News from Moscow

The wife of an American correspondent in Moscow invited a young Russian friend into her home. At the gates of the house they were stopped by a policeman. Addressing the American woman he said: “You go ahead. But as for you,” said the policeman, pulling the Russian by the arm, “go back.”

The American woman tried to protest but the young man immediately began to walk away with a frightened expression on his face.

Why didn’t you lodge a complaint against this policeman?” I asked the correspondent’s wife after she had recounted the incident. “Whom should I complain to?” she replied. “The press department of MID [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is already persistently warning us not to associate with Russians other than official persons.”

This minor episode is perhaps very characteristic of the situation of foreign correspondents in Moscow, and of their own attitude. Although the “iron curtain” conception now seems very old-fashioned, the authorities are still striving to completely isolate foreign correspondents in Moscow from Soviet citizens. This situation existed earlier, but more resolute measures have been taken to isolate the correspondents ever since the beginning of an independent opposition movement within the country. It is clear that the whole world could have learned about this movement only from the information of Western correspondents in Moscow (and in the USSR, from foreign radio broadcasts), for neither TASS nor any other Soviet organ would ever have publicized it. However, this is naturally not simply a question of the movement: in general, a man isolated from the local population has far less understanding of what is going on in their country.

The government isolates correspondents first of all by settling them into special apartments for foreigners, to which Soviet citizens do not have easy access; by creating establishments to cater especially to foreigners; by setting up microphones in the correspondents’ apartments; by having them followed (which tends to make those who are not accustomed to this very nervous); by a system of official and non-official warnings; by expulsion from the country; and also by a general atmosphere of fear and uncertainty which is particularly painful to those who come from democratic countries.

Many of the people who enter into discourse exaggerating the “liberalization and democratization of Soviet society” tend equally to exaggerate the threat to which they are personally exposed.

The correspondents ostensibly write about their own situation in Moscow. However, the opinion of a detached onlooker is perhaps also of interest, and especially his assessment of the correspondents’ behavior in such a situation.

There are clearly two choices: the correspondents can either seek contact of some kind with the Russians, and hunt for some sort of information other than the official; or else they can fully accept the status to which the Moscow authorities have tied them down with a firm or gentle hand. After seven years of continual contact with foreign correspondents, I have formed the impression that the majority of them display a readiness to submit …

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