; an oak support shielded Hitler, who survived to see several thousand officers arrested, tortured and executed. But Germans still don't agree on who should get the credit for opposing Hitler -- an argument that grows directly out of the country's basic ideological divide. Almost inevitably, political haggling overshadowed the government's formal expression of pride over the day that Defense Minister Volker Ruhe says "saved Germany's honor." ...
  • The Morning After In Prague

    A WOMAN'S LOVER, AN EMIGRE returning home to Prague from Canada to work in the new democratic government, finds he's listed as a onetime collaborator of the former secret police. One of the woman's former lovers-who's confessed he was a major in the secret force-can either confirm this information or clear the emigre. A third lover, no more than an embarrassing one-night stand, volunteers to help the woman set the trap to find out the truth. Welcome to the post-communist Prague, as depicted by Pavel Kohout in his wry, obsessive novel I Am Snowing: The Confessions of a Woman of Prague (308 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $27.50). ...
  • 'Schindler's List' Hits Home

    WHEN THE LIGHTS CAME UP AFTER two of the European premieres of "Schindler's List" last week, the stunned silence was familiar: hushed, slightly dazed viewers headed slowly for the exits; and once again, the critics-almost unanimously-raved. But in Frankfurt, Germany, and Cracow, Poland, Steven Spielberg's film about the German businessman who rescued some 1,200 Polish Jews during the Holocaust had a particularly powerful resonance. in Germany it provoked painful self-examination once more; in Poland it brought pride-and ignited some controversy. By making "a document, not an entertainment, " as Spielberg put it stir-red deep emotions among both Germans and Poles. No one could deny the movie's unique impact in those two countries. "Everybody should see this film," the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung told its readers on the front page. "It forces the viewer to ask why others didn't try to do what Oskar Schindler managed." The weekly Der Spiegel put the movie on its...
  • The Cold War's Hostage Crisis

    In Europe's Name TIMOTHY GARTON ASH 680 pages Random House $27.50 No COUNTRY WORKED AS LONG, HARD and patiently at overcoming the East-West divide in cold-war Europe than West Germany. From the 1960s until the momentous events of 1989, its Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy, was aimed at whittling away the physical and political barriers of division. So when the Berlin wall finally came down, the architects of those policies could claim that their efforts had proven successful beyond their wildest dreams. Right? Wrong, argues Timothy Garton Ash in In Europe's Name: Germany and the Divided Continent (680 pages. Random House. $27.50). His compelling study provides convincing evidence that West Germany's leaders embarked on a mission that became progressively more misguided, morally questionable and myopic as the chances for sweeping changes in the region increased. ...
  • Yeltsin Loses The Thinking Class

    THE DRAMA AND THE glow, what little there was, faded from Boris Yeltsin's standoff with the Russian Parliament last week. Five thousand police and special riot troops shivered outside the White House, Russia's seat of Parliament. They scuffled regularly with hard-line protesters; one police officer died. A miserable, freezing rain fell. Negotiations in Moscow's Danilov monastery proved inconclusive. Yeltsin took advantage of his new position as unopposed dictator to issue a rash of pro-market decrees, but the liberal intellectuals who once would have cheered his aplomb were unimpressed. "I hate the neo-Bolsheviks, but you can't say that just one side is guilty here," said journalist Lyudmila Saraskina. "What kind of victory is this, when you have the Parliament surrounded by troops? I feel a terrible sense of shame." ...
  • Just A Couple Of Good Ole Boys

    BORIS AND LECH: THEY LOOK LIKE TWO of a kind. Both are beefy populists who, almost by sheer force of personality, changed the course of history. They are the first presidents of Russia and Poland ever elected in a free ballot, and both now face the risky task of conjuring up market economies from the dust of communist failure. And, at least until they started capitalist reforms, the masses loved these rough-hewn leaders. When Yeltsin visited Poland last week, it seemed they liked each other, too. After all. how many visiting heads of state can Walesa comfortably entertain with a private dinner of vodka and eels? The next day, the two presidents emerged to proclaim a veritable mutual-admiration society. "Russia has a great, determined politician, as great as his county," Walesa declared on the lawn outside the Belvedere, the Polish White House. Yeltsin responded in kind. "It was easy for me to talk to...Lech Walesa," he said. "This is not surprising. In essence, we are solving the...
  • Trying To Say 'Sex' In Polish

    Here's some advice from "Before You Choose . . . Preparation for Family Life," a book the Polish Education Ministry recommends for adolescents: ...
  • The Laws Of Blood

    The scene was painfully familiar: coffins draped in red Turkish flags, weeping relatives, German officials offering condolences. Last week the bodies were those of two women and three girls killed in an arson attack on their home in Solingen; last November they were of a grandmother and two girls in Molln, murdered in identical fashion. But if the earlier killings produced an outpouring of grief, this time the bloodshed provoked rage. Small groups of Turks overturned cars and smashed store windows in cities across Germany. Speaking at the funeral, President Richard von Weizsacker traced the source of that anger, chastising Germans for the ease with which they spoke of "the Turks." "Would it not be more honest and human to say 'German citizens of Turkish heritage'?" he asked. "They live under the rules of the German. state but, unlike other citizens, without any influence on it. Should it always be like that?" ...
  • Spielberg's Risk

    Setting up his camera angles, Steven Spielberg knows that the scene will work only if it conveys a sense of eavesdropping on a conversation. As actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes move around the terrace of the German commandant's house overlooking a concentration camp, Spielberg films them from inside french doors. During the scene, he shoots through bare windows, windows covered by lace curtains, and open doors. "I know it's technically wrong, but it feels great," says cinematographer Janusz Kaminski after an early take, in which the camera work is less than smooth. "So far this whole movie is technically wrong-that's what's good about it," Spielberg replies, evoking laughter from everyone on the set. "This is not slick enough for the good old U.S.A." ...
  • The Lessons Of Auschwitz

    In the late 1980s, a Carmelite convent bordering on the Auschwitz concentration camp triggered angry confrontations between Jews and Polish Catholics. Now the saga of the convent may be entering its final chapter. Leaders of both faiths want the nuns to move to a new building before the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in April. The new $2 million convent is near completion, only a few hundred yards away from the old site. The 14 nuns who have lived there for nearly a decade are reluctant to move, and church officials could order them out. But, seeking to avert a new confrontation, they are trying to persuade the nuns to leave quietly. ...
  • 'There Is A Kind Of Absurdity'

    Vaclav Havel left the Prague Castle last July, his resignation as president of Czechoslovakia prompted by the failure of his efforts to avert the split between the Czechs and Slovaks. That split became official on Jan. 1. This week the Parliament of the Czech Republic is expected to elect the former dissident playwright president of the new country, sending him back to the castle. But Havel's presidential powers will be tightly circumscribed, and his apparent eagerness for the job has opened him to political attacks aimed at weakening his popularity and stature as a moral authority. In Prague last week, Havel talked with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Nagorski. Excerpts: ...
  • At Last, A Victory For Truth

    The order was marked TOP SECRET and written in the unambiguous language of rulers who were sure they would always be shielded from the judgment of history. They felt free to rewrite the past and proclaim that black is white, and white black. But black became black last week when President Boris Yeltsin dispatched an envoy to Warsaw to hand over a copy of the March 1940 document decreeing the "supreme punishment--execution by firing squad" of 14,736 Polish Army oficers and officials along with an additional 10,685 Poles held by the NKVD, the KGB's predecessor agency. The bodies of more than 4,000 of the Polish officers were discovered by the Germans in 1943 in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, although it was not until 1990 that Soviet officials abandoned their claim that the Germans were the executioners. By releasing the order, direct from Joseph Stalin's Politburo, Yeltsin finally produced the crucial evidence of Soviet responsibility for the infamous massacre. ...
  • It Was Good While It Lasted

    After 14 hours of painful negotiation, the decision was made: Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 is going to end in what one politician calls "a civilized divorce." Once final arrangements have been made, probably by the end of summer, the 74-year-old federation will split into separate Czech and Slovak states. Emerging last Saturday from talks in Bratislava, his capital, Slovak leader Vladimir Meciar read a joint declaration calling for a reduced central government that will serve as a caretaker while plans for the separation are being worked out. "This is the maximum we could do," said Czech leader Vaclav Klaus. "I signed it with a heavy heart, because I was one of those who strived for the idea of a common state." ...
  • The Lessons Of Yugoslavia

    If today's ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslavia had broken out in, say, 1983, Washington and its Western European allies would be urgently discussing plans to send in troops. The fear that the Kremlin would take advantage of the chaos to snare the country back into the Soviet orbit would have wonderfully concentrated the minds of NATO planners. But now, instead of plunging in, the West's main response has been to avoid any direct involvement in the bloodshed in southeastern Europe. For warring, newly proclaimed republics everywhere, the lesson is clear: don't expect anyone to rescue you. ...
  • The Loneliness Of Lech

    On a one-day trip abroad last week, Lech Walesa managed to remind the world of the kind of combative leadership that made him famous when he first took on the Communist authorities. Warning that "the fruits of victory have turned sour" and that "democracy is losing its supporters" in Eastern Europe, the Polish president castigated Western Europeans for their reluctance to invest more in the East and to open their markets to Eastern European products. "We need your help," he told the European Council in Strasbourg. "The West was supposed to help us in getting organized on new principles. Polish shops have been inundated by waves of your products. It is you who made good business on the Polish revolution." ...
  • Opening A New Frontier

    The classic image of the Peace Corps volunteer is a recent college graduate living in a mud hut in some Third World village, helping the locals dig ditches or plant crops. The stereotype was never entirely accurate, and now it is being completely overhauled on the Peace Corps's newest frontier: Eastern Europe. Most of the 502 volunteers serving in the former Soviet satellites have been out of college for a good many years, and their expertise is focused on the more complicated task of helping already developed societies make the leap from communism to capitalism. ...
  • Why Is The Lady In Black?

    It is the jewel of the National Gallery of Art's exhibition "Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration," a tantalizing Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece little known in the West because it has resided in Poland for most of the last two centuries. The features of Cecilia Gallerani are rendered with dazzling delicacy in "Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine." She was the young mistress of the Duke of Milan, and a play of light and shadows across her face hints at an intelligence and sensitivity as compelling as that of the "Mona Lisa." The ermine in her arms is no less graceful, with a look in its eyes that somehow mirrors her own. ...
  • Czech Witch Hunts: Are You 'Stb Positive'?

    During 20 years of exile in London, Jan Kavan fed the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia. He smuggled "subversive" literature into Prague, publicized human-rights abuses and slipped into his homeland several times under an alias to meet with Vaclav Havel and other activists. As the Communist Party crumbled in 1989, Kavan joined the "Velvet Revolution," then won election to the new Parliament. But his triumph was short-lived. Last March a parliamentary commission confronted him with evidence of his meeting in London in 1969 with a Czechoslovak diplomat who turned out to be an agent of the StB, Czechoslovakia's once dreaded secret police. The commission gave Kavan a choice: resign or risk a public reading of his name as a communist collaborator. Protesting his innocence, Kavan refused to step down. "There is a presumption of guilt here," he says. "You can't build a democratic state when you adopt Stalinist principles." ...