The Soviet Union Observed
by Shaileen Kopec
THE SOVIET UNION, like anynation, is a product of its history and, at the same time, a malleable abstraction groping toward an unknown future. What made the Marist Educational Friendship Tour last March to the Soviet Union so special was timing. We saw a nation, led by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in the throes of change perhaps no less dramatic than the Russian Revolution of 1917 which culminated in the proclamation in 1922 of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The tour itinerary-selected by Dr. Casimir Norkeliunas, Marist's professor of Russian and leader of the tour-included visits to the nation's most ancient and important centers of culture, history and political power. There were Moscow, the symbolic heart of the Soviet Union and the government center; Leningrad, Russia's young, Europeanized city, the former capital, the world's most northerly city; Vladimir and Suzdal, ancient centers of Russian Orthodoxy, which this year is celebrating its millennium. All four are in the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, or what we call Russia.
Some of the 34 travelers on the tour, including undergraduate students, adult students and people from the community, took the trip for college credit. Others, such as myself, went for personal enrichment. The sightseeing and the history lessons that filled much of our days were only some of the memorable aspects of the trip. Another, perhaps more personally profound aspect for me, was seeing the people living there now, watching them, talking with them, learning from them. Seeing the kind of daily conditions the Russians live in was itself an experience more valuable than anything I could have learned from a book, particularly at this point in the nation's current affairs. I remember when we were preparing for the trip we were warned-despite glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction)-not to talk about politics with the Soviets we would meet. But, as it turned out, it was they, our Soviet guides in particular, who initiated such discussions.
"There were more people killed during (Joseph) Stalin's time than any other in our country," admitted one of our guides during a bus ride from Suzdal to Moscow. She said that she was neither "defending" Stalin nor "destroying" him. She, like so many other Russians, it seemed to me then, was at last trying to come to grips with an honest and public appraisal of a tyrant who for so long had been held sacred and above criticism. "It is so complicated," she said. "There were evil things, but there were also good things. It is human nature to divide this into good or bad, but that's not the way it is."
Still, despite the changes, there was the silent, suppressed, sad Russia. In Leningrad, leaving the Hermitage Museum, we stepped out into the snow, exhilarated at having seen some of the world's finest works of art. But I was suddenly upset when I saw the long line of Soviets waiting to get in. I remembered how foreign tourists are let in ahead of Soviets at museums, and while I enjoyed this privilege I felt at that moment that it was unfair. The group silently stared at us with a penetrating but emotionless stare. I looked back at them, a little self-consciously, and noticed how they were all waiting so patiently as a few others in our group frolicked in the falling snow.
Another reminder was the shortage of consumer goods. The black market for Western fashions is such that one student on the trip was offered $200 for his blue denim, fleece-lined jacket and $150 for his Ray Ban sunglasses. Also, when we tipped taxi drivers and hotel clerks we did not use money but ball-point pens, bars of soap, pairs of stockings, small bottles of hand lotion and bitesized chocolates. American cigarettes are especially prized. Even children learn at an early age to mine foreigners for treasures from the West. At more places than I can count, young people approached us, asking, "You trade?" which meant they wanted chewing gum in exchange for a small souvenir pin. It all seemed so demeaning to me, but in reality it was not so to them. "We want it," a guide told me.
During the end of our trip I realized that I never once saw a parent with more than one child. I mentioned this to another guide and she explained that, despite financial incentives given to parents to have more children, the average family in the cities has no more than one child. Our guide described to us what the Russians call a "Mother Hero." She is a woman who has at least six children. After the birth of her sixth child, she is given a large apartment, money and a van. Yet, the guide said, there are few takers.
Once, looking down from my 19th floor room in the massive Cosmos Hotel in Moscow, I saw a large skating rink full of children, sliding around on their shoes. A father chased his young son on the ice and the father let himself be chased. After a moment, it struck me how similar the whole scene was to something you'd see in some small town in America.
There is reason to hope that differences between our two countries will someday be less worrisome and threatening as each of us opens up to the other, and even shares a laugh. During a floor show intermission at a farewell banquet in Moscow I went looking for the women's room. I learned the hard way to look very carefully at the carved wooden silhouettes on the bathroom doors when, in Vladimir I mistakenly walked into the men's room. This time, certain of the skirted carving, I pushed open the door and was suddenly face-to-face with a portly Russian man wearing a hotel uniform. I looked at him and he looked at me. I looked at the sign, and then our eyes met again and he burst out in a hearty laugh and bowed with a flourish to allow me in. Then, with a grin he boomed out, "Perestroika!"
It is important for us to see how the Soviets live. It is equally important, however, for them to see how we live, and one encouraging sign of this was on the Aeroflot plane coming back to New York. We learned that on board there were several Lithuanians going to visit relatives who had emigrated to the United States years before. Dr. Norkeliunas was especially excited because he himself had emigrated from Lithuania to the United States when he was a child. I watched him as he walked around talking to them in their native tongue. Once he came back to tell me about them. One man who'd been imprisoned in Siberia for 22 years was on his way to visit his brother in Queens. A 94-year-old woman was going to visit her sister. "One woman's brother is a famous artist and she hasn't seen him for 47 years," he said. Dr. Norkeliunas paused and then continued. "Imagine having Ireland closed off for 47 years," he said, referring to my Irish heritage.
"It's really happening," he said to me after talking with the Lithuanians. "I can't believe it. Gorbachev is really doing good things."
Marist Friendship Tour provides a firsthand look
Marist student Jennifer Nacif posses with a group of Soviet soldiers in Moscow's Red Square. Even a year ago, taking photos of soldiers would have been prohibited.
Window shopping on Red Square
by Alice Provensen
ALICE PROVENSEN, of Clinton Hollow, N. Y., is a distinguished writer and illustrator of children' literature. Provensen, with her late husband, Martin, has written and illustrated more than 50 books. The Provensenr earned numerous awards, including two prestigious Caldecott Medal awards, the more recent of which was in 1984 for The Glorious Flight. At Mariat's 1987 Commencement, the Provensens were awarded a joint honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Provensen war one of the 34 travelers to the Soviet Union on the Marist Educational Friendship Tour. Pictured in the background it the Cathedral of St. Bail the Blessed in Moscow's Red Square. (The .sign reads: Official Use Only. ) While in the Soviet Union, she kept a detailed diary. Following it an excerpt describing her foray into the Soviet Union' largest store in Moscow, G. U. M., the State Universal Department Store. "The descriptions of the Soviet ,stores round like rather a negative criticism, " Provensen raid. "I don't intend them that way, but only as an observation. Consumer good are, after all, what a part of perestroika it about."
G.U.M., the state department store on Red Square, is a three-tiered, glass enclosed Victorian-like structure-in concept, a shopping mall. Its three-storied aisles are lined with small shops selling clothing, lingerie, men's wear, shoes, fabrics, linens, household appliances, kitchen uternsils and hardware, each in its cubicle, each with its patient customers, each with its separate line at the cashier, each with its poor merchandise. Everything looked as though it had been designed and fabricated in Iowa in the 1930's.
I stood on an iron balcony looking down at the whole complex. There was a gray and white crow-sized Russian bird perched on a baroque lighting fixture. He seemed to have the run of the entire enclosure.
I didn't buy anything but I was intrigued by what I saw. I began to spend what little spare time I had looking in shop windows and going in shops when they were open.
The home furnishing stores are the equivalent of our Salvation Army stores. The upholstered furniture is hideous, but I did see a few fragile, pretty chairs lacquered with the same designs as the Khokloma wooden bowls.
The home electrical appliance store had one iron, two fans, three hot plates and a few miscellaneous grinders, choppers and percolators. The lamps were, again, vintage 1930's. The refrigerators were small and fragile looking, and expensive. The clothes washers were scarcely automatic.
I ran into Natasha, our guide, in a shoe store. We debated the quality and appearance of a pair of shoes she wanted to buy for her husband. They were leather with composition soles and cost 60 rubles (one-quarter month's pay). They looked to me rather like inexpensive K-Mart shoes and were almost yellow in color. Most of the men and women in Moscow and Leningrad wore smart-looking shoes or boots. I didn't see them for sale any where.
The Gastronom shops in Moscow must be some sort of chain. I saw them everywhere. Again a largish space is divided into small cubicles selling, respectively, meat, fish, pastries, vegetables, delicatessen products, milk, eggs, bread, candies and bottled waters. There was not a large supply of any of it.
The fish looked fresh. The meat cuts were unrecognizable. Green peppers, onions, cabbage, carrots and dried mushrooms were offered at the green grocers-all winter vegetables. I wondered where the peppers came from. There were apples and small hard oranges for sale. Potatoes were plentiful, as were cereal grains and pasta in small packages.
It must take several hours to get a meal on the table. There were lines of four or five people at each stall where one was given a chit for the intended purchase. The accumulated chits were taken to a central cashier, again a line, this time very long. The accounting was done on an abacus. The food was paid for and marked-paid chits were then taken back to the respective stalls to pick up the original purchase, again standing in line to do so.
If a Russian were to wander around an ordinary Shop-Rite or a Caldor he would probably think we must have sold our souls. Perhaps he would be willing to go to the devil as well.
Hope and Change in the Soviet Union
by Casimir Norkelinuas
An Interview with Dr. Casimir Norkeliunas
Dr. Casimir Norkeliunas
AT THE SOVIET UNION'S Communist Party conference during the summer, the Soviet leader,Mikhail Gorbachev, gained widespread support for his unprecedented proposals of glasnost-opennessand perestroika-reconstruction. What was additionally striking were the candid admissions by many leaders of the failings of the Soviet system.
Dr. Casimir Norkeliunas, associate professor of Russian at Marist, who led the Marist Educational Friendship Tour to the Russian Republic last winter, has a sense that life there truly is changing for the better. His insights are especially meaningful; he was born in the Soviet Union Kybarti, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania. The Norkeliunas family emigrated to the United States in 1949. Norkeliunas, 51, has been a member of the Marist faculty since 1963, and helped develop the Russian major and minor at Marist in cooperation with Vassar College and the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. Norkeliunas is also an adjunct professor of Russian civilization at SUNY NewPaltz. The following interview was conducted by James Kullander, assistant director of public relations, who also recently visited the Soviet Union, traveling on the Trans-Siberian train from Beijing, China to Moscow and visiting many of the same cities as the Marist Educational Friendship Tour.
KULLANDER: For the past year we have been reading in the newspapers a great deal about the changes proposed in the Soviet Union, about glasnost and perestroika. Solzhenitsyn, as you point out in a paper of yours, has been telling the West that there cannot be any form of communism other than evil, there are no better variances of communism, that it is incapable ofgrowing kinder. What does Gorbachev's proposal offer the common man and woman in the Soviet Union?
NORKELIUNAS: Greater economic opportunity in the future and a better standard of living. The reforms are addressed to improve and to modernize the country's economic backwardness.
The statistics that moved Gorbachev to introduce these reforms probably came forth at the 27th Party Congress in February 1986. It was there that after assuming leadership, he brainstormed the problems of the country. He had a whole army of experts who looked at certain aspects of the economy in industry and consumer goods, and I think that he conducted a think-tank approach on what some of the key problems were, and are still, in the Soviet Union. And these experts drew him a master plan, providing him with upto-date statistics on the Soviet Union, especially on economic and industrial development, and compared the Soviet statistical development to that in the United States and other Western countries.
According to the comparative indices of the two superpowers, the gross national product of the Soviet Union has not progressed any more than 2 percent annually for the past two years or 2.7 percent over the past 10 years. Just from that point of view, economic growth in the Soviet Union by the year 2000 will put the country in the category of a Third World country. The consistent growth in the West in electronics and computer technology has actually set the Soviet Union back by at least 10 years. Without the technological leaps that the West has made, the Soviet Union seems to be falling further and further behind.
It is with this concern that Gorbachev has taken the initiative to bring around economic reforms. I think in the long run, economic improvement will mean for the country a higher standard of living and greater availability of consumer goods for the average citizen than he has seen since World War II.
At the 27th Party Congress in 1986, Gorbachev was primarily concerned with freeing up the economy. But at the most recent Party conference (in July) he called for openness in every part of society. The resolution on perestroika approved by the Party conference endorsed these changes. It said: "Revolutionary perestroika is impossible without invigorating in every way the intellectual and cultural potential ofsociety. " How can communism, which front my experience it fundamentally repressive, stifling andoperateseffectively only under censorship, square with this call for such openness?
NORKELIUNAS: I think that Gorbachev really doesn't indicate a carte blanche openness in society, doing away with censorship. It may be a grand kind of proposal, a tremendous revolutionary change in that sense. But I don't see a letting go of censorship, or creating an environment where the police would live up to the letter of the Soviet Constitution, i.e. complete freedom of the press. For intellectuals, the reforms are doubtful at this point, although that has been established verbally. Lip service has been given extensively at the recent party conference, but it has yet to be realized. The future will tell whether they will live up to it or not, and my doubt is based upon my historical knowledge of the Soviet Union; it will not happen very readily and will not be initiated overnight.
The intellectuals have had some freedom to discuss openly various aspects of Stalin's period, aspects that censorship had long outlawed. True, there is some republication of writers who have been dissidents in the Soviet Union, of those who were ousted by force, and the publication of a number of writers whose works could not have been published or circulated in the Soviet Union before. This is very positive. Pasternak is being published, Stalin is being denounced. But at the same time, this area of freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of criticizing the past, which has been unknown in many instances, is the least reliable aspect of whatever conclusions the conference drew recently.
The more important aspect to be looked at is the revitalization of the economy. And in that respect, the great reform, or call it a revolution that really has occurred, is the return to capitalistic methods. The greatest revolution is the acknowledgment that the communist system of economics has failed to work. Lenin recognized that fact in 1921, and went back to the methods of a capitalized, planned economy with profit motive and capitalist incentive, to some extent. That same thing has occurred now, how many years down the road, 67 years? Not in 67 years has the subject even been broached.
But the decline of agriculture and industry, the poor quality control, the tremendous absenteeism from the job, the alcoholism which has aggravated absenteeism at the work place, the perennial lack of being able to feed the population for failing to grow enough food, the fact that the country is relying on foreign imports, wheat, grain, and the fact that it invests a great deal in foreign technology, too-all of this really has to be changed to put the Soviet Union on firm ground as a country that is developing and growing.
As it stands now, the country is stagnant and regressive. Economic initiatives to do away with central planning in Moscow are the focal point. Regional and provincial managers could most effectively take control of their own businesses, of their own factories, of their own economic planning, so that the productivity would then rise, and perhaps the Soviet Union could at least have enough time to catch up with the Western countries.
This is such a mind-boggling event. If someone had broached this kind of reality in the Soviet Union three years ago, it would have seemed impossible. All these changes began in May 1987 when the government allowed private ownership to come into its own and allowed small private service industries to operate.
-When I was traveling through Siberia last year, some of the small train stations that we stopped at along the Trans-Siberian line would be crowded with local farm women selling homemade pickles from buckets and handfuls of small boiled potatoes .sprinkled with fresh dill, all wrapped up in a sheet of newspaper, hr this something new? Is this .something that I would not have seen had I gone therein 1986?
NORKELIUNAS: If you had gone there before May 1, 1987, you would not have seen that. Maybe the collective farm workers or farmers would have brought their produce to be sold at a village or a town market at competitive pricesfood that was grown on their quarter-acre plots, that each farmer may consider as his own to do with as he wants. That was before last year. But since then, if an enterprising young fellow wants to sell cucumbers or pickles or pickled herring, or if he wants to sell shish kebab at the local train stations, which you probably have seen, and I have seen, too, he may do so because it is now private enterprise that the government endorses.
-I want to discuss a little bit about collectivization and the communist ideal. Everyone is supposed to participate and share responsibility, but in reality from my experience what you get is that nobody is responsible. And when that happens everyone becomes rather lazy and lackadaisical. When 1 war living in China you could walk into the national bank, the Bank of China, at the height of the business day, and there would be clerks with their heads down on their desk, half asleep, and they didn't care whether you were there or not, so you just had to wait until they woke up. It's created a system in China, and in the Soviet Union, in which everyone gets money and food and shelter, no matter how hard they work. In China this is r called the "Iron Rice Bowl. " You get an image of a big rice bowl that everyone can eat from. Recently the Chinese, as you know, have tried with some success to instill in people the idea of individual responsibility. The government parceled out little pieces of land to the farmers and told them, "You grow what we, the government, need, and then after that you can do whatever you want with the produce. " It would seem that the Soviet Union now has to instill in people the idea of individual responsibility to get people in a situation in which if they don't work, they don't get paid. One of the party resolutions raid the ideal now war to rule out a possibility of living a comfortable life while doing .shoddy work. Is this something that it going to pervade the Soviet Union? If someone it not doing his job can he get fired or demoted? Are people not going to get paid.
NORKELIUNAS: That's what the indicators are. The individual farmer, now operating under these new guidelines of perestroika, has been allowed to rent land from the collective. And that's important because those private plots seem to be set up as they are in China, as you mentioned. Since 1933, when Stalin realized that his collectivization was a total disaster, the country has made concessions by giving each farmer, each family, a small plot of land, about a quarter acre. Today, 4 percent of total arable land in the Soviet Union is privately owned. And that 4 percent produces, or until recently it produced, 40 percent of the Soviet Union's total annual agricultural output.
So the idea then comes to Gorbachev's mind that if you allowed people to rent a large parcel of land from this particular collective, let's say 10 acres-I think the limit is 20 acres, from what I have read in the Soviet papers recentlythen that would result in greater productivity, because the person views the land as his own. There is a tremendous profit motive in this, tremendous incentive, not just of ownership, and not just of making a profit, but of management too. No collective until recently has been given the self-determination to manage its own collective farm. As I said earlier, everything was directed from Moscow's central planning. The assumption (under communism) is that everyone owns the land, but in reality nobody owns it. A person thinks, "It's not to my direct benefit." So the idea of socialized ownership really has been regressive.
Now you are going to see greater productivity because people are thinking: "This is my land, I own it. This is my property, and not some kind of a nebulous idea of ownership, that 'we' own it, that it's the `people's land,' it's the `people's industries,' the 'people's economy. "' You need to get away from this collectivized mass mentality that the individual does not count, that it is only the mass or the collective and conformity that count. So much credit has to be given to Gorbachev for recognizing this and acting on it. He is saying: "This is the time. This is the eleventh hour to act, to acknowledge that we have failed, that our economy has failed and that the capitalist economy does work and we must resort to capitalist incentives." I mean, it really comes right down to that.
-I want to pick up on the last part of that, that Gorbachev's coming around to seeing that certain aspects of communism, that the way of doing things, haven't worked. It must almost seem to the casual observer of events in the Soviet Union that Gorbachev is renouncing communism, that he has realized it doer not work, cannot work, and he is now turning to market forces of capitalism. This is like the United States renouncing the pursuit of happiness. How is the average Soviet citizen reconciling Marxist dogmas with capitalism?
NORKELIUNAS: The average Russian person is confused by all of the changes. He is reacting in a confused way to all the changes that are taking place because they are destroying all of the former impressions and myths that he has developed over the years.
Joseph Stalin is now being criticized by the Soviets as never before, and Gorbachev has even given permission for a monument'to be built in memory of Stalin's victims. Calling Stalin to task isn't new, as you know. In the Soviet Union, Khruschev said much the same thing when he was in power. He never did anything about it, though. Now Gorbachev has authorized the construction of this monument. Some of the dissidents, Sulzhenitsyn among them, say that Stalin hat to be completely purged from the country for it to move forward. There has to be some kind of collective expression of redemption, something along the lines of w'/oat is going on today with searching for Nazi war criminals and bringing them to trial, and punishing those who are guilty. Do you think that the Soviet people who have demanded something be done and who have gotten this monument built, now see this as a sign to continue further in seeking some kind of justice from the Soviet Union in terms of what Stalin has done to their families?
NORKELIUNAS: I don't think it is going to be a search a la (Elie) Wiesel, let's say, to uncover all of the Nazi collaborators in the Holocaust. Simply for this reason: The conservative element still holds control today.
It came into position under Stalin's reign, under Stalin's rule. Stalin was the first one to introduce privileges for those who are loyal servants of the party. He established that near separate state, in which allegiance to the party made you deserving. That conservative element in the Soviet Union inherits those privileges. If your father was an important party member you will no doubt succeed to his position after his demise. You may not be a very intellectual person, and not have the intelligence to get into Moscow University, but because of your privileges, you will be given access to a university over someone else who has high scores on his entrance exams. In other words, it's an elite class. And it's hereditary. So that element that is giving so much resistance to Gorbachev today is the old vanguard which was appointed by Stalin. Maybe the original Stalin appointee or supporter is either retired or dead, but his son has inherited that position. And with those privileges come rewards that are commensurate to the scientific, business and political community rewards in our country. They have everything they want. If they want to visit France on some political or scientific mission, they visit France and they bring home the goods they want-the consumer goods, the cars-and nobody questions them. They can just bring it all home.
Are they going to go out and hunt down the rest of them, hunt their own kind down, while they themselves are still entrenched there? That's really the problem, as you have read.
-Gorbachev must be anathema to a great many people in the establishment. Is that where he is meeting is going to meet-most of his resistance? You mentioned that people get introduced into these positions of power that are hereditary, and in a country like the Soviet Union, as in China, it's more political power than money that is the legal tender in society, that gets you what you want. And Gorbachev seems to he threatening this, and that he is meeting mast of his resistance within his own ranks.
NORKELIUNAS: That's right. You have to conclude that. Because it is these ranks that are the major armies of managers and bureaucrats. And it is this slab of stone, really, that is the backbone of the party power elite. It is they that hold the power, and they would be the greatest obstacle to Gorbachev.
Let me just add something else because it just occurred to me. Gorbachev has got to be genuine because he is placing himself, even his own country, in a position of such danger. Not only could all of his reforms be swept away if people don't support him, if people in the party don't support him, but I chink it could even be a threat to his life in the long run.
There are a number of things that show evidence to support the conclusion that he is genuine, and not just biding time to catch up with America and its technology and to pursue world communism, world conquest, again.
-Former President Nikon has raid in his mot recent book that the Soviet Union it instituting there changer in order to become a more powerful nation and thus in a better position to take over the world. Or, in the Marxist terminology, to liberate the world. And you yourself raid back in 1985 that revolutionizing the world for communism it the first and foremost thought of Soviet leaders.
NORKELIUNAS: I made a mistake as far as Gorbachev is concerned. As far as the others go-the priorities of other leaders from Chernenko to Kosygin and to Brezhnev-that was the point.
-So in the three years since Gorbachev has been in power, you have had a rethinking about this man, about what his goals are.
NORKELIUNAS: Right. Just talking to you today has made some of these things come out. I mean, if he were not genuine, would he pit himself against the overwhelming odds of conservatism within his own party?
-Well, yes genuine but genuine in terms of looking out for the Soviet Union, and world expansion.
NORKELIUNAS: Well, let's put it this way: It's hard to say because it will take them sometime to achieve parity with us, not in arms but in quality of life and communications technology. It will take them time to achieve this. I would say at least 20 years.
-OK, 20 years is good, because e I want to ask you something that it related to the 20 years here. I want to read you a short statement by a Soviet dissident who now liver in the United States, Vladimir Bukovsky. He raid: "The Soviet Union it in rapid decline. The decline can be slowed down in the hope that something will happen on the way, but it cannot be topped. If radical reform are not made, the system ha about 20 years before it unravels and the empire crumbles. "Has Gorbachevhada similar vision?
NORKELIUNAS: He has verbalized that as fact, but not the time period, not the 20 years. It is only a call to immediacy, as if to say, "Right now, we can't wait comrades, we can't wait. " You know that phrase, we can't wait. No time to wait, do it now. But it has not been stated in terms of a threat, that they are in danger of being overrun by capitalism or whatnot. But Gorbachev is stating that they should resort to new methods, capitalist methods at that. If they work, they are acceptable. Update. Modernize. That's what they say. They don't say that we should capitalize. They say modernize, modernize the economic system on the standards that exist, that have proved successful in the rest of the world today.
-What about freedom of the press
NORKELIUNAS: I think the most radical change has been freedom of the press. Everybody is reading. Everybody is excited. I watched television a few moments that I could in the afternoon (during the Party conference). Everybody is debating. Once about 300 managers from various factories were debating on what would be the most effective way to initiate local factory planning. They were all discussing it, and some were almost in tears, as though they were contrite, because they had done something wrong in the past. It was like a public examination of one's conscience.
-It seems like floodgate have been opened in that country, that there were a lot of repressed energies, and a lot of repressed energies, and now all of a sudden they have been sanctioned and people are just going wild criticizing left and right, writing letters raying thing that they never would have said before. People now are groping for position of power, even by publicly denouncing colleagues, Is that the impression that you get?
NORKELIUNAS: Yes, yes. What you said in the beginning is very accurate. They don't know what to do with themselves, now that they have this freedom. You can't dispute this relief. When a Russian writes, he thinks, even subconsciously, about what not to say, in case somebody confiscates what he wrote. Now that they have this freedom, they're all confused.
A reporter might ask questions of a passerby on the street, and a Russian might walk up to the reporter and say, "What are you doing?" And someone standing next to the reporter, maybe even a policeman, might say, "Hey, haven't you heard? It's glasnostnow. Reporters are allowed to interview passersby on the street." But to this fellow who has been conditioned to think in a certain way, he would say to himself, "What happened?" It is psychological, what is happening. It's a shock. It's a tremendous shock.
-What do you think your students gained from this trip to the Soviet Union
NORKELIUNAS: Most of them were initiated in some background of Russia, either in the course of Russian culture, or Soviet history or Russian history. Those who had some initiation were able to notice activities around them, to see what was happening around them, and interpret the activities in a more reasonable way. Those-and these were the minority-who were there or were exposed to Soviet life for the first time had some lessons to learn. Some commented that the food we were eating in the hotels was terrible and that the people who have to eat this food must surely be dissatisfied. But the food that we were eating only the party elite was allowed to have. So I said to a couple of them, "Go out into the vegetable stores and meat stores and see what you can find. " And they forged out on their own, and one student said there was nothing there but some wilted carrots, that he didn't see any meat, that there wasn't meat that we would call meat, that there were only chicken heads. Before that these people had no comprehension of this because they were isolated in the hotels. When I was there I was eating this wonderful food and choking on it, because I knew that out in the city they had nothing, they weren't eating anything, they were going across town to the other side of Moscow, which probably took them two hours to get there after they heard that there was some meat, that meat was delivered somewhere.
-What would an American tourist going there today see that he would not have seen two years ago? What it not there that he would have teen two years ago?
NORKELIUNAS: Well I think the Soviet people would not walk away from him if he wanted to talk to them. People come up to you, and you come up to people, and you can openly discuss something on the street. That's one of the most unusual things. You can discuss things with your guides. In fact, your guides bring out questions that would never have been discussed before.