Continued from Part One.
NOVOSTI'S CONNECTION WITH THE KGB
Most foreign media people, not to mention average readers, grossly misconceive the nature of the APN-KGB relationship in particular, and the relationship between Soviet journalists and Soviet intelligence services in general. This general misconception is obvious to me, now that I have been some years in the West, and have revealed details about my own and my Novosti colleagues' activities to several seemingly intelligent Western reporters. All of them, both “leftists” and “rightists,” made the same mistake, calling me a “former Russian spy,” which sounds very romantic, and, depending on one's political affiliation, either complimentary or derogatory. It is very far from reality.
Spying, in the classical sense of the term, is the ancient occupation of stealing secret information, or buying it for money or favors, and making it available to one's government, superiors, or a client who pays for it. Spying in itself is a profession, just like any other, requiring training and experience. By itself it is void of any moral or ethical connotation. Spying can be noble and patriotic, if it serves the cause of the security and prosperity of one's nation, and docs not harm friends. It can be defensive, if it helps to protect one's country or one's friends from an aggressor. But spying can also be vile, treacherous and offensive, when it helps an aggressor, invader or robber of one's own people, or a friendly and peaceful neighbor.
Depending on the amount of money or support, and on the state of counter-intelligence in an area, spying can be dangerous and risky. It can also be a safe and pleasant indulgence in all imaginable sins.
But, whatever spying is, Novosti people do not do it for the KGB more than 10% of the time. Most of Novosti's work is subversion, by definition always immoral, aggressive, dishonest and unpatriotic (the latter, because in most cases subversion hurts people in one's own country as much as the real or imaginary enemy is hurt). The Novosti specialty is ideological subversion, which often has nothing to do with either secret information or stealing.
Thanks to the permissive legal systems in most democratic countries (as well as in some right-wing “fascist and racist” regimes), the activity of [a] Novosti-KGB agent is not considered criminal or even anti-social. Thus, we cannot be called spies: we do not risk anything, least of all our lives, in a country of the “decadent capitalist camp.” The greatest danger to ourselves comes not from the counter-intelligence services, the police or the courts, but from our over-indulgence in alcohol, sex, food, and from driving too fast. Few Novosti men have ever been apprehended as spies and expelled from foreign countries (and then mainly from “developing” ones!). It is a rare case when a real KGB spy, pretending to be a Novosti journalist, is caught red-handed.
APN-KGB subversion may be painless, but its long-term result is more devastating than a nuclear explosion. It effects an irreversible (at least within one generation) change in the public's perception of social, political and economic reality, to such an extent that the concept of destroying individual and collective property, safety, freedom and often life itself (considering the inevitable consequences of any “socialist revolution”) no longer seems to be such a bad idea. On the contrary, thanks to semantic manipulation, millions of people, regardless of race, intelligence or historical experience, have come to see Communism as an adequate or even desirable alternative to capitalism, in spite of the obvious.
Not too many people in the free world (free from the Soviets) want to understand the danger of APN-KGB ideological subversion. Every Novosti staffer, engaged in KGB work, knows otherwise. We seldom had illusions about the true nature of our activity; we could easily observe the horrible results of it. For this reason some of us would be burdened with guilt, and seek refuge in cynicism or in the accumulation of possessions, or in sex, alcohol, and drugs. The majority, though, overcome pangs of conscience, and enjoy the comforts of KGB affiliation. It goes without saying, of course, that only a few Novosti staffers, mainly relatives of the nomenklatura, dare to say “no” to the KGB.
On direct orders from KGB superiors, or through the KGB senior staff within Novosti, employees of APN may perform the following functions: the spreading of disinformation among both Soviet and foreign media and diplomatic representatives; opinion probes and intelligence gathering among foreign diplomats and VIPs; the screening of human material, to be recruited by the KGB, among foreign delegations and guests of Novosti; character assessment of the same; surveillance of both domestic and foreign suspects and/or potential recruits; and reference and research on specific subjects related to foreign media, public and political life in certain countries. Apart from that, Novosti staff may participate in any number of projects and operations planned by the KGB in various capacities, acting mainly as public relations representatives.
Contrary to popular Russian belief, not all Novosti people work for the KGB. Some exceptionally stupid “international commentators” are of no use to the KGB. Just like some exceptionally bright journalists who happen to have “dissident” ideas, these latter are kept within Novosti because it is an easily controllable fishbowl.
Naturally, there are no official statistics on the percentage of KGB affiliates within APN. Neither is there any Soviet counterpart of Daniel Ellsberg (alive, that is) within Novosti to reveal the APN's atrocities by publishing “Novosti Papers” in the New York Times. Thus, the very question seems to be rather foolish, or too abstract to require an answer. Every time a foreign guest of Novosti asked me something like, “How much money is allotted to the KGB for surveillance of the Soviet people?” I would unhesitatingly tell him to multiply an average salary by 250 million and divide by two.
My own private observations led me to conclude that there are definite categories of people within Novosti who most certainly work for the KGB. These include all stazhory-- temporary employees, tall, muscular, quiet men, who spend some time within Novosti prior to their assignments abroad. Usually these boys already have a rudimentary knowledge of a foreign language or two, and basic facts about the country of their future assignment. They only need to pick up Novosti talk and habits, to get acquainted with as many APN staffers as possible, and learn the ABCs of journalism, enough to use all of that as a cover for their real job. The old-timers of APN seldom express surprise at the rapid promotion of these stazhory to positions like senior editor or higher. We avoided asking these guys too many questions. We “understood.” And tried to be helpful, just in case.
When, after three or four months, the stazhory departed for the capitals of exotic countries, we were not envious; they were not going to take our jobs in foreign bureaus. As a matter of fact, we might never see them when we arrived there, except at embassy receptions, where they circulate among Novosti staffers to show their foreign counterparts their APN affiliation.
Another large group of APN-KGB hybrids are those who rest in a comfortable APN job after completing a foreign assignment, having been expelled by a foreign government, or having returned quietly and anonymously if the mission was a success and a new assignment is pending. For example, Colonel Bolshakov, kicked out of Washington for his role in covering up Soviet rockets in Cuba, returned as a hero and was awarded one of the most prestigious administrative jobs on the North American editorial board of Novosti. He knew that everyone knew that he was a KGB colonel, and was as proud of his Washington affair as a demented graffiti artist in a New York subway.
In roughly the same hybrid category were those “exiled” to Novosti for various misdemeanors while on active KGB service in a foreign country. We had a dozen or so speed demons who had run over a developing brother or sister while driving their Volga cars at breakneck speeds. They were wanted by the local police, so Moscow urgently recalled them home for health reasons. Besides, killing a chernozhopyi is not considered a serious crime for a Soviet citizen.
Neither are alcoholism, sex with foreigners, or trading personal effects (cameras, watches, etc.) for decadent foreign currency. But in excess, any of these might lead to “exile.” In 1969, for example, burnt-out comrade Tzigankov was recalled from the New Delhi bureau of Novosti, not so much for boozing (everyone drinks, but manages to walk and talk) as for stealing watches and cameras from the diplomatic staff while they were in the Soviet embassy swimming pool, selling those goods on the black market, and investing the profits in alcohol.
In the same category, we had several “sex maniacs” who took Karl Marx's slogan too seriously, thus impeding their work for the KGB. Exiled to APN, they had to subsist for several years on a diet of only local girls, while full of nostalgia and stories of their past escapades.
Such as this one: A Novosti man in Tokyo disappeared without a trace. A month later the KGB found him in a geisha's house. Brought to the ambassador, he was sternly asked to explain his unpatriotic behavior.
“Have you ever screwed a teenage Japanese girl in a suspended and rotating basket?” asked the Novosti man.
“Never,” admitted the puzzled ambassador. “How, then, can I explain it to you?!”
The elite of Novosti's KGB men are those highly placed journalists and editors who have traveled extensively abroad and established a reputation as “experts” on a country or a geopolitical area. These APN-KGB comrades sometimes are not “recruited,” but rather grow into the KGB at a higher level. Some are not full-time officers of the service. In rare cases when a drunken colleague would reproach one of these “elitists,” the latter would be genuinely offended. They do not consider themselves to be KGB informers. Naturally! They are the “new class,” nomenklatura, something above the KGB in their own estimation.
The younger generation of careerists, like myself, graduating from privileged colleges (Institute of Oriental Languages, Institute of Foreign Relations, etc.), could perhaps be labeled “volunteers.” We knew perfectly well that cooperation with the KGB would greatly promote our careers as journalists and open the door to foreign assignments. That's why we were behaving like teenage girls at a school dance: standing by the wall, showing indifference, but inwardly burning with the desire to be noticed and picked up. Often we created situations wherein the KGB had to notice our diligence and ability, especially when accompanying foreign guests of APN. Our ultimate desire was to become one of the “experts” to be approached by the KGB and the Central Committee for advice. It looked so clean, so patriotic, so romantic, so intellectual! And no dirty jobs, like informing on one's friends. Well, sometimes on foreign friends, but they are foreigners, so it doesn't really count.
A small but highly unpleasant group of APN-KGB people are the retired KGB, who think of Novosti as a charitable institution. Into this category fall some security guards, drivers, administration officials, members of the personnel department and the “military desk,” some cleaners, doormen, technicians, and, last but not least, our movie projectionist, Uncle Vasya. He was a short, chubby man, with an expressionless face bearing countless pock marks, like the face of the Great Father of All Progressive Journalists, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, whose bodyguard, they say, Uncle Vasya was. When I last saw him, Vasya's main occupation was screwing up the sequence of foreign film reels shown to the Novosti staff, and getting drunk in between.
Like most of his colleagues, the other KGB old-timers, Uncle Vasya never said a word about his past career. No wonder. These days Novosti employs quite a number of children of posthumously “rehabilitated enemies of the people,” liquidated under Stalin. Reminiscences about the old days might result in severe fractures to Uncle Vasya's skull. It should be remembered that every second family of an intellectual, writer, journalist, etc., lost at least one relative to the GULAG death camps or Lubyanka's shooting ranges. This is one reason the old guards keep wisely silent, opening doors for the children of their victims, the Novosti's “new class.” Some of the KGB's victims' children are now KGB themselves.
Naturally, we despised and avoided those who, unlike us, were stukachi-- lower-grade sleuths and informers, provocateurs and subverters of our own Novosti personnel. Even lower, in our estimation, but somewhat more attractive, was the last category of Novosti KGB: lastochki, single girls employed by the APN not so much for what they were doing officially during the daytime-- typing, filing, editing copy-- as for their ability to combine the three most ancient professions: espionage, prostitution and journalism. They knew that we, the male chauvinists of Novosti, had a long-established unwritten rule: never get involved with a Novosti girl, or you will give the KGB an easy time collecting information about you. Only those comrades with high Party standing could occasionally violate this rule, for the cause of the Party, no doubt.
How does one distinguish a KGB-APN from a non-KGB? Basically, by the possession of certain objects and rights which most ordinary citizens, including Novosti rank and file, are denied. The most valuable asset, in a society which hungers for information, is freedom to socialize with outsiders and obtain information from them. So this is the first and foremost attribute of a Novosti employee working for the KGB. Relative affluence is the second.
This latter includes a rather long list of possessions granted to an employee in return for his or her services: television sets, tape recorders, cameras, or an export model of a Soviet-made car (Lada, instead of Zhiguli, for instance), or even an imported car (Fiat, VW, Skoda); a better apartment in a certain district of Moscow. Every Novosti old-timer knows that if a person lives in Kutuzovski Prospect, Naberezhnaya Frunze, or in several newly-developed areas around Moscow, chances are he is a KGB agent.
Access to a foreign currency shop (Beryozka) and possession of sertificaty may be another indication. This inevitably leads to foreign-made clothes and shoes, tape recorders and transistor radios, and other decadent capitalist toys.
All this in combination with frequent attendance at diplomatic parties, picnics with foreigners, an abundance of imported liquor, the presence of lastochki, access to “closed” libraries containing foreign magazines and newspapers, frequent trips across the USSR and outside with foreign (and Soviet) delegations, are unmistakable features of a KGB cooperative, or even a full-time KGB agent.
Even more so numerous phone calls during office hours and quiet disappearances for lunch, tendentious forgiveness of blunders and professional mistakes by the bosses, or even of extreme laziness on the job, frivolous anti-Soviet anecdotes and loose talk on issues considered taboo for mere mortals.
Most of these things are easily observed by anyone with minimum intelligence and knowledge of the Soviet system. One principle remains true all through: anyone employed by a media organ of ideological significance (unlike, say, a magazine on fishery), and dealing with foreign media and their representatives, automatically falls under KGB control. There is simply no such thing, in the Motherland of Socialism, as a journalist in the international arena independent of the KGB.
THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF UNTRUTH
An abundant source of raw material for Novosti propaganda can be found in foreign media, both “progressive” and “reactionary.” Any leftist or openly Communist (wherever they are legalized) newspaper as a rule toes the Soviet propaganda line and reprints an average of 40% of the materials which are supplied either by Novosti itself (directly or through the foreign bureau of APN), or written locally. Some are borrowed from press releases of TASS, and from Soviet “official” publications abroad (such as Soviet Life, Soviet Land, Soviet Woman), and finally from publications of various front organizations created and maintained by the Central Committee through KGB or Novosti (World Council of Churches, World Peace Council, all sorts of “anti” groups-- antiwar, antipollution, antinuclear, some trade unions and radical student groups, etc.).
A great part of the local coverage of such events as strikes, anti-establishment demonstrations, or violent clashes between the police and “protesters,” almost automatically finds its place on the pages of leftist media, and is consequently picked up by Novosti for reprocessing as “an expression of predominant public opinion.”
All these reports, depicting the West (or free Eastern countries, such as South Korea, Philippines or Thailand) in the darkest possible colors, are lovingly collected by Novosti personnel abroad and sent to Moscow. Here the material is updated, distorted, supplied with editorial comments and such references as: “quoted from an influential Western (Eastern) newspaper” (The Daily Worker, Aka Hata, etc.), and re-issued to foreign countries, sometimes the countries of its origin, this time as Novosti releases.
A considerable amount of this propaganda is used by the Soviet domestic media for the purpose of convincing the people of the USSR that the outside world, in strict accordance with the prophecies of the classics from Marx to Suslov, rapidly stagnates and is ripe for “liberation” by the world Communist movement, or as the media calls it, “national liberation forces.” Sometimes, for authenticity, Pravda or Izvestia would even reprint a facsimile of the front page of a foreign Communist periodical. The most common cause of such “borrowing” is the reprinting of photographs from foreign publications and supplying them to the Soviet (or socialist countries') domestic media with APN-made captions, with distorted or totally opposite meanings.
The impact of such propaganda on the Soviet public opinion is substantial. If not the content itself, then the mere fact of its existence, unpunished and unopposed by the Free World, impresses an uninformed Soviet reader in favor of the “historically inevitable advance of Communism the world over.” In combination with “straight” news about various “majority rule” and “anti-colonial” wars successfully waged by the Soviet-trained and indoctrinated terrorists forces in Asia, Africa and Latin America, this further convinces the Soviet public, even those who have access to short-wave foreign broadcasts, that Communism IS victorious, invincible and desired by millions of their “developing” brothers. The final and tragic result of it for the Soviet people is that if and when a Soviet soldier were given an order to “liberate” Afghanistan, Angola or El Salvador, he would do it with unprecedented cruelty, in direct proportion to his ignorance and the volume of propaganda pumped into him, thanks to the vicious circle of untruth.
The “reactionary” media, not under the direct control of Communists or the KGB, also renders a great service to Novosti by focusing its attention mainly on bad news as though it were the only news fit to print. Such sensational stories as Watergate, CIA wrongdoings, the Pentagon Papers, etc., forcibly fed to the public, are a great inspiration for the APN, but contribute hardly anything to the restoration of justice in America. Most of the materials of that type were reprocessed by a special Department of Political Publications (GRPP), headed in the 1960's by Norman Borodin, a KGB disinformation expert.
The most useful internal source of propaganda material is Novosti’s daily press release, some thirty pages thick, containing from six to ten articles from the Soviet or “brotherly Socialist” media (both printed and electronic), and sometimes from leftist foreign media, all pre-packaged and already translated (badly) into four European languages: English, German, Spanish and French. If, on orders from my boss comrade Makhotin, I found several appropriate articles in Komsomolskaya Pravda or Krasnaya Zvezda, before I bothered to sit down and edit them for Indian readers I would check the title list in the morning APN bulletin. If my titles were in it, I would simply wait for an English copy of the bulletin, which came to our room after lunch, tear the needed article from my copy of the bulletin, attach the anketa, maybe cut out two or three paragraphs, and voila! put it on Makhotin's desk.
The APN bulletin was an excellent filler, but not sufficiently high quality to meet some requests by Indian newspapers. In this case I had two alternatives: either process the English copy myself, rewriting parts of it in an appropriate style for Indian readers, write a new original under my own name combining something from TASS, something from the clipping room files, and something from my own imagination. The latter needed a special OK from Makhotin or a senior editor of the section. Sometimes the subject assigned to me was unfamiliar to me, and I had another alternative: find an author within Novosti who happened to be an expert in the given field. This took some telephoning, some running along corridors, some chasing into the cafeteria or a restaurant, and finally, a certain power of persuasion.
Not unlike the GULAG prison “research institutes,” called sharashki, where our people's state lovingly collects experts in all imaginable professions, from snake charmers to rocket designers, Novosti employs several hundred jacks of all trades good for only one thing: fabricating the “truth.” Without leaving the premises of APN, one may find an author capable of writing an article on almost any subject. They may be officially employed (oformleny) as junior or senior editors, commentators, translators, layout artists or even typists, but come the chance and inspiration (in the form of a fat honorarium), they spring into creative activity.
We had our own astronomers and mathematicians in a special science department headed by a Madame Lunacharsky, the daughter of the late famous Soviet commissar of culture, who, so the story goes, saved dozens of pre-revolutionary intellectuals from Lenin's labor camps or Dzerzhinsky’s execution basements. Madame Lunacharsky did not have to do the same, thanks to Brezhnev: today all our worthy intellectuals are simply treated as mental cases and sent to Serbsky Institute, affiliated with the KGB.
We had our own agronomists, on a par with Lysenko, or possibly better, for during all their career within Novosti they never need bother to visit a collective farm, find a “sabotazhnik” refusing to grow corn Khrushchev style, and send him to the KGB prison, the way Lysenko did to hundreds of his opponents in agriculture.
Novosti Space Bluff
“Conquering space” was Novosti's favorite subject for propaganda, from the time of its establishment. Space research was also the most salable subject in the West. Novosti, while losing money on topics like collectivization or “national liberation,” made a fortune selling rhapsodic, sweet stories about Soviet space “pilots,” from Yuri Gagarin on, to stupid Western (and Eastern) newspapers and magazines.
The initial Soviet space “ships” were nothing but tin cans launched into orbit, with a helpless Cosmonaut huddled inside, just to impress the West and to prove non-existent Soviet supremacy in the space race.
To keep the hard currency rolling in, Novosti opened a special “space center,” headed by a curly-haired young man, the son-in-law of a famous (but under an assumed name, for reasons of secrecy) Soviet space rocket designer. This curly cretin, who looked like a football player, walked Novosti's corridors in foreign-tailored suits, imitating an American movie star. From time to time he would call dispatch for a black Volga car with a radio-telephone to rush him at breakneck speed from Novosti's glass entrance to the “Star City.” He was one of the few APN staffers privileged with a permanent pass to the “Star City,” a small suburban township where Soviet cosmonauts and their families live in conditions similar to those of American university students. There was no need for paranoid security arrangements such as tall fences with barbed wire at the top, guard dogs and sentries with machine guns. The Soviet space guinea-pigs (called “pilots” in the Western press) didn't know any secrets worth stealing (apart from the commonly known “secret” that the Soviet space research programs were designed mainly for military and aggressive purposes). The most insane PLO terrorist would not dare or bother to kidnap the cosmonauts, knowing pretty well that the Kremlin would not give a kopeck of ransom for the lives of the “pilots.” The main purpose of the security was to conceal the relative affluence of the Star City inhabitants from the hungry stares of common Soviet people. They say there is a self-service gastronom (grocery store) where one takes as much food into a cart (a cart, not a bag!) as one wishes…
On returning from the Star City sometimes in the company of a suspiciously happy foreigner or two, all of them breathing vodka, our curly cretin would be frantically active for a couple of days. Cosmonauts would meet foreign guests, sign autographs, give interviews and smile for cameramen. The result of all this farce was usually several articles in respectable Western magazines, such as Pari-March, with lots of photographs which made our space monkeys look like a hybrid of Tarzan and Einstein and Levitan and Rostropovich: they played cellos, wrote endless formulae on blackboards, painted imaginary scenery from distant planets, did unimaginable tricks on the parallel bars, and above all, were dedicated Party members and excellent family men. Large circulation foreign papers picked this up obediently, especially if we claimed that the stuff was “exclusive,” or better yet, “secret,” and de-classified only as a personal favor of APN to George Pompidu.
The space features supposedly written by the cosmonauts, and supplemented with impressive drawings and diagrams were okayed not by our Novosti censors, but somewhere high above, possibly by comrade Korolyov himself (the chief Soviet space rocket designer, who died in the early 1970's). The stuff was written, though, not by any cosmonauts, but by the same curly schizoid who headed Novosti’s “space center”; and far from being “exclusively” written for any client, it was a typical APN mass production designed to convince the duped Western (even more so Eastern) public of the supremacy of the “new man of the Communist tomorrow.”
Unlike the “useful idiots” of the Western media, we the Novosti men of that time knew well that the Soviet supermen simply did not have time for playing cellos and attending to their families; most of their time was divided roughly between alcoholic orgies in Moscow’s Sandoony steambaths, and being exploited as instruments for propaganda during various “international scientific and peace forums.”
After Yuri Gagarin died in a jet plane crash, we were the first “ordinary people” to hear the rumors that our lovable superman was gloriously drunk, and some of us, who knew Gagarin personally, suspected that Yuri preferred death-- in space or on Mother Earth-- to the miserable existence of a propaganda doll. But even this tragic event Novosti turned to the advantage of propaganda, hinting in several “unofficially leaked” reports something to the effect that, “One dare not call himself Russian if he is not fond of a fast troika ride” (an expression popularized by Gogol, a classic 19th century Russian writer).
Space mania lasted roughly from 1963 to 1969, the time of the spectacular American landing on the moon, skillfully played down by some Western media traitors. All these years we knew that our “achievements” were a bluff and could not help but feel sorry about the enthusiasm of the Western media. Few of us were brave enough to give a tip to foreign press, but would they listen to us? Several years later Soviet defector L. Vladimirov-Finkelstein, former editor of a science magazine, tried stubbornly to break through the wall of naïveté and ignorance of Western publishers and to reveal the truth about the space race in his brilliant and brutally honest book “Russian Space Bluff.” It took the US landing on the moon to make the West change its mind about the faked Soviet space “supremacy” and get rid of its inferiority complex. It only proves, to my mind, how deadly efficient Novosti's propaganda [can be].
Human Interest Propaganda
Apart from the subject of space, Novosti would periodically have fits of propaganda on various topics of “human interest.” There was never a lack of authors within Novosti capable of concocting anything in this area. Thus, in the mid-sixties, simultaneously with the KGB-inspired student riots in Western universities, Novosti unfolded a “Youth Campaign,” trying to prove to the decadent West that we do not have any “gaps” between our generations. We are monolithic, united and profoundly patriotic! More, we are internationalists, always ready to extend our helping hand to all the oppressed youth in capitalist countries (which we did very successfully!). At the time your Jane Fondas and Pete Seegers promoted “peace” in Vietnam, singing: “[Billy], don't be a hero, don't go to war,” our Novosti boys were busy concocting fiery propaganda songs on the “liberation struggle.” Partly thanks to APN and Fondas, America [was] stalemated by barefoot bandits in Asia and plunged into endless radical youth terrorism at home. The Novosti authors of the “youth” propaganda had sleepless nights and endless alcoholic cycles, burdened with guilt for what we did to the feeble minds of Western youth. Fondas and Seegers do not have even a hint of repentance.
Yielding to the renaissance of Russian Christianity after half a century of atheistic Communism (a phenomenon comparable to the revival of Zionism and Hebrew in Israel), Novosti in the late 60's and early 70's started vigorously promoting the “Old Mother Russia” motif in its propaganda. We wanted to prove to the world that we love our churches and keep them in perfect order as museums, and to let the tourists see our freedom of faith.
Most of Novosti's foreign periodicals carried cover photos of countless troikas, blinis, samovars, icons, etc.-- the stuff naive Westerners love so much. It was fun for the foreign media, and a chance for APN to earn extra money, but also a time to shine for some genuine lovers of Russia's neglected and trampled culture. I knew a fellow who was a self-made expert on old Russian architecture and folklore. On his day off, instead of wasting his time watching football or hockey on TV, he would spend the day walking through Moscow countryside villages in search of ruins of old churches and monasteries. He had a large collection of photographs of Russia's past monuments. For several years, though officially a junior editor of Soviet Land magazine (part of India's section), he was an authority for Novosti's “Mother Russia” campaign.
Less spectacular authors wrote on metallurgy, postage stamps, telekinesis, heart transplants, ballet, sports, etc.
The sports section of Novosti catered very successfully to the sensationalist tastes of such media clients as Canada's CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Obsessed with hockey, the Canadians paid Novosti astronomical sums for grossly unfair matches between such rivals as professional (in the commercial sense) Canadian teams and the “amateur” gladiators of the Soviet Army. Naturally, Novosti never forgot the main purpose of the deal: to convince the Canadian (and other Western) hockey addicts that Socialist hockey is invincible!
Some Novosti sports commentators were of as high a journalistic caliber as their Western counterparts or higher. I personally knew Sasha Mariamov, a tall, skinny fellow of about 35 whose sports reviews read like detective stories. These pieces of propaganda I would dispatch to the Indian media feeling no guilt; they were more or less harmless and did not call for any “class struggle.”
Indo-Soviet Friendship: My Cup of Tea
The privilege of writing “originals” on subjects related to Indo-Soviet relations was, of course, given to the staff of the Asian Department (GRSAS), including myself. The OK was given to me by comrade Makhotin in those cases where neither the clipping files nor any other part of Novosti's plumbing contained the needed material, or when there was a chance to cover some Indo-Soviet happening in Moscow.
The latter included such occasions as, for example, the opening or an exhibition, ironically, of Indian dolls and puppets in a branch of Moscow's Museum of Oriental Cultures. The process of covering such an event is similar to that in any other country's media, with certain peculiarities. They were always attended by exactly the same set of people, a kind of professional team of “official guests.” Whether it was a puppet exhibition, or an “evening of Indo-Soviet economic cooperation anniversary” in the Friendship House, or whatever, I always met the same “representative of the Soviet public”: illiterate professor of Indian languages Dr. Balabushevich, for instance. Or youngish divorcee Irina Ershova, an official of the “USSR-India Friendship Society.” Comrade Ershova was a pretty lady who had the unusual ability to sit long hours in various presidiums without showing the slightest sign of boredom or tendency to fall asleep. She was a lovely and almost compulsory decoration to any Indo-Soviet propaganda gathering.
Another must was a young but extremely promising diplomat, Igor Boni, several years a consular official in Bombay, who had acquired the reputation of a “pukka sahib” (real gentleman) among the Indian staff for his fluent Hindustani and flawless manners.
His opposite was a professor of Hindustani from the Moscow Institute of Foreign Relations, comrade Oleg Ultsiferov, an uncultivated young man speaking fluent but badly broken Urdu, especially while consuming considerable volumes of liquor at diplomatic receptions. This character would appear to be very trustworthy; many would confide in him; and all the secrets and the gossip were guaranteed to reach the KGB in record time.
A valuable contribution to any gathering was KGB Colonel Erzin, dean of something-or-other at the notorious spy school called the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University. Comrade Colonel also spoke some foreign languages.
After these there would follow an assortment of small fry: several students from Lumumba, a couple of lastochki from UPDKA (the department of the KGB rendering domestic and secretarial services to foreign diplomats in Moscow), and finally, a troika of Indian diplomats: sometimes his excellency Kewal Singh, the ambassador, and a combination of first and second secretaries (Mr. Lamba, Mr. Dhume, Mr. Dhundyal, Mr. Mahajan or Mr. Sidharth Singh).
“Friendship meetings” always proceeded in the same order. First Dr. Balabushevich would read from a typewritten page something no one in the audience could understand or bothered to listen to. Several Indian students would secretly hold hands with lastochki, or with girls who worked in garment factories named after Rosa Luxembourg or Clara Tzetkin, invited to Dom Druzhby as a filler, to become a “collective member” of the USSR-India Friendship Society, in a ceremony at the end of the evening.
The ambassador of India would then take the floor and say something nice about the Russian winter, carefully avoiding mention of the Bhilai Steel Plant or any other industrial monster, for which India is supposed to be eternally thankful to the USSR. (That would not prevent me from inserting it into my report for Novosti, anyway). By the end of the ambassador's speech some Indian boys would have exchanged telephone numbers with Russian girls and move one step further, from holding hands to touching knees. When the lights would go off and a new documentary on old Bhilai started, some hands would go around waists. After the movie the lucky ones would go to dance in the adjacent hall, others down to the bullet to have a beer and discuss politics (ever so carefully!).
Long before the party was over, I would leave for Novosti, sometimes in an office car with an APN photographer, my article almost ready. Most of it had been written in advance anyway, with blank spaces for names and percentages of growth.
During a “youth” propaganda campaign I concocted several articles for Soviet Land. One of them I remember with especially bitter feelings. My boss at the time, comrade Surov, a gray and humorless invalid (his leg was wounded), wanted me to find an Indian student at Moscow State University (MGU) and ask his (or her) impressions of Moscow. I found not only a student of physics, Ashok Kumar, studying superconductivity under ultra-low temperatures in a cryogen laboratory, but also Savitri, a pretty girl from Nepal, studying medicine, who wanted to be a pediatrician in the Himalayan mountains. Both were very happy, talkative and sociable. They related to me stories about their trips across the USSR during vacations, their life in the MGU obshchezhitiye (dorms) where they had to share rooms with two or three other Soviet students (for more complete indoctrination, not for lack of space, but they did not know it), about the eating habits of Russians as opposed to Indians, etc. A human interest story was on the way!
But the old hack Surov rejected both interviews. According to him, they both lacked the expression of gratitude which supposedly overflows in the hearts of Indian students for their “free education” in the USSR, towards the Soviet people, our government and our glorious Party. He wanted me to include “their” thoughts, that such a paradise as MGU is possible only thanks to the scientific theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism. He insisted that I put in the Indians' mouths admiration of the “fact” that in “brotherly multi-racial” Moscow there is no discrimination, unlike the USA, where our guests would hardly find a friend for being “colored.”
I wasted my time explaining to comrade Surov that both my Indian students were aware of frequent racial scandals within MGU between Russian and African boys fighting over Russian girls, and the drunken orgies some of the “liberated” black brothers organized in the dorms, and the brutal treatment of some “black-asses” by the druzhinniki (voluntary Komsomol police). I could have explained also the surprise expressed by the Indians that any political activity except that prescribed by Komsomol is strictly banned in MGU. But the boss wanted only the “truth.”
Another frequent assignment was coverage of “press conferences” with visiting Indian VIPs. I remember when, in July of 1966, Mr. Kumaraswami Kamaraj, an outstanding member of the Indian National Congress Party and an opponent of Indira Gandhi's faction, came to Moscow. The Kremlin wanted to cultivate him, as he might win the intra-party struggle for leadership and become the prime minister. On July 30, Novosti and Foreign Affairs staged a marvelous farce in the grand hall of the Metropol Hotel.
The Indian guest pretended not to notice that “media representatives” asked him only questions which already contained answers, and most of the answers were in favor of Soviet foreign policy. Every Novosti person, including myself, prior to arriving at the Metropol, had been given his “questions” typed on a piece of paper, to memorize, or to read aloud if memory failed. My question was about the positive effect of the spirit of the Indo-Pakistani peace conference of Tashkent on the establishment of stability and mutual security on the Indian subcontinent. Getting Mr. Kamaraj's affirmative answer, I simply incorporated a few of his words into an already typewritten “report” on the press conference.
The next morning, Pravda and other Soviet central papers carried the rhapsody to Soviet peace-making efforts. And as far as I knew, at that very moment Soviet submarines were making a home in the Indian ports of Bombay and Visakhapatnam, Soviet air force advisors were training Indians to fly MIGs, and the Soviet Defense Ministry was pushing more and more Soviet-made military hardware on both India and Pakistan, trying to make both dependent on our supplies.
The covering of trade agreement signing ceremonies was more pleasant. One might actually see and even touch some articles of shirpotreb (consumer demand) which average Soviet people would never see, for most of them are sold in closed shops for nomenklatura only. I loved most of the exhibitions and informal parts of the ceremonies which followed the actual signing and the abstract speeches (the only interesting part of which would be the response of the Soviet trade representatives. The comrades would put so much emphasis on “mutually beneficial trade,” their eyes shining with delight and expectation, that I almost visualized the concrete meaning of these words to the fat apparatchiks (bureaucrats): we give you turbines made by our slaves, in exchange for those lovely leather shoes for us and leopard fur coats for our wives, and copper plates and jewelry to decorate our apartments…).
Cocktails would follow. In the beginning of the Soviet-Indian trade era, Indian hosts would hire waiters to carry silver trays loaded with delicate cocktail glasses and exquisite Indian hors d'oeuvres: shish-kebabs, pakora, pani-puri, etc. Later, after learning the Soviet way of life, the Indians abandoned this etiquette. The booze would be dumped unceremoniously on one of the tables, next to a pile of plastic cups-- self-service po potrebnosti (according to needs-- a Socialist principle implemented only for the nomenklatura).
And finally, as an unplanned source of propaganda material, sometimes we were allowed to find our own topics for the “originals” and “exclusives.” That I always did at my own risk, for there is no guarantee that a story which takes me four days to prepare may not be thrown into the waste basket, and instead of an honorarium I may get a reprimand from the Party boss. One such story was my innocent opus about pen pals corresponding between India and the USSR.
They were schoolchildren. I found them in the Dom Pionerov (Young Pioneers Club) on Vorobyov Hills. They were smart little devils, at the tender age of 6 already learning how to outsmart the all-forbidding Soviet State.
Correspondence with foreigners is unofficially prohibited in our country; it is overtly discouraged, and secretly tampered with at the special section of the main post office (Glavpochtampt). The clever kids invented a “collectivized” version of pen pal correspondence, writing their letters in the presence of the senior Komsomol counselor (pionervozhatyi). Thus there was an appearance of legitimacy and ideological control. The ratio of correspondence was about one-to-ten in favor of the Soviets: for each “collective” letter sent, the Moscow kids would receive at least a dozen replies from the Indian kids, who had not yet learned the advantages of the socialist system and wrote individually, and without any control. Thus every week the Soviet kids had a pretty large collection of Indian and Pakistani postage stamps, which they successfully converted into rubles at the black market spot in Kuznetski Most Street.
Naturally, I did not mention the profit motive, untypical for Soviet children. I wrote about peace and friendship, mentioning the stamp “exchange” only briefly. But that was enough to awaken the suspicion of my boss, comrade Surov, who, as it turned out later, was himself a postage stamp collector and was aware of the potential profit in the hobby. The opus was scrapped, and I only hoped the young pioneers were not investigated for profiteering.
A convenient source of endless “originals” was Soviet travelogues with visiting foreign guests of Novosti. I was attached to a large number of delegations from India and Pakistan during my career in Moscow. Thus I earned considerable extra money in the form of honorariums and also as leftovers from my travel allowances. During those years I took our unsuspecting guests at least a hundred times along the same officially prescribed tour of Potyomkin’s collective farms, and wined and dined them in the same Intourist hotels. I would bet that if, in some distant future, all the “progressive” Indians would get together, they might discover a lot in common about their trip to the USSR.
By the end of my Moscow era, I knew almost every waitress by name: every nurse in every “typical” kindergarten, intimately; every Soviet ballet, ad nauseum; and I could walk Hermitage, Tretyakovskaya Gallery and Sofia Cathedral in Kiev with my eyes closed and my mind switched off. Even after defection to the West, I feel nauseous when I watch on TV a Soviet ballet on a tour in the West. Also I have a strong allergy to classical paintings and daycare centers.
Continued in Part Three.