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Anecdotal accounts: 1984
Copyright 1996 byEric Fenster

By the fourth trip, and especially after what happened in 1983, I did not wonder whether getting to Moscow would involve a crisis but what it would be. There was no disappointment in 1984.
    The problem was simply that our visas were late. First it was just a nuisance, then it became disquieting. I contacted Moscow, but they were calm there. All the proper papers for our invitation had been filed as usual in the right places.
The departure date approached. No visas, no worries in Moscow. When leaving was even more imminent, I asked Vladimir Nikitin at the Soviet Embassy to help. He was also unable to learn what, if anything, was wrong, and he reminded me that one could not go to the Soviet Union without a visa.
    Finally, it was the eve of the flight. I was in Paris, and there were no visas. A plan was worked out between Nikitin and my friend Lynne in Detroit. She would fly to Washington and come to the Soviet Embassy where Nikitin would make a final effort to procure the visas. If successful, she would take them to New York where the group was gathering from different cities for the Transatlantic flight.
    Late that night in Paris, Lynne called from Kennedy Airport. There were no visas. Nikitin had done his best and had even asked the Soviet ambassador to intervene. The ambassador could, on his own authority, issue visas, but he refused. The logic was, to us, unusual. Two cables had been sent from the Embassy to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow asking what was wrong. Neither had been answered. The ambassador figured that if one cable were unanswered the explanation could be incompetence; if a second cable were unanswered, there must be a reason and he wasn’t going to chance contravening it.
    This was extraordinary because the ambassador in question was Anatoly Dobrynin, dean of the diplomatic corps stationed in the United States and near the top of the Soviet political hierarchy. Yet he was too cautious to take any initiative in as minor a situation as this.
    The group, bound and determined to go to Moscow, had boarded the flight to Brussels and were on their way. I was not surprised. This group included leaders in the United Automobile Workers union with regional or national responsibilities, the director of labor studies at San Jose City College in California and a number of his students, and other such people not in the habit of caving in over the presence or absence of a mere piece of paper.
The next morning I called Zayatsky in Moscow.
    “Did you receive visas?”
    “No.”
    “What are you going to do?”
    “We’re coming.”
    “Congratulations.”
    There was a glass door in the passport control area at Sheremetevo Airport that separated the Soviet Union from the rest of the world. Marat Baglai was on the other side and an inch-wide vertical gap at the hinge allowed us to talk.
    “Do you have visas?”
    “No.”
    “Wait here.” As if we had a choice.
    Twenty-four people without papers did not simply show up on the doorstep of that country and expect to be let in. It was a Saturday night, so most of the Soviet bureaucracy would be shut down. This was going to test the powers of the Soviet trade unions.
    I had confidence in Baglai and also in the fact that I had a visa. Mine had been made at the Soviet Consulate in Paris, and since visas at that time were approved by Moscow, if I received one there had to have been a legitimate dossier for our group.
We found a space out of the way to wait, but occasionally I wandered a bit, out of boredom. My milling about was unusual behavior; people normally walked straight from the plane to passport control hoping to get through as quickly as possible. A young border guard noticed. “What are you doing?”
    “We are bez vizki [visaless].”
    “Passport!” he demanded, shocked.
    “Here’s the passport. No problem. But there are no visas.”
    He went to get a superior officer. When I gave him the same explanation, he mumbled something redundant, like: “Wait here.”
    After two hours, Baglai reappeared with a resolution. “Your group will collect its baggage and stay in the airport hotel for the weekend. On Monday, we’ll make the visas.”
    A platoon of border soldiers appeared. They formed a double file and marched our group, three at a time, through the glass door and the short distance to the baggage belts. Not the slightest risk could be taken lest somebody bolt, run past the customs agents and out the door of the international zone, slip through the crowd, leave the air terminal, continue out of the airport and disappear into fields north of Moscow.
    I tried to join one of the trios, but Baglai stopped me. It was my duty to stay with the group, I said. “No, you have a visa. You must enter the Soviet Union.” The others would be taken to the guarded transit section of the airport hotel and would be able to go to their rooms, the restaurant and the bar. I would have a free weekend.

    When I walked into the Sputnik Hotel I immediately spotted Paul Bertelsen in the lobby. Bertelsen was Chief of Adult Education at UNESCO in Paris and we had known each other for some years, since before he led an international mission to evaluate our university program in Detroit. Before coming to UNESCO, he was a practitioner of adult education, working mainly in East Africa. His responsibilities for UNESCO frequently took him to many countries including, on a number of occasions, the Soviet Union. In short, Bertelsen was a seasoned traveler, well-versed in international politics and on a first-name basis with a number of national leaders and government ministers. This did not immunize him from certain stereotypic interpretations about the USSR.
    I already knew Bertelsen would arrive in Moscow just before we did to attend a conference and would stay at the same hotel. It was a happy coincidence. During a chat in Paris before the trip, he told me about his one preoccupation. He was very fond of Russia, but complained he was always provided with an interpreter who was a KGB agent and watched his every move, so it was impossible to explore on his own.
    Dinner was nearly ready when we met, so we had to put off conversation for later. Bertelsen just had time to tell me of his frustration. “Well, they’ve done it again. My interpreter is an agent who sticks to me like glue. I can’t get a minute to myself. You’ll see, I’ll introduce you.”
    I ate with Baglai and our interpreter team, who suddenly had nothing to do. Near the end of the meal, I heard my name called out. I barely had a chance to turn around before Lena [see 1983] ran up and wrapped me in a big welcome hug. She had left Bertelsen behind, walking from the back of the dining hall with an absolutely astonished look on his face. “Well, obviously you two already know each other,” he managed. So Lena was his “KGB agent”!
    After supper I took her aside to explain that Paul was the sort who liked time to explore a city on his own and he seemed to be having trouble doing that because of the attention she was giving him. “Well, why didn’t he just say so?” she replied. “He doesn’t speak Russian, so I’m his ears and voice, but whenever he wants to roam he only has to tell me. I’ll be more than happy to go home and have some time with [my daughter] Ana.”
    With Lena’s credentials as an ordinary human being established, the three of us could take advantage of Sunday and of Paul’s free time. He liked to nose about in foreigners’ hotels to see what went on in the bars and who hung out in them. From him I learned how to get past the front door without explanations to doormen. Paul would draw himself up and move with determined long strides, booming a “Good evening” in English that was too polite to contest while only nodding to acknowledge that the guards might exist and giving the impression that he was doing them a favor by stopping by. We were too far inside for anything to be done by the time the surprise wore off.
    As a UNESCO official, Paul had special dispensation from the baggage weight limits Aeroflot normally applied with draconian enthusiasm, and he intended to take advantage of this by indulging his taste for Gzhell, the blue on white ceramics made from a special white clay.
    By Metro or flagging down cars, he ran Lena and me all over the city to every place that sold the stuff. And he bought: cups and saucers, tea pots, pitchers, figurines. Box loads went back to Paris.

Monday, the group was released. Fortunately, we had used the layover in the Brussels airport to take identification photos in the machines there and those who had Polaroid cameras helped out. Each visa required two pictures and doing those quickly in Moscow might have been the big practical hurdle. Everybody was in good spirits, glad to get out but with a weekend of card playing and getting acquainted behind them.

There was a refreshing addition to the lecture lineup, Yuri Popov. Popov was short, solid and pugilistic. When he spoke he jabbed the air with his hands and voice, bobbing and weaving to duck replies and counter punch. He wrote on the political economy of Africa and had spent time lecturing in Paris. He loved debate and later he and the Swiss socialist professor, Jean Ziegler, would publish a book length conversation arguing the communist and socialist approaches to organizing society.
    It was a little harder for Popov to distinguish between monologue and dialogue when he was in front of a classroom. He always pretended he would introduce a subject and then engage in discussion, but he was the double product of Soviet long-windedness and the French habit of setting any question or answer in its broadest context.
    Popov was faced with American audience who not only had a general preference for simple and direct answers but might have been habituated to the then increasing use of the sound bite as a substitute for news.
         The sparring over his style reached a climax one day after a question was posed and everybody settled in for the inevitable soliloquy. Popov answered, “Yes!” and fell silent. After a sufficiently dramatic pause, he feigned surprise. “Well, isn’t that what you wanted? Now, if you want to know ‘why, yes’ or ‘why, no’ you will have to give me leave to speak.”
    Popov presented himself as striving to be what the typical Party member should be: somebody who did Party activities on top of his ordinary work plus and was obliged to set an example of right living. This was distinct from the professional Party apparatus with its access to privileges. In 1984 he came across as a modernizer. He knew from his travels that all was not perfect in the Soviet Union, but he argued with passion that the solutions had to conform to the legacy of Russian culture and to homegrown ideas of social justice and not be an imitation of the West typified by the hunger for blue jeans and rock music. He never managed to interpret these tastes as manifestations of the desire and right of Soviet youth to reach out to contemporaries they could not get to know directly.
    Popov was willing to lecture on any topic, but he was designated to deal with East-West relations. To prove the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union, he cited the official figures of a defense budget that was minuscule compared to the American one. This was a provocation. “Yury," I countered, "you know perfectly well that the figure is phony, that the real number is secret and that expenses are hidden in all sorts of civilian agencies. You can’t run a five million man army on that kind of money.”
    He would not be so impolite as to retort that major American military spending was similarly hidden, but he did make his comparisons. “Do you think our soldiers are paid the way yours are? They don’t get enough pocket money to buy cigarettes.” He was right there. “Now, do you know the price of a Kalashnikov rifle?” He was about to reveal a state secret to make his point. “Thirty-five rubles. So you can begin to see why our costs are lower.”
    “Yury, come with me to a hunting store in Moscow. A shotgun will cost a hundred rubles. Are you trying to tell me a Kalashnikov cost three times less to make than a simple shotgun? In this economy the prices of goods are artificial; they are whatever the government decides they are.” That was usually time for a coffee break.
    Victor Orlov was on the program again and with his own form of provocation. At some point in his discussion of foreign policy he would manage to get in that while the Soviet Union may have had differences with its neighbors, “there was never a single occasion on which the Soviet interfered in the internal affairs of another country.” That meant he’d reached the part of his talk where he wanted to deal with, say, Czechoslovakia, and no group ever failed to ask the challenging question. The laborious reply always revolved around an appeal for help from legitimate authorities to which the Soviets finally had to accede.
    Slava Semenkov returned to give us a lecture, and this time I had details for him. The entire text of the secret report on the need to reorganize the Soviet economy had been obtained and translated into English. It was said to be the work of a woman named Tatyana Zaslavskaya who worked at an institute in Novosibirsk. I handed him a photocopy. Some days later, he said he had read it but he brushed it aside. “There are some interesting things in it, but criticisms of this kind are being published all the time. I think you should not exaggerate its importance.” In other words, this was not the harbinger of any great changes.

There was a bar on the ground level of the hotel that had been renovated into a cozy place to talk. For some licensing reason contrary to the propensity in Russia to drink, the fare was mainly fruit juices or genuine Turkish coffee brewed in individual pots on hot coals. Some in the group took to gathering there.
    One evening I was invited in to meet their new friend. Irina was one of the beautiful Russian women so numerous that Russian men seemed no longer to notice, while Americans were stunned that reality didn’t conform to a then popular television commercial portraying the typical Russian woman as a kind of country cousin to a battleship.
    Irina was going to be a dancer until her leg was too severely cut in an accident. Now she operated a computer involved in the distribution of petroleum products. She wanted to practice English and talk to foreigners. The Sputnik bar was easier to get into than the ones catering to tourists and it didn’t exclude Soviets by requiring payment in foreign currency. It was also, according to Irina, a hangout for Leonid Brezhnev’s grandson, whom she regarded as a do-nothing.
    After the formalities of getting acquainted, we took a walk another evening, first through nearby parts of nineteenth century Moscow that I didn’t know existed, hidden behind the buildings of Leninsky Prospect.
    It was October, and chilly in late evening, but at that time there was really no place to go to sit down for a cup of tea. Down an embankment near the railway tracks, we found a concrete cylinder about four feet high with steam vents at the top. It was a way to keep warm, and for an hour we talked there. Irina’s vision of the Soviet Union was straightforward. It was a great country with all the material and human resources it needed to be a rich one, but these were being squandered senselessly. She seemed then to want only the opportunity for her and her generation to be allowed to do something positive, but expressed no hope that this could be possible.
    By the time the conversation finished the condensed steam had thoroughly soaked my jacket, and within minutes of starting to walk back, the night air made the cold penetrate. I shivered uncontrollably there, in the taxi we hailed to the rescue and, it seemed, during half the night. It made the conversation at the steam vent an indelible memory of a turning point, the irretrievable internal contradiction of the USSR.

Moscow’s Metro is famous, and even people who haven’t visited the city have seen pictures of its more elaborate stations. We paid a visit to the Metro museum and learned more of its positive attributes from a pleasant elderly guide. However, one person in our group had a mild mobility problem--polio left him with the need to wear a leg brace--and one objective of his stay was to learn how the country dealt with handicapped people. There was clearly no way people who could not walk could possibly use public transit.
    The global answer was in the fact that the question itself had to be put several times and in different ways before the guide even understood what he was talking about. The matter was not whether provisions were inadequate or totally lacking; the idea seemed never to have occurred to her that such people needed to move from place to place or that they had any particular role in society. The best she could manage was that people who had lost mobility were given work they could do at home. A few received three-wheel motorized cars.
    The fare on the Metro had been five kopecks (officially seven US cents) since it opened. I wondered about how the system was subsidized, and it didn’t seem like an unreasonable question since most urban transit is unable to survive on fares alone.
    Our hostess maintained that the Moscow Metro did manage to exist on its revenues. That, anyway, was the official position. I pushed further with quick calculations to relate the number of riders and the wages of the employees. There would not be much left to buy equipment and electricity. The woman held her ground.
    Liuda was with us to translate and afterwards she scolded me. It wasn’t fair to ask questions that went beyond the guide’s responsibilities. My argument was that it was legitimate to expect that somebody who daily gave visitors figures on the ridership, the number of employees and their salaries and benefits should at least once do the simple multiplication to see if things added up. The larger question was whether people were participants in their society or simple conduits.
       A similar confrontation occurred when we made our now traditional visit to the Soviet Peace Committee. This institution, appropriately located on Peace Avenue, billed itself as a public organization that raised its operating funds from voluntary donations by Soviet citizens. The total independence of any association from the “leading role” of the Communist Party could rightfully be doubted and it might be bad form to refuse one’s share when there was a local campaign for funds to support the Committee, but it would be wrong to question the average citizen’s concern, and sometimes obsession, with the threat of war.
    On this occasion we were received by a well-known author named Ananiev, who was also an official in the Peace Committee. Although he proposed discussion, he began with a long speech (his novels, too, were typically Russian in that respect), the gist of which was that he wanted us to know that he and the Soviet people were for peace.
    I was irritated that Ananiev didn’t make the least effort to find out who his audience was or to give the benefit of the doubt before lecturing us like schoolchildren. I tried to remain polite while assuring him that if we had come to the Soviet Union and to the Peace Committee he could assume we shared his goal, but that the purpose of such face-to-face meetings was to talk about how practically to implement the goal. My question had to do with the controversy then raging over the propriety of installing intermediate nuclear forces (INF)--the Soviet SS20s and American Pershing 2s--in Europe.
    Ananiev exploded. If we wanted to discuss technical matters we should have asked for somebody competent to do so [nobody at the Committee ever invited visitors to specify topics or speakers and he knew that]. That was not his area of expertise. He was there to convince us that the Soviet Union wanted peace. If we needed proof, he rolled up his pants to show the remnants of a war wound. The harangue lasted nearly fifty minutes, and when he finished there was nothing to do but go home. Once again, roles were circumscribed. In the Metro it was between function and finance; here, between rhetoric and facts.
    Valery was our interpreter who had done all the translation. He was angry, but at me. On the way home on the bus, he pretended I didn’t exist.
    Liuda heard that something had gone wrong, and the next day she asked me for details. She was outraged at Ananiev for the way he treated guests and piqued at me for not reacting more strongly. “You should have marched out of the auditorium and straight into the Director’s office and said: ‘Punish that man!’”

There were a number of university professors with interests in labor education among the group. The director of labor studies at San Jose College has already been mentioned. The director of a program at Harbor College near Los Angeles that had adopted the degree model for adults established in Detroit was another The most prominent figure and the one who seemed most inclined and able to conclude an accord was George Boyle, a professor at the University of Missouri and Past President of the national, University and College Labor Education Association. Marat Baglai wanted to fertilize at least the area of responsibility he covered in the country with new ideas, and for that he needed exchanges. He took the unusual--in my experience, unique--step of inviting us to his home for dinner.
    Baglai was like a man in waiting for a time that might never come. His field of interest was constitutional law, particularly the American Constitution. Some years before he had come to the United States as a member of a delegation of young Soviet political figures, though he took “young” more as flattery . He recalled a visit aboard a yacht in the San Francisco Bay which he assumed was supposed to impress him with the successes of capitalism. He was also introduced to a young American political commentator named Pat Buchanan and recounted that with a certain amusement, as if to say that the Americans had thrown their heaviest ideological weapon at him but he had retained his ideals. Some time after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Baglai became a member and then the president of the Constitutional Court of Russia (a position equivalent to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court).
    The Soviet trade union hierarchy had something of a reputation for being a dumping ground to where functionaries could be banished. Of the three branches of power--Party, government, unions--it was surely the lowest rung. People can, however, be dumped not for lack of competence but for the opposite. They might be too clever or too innovative for those in power. That could be why Baglai was passed over whenever the rectorship of the School had to be decided. In any case, people I met who were critics of the role of Soviet trade unions from the left or right always spoke with respect of Baglai as an exception who was intelligent and with whom one could talk straightly and not get responses crafted with a “wooden tongue.”
    Baglai’s wife was a biologist, and the presence of two academics in the family probably explained the spaciousness of their apartment. Soviet housing regulations specified the number of rooms that corresponded to a family of given size (even if the housing shortage meant the minimum wasn’t always achieved) and they provided that professors receive extra space to use as a study.
Baglai’s outlook was most symbolized in his daughter Ana. She was nineteen and already mastering three languages: English, French and “Chinese.” The last was her main interest and most unexpected because of the continued strain in Sino-Soviet relations. The mother in fact expressed reticence about social contact with the Chinese on racial grounds and acquiesced in the need for better relations more on the basis of awe at their intelligence and ability to accomplish goals... and fear. Ana’s attitude was of optimism and enthusiasm, and I believe that came from her father.
    Baglai also understood limits. The French Embassy showed films a couple nights a week and the doors were open to anybody who wanted to come. Foreigners showed their passports to get by the Soviet guard post at the entrance. Soviet citizens had to show their internal passport (ID) and an invitation from the Embassy.
    I had already procured invitations for other Soviets who knew French and told Baglai I would get one for Ana so she could practice the language and see the films. He showed no enthusiasm and she never came. The reason was obvious if one stood and watched the process at the gate. The Soviet militia man examined the passport, presumably for authenticity, and the guest could pass through. Afterwards the guard went inside his booth to write something down, no doubt the name and passport number he had memorized. There was nothing forbidden about going to these films, but if one didn’t want a record of too much curiosity about things foreign, because who knew if there might be implications some day, it was prudent to stay away.
    The lack of need for security precautions at that time, at the French Embassy at least, was remarkable. This was not a city of uncontrolled demonstrations, disorder or bomb-throwing. The front gate was always wide open, so the French relied on the Soviet militia to filter out the wrong people. Two officers stood at the entrance, but the gap was so wide it would have been easy for anybody going by on the sidewalk to make a quick move and be on Embassy grounds out of reach. The building door was open as well, and one could wander through the lobby, to the auditorium, to the café, to the library and consular offices on the second floor at will. (It was a good place to find a toilet in a city where public ones were rare and overwhelming.) There was a back entrance to the building with a control point for entrance, but it only came into use later. On nights there were films, the French Ambassador, who later became France's Foreign Minister, often enjoyed playing usher and getting people seated.
    The British Embassy offered a less regular cultural program, and the American Embassy none whatsoever. It was uninterested in winning hearts and minds by that route, but did provide the unusual diplomatic service of opening its snack shop to American or other Moscow visitors in need of greasy hamburgers. None of the French casualness either; there were locked doors and the Marine with the ever-fresh haircut to convince before one could satisfy the craving. Soviet citizens were hardly welcome, and there were rules on Embassy staff fraternizing [read: sleeping with] with counterparts in the diplomatic corps from countries anything politically left of Yugoslavia.

The long trip that year was to Baku Azerbaijan. The city on the tip of a Caspian Sea peninsula had elements of past glory and present exhaustion. Centuries’ old towers were better preserved than the oil rigs that began at the seashore and could be visited by walking the network of precarious wooden planks, being careful not to fall into the water that was presumably beneath the permanent thick oil slick through which bubbles of natural gas percolated like thick fizz.
    The sidewalks of Baku held certain dangers because there would frequently be holes without any protection or warning. These had stairs that led to shops partially below ground level. The remarkable thing was that, quite unlike Moscow, the shops were often cafés. There were also bakeries where one could buy the freshly-made regional version of lavash, the flat bread of the Caucasus.
    Val had come along as interpreter and he enjoyed the exploration. He and I and one other member of the group stopped into a café for ice cream and coffee and sat at a round table already occupied by a Soviet sailor. Val pretended not to know Russian and encouraged us to converse. So it was through broken Russian that the sailor learned we were Americans and a little about our visit. The other American asked why he chose to be in the Navy, why a military career. The sailor explained that he saw his role as preserving peace, that this was the most important thing for him.
    Val was satisfied. He had not spoken Russian because he wanted the sailor to think he was talking to three foreigners and for us to hear that Soviet people said spontaneously what we had heard from Ananiev.
    On our first day in Baku we naturally went for a tour of the city. It ended with a ride up the steep hill bordering the Caspian from which we could see a panorama of the town. We could also see the large Soviet naval fleet docked there. After all, the border between the Soviet Union and Iran lay in the Caspian. Aleksei Zhinkin had also accompanied us, and he encouraged everybody to take photos of the fleet. Nobody had even dared to ask. It was forbidden to take pictures of any sort of military installation and even things that might become military, such as civilian airports and planes, that could be mobilized in a national emergency. How could this be? Zhinkin’s explanation was simple. “No regulation about taking pictures of ships from hills.” Accordingly, two dozen people thoroughly documented the Soviet Caspian fleet.
    The next day there was a surprise. The mayor of Baku, we were told, would honor the "first American trade union delegation" to come there by making a boat available to us for a cruise on the Caspian. When we came to the docks it was waiting, with a capacity of a couple hundred but just for us, complete with crew and refreshments. Before casting off we were wished a good time and told we could do anything we liked except one. “Please, no photos. It is forbidden to take pictures while on the Caspian Sea.” That was what made the Soviet Union such fun. We already had rolls of film of military objectives because Zhinkin decided somebody had forgot to regulate pictures of ships from hills, but when we were out of sight of land we were not allowed to take pictures of water!
    For the rest, anything really did go. The captain even turned the wheel over to one of the women in the group who guided us almost until we docked.
    That evening I went with Val to a café on the waterfront and we tried to sort out mutual perceptions. He wanted to know why there was no strong Communist Party as part of the opposition in the United States. He wanted me to know that the shared opinion about foreign affairs issues among Soviet people was real. That Americans put great store in conflict of opinions on such matters was a mystery to him, but the Soviet Union needed unity when looking out at the rest of the world, and we shouldn’t assume other countries had to behave as we did for their political life to be legitimate. The question at that time, however, was whether this unity really existed in the fifth year of the war in Afghanistan or whether differing views had no sources of information to nourish them and no organized outlets for expression. It was therefore useful to discuss how the American public responded to Vietnam.
    The next day a visit to a farm was scheduled. We knew nothing more than that. It turned out to be a long distance from the city, but that is where we learned about power and privilege. Our bus had an escort of two police cars that proceeded and followed our bus with lights flashing. The whole trip was done down the center of the highway at high speed and all we saw were cars on both sides pulled over to the shoulders. It certainly was impressive, but disturbing, to watch people submit out of unquestioned habit to the rights and perquisites of authority.
    At the farm itself, there was no tour or lectures. It was a mechoui, the animals were already roasting on outside spits and the feast lasted hours.

Yury Popov accompanied us to Baku. One response he had to complaints that he engaged in long monologues was that Americans never had a chance to hear Soviet positions because television access was either denied, abbreviated or distorted. He was not wrong in saying that appearances by Soviet spokesmen were rare (although even American political figures seldom had the time to develop a position on television outside the Sunday ghetto of interview programs), but when Popov made the challenge that a longer, coherent presentation was even impossible we decided the take up the gauntlet.
    One group of radio stations, Pacifica, was likely to agree to air a long interview. With coverage of the New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, Popov would have a potential audience of many millions. We offered to interview Popov, let him speak as long as he needed to make his points and guaranteed that his answers would not be edited.
    He was convinced it would just be a waste of time and the program would never be aired or it would be truncated, but he couldn’t refuse. We sat down in the hotel after supper with Val as interpreter and the tape ran for two hours.
    Pacifica did broadcast the interview and I told Popov so the next year, but it took some persuasion to convince him. Meanwhile, I never did find out whether and in what form the traditional end-of-trip interviews we did for Radio Moscow were broadcast.

After advancing from the timed encounter chaperoned by Zhinkin to the small group discussion, the nature of our social gathering with the School’s students back in Moscow moved another notch. Rod Oakes, of our group, was a composer of what is generally called “modern music,” and he proposed to give a recital of his works. This could have been a bit daring a few years before in a country where abstract art had been buried under Khrushchev’s bulldozer, but the School accepted.
    Rod used a combination of prerecorded synthesizer tapes and live saxophone. Some of the compositions were accompanied by slides. He introduced each piece and what it was meant to convey. Each time he received polite applause. Some people were uncomfortable, not knowing how to react. Comments ranged from “interesting” to “we aren’t used to this yet.” For many of the Americans it was also an introduction, and for Rod the behavior was not unexpected. There was one Russian student who verged on being angry, however. Her boyfriend was a composer of the more traditional kind and she complained he could get his work performed because the Soviet modern composer, Schnitke, had cornered the market. To her, Rod’s music just seemed like another invasion of this limited cultural space.

A number of things between the trips of 1984 and 1985 gave different signals about impending change.
    After four years during which we had been well received, discussions were frank and friendly and many doors opened, I wondered the limits might be. We already knew we could invite students and staff from the School to America under conditions others had told us were impossible; namely, living individually with American families. Only the US Government stood in the way. Given that, might personal invitations be honored on the Soviet side?
    During our farewell dinner, I approached Ruben Grigoryan since he was both in the trade union hierarchy and within the Foreign Ministry by virtue of being the tandem “labor attaché” at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. What would it take to invite a friend to visit the United States? Just issue a formal invitation, was all he could reply.
    I  suggested the trip to Lena, whose only reaction was: “Impossible!” Ordinary people were not allowed out, and I was over my head in fantasy. But she would consent to try.
    The other event of the final day was that the members of the United Automobile Workers staff were given a letter addressed to their president, Owen Bieber, from the president of the Soviet automobile trade union. It invited Bieber to come to Moscow, and knowing what the political differences between Soviet and American trade unions were, proposed that the agenda for talks be issues the sides could agree were legitimate ones for unions: health and safety, other working conditions, and so on. The staff members promised to hand deliver the letter and to report their impressions of the visit in the USSR.
    Shortly after I returned to the United States, I traveled to San Francisco. The timing coincided with a seminar the San Jose College labor studies program was organizing about the trip and the director iinvited me to be part of the panel. Besides him and the labor studies students who had gone, there was a professor of political science whose specialty was the Soviet Union and who had also just returned from a field study trip.
    When it was this professor’s turn to speak, he explained that foreigners were forbidden to ride the Metro in Moscow and that police were placed at the entrance to each station to enforce this rule. The rest of us who had just returned and who rode the Metro at will were aghast. Yes, a policeman patrolled the Metro stations, and I watched them filter out people who were overly drunk so they would not abuse passengers (or fall on the tracks). It was also true that Muscovites, including Intourist interpreters, often expressed surprise when a foreigner announced having taken the Metro alone, but the surprise was mixed with admiration because the Muscovites thought the Metro must seem so daunting to outsiders.
    The shock was that a professor with this specialty did “research” in the company of an Intourist guide and was loose spreading fables that fit every preconception about the USSR Americans might have. What must his academic publications been like, and were there other Sovietologues of this type, perhaps even in a position to advise the American government?
    I proceeded with the invitation. The easy part was to get a form mailed from the Soviet Consulate. Its subject was the invitation to bring family members to the United States temporarily or permanently. No provision had been made for the category “friend,” but there was no other form so it would have to do.
    Step one was to fill it out and have it notarized. Easy. Step two was to have the notary’s signature authenticated by the signature and seal of county authorities. Step three I could skip. It required that the county's signature and seal be authenticated by the state, but was only necessary in the case one was inviting relatives to come permanently. I then sent the invitation back to the Soviet Consulate in Washington with payment of a modest fee. There, a number of stamps and signatures were added to certify that the Consulate was convinced that all the prior signatures and seals were valid. The now elaborately decorated document had to be mailed to the lucky invitee. The guarantee was that this would take time, the uncertainty was whether it would be delivered.
    The first approval necessary for a Soviet citizen to travel abroad came from the employer or, in the jargon, the work collective. The logic was that the first proof of one’s good citizenship was in the work one gave to society.
    I later learned that when Lena handed the invitation to her superior, he took one look, saw what it was, asked her, “Are you trying to cause trouble?” and put it in a drawer. That was the end of the trip.
    The letter to Owen Bieber didn’t fare much better. The matter of the invitation had been transmitted to him officially, through the Executive Council of the union, so he had to give a response. It took months, though. Bieber chose prudence and decided to consult with the AFL-CIO since the UAW’s reaffiliation with that body was imminent. The international department of the AFL-CIO appeared to have drafted the reply for Bieber to sign. The invitation was welcome and could be accepted, the letter benignly began. There were only a few things to accomplish first. The Soviet Union must withdraw from Afghanistan, release Andrei Sakharov and a long list of other people presumed to be under detention and permit a certain number of Jews to emigrate. That done, the USSR would have the privilege of  a visit from the UAW President.
    This negative trend was countered by the first and only letter by mail I received from the School. It was from Marat Baglai. We were bringing a group in Spring 1985 and would be in Moscow for the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War 2. Would I be willing to hold a joint seminar in which members of my delegation and students and staff of the School would present papers relevant to that theme and discuss them? At last we had a chance for another level of dialogue, and the initiative had come from the Soviet side!