Straight from the horse's mouth

BARBARA AMIEL September 19 1988

Straight from the horse's mouth

BARBARA AMIEL September 19 1988

Straight from the horse's mouth



The first week of September brought forth the usual sum of human misery. Reports from the small Central African country of Burundi told of wretched children, their backs ripped open by soldiers’ bayonets. In Poland, workers continued to press in vain for an independent trade union. The Burmese took to the streets to plead unsuccessfully for an end to oneparty government. Even my new copy of Maclean’s dampened my spirits—I discovered a letter to the editor from a James Forbes of Hamilton, Ont., accusing me of viewing the world through “a troika of fascism, Zionism and Cold War rhetoric.”

Come off it, I thought. Then I began to wonder just how my view of the world coincided with that of other Canadians. I hired a couple of researchers to spend two hours asking Toronto passers-by to “name three oppressive regimes in the world.”

It was a completely unscientific survey, of course. But informative, I think. The country that led the list was South Africa, closely followed by the U.S.S.R. Only three other African countries were mentioned. Poor Burundi, I thought. Not to mention strife-tom Somalia or Marxist Lt.-Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia. I suppose it illustrated the expected: namely, that the country that has the worst press in Canada—South Africa—has the worst image. All the same, I was pleased to see, in spite of media distortions, that Israel was not mentioned once.

Still, I can’t help getting indignant about the label Cold Warrior. Several of us in Canada have reported, perfectly objectively, what has been going on in the U.S.S.R. over the years. There was nothing particularly clever in this, you understand, although it did seem to keep one off the CBC news and public affairs programs. The one problem is that we did it in advance of Gorbachev. And if we still show some caution in the face of Gorbachev’s

Barbara Amiel is a columnist for Southam News.

glasnost, it comes from a continued monitoring of the Soviet media. Here’s a flavor of what they—not I—are saying.

First, you’ll have to get used to a new word in addition to perestroika and glasnost. That word is “stagnation” as in “Stalinist personality cult and Brezhnev period of stagnation,” now used to explain why everything went wrong in the Soviet Union for the past 55 years, from the Gulag to bad harvests. Take last month’s bear-pit encounter on Soviet television between an interviewer and A.F. Katusev, the U.S.S.R. deputy procuratorgeneral. The subject is prostitution.

Interviewer: I learned that the first serious study of prostitution [in the U.S.S.R.] was done in 1910 and since then, nothing. How can you combat a phenomenon without having studied it?

Katusev: The point of the matter lies elsewhere. During what we call the times of stagnation, the problem was hushed up; we considered that we had no such problem as prostitution, that it existed in the West but we did not have it. In effect, we shamefully hushed things up, concealed things here and there and embellished the truth .... ƒ think it is time for us to stop blaming the West. . .

although this is, of course, a factor.

Or this account on TASS, the Soviet news service, of the secret 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact—in which Stalin became Hitler’s ally in return for a piece of Poland and a free hand in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The . . . study of the nuances in the foreign policy of Great Britain and France convinced the Soviet government that these European powers wanted to drag the U.S.S.R. into a military conflict with Germany while they themselves remained out of it. Josef Stalin had every reason to mistrust the leaders of Great Britain and France, who relinquished Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler. The Soviet Union, on the contrary, cared for the security of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia . . . [they] could expect real assistance in the struggle against Hitler’s aggression only from the U.S.S.R., which gave them guarantees of security by proposing mutual assistance pacts.

And here is glasnost’s version of the deportation and murder, in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, of millions of Poles, Armenians, Lithuanians and Russian citizens:

Before the war, the process of building Soviet power took place under the slogan “Whoever is not with us is against us!” The result . . . was to categorize as enemies of Soviet power not only those who took up arms against it, but very many of those who were obedient to it.. . we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. They ended up in Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Far East, behind barbed wire, in camps and settlements . . . [From a July issue of the weekly Argumenty i Fakty].

And in August, the daily Pravda on the same topic: The 19th Party Conference resolution stresses, “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union will never permit a repetition of anything resembling what was associated with the periods of the personality cult and stagnation, which . . . resulted in enormous human costs....

The current Soviet leadership is revealing dozens of horror stories, any one of which would bring down any Western government and put the political party behind it in disrepute for at least 20 years. Ironically, when the Soviets do this, both they and many Western commentators regard it as proof of candor and an additional qualification for their continued stay in power.

But there are also explanations for the removal of some of the books by Brezhnev and other “stagnatists” from Soviet libraries; thoughtful accounts of why opposition parties must not be allowed; suggestions that perhaps religious prisoners ought to be released from prison. There is not, in the daily stacks of articles and broadcasts I have seen, the slightest hint that any fundamental political change is in the wind.

Yet, when a Canadian journalist reports the purges, repressions and doubletalk, well, he or she becomes a fascist right-wing ideologue. Don’t you think you should postpone celebrating the end of the period of stagnation a little longer, James Forbes? Given the record, I’d hold the vodka and caviar.

One look at the Soviet media’s gush ofpreglasnost horrors will reassure anyone accused of being right wing