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 to these imposed conditions.
What They Do
As long as the correspondent is not engaged in any reporting work and the gathering of facts; as long as he has no understanding or awareness of the general situation; as long as he continues to move in the narrow circle of his own people, with no knowledge of Russian history or traditions and, in most cases, even of the Russian language, his work is reduced to the following: A Soviet interpreter, whom the correspondent himself considers to be a KGB agent, either translates or relates to him the contents of Pravda or Krasnaya zvezda, i.e., the “official view” of a certain event. The correspondent then chats with a neighbor on the same floor, who is just like himself and has an “observer’s” point of view. In certain particularly important cases he questions his chauffeur or domestic help, for the opinion of the “man in the street.”
Now it only remains for him to discuss the contents of Pravda in Western journalistic terms, adding trite remarks about the “liberalization” or else, on the contrary, the “rebirth of Stalinism.” Thus emerge the articles about the “economic reforms” or the “hawks and doves in the Kremlin,” full of false significance and lacking any content, which could have been written just as successfully in London or New York as in Moscow. However, the label “from our Moscow correspondent” perhaps lends a fascination to news from the actual place of event, and heightens the newspaper’s prestige.
The correspondent, who, after three or four years in Russia, has not learned a word of the language, and has never spoken to a single Russian, returns to his country where he is regarded as a “Russian expert.” He writes articles which can be either extremely hostile or very well-disposed toward the Soviet regime, but which are invariably capable of misleading the reader, since their author possesses very little knowledge and even less understanding.
The Risk Involved
At present more and more Soviet citizens feel the burden of their isolation from the rest of the world, and are themselves seeking contact with foreigners, including the foreign correspondents. However, these attempts to “break down the barrier” meet not only with opposition from the KGB, but with the prejudices of the correspondents themselves, who feel that every Russian who wishes to associate with them is overtly or covertly a KGB agent. This “spy-mania” is perhaps caused by three circumstances: first of all, agents may indeed be sent to the correspondents; secondly, it might seem strange to the correspondents that certain Russians are not afraid to meet them, when they themselves are afraid, though exposed to a far smaller degree of personal risk. Finally, a correspondent’s own situation seems far better justified when, instead of going to see some dubious Russian friends, without bothering to take off his slippers he moves from his apartment on the second floor to the office on the third, to take a look at the reliable TASS teletypes.
However, in the knowledge of this idyllic way of life, such a correspondent for some reason considers himself almost a James Bond who is permanently exposed to a terrible risk, this “risk” being for the most part imaginary. There is, in fact, no written lay prohibiting contact between Soviet citizens and foreigners, and however dim a view of this the authorities may choose to take, they are nevertheless obliged to tolerate such cases when they occur. In fact, the only way to prevent this is by means of blackmail; however, submission to blackmail is not a compulsory, but a voluntary matter.
Nevertheless, some correspondents occasionally enter into contact with Soviet citizens, and even seek contacts for themselves. However, they unfortunately do not always display sufficient tact in their attitude toward these Russians.
Following the trial of Ginzburg and Galanskov, Ginzburg’s mother and Galanskov’s wife arranged to meet a few foreign correspondents at the home of L. I. Ginzburg, in order to relate the course of the trial. However, at the appointed time nobody turned up. The house was instead surrounded by KGB agents, and the two women seemed to be trapped.
It later appeared that the MID press department, after learning about the meeting from the correspondents, had flatly refused to allow anyone to visit L. I. Ginzburg. The MID press department referred not to any law or instruction, but simply to the fact that things “will be very unpleasant for anybody who should go to see him.” This apparently not only sufficed to prevent the correspondents from going there, but also prevented those who had promised to come from giving Ginzburg and Galanskov any advance warning.
The KGB arranged a provocation against the two women, who had known nothing of all this: first of all they tried to lure them out of their house for an alleged meeting in the street with some correspondents, in order to accuse them later of illegal street mobbing; when this attempt failed, Vasily Gritsan, a KGB agent, appeared before them in the guise of a foreign correspondent. Had one of the foreign correspondents out of a simple sense of decency warned these women by phone that nobody would be coming, both of them would have been delivered from a genuine, and not just an imaginary, danger.
Nevertheless, a few correspondents whom the MID press department did not manage to notify arrived at Ginzburg’s home. KGB agents did not allow them near the house, telling them to return to their offices to look for the belated note prohibiting them from attending the press conference, which they would find in their post boxes. There were three Swedish correspondents among them, and the KGB agent sternly inquired whether they had arrived for the Ginzburg press conference, to which the frightened Swedes replied: “No, no, we are simply taking a walk here.”
They perhaps considered their reply exceptionally smart but, in my opinion, it was more the retort of a mischievious schoolboy than the reply of an adult journalist whose right and duty it was to attend that press conference which would be of interest to his readers.
Who Is Pulling the Strings?
On the eve of the Moscow Soviet elections, while strolling along the Arbat, I could see on the walls of several houses the portrait of a none-too-intelligent-looking man with a coarse and fierce expression on his face. This was Leonid Zamyatin, the only official candidate for our district. In this way I at least learned the appearance of the man whose name was being continually pronounced with fear and awe by journalists, like Jews uttering the Lord’s name.
Mr. Zamyatin heads the MID press department, which I have already mentioned, and which supervises the work of the Moscow foreign correspondents. This surveillance and the supervisor’s relationship with the correspondents involve not only their written work but also their personal contacts and whereabouts.
There are various degrees of pressure brought to bear on an unwelcome journalist. For example, he may be caused various everyday inconveniences. The correspondent who is living in a hotel may be informed that he must alter the tone of his articles if he wishes to receive an apartment sooner. The authorities may make the journalist’s access to information more difficult. They may refuse him a meeting with an official writer or actor, or forbid him to go to any other town. They may speak critically of him in Pravda or Izvestia, or he may be summoned to the MID press department for warning. They may simply tell him not to write about this or that, for it is not a normal phenomenon of Soviet life, and he has to be objective. Or that he must not have anything to do with so-and-so, since he is a man with a shady past.
However, they may also issue an “official warning” which, if the correspondent chooses to ignore it, could result in his expulsion or even in a threat to close down the newspaper’s Moscow office or agency. Warnings of this sort tend to be very rude and direct. Thus, Anatol Shub, correspondent for the Washington Post, mentioned in his article that a “Russian friend” of his was preparing to write a book entitled Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? and included a summary of his friend’s opinions. “No Soviet man could have said that! Your ‘Russian friend’ was the bottle of vodka over which you chatted, after having first of all emptied it!” the press department announced to Shub. “If you write anything more like this you will be expelled from Moscow!” I was, in fact, this Russian friend and my book Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? came out a few months later….
It should be said that [such] warnings were not just meaningless sounds, since…Shub [was] subsequently expelled from the USSR.
The correspondents occasionally attempt to clarify the grounds on which the press department issues one prohibition or another, but they are told that there are special instructions which, incidentally, are not shown to anyone. It is quite possible that the press department periodically “unleashes” (as they say in our country) official instructions of one kind or another compulsory only for the press department itself, and not for the journalists. In actual fact there exists no officially printed document determining the foreign correspondent’s position and defining his rights and duties in this country. Uncertain conditions such as these obviously fully suit the authorities for they allow them freedom to maneuver as they wish. So resorting to their own sense of reason, to the courage which every man possesses, and even to the way in which “others behave,” the correspondents strive to adjust themselves, which does not, however, always exclude the possibility of a certain confusion.
Thus, some feel that they are able to visit the Russians, but that they themselves ought not to invite the Russians into their homes; others, on the contrary, feel that they can invite Russians into their apartments while they ought not to visit them. Some think that they can bravely criticize the regime so long as they are not within their office walls; others feel that they must write favorable articles, for only then will they be given the opportunity to see more. The basic tendency, i.e., the less one does, the better one lives, somewhat contradicts the journalists’ professional obligations.
As I gathered from my talks with the journalists, many of them are themselves aware of the abnormality of their position in Moscow. Nevertheless, almost none of them wished to defend his rights, on the assumption that this will only serve to anger the Soviet authorities even further. Foreign correspondents in Moscow to this day still do not possess a union or club of their own, and completely lack all notion of professional association. As a rule, when a conflict arises between the authorities and a correspondent, not only do they fail to commonly unite in defense of the latter and his violated rights, but they occasionally even sense a gloating feeling of satisfaction: There you are, I told you to be more careful. I haven’t written or done anything, and they are not expelling me!
This kind of dissociation proves how rapidly people, when facing conditions of a totalitarian regime, begin to accept its rules, for the fundamental rule of any such regime is to deal with each man separately. Totalitarianism fears nothing so much as united opposition. I do not wish people to feel that I am calling upon Western journalists to struggle against the Soviet regime, for I simply have in mind their united struggle for their own professional rights within the limits of present Soviet law.
By the way, in order to remain objective, I ought to mention a case where the correspondents did in fact come out in corpore in defense of their own rights. This took place at the time when the correspondents were refused permission to order goods from abroad.
As I have already stated, the foreign correspondents in Moscow are governed by the press department of the MID and the KGB, not in accordance with the law, but according to considerations of the present moment and by means of blackmail. Naturally, the greater the readiness to submit, the more successful the blackmail, whereas if the former meets with opposition the blackmail can easily prove entirely fruitless. It is generally known that several journalists who displayed sufficient firmness and prudence did not allow themselves to be intimidated, and by continuing to write objective articles revealed the USSR situation to the Western world. True, a number of them were expelled, but by no means all of them. If other journalists would react negatively to warnings and expulsions of this sort, and if foreign states would place Soviet journalists under similar conditions, then this would serve to radically alter the Moscow correspondents’ situation.
Naturally, the present situation could not exist without the direct collaboration of several correspondents with the Soviet authorities, which can assume a variety of forms.
The authorities normally try not to extend the correspondent’s visa for longer than a period of three to four years, realizing that the longer he stays the better he will come to appreciate the situation, and the harder it will be to deceive him. Nevertheless, there are several correspondents in Moscow whose length of stay may now be calculated not in years but in decades, and these are no longer prevented from freely associating with Russians.
One of them is———, head of the Moscow office of———.* Having lived in Moscow…, he is considered an expert on Russian life. He is, for example, one of the few correspondents who knew that Pavel Litvinov, who protested against the political trials, was the grandson and not the son of Maxim Litvinov, the peoples’ commissar for foreign affairs.
However, when this same Mr.———received a copy of a letter supporting Litvinov from the kolkhoz chairman, Ivan Yakhimovich, which was addressed to Suslov, he refused to notify his agency, declaring that no kolkhoz chairman could ever have written such a letter, and that it had in all probability been forged by P. Litvinov himself. Yet, a year before this event, Yakhimovich had already been mentioned in the Soviet press. Before his arrest in 1969, he had made a few more public statements, and had been seen by foreign correspondents when he visited the Czechoslovakian Embassy in Moscow together with General Grigorenko. Had the affair depended solely upon Mr.———, no one would have known about Yakhimovich. However, the fact that even the local party staff representative came out in support of Litvinov is of great significance if one is to understand public trials in our country.
The same thing occurred in the case of that famous article by the academician Sakharov, the “father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.” When Mr.———received a copy of the article, after taking just one look at it, he immediately hid it in his desk, declaring that the article ought not to be disclosed for fear of major unpleasantness. Nevertheless, Sakharov’s Reflections on Progress acquired world-wide fame. First of all an abridged text of the article was handed over to the Moscow correspondent of the newspaper Het Tarol, Mr. Van Het Reve, after which the complete text appeared in The New York Times. The significance which was attached in the West to Sakharov’s address is generally known. However, had all the correspondents acted in the same way as Mr.———, to this day nobody would have heard anything about the article.
Fortunately, Mr. Kamm and Mr. Anderson, who were working at that time as correspondents in Moscow for The New York Times, acted in accordance with their professional duty as journalists, considering it their obligation to hand over material which they felt to be of interest, and not just that which they found harmless. However, the present head of the Moscow New York Times office, Bernard Gwertzman [is another matter].
Thus, after having witnessed the search to which I had been subjected by the KGB, Mr. Gwertzman did not mention it…, and also failed to file a story to his newspaper about my letter to Podgorny, in which I had described the measures which the KGB was using against me. I am by no means reproaching Mr. Gwertzman personally, for he is certainly in no way obliged to write anything about me. However, his newspaper had previously mentioned me on several occasions in connection with the KGB, wondering why it was that they were leaving me alone. Thus, from the viewpoint of an objective journalist he ought to have mentioned this fact.
This was by no means an exceptional case. Mr. Gwertzman also failed to write in the Times of the appeal made by Grigorenko’s wife to worldwide public opinion, and of the general’s diary, which from his prison in Tashkent he had succeeded in conveying to the free world only with immense difficulty. Nevertheless, this diary, which describes his arrest, his term in prison, his starvation, the psychiatric experiments and physical assaults on him, is a human document of enormous importance.
In precisely the same way Mr. Gwertzman failed to write in the Times about a letter by twenty Jews from Leningrad which condemned the anti-Israeli campaign of the Soviet press, and announced their desire to leave for Israel. This letter had appeared immediately after a similar declaration made by forty Jews from Moscow, and other newspapers and agencies issued information about it later on. It is possible that this information also reached The New York Times but if this had depended upon Mr. Gwertzman, then the general public would never have known anything about the letter.
Deliberate silence may also result in the direct distortion of fact. Thus, after the Ginzburg and Galanskov press conference which failed to take place, Mr.———pointed out that there was a 1947 decree which prohibited foreigners from associating with Soviet citizens. This decree, which has in fact long since been obsolete, had served to establish an order of official relations between Soviet institutions and the corresponding institutions of other countries. By means of such misrepresentation Mr.———was seeking to mislead the other correspondents while at the same time justifying the illegal activities of the MID press department.
Naturally, “good behavior” such as this deserves rewards, which is exactly what the authorities offer. Reward involves first and foremost access to information in one form or another. It is generally known that Mr.———is notified about the launching of a satellite and of other official events sometimes half an hour, and occasionally even a few hours, before many of the other correspondents. Victor Louis, for example, correspondent to the English newspaper Evening News, about whose special relations with the Soviet authorities much has already been written, at his villa 30 kilometers from Moscow was able to learn the verdict of the Ginzburg and Galanskov affair before the journalists who were standing in the entrance to the courtroom knew of it.
Very frequently the newspapers and agencies account for this kind of silence and distortion by referring to the huge interests of their newspaper or agency, and the danger that their Moscow bureau might be completely closed down by the authorities. Obviously, there is a certain amount of logic in this; however, the real problem is where to draw a reasonable line. If the office is simply going to communicate the leading articles of Pravda as the authorities would like them to do, then their work will be meaningless. For example, Mr. Bausman, head of the Moscow bureau of Associated Press forbade one of his employees to meet the notorious participant in the democratic movement, Peter Yakir, simply because the authorities take a dim view of such encounters. However, if Associated Press continues to follow this kind of policy, what will they be able to let their readers know about the socio-political movement in the USSR?
The more such an office head begins to make concessions, the greater are the demands laid upon him. At times the MID press department delivers even fiercer warnings to those correspondents who are “in good repute.” Thus, Mr.———was the only correspondent to have received a warning for the fact that he was seen at the building where Pavel Litvinov stood trial. Although Mr.———had not even been there for more than five or ten minutes, a minor disobedience on the part of one of their “own men” is capable of arousing greater displeasure than the far more audacious behavior of an independent correspondent. However, the compliance of the foreign correspondent might have tangible reasons while their collaboration may also assume other forms.
A few years ago I attempted to gain permission from the Soviet authorities to have the royalties from the book of my deceased father donated to Florence, which had suffered in the flood of 1966. The authorities were unwilling to have the Soviet ruble transferred into lire since such an exchange would be very disadvantageous. However, determined to gain the upper hand, I decided to turn the attention of the Italian public to this matter, and therefore addressed Adriano Gverra, Moscow correspondent for Unita, with the request that he print a note about this affair in his newspaper. “What do you expect?” Mr. Gverra exclaimed in surprise. “The Soviet government will never agree to exchange the ruble for foreign currency, for they find this extremely unprofitable. I myself only receive three hundred rubles a year in foreign currency, but all the rest in Soviet rubles.”
I was at first unable to understand what was wrong here, and why an Italian newspaper should be paying its correspondent in Soviet rubles. However, Mr. Gverra, who had hoped to arouse my sympathy with the fact that he receives such a small amount of money in foreign currency, then explained that he is paid not by the newspaper but by the Soviet government, which is very generous with its rubles but sparing with foreign currency.
I was surprised not so much by the fact that the correspondent was being supported by the Soviet government as by the fact that he was conveying this information with such nonchalant ease, in the hope that I would sympathize with his meager pay. In reply, I simply advised him to change from the Communist Unita to the bourgeois Corriere della Sera which would obviously pay him in lire. It was clear, however, that any further discussion with him on this matter would be useless.
A few days later I discussed the affair with Mr. Starkov, secretary of the Soviet-Italian Friendship Society. He also referred to the difficulty of having the ruble transferred into foreign currency since our government is in great need of this currency.
“Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent Unita from paying its correspondents a portion of their salary in foreign currency,” I replied. “Well,” Starkov objected, “you are wrong to call this a salary—it is more of a pittance.” And, wishing to assert his superiority in this terminological argument, he added: “I know this only too well, for it was I who used to hand this money over in an envelope to the previous correspondent.”
After this I decided to take a look at what this correspondent who was receiving foreign currency in an envelope was actually writing in Unita. In 1969, for example, when the term “personality cult” was banned from the Soviet press, he wrote: “Discussion of Stalinism in the USSR is now more intense than ever before on the pages of the Soviet press.” In 1970, he referred to two young Italians who had organized a demonstration in defense of the Communist Grigorenko as “members of a pro-fascist organization.”
In November, 1968, Boris Alekseyev, who works for APN [an official Soviet news agency], returned some articles of mine which the agency had previously ordered, saying that APN would have no further dealings with me, since they had received KGB instructions to this effect.
Nevertheless, in the spring of the following year, I received a telephone call from a man who called himself Ennio Lucon, correspondent of the French newspaper Paris-Jour, who said that he was phoning from APN and that I had been recommended by Boris Alekseyev as a person well acquainted with unorthodox Muscovite artists. I was slightly surprised, but suggested that he come to see me in a few days’ time.
Mr. Lucon turned out to be a man in his forties with roaming eyes and hurried speech, who gesticulated profusely. He informed me that he had arranged with some French publishers to write a book about contemporary Russian art, which he was due to produce in a month’s time. However, he had almost no material, which he hoped to purchase from me. I replied that I would sell him nothing personally, but that I would be able to contract a formal agreement with his publishers. “No, just make it directly with me,” replied Mr. Lucon, fervently trying to persuade me. “You will receive many, many dollars, and all this will remain just between ourselves.” I replied that this was just the very thing that I wished to avoid, but that if the publishing house had indeed advised Mr. Lucon to come to an agreement with me, then I would present my materials and would write a few sections of the book myself, and we could both work together as co-authors. I then showed him some of my materials.
Mr. Lucon said that he would call again bringing his materials on Russian art along with him. These materials turned out to be mainly photographs featuring Mr. Lucon himself, which had been taken with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni which, judging by his own words, certainly proved that he was a respectable fellow.
I said that this was all very fine, but that it was only indirectly related to Russian art. However, the subject of Russian art was now completely forgotten, and instead Mr. Lucon showed me Shub’s article which I have already mentioned, and asked me whether I was acquainted with Shub, and whether I knew who this “Russian friend” was. I replied that I did not know.
Then Mr. Lucon, again promising me a heap of dollars, inquired whether I would be able to gather together material for his new book which would this time be on the moods of Russian writers. I was worried by this continual emphasis on dollars, for I knew, and Mr. Lucon, who had been living in Russia for a long time, also knew that with the exception of official agencies, the acceptance of foreign currency by Soviet citizens is regarded as a criminal offense.
I finally informed Mr. Lucon in a very amiable tone that I wished to have no further dealings either with him or with his writings. He disappeared for a short while, but a few days later the KGB searched my apartment, confiscating the material that I had shown to Mr. Lucon.
Nonetheless, a few months later I received a letter from him in the village where I was staying offering to publish my book Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? which he had supposedly read about in The New York Times. He also wished to receive the manuscripts of my other books. At the same time he expressed his readiness to come to see me in the country, in spite of the fact that I was 170 kilometers from Moscow, where foreigners are unable to travel without special permission. I made no reply, but upon my arrival in Moscow, he telephoned me immediately and began to insist upon another meeting.
All this is very characteristic of the atmosphere in which the Moscow foreign correspondents live.
What Does the Future Have in Store?
By no means do I wish to create the impression that all foreign correspondents are like———, Gwertzman, or Lucon. I have not mentioned several correspondents whose objectivity merits the utmost respect, simply because any praise on my part would impede their work, for it would serve as poor recommendation in the eyes of the authorities.
However, the general situation does not seem at all normal to me. The Soviet authorities continue their manipulation of information coming from Moscow slowly but persistently. The Western reader is the one who loses the most by this, since the information which he receives about the Soviet Union is distorted. It is mainly for the sake of these readers that I have written this article.
March 25, 1971
The name of this well-known correspondent for a Western news agency is known to the editors, but has been omitted here. ↩