At London’s Heathrow Airport, Soviet diplomat Alexander Ekimenko was stunned by the answer to his routine question, “What was your job?” “Research fellow at the Institute of the United States of America and Canada,” replied the young woman defector.
The newcomer was Galina Orionova, a beautiful blonde, who arrived in England attired in a black, welltailored velvet suit, white angora jersey, and white cossack-style leather boots, looking as if she had done very well in the Soviet system. So why, in the early evening of April 30, 1979, a few days before her thirty-third birthday, did she seek political asylum? Galina’s answer is simple: “Only because I could not get out sooner.”
Most noted Americans interested in Soviet affairs— Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Edmund Muskie, Edward Kennedy, George Kennan, Marshall Shulman—have visited the Institute. Diplomats and Sovietologists have passed through the portals of what was once Prince Volkonsky’s elegant town house. Russian families would give their bottom ruble to get their children into this particular branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where the staff has access to the Western world.
Galina departed from the Institute on very good terms. A few weeks previously she had delivered a two-hour address, without notes, to sixty members of the Institute staff on her special subject, American—Japanese relations. Her superiors had congratulated her and told her she would be promoted to a senior fellowship. At her age this indicated excellent progress up the hierarchical ladder.
American visitors recently returned from Moscow say that her name at the Institute now evokes envy rather than anger. Yet Americans need to be wary of having their names linked with that kind of defector. Galina, to whom personal loyalty is the highest virtue, was willing to recount her experience on condition that she would not name any American friends: “It would blight their chances of ever getting back.” Though she wants to make England her home, she hopes to visit the United States as soon as she can afford the fares. Several of the Institute’s regular visitors have invited her to stay.
Galina spent ten years at the Institute and considers herself fortunate to have been admitted. “Pure luck that my graduation in 1969 happened to coincide with the creation of a new institute of U.S. affairs which needed a Far Eastern expert. A few years later I would have been automatically excluded. All the jobs are now reserved for the children of very exalted families.”
Her own family belongs to the minor Bolshevik nobility. “My father, a Tartar born in Kazan on the Volga [the bone structure of his daughter’s face is more Asian than European], came to Moscow after the Revolution to train as an engineer. He joined the Party while Lenin was still alive. Mother, a Russian from Vologda, met him when they were both students. All his life Father’s income was enough to relieve Mother from having to take a job.” (Galina is scornful of the notion that Soviet women are emancipated because they go out to work. To her, the combination of job, children, household, and endless queueing is a dreadful form of slavery.) “But our family is nowhere nearly important enough for me to get into the really exclusive institutions. Unlike ordinary workers, Father could afford to pay for the extra coaching everyone needs to get to college. As I was quite bright and worked hard, I was admitted to the history faculty of the Moscow University even though in my year, 1964, there was only one admission for every thirty-two applicants. Other faculties, including journalism and economics, admit only the cream of Soviet society. I did well and was recommended for postgraduate studies. But the university did not offer me a research fellowship and I had no idea where to go. Then, one night, Mother waited up for me till midnight to tell me the exciting news: if I passed the qualifying test, I could join the Institute for U.S. Affairs.”
“The Soviet Union is like a huge, primitive dinosaur, with a small brain, but armed from top to tail.”
The exams were oral and three topics remain in Galina’s memory. The amendments to the American Constitution? She was able to list the lot. The American Peace Corps? She trotted out the appropriate Party line: young people were sent out as agents of the CIA for the purpose of subversion and propaganda. (Privately she knew the idea was to channel the energies and enthusiasms of young Americans into relief work in the developing world - but it would have been folly to say so.) Finally she demonstrated her knowledge of Party history—or, more exactly, of the Party’s current interpretation of its history. She rattled off a fifteen-minute discourse on the 1918 Treaty of Brest Litovsk (in which the Russians broke their pledge to their allies and signed a separate peace). Galina listed the misdeeds of Leon Trotsky, whom Soviet historians continue to treat as the arch villain (and not, as she knew he was, a founding father) of the Bolshevik Revolution.
After the tests Galina was summoned to meet Georgii Arbatov, the Institute’s director. Arbatov is a friendly, worldly-wise operator who, though he has “Russian” on his passport, is believed by all his colleagues to be Jewish. In the early 1970s, the heyday of détente, he became one of Brezhnev’s personal advisers. “I really liked this solid, pipe-smoking, and intelligent man; he radiated natural authority.” Arbatov told her to start off by forgetting everything she had learned. She interpreted this to mean that she could now study international affairs without having to manipulate the facts to suit Party dogma.
He congratulated her on her exam results but asked her to become a research assistant rather than a graduate student. He needed the studentships for the male applicants, as this was the only way of releasing them from compulsory military service. In any case he thought she would do better as a member of the staff, and she could at the same time study for her doctorate. Indeed, five years later she qualified with a thesis on Japanese—American relations during the Nixon era. All Soviet dissertations must contain quotations from the Communist gospel. She started hers with a citation from Lenin on the inevitability of conflict between rival capitalistic powers. But she ended by predicting that, for economic and political reasons, links between the two countries were likely to become closer.
As a research assistant, Galina was to work from 10 A.M. to 6:45 P.M. with fortyfive minutes for lunch. But it did not take long to discover that here, as in most Soviet enterprises, the rules are made to be broken. According to an unwritten convention applying to most academic institutes (the Institute is one of five branches of the Academy of Science working on aspects of world affairs), it is enough to come in three hours a day, for three days a week. “The only time you can be sure of seeing everybody is on payday, the first and fifteenth of every month, when the Institute is surrounded by staff cars.”
Those in the lower ranks of the Institute are paid far less than manual workers, but since most of them come from privileged families, they have plenty of money. Galina supplemented her salary by writing articles and doing translations. She began feeling the pinch when she rented an apartment from people temporarily out of Moscow. The rent took most of her earnings and it tripled between 1974 and 1977 (although officially the USSR has no inflation), the year she went back to her parents’ home. Galina loves beautiful clothes, and from then on she could spend most of her money on elegant fashion and good holidays. Her private dressmaker, one of the best in Moscow, copied styles from the American Vogue. The family was sufficiently well connected for access to the special shops selling foreign luxuries. (When she arrived in England, she brought along a pair of high-heeled French boots, four bottles of French perfume, shoes from Italy, and an English raincoat. As it was the month of May, she had to leave behind her favorite coat: Persian lamb with a mink collar.)
What does the Institute do beyond providing comfortable jobs for the progeny of the ruling class (which in a totalitarian society is in itself a vital task)? Galina sees it primarily as the government’s way to get as much as possible—politically and materially—out of the policy of detente. Contrary to what Western visitors are encouraged to believe, Galina says, the Institute has not the slightest impact on Soviet foreign policy. In her view, that policy consists of extending Soviet power, by détente or any other means, wherever and whenever such expansion is neither too costly nor too dangerous. “The Soviet Union is like a huge, primitive dinosaur, with a small brain, but armed from top to tail.” She cannot understand why the West was so surprised by Soviet incursions into the Third World. “The Soviet government behaves like any ordinary Soviet consumer. He grabs anything which happens to be on the counter, even if he doesn’t need it, knowing that tomorrow it may no longer be available.”
To fulfill its task, the Institute has a large number of specialized departments. Its internal structure is secret, but Galina drew an organization chart from memory. When she joined, the most highly valued division dealt with American business management. A pilot plant operated in a dairy complex at Saratov. Later the management group was switched to another academic body and now the only part of the Institute which has practical applications for the Soviet economy is the section on American farming. (A joke in that section: “Do you know the four things wrong with Soviet agriculture?” “Spring, summer, autumn, and winter.”)
Galina belonged to the Far Eastern section of the department on American foreign policy. Her first job was to help one of the deputy directors prepare a book on international crises. She assembled all available information on the 1969 Pueblo crisis, when the North Koreans captured an American ship.
In addition to publishing books and a monthly magazine for general readership, the Institute is expected to furnish information on demand for the Central Committee, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the KGB. Writers are never told for which of the three they are working. Their main source is Western literature: newspapers, periodicals, and books. They also receive Tass dispatches, those for general as well as for limited circulation, oral information from visiting American scholars, and, rarely, diplomatic material when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chooses to make it available. In urgent cases, they rely on news bulletins from the Voice of America or the BBC.
The Institute has a library, although it contains nothing published before 1968, the year it was founded. This is divided into three sections: the open, carrying only Communist publications; the secret, stocking Western books and periodicals, which scholars may use only if they can show they need it for their work; and the most secret, to which access is guarded by the KGB members of the staff. If American periodicals carry anything about the Soviet Union, the KGB librarian normally snips it out. But if such excision damages the text of an article a scholar might need, the entire periodical is shifted into the most secret section.
Staff members are expected to hand in all copies of their own reports to the secret section and cannot see them again except by special permission. “Of course we all cheated,” said Galina, “and our typists generally agreed to make an extra copy we could take home. The security rules were really mad. We never saw anything secret to betray. U.S. academics, reading the bland Soviet publications, always suspected that the real information was being kept from them. But the Arbatov Institute is not the equivalent of Brookings, the Hoover Institution, or the Rand Corporation. We based all our secret studies on information from American publications. It was a real ‘Alice through the looking glass’ situation.”
“Unlike leading American academic specialists,” Galina says, “nobody in the Institute has the remotest connection with the government. Only Arbatov, who is a candidate member (i.e. member without voting rights) of the Central Committee, ever had access to policy-makers. Between 1971 and 1975 he was so busy with government affairs we hardly saw him. When détente declined he came back. I don’t know whether his recent heart attack, of which I learned after I left, has anything to do with his fall from favor.” Arbatov is now busy again giving interviews to Western visitors.
From her own experience as a specialist in Japanese affairs, Galina knows how totally the Party disregards information from academic sources. In 1978 scholars from several institutions met in great secrecy to examine the threat posed by Sino-Japanese rapprochement. They all agreed that it was a mistake to continue treating the Japanese as inferiors, that they were not militarists and could not be denied their right to deal with China on their own terms. The Party took no notice. The Sino-Japanese treaty was signed, and the Japanese officially protested against Soviet intrusion into their affairs.
“Do you love Stalin or Daddy best?”
“I think we’d be lucky if more than 2 percent of what we wrote was read by anybody who mattered,” said Galina. “One of my colleagues was married to a man who worked for the Central Committee. He told her that the documents which constantly flood in from all the rival academic institutions find their way straight into the wastepaper basket.”
Though Americans exaggerate the Arbatov Institute’s contribution to Soviet foreign policy, they underestimate its role in the propaganda machine. This activity has two functions: 1) the Institute must explain Soviet foreign policy to the Soviet public; 2) it must sell Soviet peace-loving intentions to the Americans.
According to Galina, the official ideology, which is hammered home daily both in the press and on the air, focuses on the three spooks of Soviet demonology:
First, American imperialism, against which battering never ceased even when détente was flourishing. This is the hardest issue on which to arouse the Russians, who tend to admire Americans. One time the staff was assembled and told, “You must all remember that, whether we like it or not, all visiting Americans are our hidden enemies. Anything we tell them will be used against us. There are spies everywhere and you must on no account give home numbers or addresses. You must immediately report on any meetings you have with them.” Everyone laughed when someone asked, “Should we report when we dream of meeting an American?”
Second, “Chinese chauvinism.” (No communist country may be described as imperialist.) Here the Soviet people respond much better because they are genuinely scared of China. At private meetings Galina expressed her personal view that China was in no way a military threat to the Soviet Union. But she knew that this was heresy.
Third, “the Zionist international conspiracy.” This is the latest arrival, activated only in the 1970s, but now tending to crowd out the others. “In the last few years,” Galina says, “the government has authorized a huge outpouring of rhetoric and speeches which are nominally anti-Zionist but in fact are an outlet for latent antiSemitism. Nobody in the Institute went as far as a KGB general, the father of one of my friends, who wished the Americans and Russians could get together and fight the common Jewish enemy! But our own Middle Eastern section was full of antiSemites—even though several leading members of the Institute were themselves assimilated Jews. Of course the Party can invent any rubbish they like, but they prefer a few facts to go on. The Middle Eastern section was mainly engaged in trying to substantiate the thesis that Jews control American financial, economic, and diplomatic life, and when I left, three dissertations were being prepared on this theme. One scholar went too far: he submitted proposals for a thesis on Jewish Capital in the United States. ‘Impossible!’ said Ivan Ivanov, at that time head of the economic department, ‘Marxism postulates that capital is international.’ ”
These activities are kept hidden from Western visitors, especially specialists on the Middle East. David Astor, for example, former publisher of The Observer, who knows no Russian and is an ardent pro-Semite, went to Moscow to propound his conviction that the Palestinian problem could be solved only if the Russians joined the Americans in peace-keeping activities. He had no difficulty in getting a sympathetic hearing at the Arbatov Institute, but returned to England indignant that the sophisticated and sensible views he had heard in Moscow were being flatly rejected by the arrogant Israelis. The Jews arriving in Israel from the Soviet Union know better than anyone else that the Russians, eager to push into the most explosive regions of the Middle East, and playing for Arab favors, can always outbid the Americans. In a crisis the Russians would be ready, as the Americans would not, to wipe Israel off the map.
Galina says she frequently attended parties or meetings with Americans where senior members reeled off comments they knew were false but which they also knew, from their familiarity with American writings, would please their visitors. For instance, they would deplore Castro’s militarism in Africa and regret that Moscow could not control him. Since leaving, Galina has heard that Institute members (though sometimes with a nod and a wink) are busy expounding the thesis that the Soviets long to get out of Afghanistan as soon as outsiders stop supporting “subversive elements.”
The opportunities for misinformation are receding. In 1980 the Institute invited twenty scholars and only four accepted. It does retain special favorites: former ambassador George Kennan, who believes in Brezhnev’s personal dedication to peace, is always welcome, and his articles are reprinted in the Institute’s monthly.
To impress the Soviet public, the Institute also encourages anti-American Americans. It gave a party for the leading American Communist, the black and blind Henry Winston, who, accompanied by a small delegation, came to Moscow to receive an honorary membership in the Academy of Science. One researcher whispered to Galina, “How many Communists are there in the U.S.?” “I expect they’re all in this room,” she said.
When the Institute invited Jane Fonda, they looked forward to the usual denunciations of American warmongering. Instead Fonda gave them a severe dressing down for having failed to speak out publicly against American atrocities in Vietnam. How could she be so naive? they wondered afterward. Her husband, Tom Hayden, gave his own views on Soviet success. “Would you like to have our system in the States?” asked one of Galina’s friends. “No, it’s suitable for Russians but not for Americans.” This argument always enrages Galina, who has often heard it from left-wingers in the West. “They expect us to put up with deprivations of liberty they would never even tolerate. Do they regard us as an inferior species?”
Arbatov insisted that, in order to impress Americans, he must retain offices at the Volkonsky mansion even though most branches of the Academy have now been installed in a specially built complex in a suburb southwest of the city. One of his deputies in charge of administration, Yevgeny Shershnev, was, in Galina’s view, a man of “Stalinesque vulgarity.” For greater glorification he had a plaque installed claiming that the edifice dated back to the seventeenth century (it was late eighteenth—and no less handsome for that). The interior decoration included colossal crystal chandeliers and marble balustrades and a whole wall of a fine ballroom, now used for conferences, covered by a relief map of the world in polished bronze. “It was hideous,” says Galina. “It shone like a samovar.” The staff was shocked to hear that the Institute was paying 8500 rubles, more than most of them earned in a year, for a huge, carved oak door. It was stolen the second night after being installed, and has never been seen again.
The Institute, like other bureaucracies, follows Parkinson’s Law. When Galina joined, there were seventy on the staff. A decade later, when détente had declined and there was less work, the numbers had risen to 350, so the Institute took over an old nineteenth-century residential block across the road. “Once again,”says Galina, “the extravagance was monstrous. The building was gutted and went through what we called its steel age, its bronze age, and its marble age. The steel age gave most trouble. Steel girders delivered from Kamaz on the Volga lay for months outside on the pavements. They were several centimeters too long and could only be recast back at the mill. The next load turned out to be too short. The third time, they fitted. But it took five years between the acquisition of the annex and its readiness for use.”
By that time the Institute had too much space. Shershnev decided to install a sauna bath on the ground floor of the Volkonsky mansion. But because it was classified as a historic monument, he needed the permission of the preservationists; they objected that the steam might damage the structure. He had to settle for a splendid gymnasium, equipped with a rifle range and with special facilities for such elite sports as fencing and karate.
Galina’s bête noir was the “scholar in epaulets,” KGB man Dr. Rodimir Bogdanov, who arrived in 1974 to head the ideology department. As is the custom in the Soviet hierarchy, powerful men wanting academic degrees have their dissertations written by juniors. In addition to his doctoral thesis, Bogdanov co-authored two books. “He was a drunk, a womanizer, and a bully. He looked like a bulldog,” says Galina. “It was after his arrival that the staff came under renewed pressure to inform against foreign visitors.”
Galina was able to talk her way out of many unpleasant chores. Early in her career, she had been told to join her colleagues in a “voluntary” vigilante patrol in Moscow streets to cope with drunks, prostitutes, and hooligans. After half an hour she withdrew and later persuaded her superiors to free her from this duty. She also managed to escape regular summer assignments on collective farms. But with KGB tasks, it was different. The staff were always supposed to fill in two forms: one on where their visitors went and what they did and a second on whatever could be discovered about their private lives.
“It was not physical danger nor material want which drove me out. It was sheer, black boredom.”
Galina normally ignored the second, but on one occasion she was forced to comply. She told the American scholar in question and he agreed to collaborate. He gave her his regular curriculum vitae plus a little more about why he changed jobs and what he wanted the Russians to think he earned. On politics, Galina asked if he would like the Russians to think of him as “moderate right.” When he agreed, she copied out verbatim the appropriate paragraph of an article by a Soviet professor listing the characteristics of the four sections into which the professor divided American political opinion. The American was terrified that the trick would be discovered and she would be punished. Galina reassured him: policemen never read scholarly journals. She was right: the KGB man congratulated her on the thoroughness of her report; this may have been the beginning of the Galina-KGB rapprochement which finally won her the exit visa she needed to get out of the country. Most of the Institute staff traveled frequently, but Galina was not a Party member, had no husband or children to leave as hostages, and no leverage other than her youth and charm.
Her decision to leave the Soviet Union dated back to the early 1970s, when her Jewish friends started emigrating. But she recalls that she was always at odds with a collectivist society. Born in 1946, long after her siblings, she was cared for by one of the many illiterate women huddled in Moscow after the war, without family or home. “Nanny was very pious and I remember the excitement of going on Sunday to the Church of St. John the Baptist and being allowed to light a candle. She was tender and compassionate, always helping people, and though she’s old, she still helps out our
family. Sometimes she embarrassed me: at school I was teased because until twelve I was not allowed to leave until Nanny came to fetch me.”
She remembers being asked as a little girl, “Do you love Stalin or Daddy best?” The question was macabre. “It was sheer luck that my father survived [the Stalinist purges],” she said. “A group of engineers from his metallurgical institute were invited to the Kremlin. He avoided going and the others never came back. The shock left him with white hair and a skin disease from which he has never recovered.”
Galina traces her disaffection with the dogma back to her earliest days at school. “I just didn’t believe the teacher when she said that all people were equal. They so obviously weren’t.” And she was still in pinafores when she learned about informers. A schoolmate reported her when she said that, since she wanted to go on to college, she would have to join the dreary old Komsomol, though she hated it (membership in the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, is a condition for higher education). The incident could have ruined her career. But her mother got her into school Number 110, generally recognized as one of the two best in Moscow. Galina’s marks in her first school were high and her mother told the staff (with some justice) that her daughter was showing academic promise and needed better teaching. The result was that the school and local Komsomol enrolled her.
Galina grew up in an exciting time: nobody knew how far the post-Stalin liberalization would go. At Moscow University, which she entered in 1964, the new freedom was strictly limited: the network of informers remained in action. One promising student, the grandson of an academician, wrote a satirical poem on Lenin and his wife, Krupskaya. The boy was expelled from college and Komsomol and for a long time no one knew—or dared inquire—what had happened to him. More than a year later he telephoned Galina and they met again. She was shocked to find he had lost most of his hair, several of his fingernails were missing, and his vitality was drained away. He told her of life in the camps where he had met Ukrainian and Armenian nationalists and other dissidents. His career was finished. But penalties of this kind are rare. A few shattering examples suffice to keep students in line, and when, in 1968, universities were exploding all the way from Berkeley to Belgrade, Moscow stayed quiet.
In the last ten years of her Moscow life, Galina belonged to what she called “the inner emigration,” a limited circle of people who, in their daily life, consciously reject the system. They speak freely only among themselves, secretly pass around dissident or Western literature, and share jokes against the regime. One of their favorite stories describes the Politburo’s most frightful nightmare: a Czech sitting in the Red Square eating matzoh with Chinese chopsticks.
By the mid-1970s, after Bogdanov’s arrival, the KGB was closing in on the Institute. In 1975 Arbatov assembled the staff and told them to watch their tongues. “You’re not in Princeton or Oxford, where anything can be said.” How many people inside the Institute shared Galina’s unhappiness about Soviet policies? Some, notably the KGB people, defended Soviet expansionism. One colleague even expressed regret that the Russians had not grabbed Tibet after the war: it would have helped later in their relations with China and India. “But among those who cared, I think most of them knew that the Soviet thrusts into the Third World had nothing to do with helping movements of national liberation. At one meeting a research fellow spoke out. He noted that the Russians had invested huge resources in China and in Egypt: all totally wasted. Why were they now expending funds in Asia, Africa, Latin America, where they were just as likely to be thrown out with nothing to show for it? If you stretch out your hand too far, you risk having your hand chopped off.” Such ideas could of course never be openly aired or published.
“But it was not physical danger nor material want which drove me out,” says Galina. “It was sheer, black boredom.” She had learned the KGB tricks and now adroitly manipulated these against the perpetrators.
In 1978, a KGB staff member, Konstantin Shuminski, called her in and asked if she would be willing to be more actively involved in reporting on visiting Americans. She said yes, if she had time. He promised that he would arrange occasional foreign trips. Three times she came tantalizingly near to getting out. The first, in 1977, was as interpreter for an exhibition on Soviet achievements to be held in Los Angeles. A colleague queuing up with her in the canteen said he guessed she’d fall in love with a handsome Californian and never come back. “Of course I will!” said Galina, and everyone roared with laughter. But the authorities took no risks: all the women they sent were over forty-five and fat.
The second time, in 1978, she was to have taken a tour of the U.S. with the great ballerina Ulanova. But Ulanova fell ill and the trip was called off. The third lime, in 1979, was as interpreter for a Soviet space exhibition in Australia. Lor technical reasons it never took place. This time her KGB sponsor told her she should reclaim her visa from the Committee of Technology and take it to the Ministry of Culture, where they urgently needed an English-speaking person to accompany a group from Minsk to a folk dance festival in Cork, in the Irish Republic.
THE ARBATOV INSTITUTE
The Institute for the United States and Canada, generally known as the Arbatov Institute, has three main departments, each headed by a deputy director who is responsible to the chief, Georgii Arbatov.
The first department, under Vitaly Zhurkin, studies U.S. policies, foreign and domestic. The foreign affairs section is divided regionally into the USSR, the Ear East, the Near and Middle East, Europe, Latin America and the Third World. Each specializes in relations between its area and North America. The department also has a group working on immediate issues and another on national minorities, including youth.
The second, which also has foreign and domestic sections, is headed by Georgy Skorov and deals with the U.S. economy. The foreign section keeps track, among other things, of American-based
multinational corporations. The domestic section deals with industry, management, and agriculture.
The third, officially listed as “ideology,” is run by a KGB general, Rodomir Bogdanov. It manages the library and secret archives. It has a special section looking after foreign visitors. (Among other things, it organizes visits to the famous Zagorsk Monastery, to which the KGB rigorously controls access. Visits there are designed to persuade Americans that the Soviet Union respects religion.) This department also includes the section on U.S. military affairs, headed by General Mikhail Mil’shteyn, a member of the GRU. the Soviet military intelligence.
The Institute has a scientific secretary, Igor Orlenkov, who works in conjunction with all three departments. —N.B.
Just before leaving, Galina asked Shuminski what she should do if someone on her tour defected. “Such things do happen,” he said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world: one only has to hand oneself over to the nearest policeman.” Galina took note. “The proper course is to try and persuade the culprit, who probably can’t speak English, to rejoin the group. If he won’t, phone the Embassy and leave everything to them.”
In Cork, Galina faithfully performed her job. She helped the dancers to exchange rubles they had all illegally brought and she cultivated the friendship of their “manager,” the Minsk man from the KGB. Things were helped when he developed an acute toothache. She encouraged him to join her in visiting the tallest tower in the city. The view was magnificent but the whistling wind made his toothache worse.
The group returned from Cork to London on Aer Lingus, arriving at Heathrow at 7:20 P.M., and was scheduled to leave for Moscow on Aeroflot four hours later. On the Irish plane the “manager,” who by now had a badly swollen jaw, redistributed the passports which he had kept in his own possession for most of the trip. A bus took the travelers from the aircraft to the terminal building. Galina, clutching a bunch of narcissus given to her by the affectionate Irish, hopped out, dashed across the tarmac, and came to an office marked “Police Control.” Two men, one of them in uniform, the other in plainclothes, were standing outside. To the former she said, “Excuse me, I have only a transit visa but may I ask for political asylum?” “I don’t know,” said the policeman. “If you don’t, who does?” “I could find out.” “How long would it take?” “About ten minutes.” “But I cannot wait.” “We’ll try and do it faster.” The plainclothesman disappeared and Galina told her troubled flock, who were now catching up with her, that she had rushed ahead to find ways of avoiding the queue. The plainclothesman returned and said: “The answer is ‘yes.’ Come with us. But first, tell your traveling companions what you’ve decided to do.” She told the “manager,” who at first thought she was joking. Before he had recovered his wits, she slipped off with her protectors and was taken into a small inner room only a few yards away from the group. “I’m scared,” she said. “So am I,” said the policeman. She was told to describe her baggage and in an hour it was identified and brought back to her. She was escorted upstairs to a small cubicle behind the immigration desk, where her passport was taken away. It was the eve of May 1, a public holiday, and it took twenty hours to make contact with anyone senior enough to grant asylum.
Galina passed the time chain-smoking and drinking coffee. The immigration officers pressed her to reconsider: did she know things were difficult in the West? Jobs were hard to come by. Would she not see a Soviet diplomat? Yes, she knew things were difficult, but she’d made up her mind long ago to come and would not see any Soviet representative until asylum had been granted. In the afternoon of the following day, with a duly stamped document in her possession and escorted by two policemen who promised not to leave her side, she confronted Ekimenko, the Soviet diplomat.
“But why did you want to leave?” “I didn’t like the climate.” “The climate in Britain is dreadful.” “I mean the political and economic climate.” Ekimenko switched tactics. “Your parents are broken-hearted. Your mother is weeping and implores you to come home . . .” Galina was impassive. A few hours later she telephoned Moscow, and this was the first news her mother heard of her defection.
Since then, Galina, who speaks remarkably good English, has had temporary jobs, getting to know the media and academic people in Britain, and she hopes to start, this fall, reading for a Ph.D. at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. For now—like her pet aversions, Marx and Lenin, before her—she spends most of her time in the library of the British Museum. She is cooperating in a research project on Russian diplomatic history and finds that the archives in London are just as full as those in the Lenin Library in Moscow, Accustomed to studying contemporary history, she thought this job would bore her. On the contrary, like so many young Russians, she is fascinated by her country’s past.
Though she has shifted her base from East to West, Galina hopes to remain in the university world. Will she make it? Though she can be moody and temperamental, she believes that luck is on her side and expects the world to look after her. It mostly has.
Her views on the Soviet Union have not changed. She is utterly contemptuous of people taken in by proSoviet propaganda. Materially, she says, things are worse than Westerners realize. The Russians have become a people not of rising but of falling expectations. Soviet intellectuals hope that Brezhnev will last a little longer. They fear he’ll be replaced by M.A. Suslov, secretary of the Central Committee, who is ideologically even more Stalinist.
Galina has never for a moment regretted that she came. She knows that she can now speak and write her mind. What surprises her most is that Western intellectuals take all this for granted. “They’ve no idea how lucky they are.”