The Skeletons Get Up and Dance

July 07, 1991

The Cold War is over, and now it can be told:

* Rudolph Hess was not crazy, but thought he had received a peace overture from the British.

* The Soviets did find the wreckage of that Korean airliner they shot down, and there was no evidence that it was on a spy mission.

* Bulgaria may have something in its files, after all, about the assassination attempt on the pope.

* Espionage played a large part in the Soviet Union's development of its atomic bomb.

Lingering secrets and skeletons are tumbling out of the closet as the formerly communist societies become free to study their own history without ideological fetters and as relations between the two great adversaries warm up.

A 17-part series in the government newspaper Izvestia brought to light facts about KAL 007, the airliner Soviet MIGs shot down in 1983, killing all 269 passengers. The series exposed a number of Soviet government lies, including the statements that the Korean jet showed no lights, that the fighter pilot fired warning tracer bullets and that the airliner's wreckage had never been found. The wreckage included umbrellas, tape recorders and bent silverware, but no espionage equipment, apparently contradicting the Soviet claim at the time that the Korean plane was flying a spy mission for the United States. But Izvestia also found evidence that seemed to contradict President Reagan's claim that the Soviets knew before shooting it down that KAL 007 was a civilian passenger plane.

Even the Soviet KGB is going public. It released information earlier this year about its success in stealing secrets that speeded up the Soviet bomb project. The other day a smiling KGB agent was in Washington flogging a book, written by a British historian with the help of KGB files, on Rudolph Hess, the Hitler aide who flew to Britain in 1941 claiming he was on a solo peace mission.

Soviet and American scholars and diplomats have held meetings to review the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and study each other's decision making. Similar exchanges are proliferating in a number of fields. The Young Communist League is organizing a mid-August conference that hopes to clear up mysteries associated with the 1918 murder of the last Russian czar and his family.

An American, Allen Weinstein, has been invited to examine Bulgaria's official archives in connection with the attempt on Pope John Paul II's life in 1981. A Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca, was convicted of that crime, but he has long insisted that the Bulgarian secret service masterminded it.

The invitation came from Zhelya Zhelev, a former jailed dissident who is now the post-Communist president of Bulgaria. A deputy in the National Assembly opposed the investigation, asking, "Why can't we just turn the page?" "Absolutely," Mr. Zhelev replied. "But first we must read it."

Just watch those skeletons dance!

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