MACLEANS'S REPORTS

Hey, where did all those movie-villain Russians go?

EILEEN TURCOTTE February 1 1969
MACLEANS'S REPORTS

Hey, where did all those movie-villain Russians go?

EILEEN TURCOTTE February 1 1969

Hey, where did all those movie-villain Russians go?

OF ALL the slowly changing institutions in Ottawa — a city not noted for swiftness of pace — the most constant factor is the Diplomatic Corps. The names and faces of the players change every three years or so, but short of a major revolution in the government at home the outward demeanor of each country’s protocol-stuffed representatives usually remains impeccably the same. The British are a bit stuffy, the French are autocratic, the Indians are earnest, the Latin Americans give the liveliest parties, and so on.

Until recently you could usually recognize the Russians at a diplomatic party because they were square in build and manner, never laughed, and tended to huddle together in small stiff groups. “Even at their own Embassy parties they’d hardly say one word to you,” recalls one Ottawa socialite, Mrs. Lucien Cannon, Jr. But of late the Russians have been starting to mellow, mingle and even make merry in public.

The swingingest Soviet of them all is 32-year-old Yuri Perfiliev, who’s been cutting a free-wheeling swatch on Diplomatic Row since he arrived as second secretary and press attaché at the USSR Embassy nearly three years ago. Perfiliev looks like a Texan football hero, speaks racy English with an American accent picked up while he was at the UN in New York, and has a non-proletarian appreciation of fast cars and pretty girls (his glamorous Russian wife looks more Saks Fifth Avenue than GUM department store). Unlike the earlier Russians he’s a regular at the National Press Club. There he avoids talk about politics and shows more interest in sports than missile bases. He also enjoys Ottawa’s livelier nightspots.

When Perfiliev first arrived, oldtime Ottawans marvelled at his apparent disregard for the Soviet Embassy’s rules about stiff and proper conduct and expected he’d be recalled in disgrace. Instead, other Russians began imitating his relaxed style — especially press chief Vladimir Makhotin, whose sophisticated charm and bedroom eyes wow impressionable matrons at diplomatic receptions.

“The Russians are cute, but cute like foxes,” cautions an External Affairs official who has noted their progress on the cocktail circuit. “They know they’re the most hated people here, and the new order is to try and make themselves popular.”

Perfiliev is often accused of being a secret agent with the KGB, but he laughs this off. “Why shouldn’t I be friendly with Canadians?” he asks. He’s sensitive to RCMP surveillance, though, and at one informal party he refused to believe that a militarylooking fellow guest (actually a Bank of Canada official) wasn’t from “the Organization.”

For virtually all the Russians in Ottawa, the darkest hour came after last summer’s Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Many of their assiduously cultivated friends in Ottawa openly attacked them about it. Perfiliev’s favorite hang-out, the Press Club, was caught in the thick of it when Boris Korolev of Novosti Press was allowed to use the premises for a lavish party welcoming a Pravda man to Ottawa. Czechoslovakia-born Lubor Zink of the Toronto Telegram resigned from the club in protest. “This is no time for shaking hands and clinking glasses with lackeys of international gangsterism,” he wrote in his column.

Equally incensed, Czechoslovakian Louis Kogej, who runs the fashionable Café Louis IX (owned partly by Ottawa Mayor Don Reid), hung out a sign: RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS OFF LIMITS — and has strictly enforced the ban.

Most Ottawans are less stiff about it, though, and political intrigue probably seems more exasperating than exciting to young women on the diplomatic circuit who might otherwise nominate Yuri Perfiliev as the corps’ number one heartthrob. But even they feel bound by the pragmatic rule Canadians seem to apply to all Iron Curtain diplomats, however dashing and handsome: Mingle with them on diplomatic ground but don’t invite them into your home. “Nobody,” explains one Ottawa hostess, “wants to run the risk of having the RCMP parked outside their door.”

EILEEN TURCOTTE