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  • Moscow Human Rights Defenders Look WestAttitudes toward U.S. Journalists in the 1960s and 1970s
  • Barbara Walker (bio)

Looking around the courtyard I spotted ... a dozen foreign reporters. Foreigners were easy to spot on a Moscow street.1

Key to the attitudes of Moscow human rights defenders toward the U.S. journalists who reported on their activities was the profound isolation of Soviet citizens from the West, indeed from the rest of the world, that was a major component of Stalinism and post-Stalinism. It made those comparatively few foreigners who came to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s stand out vividly among the Soviets even in cosmopolitan Moscow. For reasons closely associated with that isolation, dissident attitudes toward the journalists were distinguished by a peculiar intensity, whatever direction they might take. Some dissident–journalist associations triggered great enthusiasm; some involved a kind of self-conscious and self-interested exchange of professional favors or were straightforwardly instrumental in nature; while yet others led to a distinct personal hostility on the part of certain human rights activists that challenges any simple notion of how those associations worked. This article traces the emergence and meaning of such attitudes, placing them in the context of Soviet history and culture more broadly.

I argue that for us to attempt an understanding of dissident views of Western reporters, we need first to explore the ways in which dissenters saw themselves and one another in relation to Soviet culture and society. For their attitudes toward foreign correspondents were rooted in a highly [End Page 905] complex sense of what it meant to be Soviet and what it meant to be part of the dissident movement, of who were insiders and who outsiders in relation to both identities. For the identities of Soviet dissenters as both Soviets and as dissenters were in rapid flux during this period, and visiting Westerners, including U.S. journalists, not fully aware of the cultural dynamics with which they were engaging, could become caught up in that flux as the boundaries between inside and outside both the dissent movement and Soviet society were complicated and blurred.

Inside and Outside Soviet Identity and the Emergence of Dissent

The historical origins of Soviet isolation are complex, going back at least to the 1920s, both building on and contributing to a many-layered sense of what it meant to be Soviet in relation with the outside world—fascinated by the outside yet defensive, enthusiastic yet suspicious, imbued with a sense of uneasy backwardness and weakness combined with a powerful desire for self-assurance and pride.2 This was a peculiarly Soviet phenomenon, as opposed to Russian imperial; whereas Russians in the empire had traditionally been wary of attack by outsiders for centuries and had long debated the pros and cons of Western influence, concerns about relations with the West were greatly sharpened with the Bolshevik takeover. No longer was Russia ruled by a dynasty with strong royal Western ties. Instead, it was ruled by a revolutionary group that seemed to pose a considerable threat to Western governments and therefore invited their hostility, including invasion by several Western powers during the Civil War. The Bolshevik response was a kind of drawing in, a voluntary isolation on the part of the state that became involuntary isolation for Soviet citizens. Soon after the Bolshevik coup in 1917, it became increasingly difficult for most Soviet citizens to travel abroad freely. By the same token, the entry of foreigners into the Soviet Union was increasingly controlled, as were relations between Soviets and foreigners who were in the country. This simple fact of physical separation had an impact all its own.

Increasing the self-conscious intensity of Soviet reactions to foreigners was a complex sense of insider- and outsiderhood that had been shaped by the difficult and painful permutations in the development of Soviet identity especially under Iosif Stalin. Stalin encouraged a highly defensive sense of Soviet identity in the 1930s and 1940s, as he sought to establish the principle of “Socialism in One Country”: that the Soviet Union could achieve modernity and socialism [End Page 906] despite the absence of world revolution, and that this was necessary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 905-927
Launched on MUSE
2008-11-28
Open Access
No
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