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Back From the USSR

Conversation With Six Chicagoans Who've Been There


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Consider the Soviet Union: enormous and empty by European standards, stretching from icy north to arid south, across the continent from one sea to another; encompassing old cities, raw frontier towns, and assertive minority groups. Its people admire Ronald Reagan.

In the past year an increasing number of Chicagoans have gone to see the country Winston Churchill once called "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" begin to unfold itself. They found a country where the hunger for information is great but undiscriminating, where Milton Friedman is popular but individual entrepreneurs are not, where prejudice has emerged along with democracy, where visitors, for the moment at least, are warmly welcomed.

Pamela Barnes, director of planning, research, and development for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, went as one of 220 "emerging young leaders" under the auspices of the five-year-old American Center for International Leadership (ACIL). It was her first trip abroad, and she made a determined effort not to use the United States as a standard. "I knew that if I went looking for America, I would be sorely disappointed. Many people on our trip had a difficult time because they didn't take that attitude."

Still, it's hard for her to withhold all judgments. "The ice cream in Moscow was the best I've ever had. But the meat there was mostly pork, which I don't eat, and mostly fat. A typical breakfast was bread, butter, and a little salami. Lunch would be soup with meat--and when you asked what it was, they would say, just some kind of meat."

Barnes's subgroup met with their counterparts in Moscow, the resort town of Sochi on the Black Sea, and Ashkhabad, the capital of the Turkmen Republic, a largely desert republic bordering Iran and Afghanistan. In Ashkhabad, she thought that the local architects and planners "were obviously painting a glorified picture" of their city. Hoping for a more realistic view, she and another woman visited the home of a city councilman. But once inside his apartment, she says, "You couldn't tell you were in the Soviet Union." Food there was no problem, at least on this occasion. "They had fried catfish, eggplant, a rice-beef-cheese dish, watermelon, cherries, apricots, marinated mushrooms. . . . But they had sent the wives away. We wanted to talk to them.

"And they would not allow us to go into any other homes in Ashkhabad. The people were very warm and friendly, but they were very afraid to talk. In Moscow, all they wanted to do was talk."

Evidently only small amounts of perestroika and glasnost had trickled down to Ashkhabad. "The city officials seemed like real hard-liners, entrenched with Leninism more than in Moscow. Everywhere in town were massive statues of Lenin.

"I did not personally feel I was mistreated there at all because of color," says Barnes, who is black. "I did meet a man in Ashkhabad who looked like my grandfather--a descendant of the Moors. In fact, his skin was darker than mine. He said, 'Please go back to America and tell your people about us.'"

But she couldn't help noticing the burden that was placed on women--and not just that they did most of the housework, took care of the children, and stood in lines for hours in addition to their paid jobs. "Certainly in the Moscow city council, I don't recall seeing any women. They had 480 people, all trying to talk, on a very hot day, with no air-conditioning. I will say that our City Council seemed quite civil by comparison.

Chicago's infrastructure looked pretty good at this distance too. "Here, we can pick up the phone and get an operator or a dial tone. There, when you pick up the phone you hear other people talking. The phone books are ten years out of date, that kind of thing. Our hotel in Moscow, the Orlionik, had one elevator that ran to floors 1 through 13, another 2 to 16, but it wouldn't stop at certain arbitrary floors. There were no fire escapes. And Aeroflot--well, you have to have the experience. The sanitary conditions are awful, the ventilation is poor, the seats aren't very sturdy and many don't have seat belts. On the other hand, you can bring almost anything--furniture, watermelons--on board. I was not surprised when I saw that USA Today listed it as the worst airline in terms of crashes.

"Overall, I found the Soviet Union to be clean but not sanitary. There wasn't a lot of garbage strewn around--partly because in a nonmarket economy there are fewer goods. But they would mop the floor and then use the same water to wipe the eating table. Or just clean the bathrooms with plain water.

"But the people did give us the best of what they had. I was somewhat embarrassed at the arrogance of some of the American delegates. One person on my commission repeatedly said, 'Well, we have problems in our country, but you have massive problems.' That didn't make for good discussions."

But simply being on the streets of Moscow did. "Kids would say, 'American? You American? You dance the lambada?' People would come up to you in the streets and want to buy the shoes off your feet, or your jeans. I didn't do anything on the black market, but cigarettes, candy, and gum were very hot commodities. You could make out like a bandit.

"At one meeting everyone went around and introduced themselves. When I said that I was from Chicago, Yuri, an architect, said, "Chicago--Blackhawks, Bulls, Bears, White Sox, Cubs, Al Capone, bang bang.' And that I went to the University of Chicago--'atomic bomb.' That's what they know about Chicago."

That may not be their fault. Barnes was astonished to find she was the only Chicagoan in the entire group of 220. The ACIL, she learned, had found Chicago to be a "very parochial place," and had had trouble finding Chicagoans interested in making the trip. When she visited the office of Moscow's mayor, Gavril Popov, she saw souvenir plaques left there by representatives of many U.S. cities. Not one was from Chicago.

"When I visited my great-aunt in the Ukraine in 1975, under Brezhnev, we spoke only in dark rooms, because she was convinced that the light bulb in the ceiling was a recording device," recalls corporate attorney Jaroslawa Johnson of Hinshaw & Culbertson. Johnson was raised bilingual in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Baltimore, but only took a special interest in her ancestral homeland two-and-a-half years ago, when clients began asking her if Gorbachev's reforms were for real.

"I tried to persuade my aunt that in a country of more than 200 million people, it was unlikely that every light fixture would be bugged, but I got nowhere. It just shows the extent of their fear. In the kitchen was a radio that received only one station, which broadcast Moscow news. I had never seen anything like it, and when I asked what it was, she just said, 'Oh, that's a liar.'

"I was followed wherever I went, and no Soviet citizens were allowed to enter the hotel where we Westerners stayed. There were guards at the door.

"I went back to the Ukraine for three weeks this past summer, and the changes are astonishing. Every town has its own version of Hyde Park, places where the government is openly discussed and criticized. There are no limits on photography, whereas before you couldn't take a picture of a beggar or even a poorly dressed child."

Johnson sighs. "But under Brezhnev the economic situation was better. There was ample bread. There were some lines, but you could buy shoes, the essentials of life. Now there are lines for bread, potatoes, everything. People told me, 'The only thing we don't have a deficit of is political literature.' And sure enough, the bookstore shelves are full of Marx and Lenin. Nobody wants to buy them."

Johnson was the guest of the mayor of Kiev. "The politicians I talked to seemed to feel that economic reform would not work until private property is allowed in all forms, the Communist Party's power is lessened, and individuals control their own future. As of now, you can't even hire wage-paid labor." And since the Soviet economy has run on central planning, the republics' desire for autonomy or independence has free-market implications too. "Economically it's going to take reform on many levels, and more hardship, like the Polish 'shock therapy.' Eventually the people will have to grin and bear it.

"They don't recognize that their system provides freebies--housing, education, medical care." But they're only freebies of a sort. "They reply, 'Yes, but our free medical care is inadequate--you have to bring your own sheets to the hospital, supply your doctor with rubber gloves and disposable syringes.' So it's free, I guess, but you get what you pay for.

"One of the lasting benefits of communism--perhaps the only one that will be long remembered--is universal literacy. Now Eastern Europe is attractive because its labor is both relatively cheap and literate. Under communism, you had to be able to read the dogma. This appeals to business: economically it's third world like India, Thailand, or Ethiopia--but because the workers are literate, you can insist on Western standards. The drawback is that businessmen are often not sure who to deal with in the bureaucracies."

Johnson is skeptical of many Western assumptions about the Soviet Union. "Another thing we've heard for years is that the entrepreneurial spirit has been beaten out of the Soviets. My husband is a sociologist, and this summer on the train from Budapest to Lvov he saw how prevalent the black market is in every aspect of life, even though it's never reflected in the GNP.

"The conductor on this train was a businessman. He sold standing-room-only tickets, which were illegal, and then during the border crossing, when they might be detected, insisted that the first-class passengers take them in. He had two prostitutes working the train. He sold liquor. We chatted with a Hungarian couple who made the trip weekly, coming in with bags full to trade."

The chief economist of RUKH, the Ukrainian Democratic Movement, asked Johnson for some professional literature, complaining "I only know Soviet economics." Who would he like to read? she asked--perhaps Paul Samuelson, a staple of American college economics courses? "No," he said. "I want the collected works of Milton Friedman."

Johnson adds, "Their enthusiasm for everything American was overwhelmingly touching. We are close to our system, we see lots of warts. I tried explaining that the free market had minuses too. I got a uniformly disbelieving response. They say, 'Please give us those problems.'

"I encouraged them not to pick us as the whole alternative: 'Just take those things that work well. Ultimately you're going to be part of the European community. Look at those countries--Scandinavia, Germany--and pick a suitable model. Look at it all as a smorgasbord.' That idea was just bewildering to them. They have been too isolated to understand."

"It takes two full days to get to Kiev--no, I am not exaggerating," says 26th Ward Alderman Luis Gutierrez, who visited the Ukraine in the last week of September along with some 20 other Chicagoans, most of them born in the Ukraine. Gutierrez's invitation came from the mayor of Lvov; his ward may be largely Hispanic, but it also includes many Ukrainians. "First we flew to Germany and Budapest, then took the train. We were 25 hours on that train." That included a six-hour border stop to change wheels because the Soviet tracks are a different width.

Once in Kiev, Gutierrez says, "It became real clear that there's a process of a people saying, we have a common history, a common language, a common culture, and a territory we can define. It's exciting. I thought, 'God! If Puerto Ricans had the level of nationalism Ukrainians have, we'd be independent and have an ambassador here I could visit.'

"Maybe I am more accepting of this process because I am culturally biased: 'You want everybody in the Ukraine to speak Ukrainian. I agree. I think everybody in Puerto Rico should be able to speak Spanish.' I've heard these arguments before. It's clear to me that the Ukraine is a nation and that someday we're going to have an ambassador from there."

But not right away. "In the Ukraine I could not call my wife in the U.S. from the hotel. There was supposed to be a certain time, day, and place where you could make the call, but I never quite got that straight. I had to send her a telegram--and then, since you don't get any confirmation, I sent another one the next day to make sure she got it.

"The Ukraine needs a communications system if it's going to attract commerce and industry. And it will need its own monetary system, because you can't trade the ruble on the market. So I understand why they aren't pushing immediate independence. These people are serious, cautious, calm, and deliberate. It's not like other wars of independence. When they do it, they're going to do it right."

The Ukraine is perhaps best known in this country as the place where they did it wrong. "People in Kiev talk about 'BC'--'before Chernobyl.' Before Chernobyl you didn't need a detector to check your children's clothes. One woman told me, 'When I see a pregnant woman, I no longer feel the joy I would have before Chernobyl, because I wonder what kind of child she will bring into the world.'

"There's a river where Chernobyl is, and that water flows straight into Kiev. You could see it from our hotel. People didn't know Chernobyl was burning, and they went right on bathing in the river. We heard about it April 29, 1986. They didn't. The government didn't tell them. They held the May Day parade in Kiev. The wife of the new Kiev deputy to the Supreme Soviet told us, 'The mayor and government officials were at the parade--but they had sent their children to Leningrad.'"

The new Kiev deputy has a listed telephone number, says Gutierrez. "People call him even when the plumbing in their [state-owned] apartment building breaks down, when the elevator doesn't work. I thought, 'That's democracy from my point of view. Let's hope they don't lose that.'"

"A friend of mine said, 'Russia is the only country where you leave with a full suitcase and come home with an empty one,'" says Stephanie B. Goldberg, assistant editor of the ABA Journal. She was in the USSR on business last year in April and September. "I spent time with law professors and intellectuals. In April they were griping about living in three rooms, with no car, no VCR, no U.S. beer. By September it was no cigarettes in three months. In April people made a big deal of correcting me when I said 'Russian'--I should say 'Soviet.' By September everybody wanted to be known by their republic instead. People in Leningrad wanted to be called 'Russian' and not 'Soviet.'"

From a journalistic point of view, the trips were difficult. "It's hard to report a story; it's almost easier to do the story from here. There are no telephone machines, no call forwarding--people still have to think whether they want to talk with you. The logistics in general are bad, even just identifying sources and finding them. The freest conversations I had were not in offices, but late at night in people's homes. But there is energy there--the place is crackling."

The academic conference she went to cover in September went badly. "The Americans gave papers, the Soviets gave speeches." For instance, the Soviet counterpart to a U.S. paper on cases in discrimination law might be a stump speech on how important human rights are. There was no question-and-answer time. And the U.S. papers didn't always make sense to the Russians. "At the June conference one U.S. lawyer described a case where a union objected to a corporate merger and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. One Soviet asked, "How could the workers in the union dare to disagree?'

"They like our music and our jeans, and people are warm and lovely in their homes. But a lot of bedrock notions we take for granted just aren't there. One value they don't have is the importance of work or initiative--the idea that it's OK for me to get ahead if you don't."

Nevertheless, she says, "the people I spoke to considered themselves leftists, but 'left' means 'free market.' I got into fights with people who told me how good Ronald Reagan had been for the United States. He is a hero to many people there. The slogan of getting rid of bureaucrats who are wealthy and entrenched and who impede the operation of the market is very appealing to them. I said, 'What about the S and L scandal? What about the homeless?' They said, 'That's the price you have to pay.'"

Goldberg was curious about the resurgence of prejudices. "Being Jewish, I asked about anti-Semitism, and I did get the classic response: 'Absolutely not, Stephanie. In fact, some of my best friends are Jews.' I think I was very protected from it, but I did see posters up in Moscow saying that Jews eat babies and setting a date for a pogrom."

She puts the hostility down partly to the speed at which things have changed. "In some ways it's very much like our 60s and 70s, with Afghanistan playing the role of Vietnam--an incredible amount of disgust, discontent, general ferment."

But some things seem to have changed little. Women were surprised to learn that Goldberg had no children. "Women would come up to me and as an icebreaker ask, 'Do you have a child?' When I said no, they'd look at me as if I was from Mars.

"The men treat Russian women terribly. But they treat U.S. women real strangely--I think it kind of irks the men that we're there, and independent, and have money. The man who was my guide went nuts if I carried my own briefcase, or hailed a cab. A lot of the men there make a big deal of being very courtly, hand kissing--some say it's supposed to be a gracious alternative to the enforced socialist egalitarianism. I tried fighting it, but then my guide took me to a party and wouldn't translate."

Goldberg has a list of things to fill your Russia-bound suitcase with: tuna fish ("there is often no food at the hotels--there were days when I lived on peanuts"), toilet paper, Marlboros (best for cab fare), dollar bills ("people won't accept rubles--they're worthless"). For gifts she suggests panty hose, lipstick, calculators, highlighters, Hershey bars. "And be sure to bring along any toiletries or professional supplies that you're going to need."

Arriving in the Soviet Union, says Goldberg, "you go through a kind of culture shock--no milk, poor rooms, no toilet paper. Your movements are constrained. Their apartment buildings look like Cabrini-Green. But gradually you tune in to the people."

Coming back is almost worse. "In eight hours you're at JFK at the duty-free shop, and everything looks obscene. You go to Treasure Island and you can't believe it--'You mean I can have that apple?' In a sense, that suffering and deprivation clears the BS from your life."

More reverse culture shock tends to follow. Goldberg, like most of the other people in this article, jumped at the chance to talk. "You have this profound experience, you come home, and nobody is really interested."

Lee Botts, founder of the Lake Michigan Federation and longtime environmental activist, visited the remote Lake Baikal area with a delegation of 22 people under the auspices of the Earth Island Institute and the Center for U.S.-U.S.S.R. Initiatives. They spent much of August in the town of Severobaikal, which has an estimated population of 35,000, discussing how to accomplish economic development without damaging the environment. "We had no newspaper, no radio, no communication. We'd left New York August 9--we didn't know whether we were at war or not!" When they returned to Moscow late in the month, Botts and her fellow travelers were "climbing the walls. We all scrambled to look for papers. Somebody found a two-week-old Newsweek. Finally we found someone from Pittsburgh reading a two-day-old USA Today in a park. He gave it to us. Quite an experience for a news junkie!"

Getting to the Lake Baikal area--which is so far into Siberia it's almost in Mongolia--was half the fun. From Moscow they flew to Irkutsk, with a one-hour stopover in Omsk that stretched to two or three hours, in an Aeorflot plane that "must have had a leak--there was frost around my feet." They left Irkutsk at 6 AM on a one-hour boat ride to the mouth of the Angara River. "The boat was overcrowded--jammed. And down the aisle, passed from hand to hand overhead, came a big smoked fish. Everyone would tear a piece off and pass it on. Then came another. And then a bottle of vodka. We had worried about getting sick. We looked at each other--and had some.

"Then we got on the hydrofoil for the ten-hour trip up Lake Baikal to Severobaikal--and left our breakfast and lunch behind on the dock. Fyodor, who the people in Severobaikal had hired as our "arranger,' somehow got hold of some cheese, very hard bread, and mineral water: that was breakfast and that was lunch."

Lake Baikal, a mile-deep rift in the earth's crust, holds more fresh water than all five Great Lakes combined. Botts was part of a team discussing shore erosion, but in the course of events she got to field questions of every kind. In Irkutsk she was invited to speak to the local Eco-English Club. "They wanted me to tell them all about American environmental problems and laws and standards--in an hour or so. I was reminded of this the other day when I visited a friend at US EPA Region V in Chicago. He'd just had a visitor from Gdansk, and he was sputtering. He'd given the woman a complete copy of the new Clean Air Act. It has absolutely nothing to do with where Poland is at, but it's information. They want information so badly, but the level of information they can use is decades old for us."

At the Eco-English Club she met Viktor, a molecular biologist who had recently won election to the local soviet. "Now he was a public official, and he wanted to do his duty. Did Irkutsk have an adequate sewage-treatment system? He didn't have a clue, and he was having trouble getting any answers from the agency running it: 'They say I'm keeping them from doing their job.' I arranged for him to meet with two people in our group who are sewage-treatment experts. And when they did visit it, they found it was pretty primitive, with little equipment and few analytical capabilities.

"Viktor also asked me, what did I think if there was lumbering in the forest around Baikal, and they took this much"--she spreads her hands about a foot apart--"of topsoil along with the trees. A Korean company had done that--did I think it was an environmental problem?" Needless to say, it was. "That's the kind of exploitation people in the region want to prevent. That contract was let by some economic ministry in Moscow, where the attitude is that Siberian resources are just there to be taken.

"Somebody said to me after I got back, 'Lee, you were only there three weeks, how could you have so many adventures?' I said I could because I had several adventures a day." One day they went to visit Ulan-Ude. "There was no food at the hotel, but an employee told us that there might be a food shop open three or four blocks away. We found two shops. One had nothing but fish. The other one had packages of noodles, apples, two kinds of cookies, a candy that looked like green marbles, some eggs, and some fermented milk. That was all.

"Well. A lot of us already had tea bags. We bought some cookies and one bag of candy. The hotel clerk heated us some water in a samovar, and we had a tea party.

"Then someone told us that about 20 miles from Ulan-Ude was the largest Buddhist monastery in the USSR, a center for Tibetan medicine. So we had a choice: go to the monastery, and therefore have nothing more to eat that day, or stay around and go to a restaurant in town. Of course I chose the monastery." There she saw an intricately beautiful temple. Her companion failed to persuade the presiding monk to treat Botts's cold with Tibetan herbal remedies, "although he did show us all his equipment."

If hotel accommodations in Severobaikal were primitive ("some people couldn't sleep because of the flies"), they were luxurious compared to the facilities available when Botts, a California man, and five Soviet men went out to Yarki Island to study shore erosion for two days. There was just one large bunk room, "and I could tell the Soviets were really perplexed where to put me." Finally they evicted a nearby camp counselor from his alcove. "People kept wondering why I didn't complain--I was having a wonderful time roughing it!

"I met Boris Pinsker, an economist from Moscow who spoke English well. He's a radical economist, meaning he believes in free enterprise. In our first encounter he immediately launched into his view that we Americans should be very grateful to Ronald Reagan. I ended up becoming great friends with him nevertheless." But, she says, Pinsker "didn't understand the risks involved with capitalism. I remember one conversation we had about medical care. We were talking about how bad it was in the Soviet Union. I said, 'Yes, but it doesn't cost anything.' Boris said, 'Oh, but in the U.S. everyone has insurance.' So I tried to explain how our system is breaking down--it's one of our biggest problems. He just looked at me. I don't know if he believed me or not. He seemed stricken."

Ironically, the kind of people who would benefit from a laissez-faire Soviet Union are often seen as suspect. Botts was particularly struck by Sergei Pisarev. "He can't be more than 30, but he is a real operator, a comer, an enterprising person. He got the idea of inviting a U.S. delegation to this area, and worked out the process. His North Baikal Fund had 20 businesses employing 300 people, in things like auto repair, metal recycling, local handicrafts, food production, and more. Somehow the fund had become part of the local government, and he had some title there too. He always had minions around, to drive you somewhere, for instance, if he told them to. Oh, he'd do fine in Chicago, just fine.

"The other people there told me that Sergei was too ambitious and self-serving." There was also some kind of factional fight between his North Baikal Fund and the Baikal Fund, based at the southern end of the lake. "I said I would reserve judgment, considering how much he had learned from just one trip to the U.S. and how much he'd already done. I know it takes some ambition and self-serving qualities to be a leader--I would never run for Congress, for instance. This is a very strong cultural factor in Soviet society which I didn't appreciate before. One of the biggest barriers to change there is this mistrust of anyone who does better than everyone else."

Filmmaker Raul Zaritsky headed a delegation of American documentary filmmakers who went to a U.S.-Soviet film seminar in Riga, Latvia, last September; now he's helping organize a similar event in Moscow. "What we saw of Soviet work in Riga was very impressive, including a number of journalistic works highly critical of Soviet society. One film showed in detail the police stopping people for traffic violations and collecting bribes from one motorist after another. As society goes further into chaos, filmmakers also get interested in prostitution--especially in such a puritanical country. It's a way of outraging the sensibility and saying that society is out of control.

"But we didn't see any pieces that were thoroughgoing analyses of the situation comparable, say, to Hodding Carter on Frontline the other night showing how Bush has walked us into this conflict in the gulf. It may be just because that kind of perspective is hard to come by for them.

"My favorite film from the conference was Interpretation of Dreams by Kiev director Zandanski--a marvelously clever, witty, humorous feature-length look at Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. You see the intellectual life churning along--and on the other hand, the journalistic pieces tend to be stuck at the level of specific acts of corruption."

Similarly, Zaritsky says, "the environmental films were outspoken criticisms of misuse of the environment--but they don't seem to have the benefits of tiers and tiers of independent experts who can explain what the facts are. As a result, you often would wonder whether the filmmaker knew what he was talking about."

Organizing the upcoming film conference hasn't been a picnic; Zaritsky has discovered, for instance, that the Soviets have no idea what a checking account is. "There will be American vendors at this conference, and the Soviets will charge them something--but they have no way to deal with a check. I didn't know this until last month. I said, 'I'll give you your first check--a $10 check on my Chicago account--and if you can deal with that, we're all set.' But I suspect they're still wandering around Moscow with it. It's like a flag--it's valuable, but you can't spend it."

Zaritsky thought the Soviets seemed far too compliant about being trapped in a rotting system--and they seemed to think the same thing. He retells one popular joke about a factory commissar who found that his workers had failed to meet their quota. He called all 400 of them together and announced, "Comrades, since you have failed to produce the quota, tomorrow you will all be hanged." Dead silence. Eventually a burly fellow in back put up his hand and said, "Comrade commissar, should we bring our own ropes?"

Zaritsky also points out that "all over Moscow there are beriozkas, hard-currency stores supposed to be only for foreigners. But prices there are marked in rubles and there are no guards at the doors. Why don't a few dozen old babushkas shoulder in, put down their rubles, take the merchandise, and say, 'Shoot if you want'? Yet people line up elsewhere. The idea that in Chicago any population could run short of cheese and chicken when Treasure Island was stocked full! Yet these people agree to this dumb system."

Just as the other side of depression is mania, the other side of abject compliance is a sense that anything goes. "They don't understand the rules and ethics of capitalism--the boundaries between entrepreneurial effort and corruption. We know that line, even though we cross it all the time: you're not supposed to give kickbacks or bribes, or undercut your longtime supplier by making a side deal.

"The Soviets don't understand that. Everything there is corrupt--based on who you know and can do a favor for. So when they move to capitalism, they get in bed with anybody. They can't tell the difference between a legitimate businessman and a totally corrupt, reprehensible person.

"I was talking with one magazine editor, a very sophisticated man. He was discussing how it was so easy now to get advertisers from the West, that he would maybe start bypassing his Austrian agent and keep the commissions for himself. I had to explain that you'll never get proper work from people if you only deal through them when it's difficult and undercut them when it becomes easier. Again, he was offering to pay U.S. companies to review their own products. I had to explain how any magazine would lose all credibility if it did that. He could understand these points, but it was a little like educating a 12-year-old about how to trade fairly with his friends."

In their struggle to understand capitalism, the Soviets seem to have embraced Ronald Reagan and rejected the American left, Zaritsky says. "From their point of view, the people on the left have been apologists for the Leninist experiment." Even anti-Soviet leftists were pleased to have the USSR around to counter U.S. government lies. But the Soviet experiment "has been dreadful for the guinea pigs, who have been left in a miserable situation. And the guinea pigs are pissed."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Charles Eshelman.

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