KINDLING – PART IV: Many faces of the Soviet Union

Meeting Russians Hardliners

The Russians, in the past, and present, have a fear of losing their vast lands to the West.   This paranoia has some merit with even the United States invading Russia on Sept. 4, 1918 at Archangel in the Vladivostok region.  The attempt was made to quell the Bolshevik revolution and our 4500 troops were quickly defeated by the Red Army.  It is a matter of history and related in part to the First World War with Russia engaged fighting against the Germans.  This war was very unpopular in Russia and boosted the rise of the 1917 Lenin led Bolshevik revolution. It is all in the history books with extensive coverage of  the unsuccessful U.S. military conflict in Siberia.

Our group of 12 U.S. exchange journalists and two State Department officials continued our extensive tour of the USSR in October and November of 1975.  Since I came from rural Colorado, and a small town, I was  more comfortable than most of my traveling companions who were critical of food, lodging, and life in general.  I was there to learn, not to judge what I would see and hear.

For several weeks, since I was still in the army reserves, I think the Soviets thought I might be a spy.  They learned that this was not the case and I was accepted by our communist hosts.

I witnessed some American tourists who were not respectful; not happy with rooms, food, and service.  This was the case then, and still can abound today; we tend to be pretty picky about lifestyles. In 1975 at the time of this journalist exchange, times were tough in the USSR.

Food was in short supply; meat was sold in meat markets where the butchers would hoist the meat offerings that included chickens and ducks.  Vodka was abundant and the Soviets knew how to toast and consume the entire glass in one drink.  Alcoholism was considered a national challenge and most social issues stemmed from Soviet crowded living conditions exacerbated by crowded apartment complexes built in conclaves near the rail and subway facililies.  The subway system was well constructed and neat as a pin.

The first real rude conflict that we endured during the trip was surprisingly with fellow Soviet journalists in the editorial board room of Izvestiya, the largest national newspaper.  It took about 10 minutes to catch a lot of grief from Lev Nickoleyevich Tokunov, the editor in chief of the newspaper and a communist central committee member.

He was by far the toughest “hardliner” that we encountered on the entire trip.  He appeared “polite,” peering through his colored glasses as he told us we were corrupting  our children, that crime and violence had overtaken our nation, and that our literature was not fit for any of their citizens or children to read.  My thoughts after that meeting  was that it was this type of man that Kissinger and Ford must deal with and that certainly must not be an easy task. We now know that under President Reagan the Soviet empire collapsed.

Just as a side note, Denver newspaper publisher  Dean Singleton, while serving as president of The Associated Press in the early 2000s, visited Moscow to advise the Russians on how to have a  free and independent press.  Something not found around the world today with newspapers shuttered and silenced in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba and now Hong Kong.

To Be Continued.