Yevgeny Bazhanov: "The Consulate-General of Russia in San Francisco had been working since the times of Emperor, and then it was closed in a boorish manner’’
The US authorities ordered to close the Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco on September 1, and literally seized the trade mission building in Washington and leased trade mission premises in New York. On September 2, the US authorities held searches in these compounds as qualified by Russia. The State Department preferred the terms ”examination’’ and ”round’’. Washington called these measures as a retaliation to Moscow's proposal to reduce the number of American diplomats in Russia. Vestnik Kavkaza spoke with the rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Yevgeny Bazhanov, about the recently seized building of the Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco, opening of this building in 1973 and the prospects for its return.
- Evgeny Petrovich, you are one of the eyewitnesses to the opening of the modern building of the Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco, tell me, please, how did it all start?
- This was a period when the Soviet Union and the United States began to reconcile. Of course, it was the cold war period, but in the early 1970s so called detente started. Let me remind you that the Consulate-General in San Francisco had been working since the times of Emperor, then it was shut down during the Revolution, then reopened, and was again closed during the Cold War. San Francisco is a city, where foreign consulates are located traditionally, including ours, consul’s residential quarters of almost all the world countries are represented there. This is quite natural, as California is also the richest and most developed state.
We were excited to open the consulate, the Californians were awaiting eagerly the opening of this consulate. Hundreds of visitors were coming to us - businessmen, scientists, Hollywood actors, artists, sportsmen - they received an opportunity to contact with the Soviet Union and Russians. Everything was arousing interest, after all, we were the main enemy for so many years, they were afraid of us, hiding in the nooks, assuming we would attack them all of a sudden, and on the other hand, they were curious to know what Russians were like, how they looked. Americans told me: "We thought you had horns, but you do not have them, you look like us, really, are you really a communist?" Their reaction was very energetic and, basically, positive, there was interest and desire not just to contact, but gain some sort of benefits for themselves. Scientists wanted to get aquatinted their Soviet colleagues, talk with them, athletes - compete with us, the Hollywood actors - to get acquainted with our film industry. All California gathered at the opening of the Consulate- General, Washington representatives came, and then we became very popular people.
- Coming back to the opening day on Green street, can you name more details about this day?
- We bought the building in advance.The vice-president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Garik Orbelian, helped us. His brother Konstantin was a composer and musician in the USSR. After the purchase, our comrades wanted to check it for microphones, but the consul general said: ”Is it possible microphones to be here?” Simple Americans were living here, it was an apartment building. They would not let the FBI come. As a result, the examination was not held, and then it turned out that there were 15-20 microphones in each room, and in the most unexpected places. After all, the microphones were installed in order to divert our attention. They had a cable laid underground, which they used for spying. Our comrades said that it was a bad idea to open the consulate there, because the headquarters of the US Sixth Army was located nearby, and Americans were obviously going to tap us.
Later, one of the officials responsible for the headquarters of the US Sixth Army told me: "We were against this consulate to be purchased by you, and there was a controversy in the American government on this issue. We thought that you would intrigue against us.” That is, they thought that we were going to intrigue against them, and we thought they were doing the same against us.
Then the governor of California was Ronald Reagan, who later became president of the United States, quite a specific person. In California, he became famous for closing all mental hospitals. After that insane people rushed out into the streets, including to the foreign consulates, first of all, to ours. I received 10 to15 American schizophrenics a day thanks to Mr. Reagan. Reagan also offered to cut down the millennial sequoias that California is famous for. He believed that protection forests were not needed, it was enough to leave one tree.
Once Reagan was asked why he did not visit other countries, and he replied: "What's there, a couple of houses, a lot of people. If you saw one city, you saw everything." That was the level of his consciousness. Then they all rushed to us for receptions, they were offended when they were not invited, they tried to get invited. Officials, businessmen came specially from different states - Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, etc.
- Now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has hired experts in order to file a lawsuit on the incompetence of the acts committed. What does diplomatic immunity mean? What laws were violated during the actions of the American side?
-Let's start with the immunity. The official building of the Consulate General, embassy, diplomatic mission is the territory of our state. No one has the right to enter this territory without our permission, even the US president. They not only entered, but conducted searches there, referring to the fact that they deprived us of diplomatic status. They closed the Consulate-General, but this does not mean that you can then violate the property right. What happened was of a boorish manner, and it was done to demonstrate their disrespect to us.
When we opened the consulate, we agreed that the US would have four consulates, and the USSR would have the same number. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, one consulate remained in Kiev. In Russia there were three. We then suggested the US to open the fourth in Russia...In addition, it was possible to close the Consulate-General in a usual manner, in spite of spitting in our faces. Therefore, our lawyers have prepared a lawsuit. Americans say that their judges are independent, some even attack Trump himself. Let's see what will be their behavior towards us. Anyway, such things are not forgotten.
More details about the work of the Soviet Consulate-General in San Francisco can be found in the first and second books of Yevgeny Bazhanov's multi-volumed set ”A moment and eternity".
Read the following part of the interview on October 2.