No. 368 NAI DFA 26/119

Confidential report from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Geneva, 29 September 1936

I1 have to state, for the information of the Minister, that I attended today a luncheon given by the Aga Khan at the Carlton Parc Hotel. The other guests were: the Gaekwar of Baroda, M. Litvinoff (U.S.S.R. - People's Commissary for Foreign Affairs), Dr Wellington Koo (Chinese Ambassador at Paris), Faiz Mohammed Khan (Foreign Minister of Afghanistan), Mr. W.S. Morrison M.P. (Financial Secretary to British Treasury), Sir William Malkin, Mr. Strang, Sir Denys Bray, and some others. M. Litvinoff was on the Aga Khan's right, and I was next to M. Litvinoff.

M. Litvinoff opened the conversation with me by an enquiry for the President. How was he? Did he not want to come here any more? I explained the President's absence (as in the case of numberless other enquires from Delegates to the Assembly) by stating that the President was unable to leave home this year owing to pressure of other work. M. Litvinoff than said 'I like your President de Valera, except for one thing'. I asked what that was, and he said 'he is too religious'. I said that, as no doubt the Commissar was aware, religion counted much with us in Ireland. 'I know that', he replied, 'but he allows his religion to interfere with his policy'. 'In what way?' I asked. He hesitated, and I said, 'did not President de Valera vote for the admission of Russia to the League'? He said 'yes, but with reservations'. I said: 'so far as the vote was concerned was it not 100% support? President de Valera did, certainly, make an appeal to the Soviet Government to extend to all foreigners in Russia and to the Russian people, the guarantees of freedom of conscience and of worship which the United States Government made a condition, in regard to American citizens, of the recognition of the U.S.S.R. by the U.S.A. Surely, M. Litvinoff would admit that that was a natural appeal to make, seeing that the Soviet Government had declared its desire for peace; that peace could not be had without goodwill, and that there could be no good will when people found that attempts were being made to destroy things which meant most to them in life.' He said 'we do not care whether other people have religion or not, but we can have no such thing in Russia'. I said that the Soviet Government did not confine her activities in that respect to Russia; take, for example, the anti-religious broadcasts. Did they stop at the Russian frontiers? He said: 'they are for our own people'. 'But do they stop at your frontiers,' I asked, 'and are they not given in other than Russian languages'? He repeated that Russia did not interfere with religion in other countries, but she could have none of it in Russia; at least, he said, we will teach against it. I pressed him on this. 'Your Constitution, I said, provides for liberty of conscience, and is supposed to allow religious as well as anti-religious teaching, but how does that work in practice? I have read that religious teaching is forbidden in the schools, but that anti-religious teaching is given. Where is the equality there?' He seemed to assent to this, and said that atheism was taught; 'but that is for our own people', he said. I asked him would his Government not reconsider their whole attitude seeing that it clearly interfered with good understanding between the peoples, but he said that that was a matter for the Russian people themselves; they could practise religion if they liked and go to Church, but 'we will continue to teach against it', and as regards broadcasting, he said 'why should we give up such an excellent means of propaganda'? adding that other people were free to listen in or not as they might desire. I pressed the point. 'If Russia was not concerned now with the destruction of religion in other countries, that was certainly a change. The Soviet policy was not merely a Russian policy, but a world policy, and was it not the original intention to destroy religion, as a necessity for putting over the Soviet Social policy on other peoples, as on their own'. He maintained that, now at any rate, it was none of Russian policy to interfere with religion in other countries.

I then turned to the political side of the question, and said that Russia might very soon have need of the good will of other peoples, and was not good will worth while. Russia might have to fight on two fronts. 'We may have to fight on four or five fronts', he replied, 'we do not trust any of our neighbours', but he added that Russia did not want war; Germany was the country which wanted it. 'Finland is also out for trouble', he said, 'the Finns are full of imperialistic ideas and they want to expand into Russian territory'. I asked if he meant into Carelia, and he agreed. I said that there was one part of the Nuremberg speech which I did not quite follow, namely, the reference to the Ukraine and the Urals. I asked if it was really the intention of the Germans to attack the Ukraine, seeing that Poland proper was as much between Germany and that territory as the corridor was between Germany and East Prussia. He said that Germany intended to attack the Ukraine, not through Poland, but through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Roumania. I went on to say that seeing that every one knew exactly now what a terrible thing war on a large scale would be, it was almost incredible that any nation would wish to embark on it. Did he really believe that war was coming? He smiled. 'Why, of course', he replied. I asked if anybody had had the temerity to estimate when it would break out - that one heard in Geneva an estimate of two years. He said that that was venturing into the regions of prophecy, and 'those prophecy only who know', and he contented himself by saying that it depended on Germany, and that 'Germany is not yet ready'.

At the end, on the question of religion, he said to me that Russia wanted to provide for Paradise in this life, not in the next. I said that, the next life being so much longer than this one, would it not be wise to provide for it also? 'If there is a next life', he replied. I asked if that meant that he believed that he would be as dead ?as a door-nail' when he died, and he said something to the effect that he would probably then have joined the other minerals in the earth.

My talk with M. Litvinoff, which was of course in friendly strain, was not so continuous as I have reported it, as he was frequently engaged in conversation with the Aga Khan. The latter, also, asked questions bearing on the religious issue. I heard him ask, for example, whether the young people in Russia now show any desire for religion, to which Mr. Litvinoff answered, 'no, no desire at all'. The Aga Khan then asked whether there were any divisions between the young generation? For example, did the children of Jews mix with the children of Christians?, to which M. Litvinoff replied that the young people mixed freely, and that there were no differences between them.

With regard to M. Litvinoff's speech in the Assembly, I remarked that it had caused something of a stir. 'Yes' he said, 'The British people do not like frank speaking,' and he coupled this with some reference to the 'Manchester Guardian' which I did not quite follow. (In regard to the speech, it is I think generally regarded here as an attempt to sabotage the proposed Conference between the Locarno Powers.)

[signed] F.T. Cremins

1 Marginal note: 'Seen by Secy and President, S.G.M.'.

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